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I'm a fanatic . . . about culture . . . but it better be real!

Yep, I could be  that guy!  I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Yep, I could be that guy! I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I admit it. I’m a fanatic. No not a ranting, in your face, zealot. I’m from the midwest after all. Our zeal is a little more tempered. Stoic. Nice. That reminds me, our state once thought the best tourism tag line for our state was to promote this . . . “Nebraska, nice.” Ugh. Doubt it helped much. Anyway, back to me, the fanatic. I bear all the hallmarks of being a “true believer,” I have the gear, I study carefully everything about my passion, I’m drawn to others who share a similar love for the object of my obsession, I’ve done it all . . . except the tattoo. But then again, I’m from a different generation and, again, midwestern.

So, what is it that I am fanatical about? Well . . ., before I tell you and some of you sign off—concluding that your passion is not mine, and thus irrelevant—let me say, this post is not about the object of my fan-dom (fan-dumb?) but about the power of culture You see, the entity upon which my interest is focus is, right now, not worthy of such devotion. Ouch. It hurts to even admit that, I’m such a homer when it comes to college football.

The truth is the truth however and it is undeniable that my beloved team—the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, or “the Huskers” for short—has been awful. Last year? 4-8. The year before? 4-8. Dismal. Yet, this team has a top 15 recruiting class this year. They have been projected to finish in the top 20 by a number of prognosticians. Enthusiasm is high among the fans. Hope is abundant. What gives? Well a change in leadership but perhaps even more importantly the establishment of a new culture.

You can feel it. In the way the players talk, in the way they play, in their belief in the team and coaches and their willingness to voluntarily commit their discretionary effort to the team’s goals. Just watch their body language. A few years ago, under a different coaching regime . . . we won’t name names, I saw players on the side lines with their heads down, looking away or even pushing past . . . and thus avoiding . . . coaches who were trying to talk to them. It was not surprising when, over time, they began to look like they weren’t united in trying to win and the results began to mirror that disconnect. My observations were confirmed when a friend, and former division I quarterback, made the same observation, “You can tell they don’t want to play for this coach,” he said, “Just look at how they act when they come off the field.” Finally, someone close to the program also stated it. “They lost faith in the coach.”

So what has given this new culture its legs? Not success . . . not yet. Unless it’s the reputation of past success which these leaders have or the progress being made. But, success in the present? No. The team started out 0-6. The first time in the history of the program. Amazingly, the team continued to fight. They appeared to improve over the course of the season. They fought no matter what the circumstances and even looked better when they lost. It was clear that they “had each other’s back” and the team was, in fact, a Team. Having played both for teams that were not united or had a successful culture as well as teams that were very high functioning (including a national coach of the year) here are a few observations (from an outsider’s view) of what has made this work.

  1. The leaders have a deep understanding of—and deep connection with —the broader context of the program and how to utilize the context to promote success. The Coach grew up in Nebraska. Population 1,325. The “Walk On Program” here at Nebraska—the recruiting of local kids—is at least as important as the getting the “blue-chippers”—highly ranked recruits— in the context of Nebraska football. He gets this. He praises the fans and the culture as being “like no other” and highlights its strengths—joking about how “blue-chippers” think they’ll see a football stadium in the “middle of a corn field.” Early cohorts talked about valuing the walk on program but in practice . . . they didn’t get it.

  2. The leaders demonstrate a commitment to one thing—success. I hear statements like, “We are going to be good.” or “ We’ll see if he can contribute.” Even doubts, “Some may not be with the program” It’s clear that the goal is the focus and they believe reaching for that goal will help everyone who buys in. You could call it the “while no one is an ‘expendable crewman’ . . . some are more expendable than others.” But the message is clear. This is about being successful as a team. You can “get on board” or not but it is the single clear focus of the program.

  3. Hard work is the route to success. How do you go from 4-8 two years in a row to the 13th ranked recruiting class? Hard work. Weight training. Husker Power. Strength Coach Zach Duvall. The coaches have not shied away from saying that players were not where they needed to be. In fact after the final game to our Iowa neighbors, the coach said it hurt to see that they were bigger and stronger than we were. How’s that for honest clarity? Yes, the coaches are careful to allow that there are many paths to success (that other coaches may have tried) and that previous coaches may have had a different focus and emphasis, but it’s clear that the team did not meet their criteria for strength, speed, and commitment. It’s also clear that anyone wanting to be a part will dedicate themselves to these attributes.

  4. Finally, over everything else, the emphasis is on people. The clear message—and one that resonates as not just being "coach-speak”—is that this is about the players. Helping them become better men. Developing their potential. Becoming a close-knit group and having fun together. Yes, fun. In fused in everything is this belief that hard work, dedication, team chemistry, and success is fun and worth the effort. The mission is not just winning on the field it’s being successful as a person.

In Coach Frost’s own words . . .

As I was writing this blog, an Omaha World Herald article by Sam McKewon came out where Coach Frost talked about the importance of culture. Here’s part of what Frost was quoted as saying . . . “Culture eats scheme for breakfast . . . I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays we can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have . . . people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, [i.e.; the right culture] I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”

Frost boils it down to two factors, 1. players making decisions in the best interests of their teammates, and 2. a desire to excel and no fear of failure.

Will this, ultimately, lead to the success the coaches want? If we’re talking wins . . . it’s unknown. In fact, due to the variables at play in such an endeavor it could be argued that their is no way to determine what causal factors lead to success on the field. Fair enough. But if you just look at the players behavior, other on and off the field, you can already see a clear and vital difference. It’s clear that this focus on culture has brought a new energy, a willingness to commit voluntary effort to succeeding, and cleared aways a number of hurdles that were detrimental to success. A strong culture, at the very least, increases the likelihood that success is possible—in athletics and in business.

