Group think or Group Discovery (part two)

Think about a time you changed your "mind" or beliefs about something, anything.

Prior to the change, were you pretty sure you were "right" about the idea or belief?

What was the process you went through to make the change?

Did the change happen fast? Or, was it a chipping away of resistances that allowed you to see the new insight?

If you had to sequence the events, what order would you put the change process in? Is it even possible to put them in an order?

Did you have to come to the end of "something"--maybe yourself? Did you go on a "search" for something even though you didn't know where that new thing was? Did you feel lost? Did you find credible "voices" who made the change easier to navigate? Did you eventually take a leap into the new space without much idea of what was awaiting you? Did the leap, and the entire process, lead to  "aha moments" where new insights allowed you to let go of old ways of thinking and patterns of behaving?

How am I doing at describing the transition you made?

As we think about what it takes for an organization to move out of group-think, a helpful beginning point is to consider how we make personal change. The dynamics of personal change are not that different from the dynamics of organizational change. Of course, organizational change requires a lot of people to make individual changes that lead to collective shifts in the psyche, culture and behavior of the whole group or team. In this way, organizational change is more complicated, but essentially it requires the organization travel a similar path as that described above in my questions.

A related and very important question concerning group-think is this:

How much can a person influence a group, trapped in group-think, to change their ways?

The trouble with trying to be the change agent in a culture of group-think is that the culture will view your attempts at change, even with the best of intentions, as a disloyal attack on the essence of their "way of life or work." You become the enemy in a hurry.

What to do?

Stay tuned...

Group think or Group Discovery (part two)2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

Group think or Group discovery?

Dave: Well, is there an openness to hear opposing viewpoints about the condition of the organization right now?

Friend of Dave's: No, there really isn't. In fact, the feeling is pretty much that if you don't "go along with" the stated direction, you're disloyal and might want to polish up the resume.


This snippet is a conversation I had with a friend about her organization. It's not an organization I work with in any way. It was just a friend sharing her feelings of frustration about the culture of her organization--an organization she loves dearly and is committed to with passion.  My friend is not a complainer or a "pot-stirrer." On the contrary, she's bright, talented, and committed to her company.

The Trouble: The senior leaders, in her organization, have fallen into group-think. Group-think is a powerful group dynamic; one that can render a culture ineffective on so many levels. If you want to learn more about the concept of group-think, go here.

Group-think is such a powerful dysfunction because it masquerades as passionate belief in "the one way" that is better than all other ways. Whether that "one way" is an ideology, or a process, or a a cultural value, the message is: if you don't agree with the "one way" you are not only wrong, but against all that is good and right--all that we stand for.

The worst forms of group-think are a mixture of rigid ideas proposed by authoritarian leaders. When this infects an organization, it creates a culture of fear and punishment--or maybe we could say, fear of being punished for thinking differently than "the one way." Perhaps one of the worst affects of group-think is that it makes organizational discovery all but impossible. Gone is the ability to allow healthy and innovative dialogue to shape the organization.

So, if your organization if trapped in group-think, what can be done to move it to a better place?

Stay tuned...

Group think or Group discovery?2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

When things go wrong, don’t make excuses, make fans (part two)

You may want to read the first post in this musing before reading this one.

Problems are part of life. Problems are also part of the customer service experience. Dan, in my story, left me hanging on the phone and had the opportunity when I was in front of him to make me a wild fan. He almost did it, but didn't because instead of making my situation, albeit a small one, better, he made an excuse.

Here's the deal: Problems are inevitable, excuses are optional.

It's easy, even seems natural, to make an excuse when a customer points out a problem. I've done it. In those moments, we want our customer to "empathize" with our trouble and cut us a break. More often than not, the customer isn't going to do what we want. Instead, an excuse makes our customers feel slighted. Whether customers should be more tolerant or not, isn't the issue. For me most part, "they" or better yet "we" are not that tolerant.

What to do?

Resist the temptation to give an excuse, instead make your customer's day. So let's replay the conversation with Dan and make one slight adjustment right at the moment he made the excuse. Here's the part of the conversation that can remain the same:


" Dan," I said, "I've been on hold for at least 10 minutes."

At that point, he stopped me and didn't let me get one more word out.

"I'm sorry, that was me, and I'm sorry."


Now here's what he should have said next:


"Let me tell you what I"m going to do, I'm going to take $5.00 off your order. I shouldn't have forgotten your call and you shouldn't have been on hold on your cell phone while driving to the restaurant.  I apologize, let's take $5.00 off your order and why don't you just grab a cup; the drink is on us too."


If Dan would have said (and done) this, my angst would have evaporated and I would have been spreading his name around for mayor of his city. If you "make it better" for your customer, in the midst of a problem, your credibility shoots out the roof. You get a fan.

So, when the problem occurs, don't make excuses, make it better. And that, makes fans.

When things go wrong, don’t make excuses, make fans (part two)2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

Beauty and Leadership

Leadership can be tough.

When a group or person bears the responsibility for a company's direction and effectiveness, it can easily create a weight, a burden that is hard to bear. Soon, we find ourselves on the skeptical (or even bitter) side of the equation. We just get tired, mad, singed, jaded; you get the idea.

What can counter this condition?


