September 21, 2017

Are you associated with the problem?

Business People in a Board meetingI don’t mean are you causing the problem: I mean are you engaged with it; or engaged with the people who are dealing with it?

If not, you probably won’t have much impact.

If you’re dissociated from the problem or the people, chances are you won’t be able to influence what happens, however insightful your thinking is.

To be able to influence, we need to be in relationship with the people who are involved; to be connected. We probably need to be engaged with the problem itself too.

Can we be both engaged in the system and able to stand back and maintain perspective, if not simultaneously, then at least sequentially?

Do you have a method for doing that?

Are you associated or disassociated with the problems you care about? It does make a difference.

If you’re the leader…

Business People in a Board MeetingYou created everything around you. (You are the person with authority and influence, after all.)

If you don’t like it, either you’ve not led very well, or you’re not actually the leader.

Which is it?

How nurturing should you be with members of a team?

Man thinkingWhere do you draw the line between helping team members step up to their role and not overdoing it so that they end up depending on you?

How do you decide where the right balance lies? Does it depend on the organisation? Some businesses are, by nature, very demanding and with little tolerance of people growing into a role. Other cultures are too tolerant of poor performance. Neither is likely to be viable in the long-term.

If you usually focus on task, maybe you need to pay a bit more attention to relationship.

If you’re relationship-minded, maybe you need to be a little bit more demanding.

It doesn’t have to be either-or; it can be both-and: Task and relationship. The issue is how you integrate these things. That is perhaps the true art of leadership.

What’s your personal blend?

Putting yourself out there to be judged

Man thinkingIf we hope to have influence—to stimulate something better happening—we have to put ourselves out there to be judged.

If we don’t, nobody will know we have anything to offer and nothing different will happen.

Of course, if we put ourselves and our ideas out there to be judged, we will be.

It’s not like launching a product. This is personal.

Are you up for that?

Constrained or radical?

Tall buildings in LondonIf you’re on the inside, it can be hard to stimulate change in the wider system because although you have some explicit authority, you’re constrained by your stakeholders’ expectations. We can’t really look to you to show the way on a wider front.

If you’re on the outside, it can be hard to stimulate change because although you’re not constrained, you don’t have authority.

But you do have the chance to be radical.

And those on the inside need those on the outside to be radical, because the stakeholders are influenced.

And then those on the inside can do something different because they have authority.

And then the system can change.

Humility and influence

Group in discussionDo those with the most humility have the most influence? Or is vocalising knowledge and expertise an essential part of gaining the attention required to make a difference?

Often it seems that those who have learned the most have the least need to speak, whilst others who are working things out need to express their ideas outwardly.

Of course, we need to remember some people like to process internally and others externally as a matter of preference, so we need to take that into account.

That allowed for, sometimes it’s the quieter ones—the ones with humility—that really have the knowledge, and in fact the greater influence. Perhaps they know enough to know how much they don’t know, and so we trust them more.

What’s your experience?

What a shocker: Trader acts in accordance with what he values

City traderAs do we all.

Did you hear the surprise?

If the world wide web could gasp, you would have heard it from mid-ocean. A city trader said candidly that he hoped for another recession because he could make a lot of money from one.

Various commentators then rather missed the point and started discussing whether the “man in the street” could make money from a recession, which of course they mostly can’t.

This episode brought into sharp focus a vital principle: Individuals always, always, always act in accordance with what matters to them – not what matters to us, and not what matters to that averaged expectation we call the “public interest.” Expect anything else and we will be disappointed. And what’s worse: Pretend that this isn’t so and we make our thinking and our dialogue worse than useless.

And yet…

It’s extraordinary how often we hear policy makers, commentators and others talking as if we can expect individuals to behave in the common interest – traders to always want economic prosperity. Now they might, but only in so far as they personally value the “public interest,” and they may well be under-delivering for their employer in doing so.

Please forgive me if all this is obvious to you.

(Whether international policy makers and regulators should allow large markets in financial instruments that contribute nothing to public good is another subject.)

Here are some everyday takeaways…

If people behave in ways that surprise us, it means we don’t properly understand what’s driving them. So what are we missing?

If we want people to behave in a different way, we need to change what they see as important somehow.

The most deep-seated drivers of behavior are usually unconscious ones, long since programmed in, probably around age 10. As Milton Erickson said “most of your life is unconsciously determined.”

You probably see lots of examples of people not understanding the drivers in a situation, or even not realizing that they need to. What tales have you to tell?

If what happens isn’t what you expected

A mistake we sometimes make is expecting people to act in a way that isn’t aligned with their interests. They won’t do that. Not ever.

You hear people saying things like, “They should do such and such”. What they really mean is, “It would suit me very well if they acted in line with what I want to see happen.” Well, it isn’t going to, unless they have direct authority over the other person or they share the same values.

One example that comes up often is commentators saying that entrepreneurs and business owners “shouldn’t sell their businesses”. Instead, they’re thinking, they should press on with the slog of growing their operations and continue, or even increase the risks they are running with their personal finances for the public good rather than take the rewards of their efforts. The commentators are dreaming if they think this is going to happen, unless the personal interest aligns with the public interest.

Another example is expecting market traders to act in line with the interests of the wider economy. That isn’t going to happen either, unless it suits the individuals concerned, and there’s no point in talking about it as if it is. You hear this issue overlooked in the media on a daily basis.

Please don’t make the mistake of expecting people to behave other than in line with their own interests. It won’t happen. If you need someone to do something different from what they’re doing, you’ll need to change their interests somehow or help them understand what their interests really are – show them the value, change the rewards or even appeal to the importance of their relationship with you. Remember also some of the interests are unconsciously held values – ones they’re unaware of – probably the most important ones, in fact. I’m not saying people never have altruistic interests. Sometimes, or even often they do, in which case they will act in line with them, but if they don’t, they won’t.

My suggested takeaway: Understand the interests in a situation and expect a future that flows from that. If you want to influence that future, work on the interests. Anything else is a waste of time and will lead to confusion.

If what happens isn’t what you expected, it means you didn’t understand the interests properly.

Has that happened to you? It certainly has to me.

What can we learn from Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing appeal?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi’s continues to attract great affection, support and interest both within and beyond Burma.

What The Economist (Nov 20th, 2010) describes “as the abiding affection and respect Miss Suu Kyi commands” is due not least to “her grace, courage and good humour” and, I would add, “integrity”. The lesson for us all, I submit, is the power of these qualities, including in everyday life and the workplace.

“Flexibility and weakness are completely different” – Aung San Suu Kyi

“A steel wire is strong because it is flexible; a glass rod is rigid but may shatter.” Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised alternately for being too flexible and too rigid, but her continuing appeal and influence suggests she has the balance right.

She has not achieved her objective, you may protest. What is her objective though? If it is peaceful change without bloodshed and saving the people of Burma from great violence, perhaps she is succeeding. Meanwhile, note the Burmese general’s fear in the face of a slight 65-year old woman of integrity.