P.S. I was told by someone who worked with transportation for recent Husker teams would leave the bus “trashed” when they got done with a trip. Not anymore. The Coaches, from the first, made players clean up after themselves and appreciate the service they were being given. Coaches talk about representing the state, university, and each other. The message is clear—even in this minor detail, “We will treat people, including ourselves, with respect.” Sometimes it starts that small to build a great culture.

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The Slippery Slope of Facts . . . as we are Conditioned to Know Them . . .

Beware of the facts! Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Beware of the facts! Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Slippery Slope

Circa 1975. I was starting high school (Yes, I’m that old!), and with a particular interest in all things science, I looked forward to delving further into physical science, chemistry, and biology. I was intrigued by the things I had already learned about the world and how science could help us understand the world. Little did I know that the facts I learned then . . . would change! To wit:

  • The electron “is the smallest particle in the universe.”

  • We are facing a new ice age.

  • We only have 50 years left of fossil fuel.

  • We will be unable to feed the world population by the year 2000.

Today, science tells us . . .

  • Quarks are smaller than electrons.

  • We need to be worried about global warming . . . no, . . . wait, . . . climate change.

  • We still are going to run out of fossil fuel . . . and besides it is destroying the Ozone.

  • Water is going to become a major crisis for the world.

I’m not here to dispute or challenge the scientific dogma, old or new, or the merits of each of these theories, I just note it to say, “the facts have changed!” Some would argue, correctly I believe, that this change is exactly what science is supposed to do! Change as new knowledge and better models are discovered. I agree. But others would see a more sinister pushing of agendas that might have other motives. Perhaps this too is true.

In either case, it illustrates that far too often theories are confounded with proven facts. My teachers, in 1975, made this error. Presumably they had been taught that scientific theories and data are only consistent with projections and are not, in and of themselves, facts . . . but that is not how it was presented. It was presented as a scientific certainty. It proved not to be true and it is still happening today.

Blame it on lazy thinking, poor educational systems, a lack of higher education . . . what ever you will, but again I am not hear to debate those theories but to talk about the slippery slope of facts as it relates to business.

Businesses, Organizations and Facts

One of the greatest challenges to helping businesses and organizations change is what “they already know.” Einstein encased the problem of “knowing” succinctly in his oft quoted adage, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” When working with leaders one of the tell-tale signs of whether an “outside consultant” can help is if they are willing to have what is known challenged and if they are actively looking for new ways to approach the problems. If not, they are doomed to repeat the cycle that produced and sustain the problem.

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? The problem is, most leaders think they are open to questioning the facts as they know them—and I think they honestly believe they are. However, too often, years of conditioned responses makes them resistant to change.

The Power of Conditioning

To illustrate the power of the conditioning, I will at times, after meeting with them for some period of time, raise my hand and extend it toward the leader. Instinctively, they will raise their hand to meet mine. Then I ask them why they did that . . . “well, you wanted to shake hands,” they reply. “Did I? Did you?” I set this up after we have talked a while specifically because a handshake is not expected at that time. We didn’t just meet and it’s not time for the social practice of shaking hands, but the leader didn’t consider if some other response would be better—other than a passing thought of confusion— or if the gesture could be something other than an expectation of a hand shake; they are just responding to years and years of conditioning.

Leader’s lead in ways they have been conditioned to lead. Do the facts lead them to exert control? To lead by being inclusive? To work for warm relations and a collegial approach to team building. Why? Too often, they really can’t explain their approach because, like the handshake, it is an unconscious and conditioned response.

But it works! Until it doesn’t.

I’m not really being critical of leaders. We all operate on conditioned responses. it’s what makes the world operate smoothly. My mind is not cluttered up with analyzing each and every “handshake” to determine what to do. I don’t have to think when the brake lights come on ahead of me, my foot automatically moves to the brake pedal.

Leaders are elevated to their positions because their conditioned responses are affective. An impulse to shake hands when one is extended to you is a social “grace” that eases the awkward meeting of two people. But, ever know someone who keeps wanting to shake hands? I did.

One school I attended had a student I’ll call Gary. Gary had a habit of shaking your hand, then repeatedly reaching out again, through the conversation, to shake your hand again. Alternately, he would simply continue to grasp your hand and not let go. Talk about awkward. What do you do? Many people, myself included, tried passive ways to try and extricate our hand, or avoid the multiple handshakes. Some, I have no doubt, avoided Gary. I’ll admit, I at times, wanted to as well. Those additional handshakes when unwarranted, creates an awkward barrier to further relationship building.

I personally was stuck by the “facts” as I knew them. One, people interacting with Gary had certainly “indicated” — with their behavior and words — that this handshaking behavior was unusual and an unwanted behavior. I had personally witnessed another student respond with “Let go of my hand! What’s wrong with you?” Two, Gary probably did not need anyone else making him feel like he was a “problem” and “unliked” and that “knowledge” had not stopped the behavior. Three, I wanted to be a good person and treat people, even if their behavior made me feel uncomfortable, in a respectful way. Accommodating Gary’s strange behavior did no harm and actually was helpful. Right? The facts, as I viewed them, led me to be passively engaged with Gary and ignore what was really happening . . . that Gary’s behavior made me, and many other’s uncomfortable, and to “be kind” — pretending I was not uncomfortable and not talking directly to Gary about these facts with kindness and the real respect he was due.

The solution came in the form of an older, and wiser, man — a school professor. A man whose interaction with Gary I got to witness. After shaking the professor’s hand, Gary, predictably, extended his hand, again, to the professor. “Why do you want to shake my hand again?” the professor asked. His voice was quiet. His tone warm and sympathetic. I had no doubt that if Gary had suddenly come up with an honest and insightful answer—”I’ve never felt like people like me and shaking hands make me feel accepted” or “I’m sorry I have a compulsion and it sometimes gets the best of me” — the professor would have been willing to shake his hand a second time. Unfortunately, Gary looked uncomfortable. He stammered out an answer or excuse, and shuffled away.

Afterward, I notice that Gary’s handwringing exercise diminished. Had he considered what the professor had asked? Had he learned something about himself and the conditioned responses he had learned? I don’t know. I do know the problem was largely resolved.

The professor, in my view, was the one person I witnessed who had the courage to be both kind and honest. He was not thinking about how Gary would view him or how it might affect how others would view him as a professor. He did what was in Gary’s best interest, period.

Download our leadership eBook for free. Or . . . check out . . .

Other stuff from us . . . on Gumroad.

P.S. Ironically — isn’t life funny? — the day before I finished this post, I had another “handshaking” incident. a young man I know and admire, but who suffers from a significantly anxious temperament, was bidding me goodbye. In that process, over 5-10 minutes, he extended his hand at least three times. Caught off guard, I shook it each time. Now, the challenge is, “Do I talk to him about it?” Chances are the answer will be, “Yes!”

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A little . . . overt . . . nepotism! Announcing Scraps and Patches

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Time for a brief celebration! Our, not-natural-but-still-we-can-do-it, entrepreneurial spirit seems to be passing down into the next generation.

Two of my children, sons, Andrew and Timothy (our second and fourth of six) --a Graphic Designer and IT combo--are releasing a new game on Steam! It’s called Scraps and Patches. Finally the years of drawing on walls and couches, tearing apart electronics, and regularly finding new "projects" in my shop is going public! Available in four days on Steam (November 16, 2018)

A “can do” spirit, new ideas, and hard work; many have contributed to help these two young men know the value, and joy, of leading the way.

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2019 Coaching Class is Set!

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Our 2019 Coaching Class is set. Thanks to everyone who applied! . . . We are officially closing the application period.

Those of you who are subscribers to our blog may note that we had originally talked about taking applications through September. No, September isn’t over, yet. But it is time to close the applications and move forward, to put 2019’s “recruiting class in the books” so to speak. Thanks for the interest and if it didn’t work for you in 2019, we would encourage you to continue to follow our blog. We can’t promise we will do another round of coaching in 2020 but we haven’t closed the door to that yet. Stay tuned, as they used to say!

For those new to HSC—and the concept of contracting, coaching and consulting as part of a behavioral health practice —below is a brief history of our journey . . . .

We have been training students and professionals to work with organizations and businesses —through private practice contracting, coaching, and consulting—since 2006. In 2019, we will be using our proprietary developed workflow (developed for the Trello platform) to work with our coaching class. This is the next step in our ability to help behavioral health professionals diversify their services and escape the dependence on insurance and governmental sources of income.. .

Her's a quick history of training behavioral and mental health professionals to work with organizations and businesses.

  • 1998: As part of a class on Qualitative Research, Bryan and a colleague started—as part of a university class— a consulting contact with an international manufacturing company. Supported by a couple of our professors originally, the contract would be repeated in 2000 and in total cover 4 years. We were learning and HSC was off and running!

  • 1999: Bryan starts working in senior management positions in behavioral health.

  • 2002: We repeat the consulting work with the international manufacturing company.

  • 2005: Dr. Miller established Human Systems Consulting and HSC begins contracting with organizations.

  • 2006: Tasked to teach a doctoral-level course on Consulting with Larger Organizations. Continued until 2016.

  • 2008: Conducted local trainings for behavioral health professionals on consulting and coaching.

  • 2011:  At the continued urging of the students and colleagues, published Beyond the Couch: Turning your behavioral health degree into cash without losing your soul. (By the way, our Gumroad store sells this for $7.99 a huge savings over Amazon at $24.95!)

  • 2015: Published Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading difficult people.

  • 2016: Published Private Practice through Contracting: A path away from insurance dependency! (Our most popular title since it’s publication)

  • 2017: Presented our model in a day-long institute at the AAMFT national conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • 2017: Training professionals in a 6 hour workshop as part of the ICET conference in Louisville, Ky.

  • 2018: Re-tooled our Trello-based tool to facilitate and lead professional coaching for 2019 coaching class.

Looking forward to 2019! Last year we were in Georgia and Kentucky, next year we are in discussions to finalize agreements for training in Nebraska and Missouri. With these commitments, we will limit our out-of-state commitments to 1 or 2 others in 2019.

Hope your 2019 is a great year!

Bryan

P.S.— BTW, Facilitating trainings can be an interesting and fun way to enter into contracting—while providing high visibility for your organization, develop a position as a thought-leader or resource, and open up new possibilities for contracting. If interested in facilitating a training in your area using HSC’s expertise, just contact us!

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Entrepreneurial Farming

Putting up the hoop house or high tunnel for Old Depot Farm. My role now? Loading up the produce every Tuesday morning.

Putting up the hoop house or high tunnel for Old Depot Farm. My role now? Loading up the produce every Tuesday morning.

Risk and Opportunity

I often talk to professionals in the mental and behavioral health field and I repeatedly walk away with the sense that most people who go into this career are not risk takers. The idea of doing free-lance, contract, or entrepreneurial projects is a strange and scary--but somehow exciting--prospect.  I understand. I am not naturally a risk taker myself.  But . . .

Time and necessity make us grow and face realities . . . and this has led me into becoming more entrepreneurial and willing to get outside the box.

My wife needs no such prompting. She is more comfortable with business in general and specifically with engaging in the "to and fro" of dealing with the vagarities of an out of the box process. As such, she and a few other farmers, have developed Tiny Farm Group, and together provide local produce and edible flowers to local chefs.

One restaurant, Venue, with its dynamic staff, led by Chef John Benton, recently brought some of the chefs to visit our farm and created a video featuring Amy.  Her business, Old Depot Farm, features all the elements of business we promote at HSC -- collaboration, high quality, people-centered, service -- and has contributed to making Tiny Farms Group and the partnership with Venue a powerful joint venture.

This leads me to talk about other ventures we have started and run . . . without any degrees or training . . .

Melodrama

Since 2002, we have been directing and producing an annual melodrama for area home-school youth. This project consumes much of our extra time from November through February. Roughly 12-30 students annually participate and many have gone on to get theatre scholarships or even degrees after being part of our melodrama group. We couldn’t do it with out our army of willing parents and others but it has provided a lot of positive friendships, skill development, and one wedding.

Plant Sale

Amy has run an annual plant sale from our acreage. People come from more than two-hours away to purchase her select varieties of tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc. and to connect with the Old Depot Farm’s proprietor. We’ve had musician’s play, grandma’s famous doughnuts—while they last, which is typically only minutes—given farm tours, and connected with our local farming geeks.

It continues to amaze me how many “out of the box” things people are willing to support. As a friend, and local dentist, who admittedly provides “cadillac care”, says “people will pay for what they value.” I do. Why am I surprised that other will as well? “If you build it, they will come.,” is a more true adage than my risk-avoidant personality thought possible.

P.S. -- If you want to learn more about Amy, Old Depot Farm, the Tiny Farm Group, or just read great posts on local foods, or if you just enjoy a good laugh and really good writing, check out her blog.

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Consultant, stay "in bounds!"

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies  ."   --  My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him)  Photo by  Jennifer Pallian  on  Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies."  -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him)  Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies."  -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him)

A Painful Reminder

I recently was reminded of a football game I saw years ago. One team was ahead. They had the ball. There were only a few seconds left. The quarterback completed a pass into the "flats" to his running back. The running back didn't need to make a first down. He didn't nee to make any yards at all. The point simply was to run the clock so that the opposing team would have little or no time left to make a comeback. The game was ostensibly already won.  Or so, conventional wisdom would have said. 

The pass was a bit of a surprise. If it was dropped the clock would stop.  But it seemed to work. The pass was "on the mark," the running back caught the ball, no harm was done.  Still, if they had run the ball the clock would have run for sure. There would be no danger of an incompletion and the clock stopping. But by passing it, they caught the defense off guard and there was a chance of a first down which would have given them the opportunity to not give the ball back at all to the other team.  But if they ran the clock, and punted, the other team would have had time to try and win albeit by a very low probability "hail mary" from 80-plus yards away..

What happened next was a classic example  of "not having your head in the game."  The running back caught the ball and went out of bounds! What was he thinking?  Maybe trying to get that first down. Maybe thinking the game was over no matter what happened.  Who knows?  The results were devastating.  The clock stopped. The team punted-leaving more time on the clock then they would have if they had "played it safe" and run the ball.  The opposing quarterback had enough time to drive the ball down the field and kick the game-winning field goal. 

 

The Memory: Consultant Out of Bounds

What reminded me of this game?  Well, I heard a heart-breaking consulting story that is all too common.  An organization hired a consultant to help them raise money.  In the process of interviewing possible contributors the consultant (according to the opinion of my source) discovered other issues (no doubt interfering with the fund raising) in the organization. The consultant, evidently, with the support of the leadership team, switched from "fund raising expert" to organizational behavioral expert. The results, again in the opinion of my contact, was to catalogue the problems and deliver it in a final report--essentially, according to my source, dropping a "bomb shell" into the leadership by outlining the problems without a plan to resolve them and ending the consulting contract.

The result?  Strained relationships, demotivation, institutional stagnation, resignations . . . and a loss of time carrying out and growing the organization's mission.  It is an all too frequent story. Consultants need to know what they are good at doing and when to refer to other consultants. I have no doubt that the consultant was trying to help.  But as the story was told to me, he simply made mistakes that someone with an understanding of human systems would not typically make. (Incidentally, sometimes an organization's leadership, affects the same type of "bomb effect" when they have the right type of consultant but do not commit to follow through with implementing the plan . . . but that's a topic for another post).

 

It's About the Scope of Expertise

In my "Consulting with Larger Systems" graduate course, I asked students to consider this . . . if an organization hired me (a "people guy") and started asking me questions about accounting or legal issues . . . and if I tried to advise them on those matters . . . then I would undoubtably at some point make just as monumental of an error as this consultant. My point was that no one should take on a role that their expertise does not suit them to fill. To be blunt, this puts one in the position of making mistakes that even a new professionals in those specialty areas would catch.  It's not about a lack of value. Rather it is about education, training, and experience.

I used this to try and help these students understand the value they bring to organizations. As is often the case, these talented young people, who were gifted in understanding people, devalued their abilities. The relegate ease with which they applied their talents tended to obscure the fact that most do not have this ability in the same measure. They also tended--despite being doctoral students--to downplay their experience and the preparation the education, training, knowledge, and practice gave them for working within larger human systems.

So, iff you are a leader, hire consultants with expertise in the areas you need addressed and don't let scope creep change that focus. If the issues are within the human systems then do not hire consultants that are not experts in human systems and ask them to help you fix your people problems.  It's a shot in the dark. They may have no more competence than your supervisors, managers, and leaders in the organization.

Yes, trusting the consultant is important. However, just because you trust a "people person" -- you wouldn't ask them to provide legal consultation if they had only a casual relationship with legal studies. Yet, very often leaders do exactly that, they ask business experts, legal experts, marketing experts and others what they should do regarding their human behavioral issues--and the results are often ineffective or worse. 

And if you are a consultant,  with a specialty in some other area, find partners with complementary expertise, to whom you can refer, to help organizations reach their peak performance. To do other than this hurts everyone . . . including the profession of consulting.

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Mr. Rex and Ego?

Photo by  Vern Ooi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vern Ooi on Unsplash

The Best Team Players? They know It's not about them.

Those of you who participated in athletics know that, as an athlete, you get to experience a lot of real time "psychology on display through behavior" as player's egos become involved in competing. Hopefully, for most people, the need to "stroke one's ego" gets resolved by the time we reach adulthood . . . but not always.

A few yeas ago I was playing "noon basketball" with a cadre of guys at a local gym. One of the amazing things about this group was that two of the most talented players were over 70!  Yes, 70! By "most talented" I don't mean that they had the most stamina, speed, or leaping ability when compared to the younger players,  but boy did they have skills and the experience to be a great asset to whatever team they played for.!  Both still played on traveling teams against player across the nation. Very impressive.

One of the players, I particularly liked. He was very laid back, competitive, yet encouraging to other players--a guy who was confident enough to play well himself and encourage the best out of others, both those on his team and the opponents as well, a real team-player. The other? Let's just say . . . that it didn't take a Psychologist to tell that his game was a little bit more about stroking his ego than just having fun competing--not that ego doesn't play a role for most of us at some level, some people just hide it more reliably. :)  Anyway . . . let's talk about .

The Day The Ego Demanded "it's Due!"

We were playing one day, as usual, when a new player joined us. His assignment was to guard Rex. Now, a new player, especially a younger one, would have no reason to believe that this would be a difficult task. After all, this is your grandfather--someone your should be able to outmaneuver, out jump, and out hustle. But Rex was an athlete, with a capital A. He could make shots all over the floor and from "way downtown"--far distant from the basket.

His favorite shot was a hook-type delivery off a drive to his right. Those of us who had played with Rex for a long time knew that the best strategy was to overplay his right side, and force him to go left where, although still capable, he was far less dangerous and effective. It was common knowledge and everyone who defended him more than once knew this.

The new player who joined us that day, however, didn't know this. As he tried to guard Rex, this septuagenarian shark, repeatedly drove right and drained the basket . . . time after time . . . scoring easily and, I think, frustrating the younger man's increasingly strenuous attempts to stop his scoring. Finally, the younger man, once again, beaten to the delivery of the shot, exclaimed, "Rex, you are unstoppable!" Rex beamed. But, unfortunately for Rex, the moment didn't last. 

Another player, let's call him Doug, who was known for his less-than-sensitive-candor, impulsively reacted. "It's not hard to stop Rex," he commented dourly.  "That's easy. He can't go to his left."  A statement, that over-simplified guarding this athlete, but never-the-less did communicate the best approach to stopping Rex's game. An awkward silence hung in the air, as players absorbed this Doug's "attack" on Rex's abilities and demonstrated Doug's own need to stroke his ego "against" a player, in Rex, that definitely had superior skills. Some glancing at Rex, uncomfortably, and wondering how Rex would respond.

Well, Rex wasn't one to let such blatant disrespect to pass. He said nothing, at first. I was surprised, but remained watchful.  The next time Rex's team had the ball, Rex, playing point guard, took the ball, drove to his left, executed his signature hook shot, banking it into the basket off the backboard, the pointedly directed a comment to Doug, "So, I can't go left huh?"

Flashes of Junior High School

"What is this, Junior High School?" The thought flashed through my mind.

So, Rex proved he could go left. Doug was "put into his place," and Rex's ego could remain intact--although why it was threatened so much by the comment remains unknown. Or so it seemed for a moment. Doug, unfortunately, didn't have the wisdom to let it go either, and the rest of "noon ball" was marred by a general pensive, irritation punctuated with some general aggressive playing and "bad will."

The funny thing is, for all the posturing egos on display, that day . . . nothing had really changed. We all still knew that the best strategy, when guarding Rex, was to force Rex to go left. No one thought less of him as a player, since all players have strengths and weaknesses to their game. And we were all sure that Doug would continue to comment on things that others would think but definitely not say. While Doug would rush in to fill the void. We also knew that Doug, no matter how long he played--would he even be playing in another 30 years?--would never be as good as Rex.

What did change was that it was clear that Rex's ego was tied up in his ability as an athlete (and so was Doug's, but that's another story) and that Rex would get defensive, react with somewhat controlled anger, if challenged . . . and this trait, could be turned against him, by unscrupulous opponents. That Doug, or others, could easily "get under his skin" with just a comment despite the fact that he was a great player. I can imagine some competitors I have played against in competitive venues, making comments,  "What's the matter, can't you go left?" and goading him into "proving them wrong" ---thereby taking him out of his best game and using his emotion against him—and disadvantaging his team.

Ego vs. Team

When Doug made his comment, and Rex visibly reacted, my intuition and experience told me that Rex would have to prove himself by forcing the next shot . . . going left. He did, and it worked, he made the basket. But what if that had not been in a "pick up game" but in a game that counted for something. Was that the right time and place to take the shot?  Maybe. Would a defender, as I did, anticipate his need to go left and position himself to block or alter the shot.  Possibly. But ego doesn't consider what is best for the team only what is demanded to keep the ego intact. 

Rex, it appears, didn't trust the team. He didn't believe that that everyone already saw him as a superior player--even if they recognized that he preferred shooting going to his right. He probably was fearful that others would "believe" John's view or that perhaps it would make it harder if the young man guarding him forced him to operate going left. Some subconscious fear drove his need to respond. Ultimately, however it was driven by his own fears about himself and his ability.

Another ego and it's effect . . . a starter on one of my high school teams "lost it" when his shoe came untied and the coach didn't call a time out to let him fix the problem. He responded by kicking his shoe off, sending it flying over the bench, and starting to hack (foul) other players. He fouled out of the game in the first quarter. I have never seen such a ego-driven temper tantrum quite like it before or since. Playing the rest of the game without our number one point guard and a great shooter certainly did not help the team and we lost the game.  Those whose ego strength, to continue the use the Freudian term, isn't sufficiently strong will not be able to laugh at themselves, apologize, admit mistakes, or put the team first.  They may be very talent and accomplished but, in some fashion or another, they will always be a one man show.

Leaders, Employees and Ego

When consulting with organizations you inevitably will run into people whose ego is a barrier to them being the best leader they can be. Whether as an employee or a boss, their fragile self-worth will manifest itself in defensiveness, rejection of valid criticism, and a stubborn refusal to examine mistakes and learn from them.  Often, these are very bright and accomplished people who has skillfully found ways to mitigate some of the negative effects--perhaps they are superficially charming, or hard working, or they maintain and aloof distance--but, like Rex, everyone knows of the ego-weakness and how it effects their work and the organization as a whole.

Attempts to point out the weakness results, again like Rex in the story, in them proving (at least to themselves) that the have a strong ego and the problem is not them but is the problem of the person pointing out the impact of their behavior.  

You can spot this trait often when a person "flip-flops" on responsibility when they can no long dismiss it. So, if problems are pointed out by another colleague or employee this person may simply dismiss it, or aggressively refute it. But if the problems amplify to the point the behavior is threatening the organization and they are forced to face their behaviors . . . the "Ego-challenged" person will admit a problem, superficially take responsibility for it, perhaps even apologize (if necessary) and verbally agree to a need to change.

But watched closely, and over time, they will reverse course . . . reverting back to their baseline, ego-protecting view, that "the problem isn't me."  When this happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with someone who, to reach their full potential, has a need for significant work on the ability to take constructive criticism, be self-critical, and learn to grow.  In Patrick Lencioni's words They suffer a lack of humility . . . thinking, albeit somewhat subconsciously, more about themselves that the good of the organization. In those moments it is, once again, all about them.

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Unintended Contracting

Since 1994, I have had all or some of my professional work paid for through contracts. This was NOT the plan!  I have mentioned before in this blog that I am not, by nature, an entreprenuer. To wit . . .

  • I hate the idea of sales and marketing.
  • I am not a "joiner." Involvement is not something I seek.
  • I am inherently risk-aversive.

Thus, my first contracts came by "default." That is, through no intention or effort on my part to try and sell my services. Here's how it happened . . .

1993: A colleague offered to guarantee 3 months pay to encourage me to join their private practice. The hospital, whose employ I was leaving, offered to contract with me, part time, for weekend therapy groups.

1994: Citibank, who had bought the hospital chain, closed the hospital. An education consultant, who had a contract with the Department of Education, offered me a contract to do counseling with identified kids in schools. (Realizing this part-time gig paid me better than the full-time job was an eye-opener. But, I had dreams and it was off to grad school.)

1997: A colleague of mine and I dreamed up a consulting gig as part of an assignment for a Qualitative Research class. We proposed, with support from our professors, to help improve employee satisfaction at this 3,000+ plant.

2000: A university offers me a job, but it's not where I want to live. I counter-offer to teach from my preferred location. This leads to a contract to combine trips to campus and distance-learning that continues for 15 years until I decide to retire to pursue other interests.

2003: Interest peaks among students about the consulting work I am doing and I am assigned to teach a Doctoral class on Consulting with Larger Systems.

2010: Students continue to value the class and encourage the writing of Beyond the Couch. As multiple students indicate that the class has been the "most practical" and "best class" in their curriculum, I begin to dream about how to help others benefit from contracting.

2011: I begin coaching mentees about developing contracts. These colleagues develop contracts with schools, churches, medical practices, and non-profits. Personally, I continue with my work with a limited private practice and consulting.

So, that's it.  Let me encourage you to seek colleagues, opportunities, and supports to add contracting and consulting to your "toolkit." It will open up many doors to creative and energizing work!

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Employee engagement? The problem isn't employees the problem is . . . there's no plan.

Photo by  Conor Luddy  on  Unsplash

Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

Employees get a lot of blame for their lack of engagement. Leadership initiatives to improve engagement often focus on techniques and programs to increase organizational engagement . . . by focusing on what to do to, or with, the employees. For the leaders themselves, the focus is on how to create the right environment or push the right "levers." Few leaders really know what they should focus on in their own leadership style. Below, we will give you 3 attributes to "set your sites on" to increase the likelihood to modeling engagement as a leader and increasing the odds that employees will follow your example.

Engagement

If you read leadership material, a lot of the "talk" around employee engagement is about how to get the employees to be engaged. That is, how to get them to voluntarily be connected to the organization and be willing to use their discretionary effort to reach it's goals.

Many authors note that this engagement is more than a list of actions or behaviors, it is a relationship as well, but they then, despite noting the reciprocal nature of engagement, focus on the employees . . . and ignore the leadership side of the equation. This leaves the impression often that engagement is something leaders get employees to do. Transformative leaders focus on becoming . . . and helping others become . . . aligned with the values of engagement.

So, here are a few, brief, thoughts to help focus on leadership's role in developing an engaged workforce.

Another term for engagement is "betrothal" which is defined as a "formal agreement to get married." (Seen in this light--leaders and employers are in a marriage-like relationship--is it surprising that there are so many challenges. Note that this engagement includes, a decision to enter an agreement or contract and, that contract is aimed at creating a more permanent relationship between two parties.

Leaders who want to have engaged employees need to model engagement behaviors themselves. This doesn't mean "preaching" about engagement or creating incentive to engagement behavior. Carrots and sticks only work in the short-term and ultimately disencentivze employees.

Remember, it's about a relationship . . . and no one prefers to be in a manipulative, coercive, or unsupportive relationship. Yes, unhealthy relationships exist and even persevere . . . as long as there is no better option. When another option becomes possible the relationship ends. 

While leaders often acknowledge both sides to this engagement relationship, i.e" "we want the best for our employees"; very few have thought through what it takes for a leader to engage with their employees on a deep level.  

But leaders don't have time to a deep in-depth study of what it takes to become an engagement exercise. So let's boil it down to it's roots. What does it take to model healthy engaged behaviors?  Here's what I think it takes . . . 3 primary attributes of an engaged leader . . . plus 2 for good measure!

1. Being Present

We hear a lot about "dead-beat Dads" or Mother's who "abandon" their children. We understand that to have a healthy relationship you must be present. Employees know when a leader is only "putting in the time" and not really "there for them."

2. absence can present itself  in terms of a burned-out leader, an overly committed leader, traumatic events, or other factors. A leader who is not physically, emotionally, or behaviorally present will not have an engaged workforce--or if they do, it will be inspire of the leader and due to informal leadership within the work team itself.

2. A Non-Anxious Presence

Once of the biggest killers of engagement comes through leaders that cannot operate as a "non-anxious presence." They react. They drive. They create an uncertain, anxious, fearful, environment where some employees feel threatened and cannot predict what the leader will do. Thus they engage in a lot of unhealthy coping strategies . . . lying, avoiding, playing-it-safe.  

3. High-level Communication

People think they communicate well. They don't. If you are trained and experienced in communication you know this. Within just two or three sentences, a trained expert can't identify elements that will make communication difficult, if not all-together, misleading. At it's worst it is corrosive or volitile. We do team training on communication utilizing a simple "disarm the bomb" electronic program. The teams are always terrible in the beginning. How can it be difficult to describe the color of wires or the buttons to push and in what sequence? Well, it is difficult. Imagine what happens to communication when their are emotions real consequences on people's lives in the mix.

Yet, like it or not, people are judged through the patterns of communication they employ.  This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. It is impacted by the tendencies and trends over time but can be undone by one or more single events during high stress moments (see non-anxious presence above).

4. A Desire to Improve . . . that is stronger than a desire to protect one's since or "self!"

One of the biggest problems in working with executives or their teams is that they give "lip service" to wanting to improve but act like they are protecting their fragile egos. To date, I have never had a senior executive admit to me that they are afraid to get honest feedback, fear the challenges of changing to help their team's success, or say they are satisfied with their level of competence. I have had them resist taking negative feedback, being defensive, blaming others, or avoiding. After all, they are human, despite being accomplished and successful. This is a "blind spot" they need to get over. They need a hunger to improve that will keep them engaged when it is tough.

5. Commitment

In some form, every accomplishment is done for a reason. But reasons are not all alike in their ability to sustain effort. A reason that has deep meaning to the leader can sustains them through the difficult times . . . and keep them from "leaping ships" when experiencing quick success. The leader needs a deep commitment to something to risk engaging fully in the success of his organization. Without it employees will likely not engage deeply either. So, ask yourself this, "Why should I, as a leader, want to be present, non-anxious, and communicative?  Why strive to continue to improve?  Without good answers to these questions, your commitment, and your employees, is likely to wane with time.

All the best!

 

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The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything . . .

Photo by  Tbel Abuseridze  on  Unsplash

 

Douglas Adam's fans who are familiar with The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy know that a group of hyper-intelligent beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Through. It takes 7½ million years for Deep Thought to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be . . . 42. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless  . . . because the beings who provided the query never actually knew what the Question was.

No we do. The Questions is, What is meaning of 42?"  Well, it turns out that 42 is the approximate number of the beans it takes to make one shot of coffee. Thus the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything . . . is coffee.  Makes sense. At least to me.

So, fill up your cup and enjoy . . .

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Broken shovels and new handles.

The poor old shovel . . . yellow fiber-glass handle finally gave out!

The poor old shovel . . . yellow fiber-glass handle finally gave out!

Sometimes you just gotta do it. I was replacing my mailbox post when it happened. The old shovel handle broke. I've been expecting it. This old, yellow, fiberglass handle was never the best. It quickly began to weaken; the digging becoming a maddening-test-of-stubborn-resistance as the handle flexed, twisted, and alternatively held it''s rigidity as a project progressed.

Now it was caput. Finished. Should I "pitch it" in joy of the cessation of the frustration and hold a wake to it's demise? No. I would replace the handle with a good, solid, wooden one. I grew up in that era. Don't through away things that still have value. Even if the time, the replacement parts, and ultimate finished product are less than ideal.

Changing that handle (see the finished product below) reminded me of the process of helping professionals with "old" skills upgrade to "new" ones. Learning to add contracting or consulting to their professional practice. The tools essentially remain unchanged but the experience is transformative.

Check out our no-coast, no obligation, webinar on Private Practice through Contracting!

Almost makes me look forward to digging.

Almost makes me look forward to digging.

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The Neighbor, Grandpa's Gun, Reputation . . . and Authenticity?

Photo by  Lucas Minklein  on  Unsplash

The Neighbor, Grandpa's Gun, Reputation . . . and Authenticity?

A Boy Finds his Neighbor . . . and his Dad's gun.

My Dad was only 12 years old, when, on his way home he passed by the family's wood pile, and there, laying facedown on the ground, was his neighbor. It may be surprising to you, that "finding one's neighbor facedown on the ground" didn't exactly surprise him, but it didn't. In 1934, it wasn't entirely unexpected to find a neighbor drunk and passed out. After all, everyone knew about the "moonshiners" that lived down the hill in his small Arkansas town . . . and the fact that some neighbors, including this one, liked to "hit the sauce."

It also wasn't that odd to find this neighbor in that state. He was an occasional hunting-companion of my Grandfather's, and truth be told, was known for consistently, if not regularly, "tying one on." To my Dad, at that moment, the only odd thing about finding this neighbor, in this situation, was . . . that there was a gun lying next to him, and . . . that It was his Father's gun.

Authenticity. 

Authenticity is often cited as a characteristic for professional success. I confess, at times I feel quite confused about what writers in the fields of business, professional studies, or consulting mean as they tout this authenticity as a trait necessary for success. What does it mean? Is it "being a man, or woman, of your word?" Being honest or humble (in a Patrick Lencioni sense) in not thinking first of your own safety above the needs of the organization?  Does it mean just being a "good person?"  Is it as simple as what we used to call "guarding your reputation?"

I think of my father's story when, occasionally, I ask myself, "Does reputation really count for anything anymore?" To me, growing up in a small town in the midwest, reputation meant everything. As a kid, I knew, just by observing, who the adults considered  "good people" and who, well, were not--people in whom they placed their trust.

But, I no longer operate in a small village and the clear linkage from reputation to success is less apparent. So, is this need for authenticity even true in our new cosmopolitan world?

A couple of years ago, my wife brought me a book touting some new "revolutionary" ideas she had picked up at a used book sale. She said "this is kind of interesting, maybe you'd like to read it." I instantly recognized the name. It was a T.V. pitch-man that I had seen extolling many different products over the years. I told her I didn't think he was credible, then found--on the internet of course--articles that talked about his history as a con-man, his prison sentence for fraud, and on-going "business" propositions. We tossed the book. But, just as easily, I could have not heard about this promoter and the marketing certainly made it look legitimate.

Does it still matter?

So today, does your reputation really matter?  Stories abound, across industries, that seem to imply that many who abuse this "truism," that you authenticity is important, go on hiding their true nature, fooling people who come under their sway. With the advent of on-line business, new questioning old moral absolutes, and with an expanding population, it doesn't seem that there has ever been a time when it is easier to operate in anonymity--and without accountability. 

Yet, I still see business gurus talking about the importance of authenticity. So, does it matter or are they parroting values of another age?  I don't know.  What I do know is this; I don't want to operate with anything less than the belief . . . that it does matter. I've benefitted, and watched others benefit from, great acts of personal integrity and leadership. Even if one could "get away" with being less than authentic they would still have to look at themselves in the mirror. Oh I know, the con-man is not "troubled" by feeling bad about the harm he does to others. But, I still think, down deep he knows exactly who he is, and more importantly, who he is not.

I was entering a store today in "the city" as a woman exited. She was being followed by a couple of store employees--one, of whom, was filming her with his phone. A black truck waited her at the door. As she rushed to get in the truck, she was frustrated in her attempt by the locked door. Through the open window, she barked, "Let me the *&%# in!" Her companion complied, as the employee continued to film and, moving behind the truck, transferred the focus from the woman to the truck--a truck that I now noticed had no license plate. What had she done to warrant such surveillance? I don't know. But I suspect a visit with the police is eminent. 

Coming from the small-village that I do, it is hard sometimes to justify that "world" with what happens today. Store clerks tell me that it is company policy to not interfere with shoplifters and let them walk out the door with merchandise. Educated people advocate to not prosecute various people/groups that clearly have violated laws. Too often I have heard the phrase, "What's right for you?" in collegiate discussions about cultural problems as solutions, as if, all things are subjective to the individual whims and preferences of each individual person.

The psychiatric hospital was bought by a big corporation, staffing problems became an issue, accusations were made and the state came in to investigate. Colleague stated, "You know Bryan would be the first to report it if this was really happening."

The Court and the Outcome

What happened with the neighbor? My grandfather, probably sensing what had happened, told my father to go inside and wait. Presumably, he checked out the situation, then contacted the authorities. Later, there was an inquest to follow up on this "unexplained death."  My father, as the person who found the body, was called before the judge as a witness. He told me that afterwards he had no idea what his 12 year-old self had said on the stand because he was so afraid they were going to "lock up" his Dad.

They didn't.

The ruling from the court was that it was a suicide. The neighbor, knowing where Grandfather kept his guns had evidently gone into the house, took one of the rifles, and used the woodpile to help him discharge the gun. My grandfather's reputation, behavior, and actions on that day --and before that day--as well as the neighbor's reputation for inebriation, all protected Grandpa from the fears my father entertained.

Authenticity was not an option but an expectation in my home. Watching, my father, along side my mother, as they served a small midwestern college, in a small community, over the course of 51 years, it was a lesson he'd learned long ago. It served them well.

 

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