I'm sitting in a Starbucks as I write this listening to a beautiful piece of music on my iTunes. The song reaches to some space in me, some place beyond the jaded, frustrated, tired place. The music re-energizes my pursuit of all that is good. It reminds me that this "good" place is in me waiting to be expressed in the world, in my own leadership.

Of course, you know the place I'm referring to, because it's in you as well. The place where you feel inspired, alive and ready to express that life in the world.

What moves you closer to that space?

I want to suggest that one important dynamic is beauty.

A beautiful song
A beautiful piece of art
A beautiful sunset
A beautiful movie
A beautiful conversation

I don't know what invigorates that space in you. I do know, however, to be the best leader you can be, you need to live from that place as much as you can. Beauty is a guide that can get you back to that place when you're too far away.

One more thing: Beauty is rarely on my timetable or schedule. She usually asks me to slow down and pay attention.

Beauty and Leadership2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

When things go wrong, don’t make it excuses, make fans

A couple of nights ago I stopped at fast food restaurant I frequent when I travel. While I waited for my order, the manager handed me a menu, highlighted the number of his particular restaurant and told me that next time I should call first and then my order would be ready when I walked in the door. A nice touch, I thought.

So, being the "rut eater" that I am, the next night I pulled out the menu, grabbed my rental car keys and headed for my car. As I got in my car, I dialed the number.

"Can you please hold a moment," the voice responded.

"Sure," I replied.

I heard the employee put the phone down, and well...he never picked it back up. For the next 10 minutes or so, I heard the sounds of the restuarant. I tried getting his attention; but to no avail. I also though about hanging up, but with each passing second I grew a bit more incredulous that this guy had simply forgotten the phone was "live" and that I was waiting.

I reached the restaruant. Still no answer. I was peeved, but trying not to act like it--for fear that I would come across like a spoiled American who can't handle insignificant disruptions. when I finally reached the counter, I looked at the "shift leader"--let's call him Dan.

" Dan," I said, "I've been on hold for at least 10 minutes."

At that point, he stopped me and didn't let me get one more word out.

"I'm sorry, that was me, and I'm sorry."

A flash went across my mind. This guy is taking responsibility for this. He didn't have to do that. He's admitting it was he who made the mistake. My good feelings toward this restuarant and Dan were growing.

And then, like a record needle scratching across the vinyl, my love fest with Dan evaporated with his next words.

"I got busy and didn't get back to you. Can I take your order."

I thought to myself, you got busy?

To be honest, and maybe this is the selfish American in me, I didn't care that Dan was busy. Everyone's busy Dan, get in line, I thought. Further, to suggest to me that he was busy negated the fact that I was part of his busy, or should have been. I'm a customer, just as much as the woman standing in front of you Dan; and you're telling me you couldn't get to me becasue you were busy?

Now before you think I'm just an insensitive and impatient soul who can't wait for things, let me clarify.

I don't have a problem that Dan was busy, really.

I don't have a problem that Dan forgot me, really.

I've done similar and worse in my own world.

Here's my problem: Dan made an excuse, when he could have made a fan.

In fact, customer service problmes (or failures) are uniquely suited to give you the opportunity to make your unhappy customer your biggest fan.

How do you do that?

Stay tuned....

When things go wrong, don’t make it excuses, make fans2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

To gossip or not to gossip (in the workplace)

I saw an article this morning on on solving workplace dilemmas. You can see the entire article here.

Gossip is one of the dilemmas discussed in the article. Here's a what is said:


Dilemma: Office gossip
Solution: Gossip not only contributes to hostility and pessimism in the workplace, but it also causes 'cliques' within the company. To better this situation, management should confront the issue, McCann says. Provide statistics on how gossip negatively affects people and take action by putting up flyers that say "No Gossip Zone" in conspicuous areas.

"When an approach like this is used, the negative ones weed themselves out," McCann says. "They either conform to a more positive work environment or they move on to a place where their kind of behavior is accepted."


I feel mixed about this advice. To say, simply, this is a no gossip zone, seems to me to miss a deeper situation often at play in the workplace.

First, let me say, I'm not advocating destructive talk. I agree that excessive and pervasive negativity is a killer, period. However, in many organizations "talk" which resembles gossip can be quite important for a leader hear and learn from.

Here's the deal: people talk. Get over it. Remember, I'm against negativity that is damaging. But, there is often something within office conversations that reveals real issues that need to be addressed. If a leader says, "hey, we don't talk about the company's issues; keep your comments to yourself," that does two things.

1) It suggests the leader is insecure about something

2) It simply sends the conversation underground

James Bergquist in his book, The Postmodern Organization, discusses the value of gossip. Yes, the value. Again, don't get destructive conversation mixed into your thinking when you hear this idea. No one values that. Yet, the conversations that occur in the office are chalk full of important information about the way your employees view you, your organization and themselves.

When you say, "don't talk," you are sending the wrong message. A better path is to create conversational spaces with your employees where you invite them, through thoughtful questions, to tell you some of what they usually keep to themselves. Will this stop the destructive gossip? Not all of it. But, it will, over time, make it more difficult for destructive gossip to gain hold of your employees. Why? Employees that are invited to talk, and listened to, have a harder time destroying their boss, organization or co-workers with their words. In other words, inviting people to speak their minds (even if what's in their mind is wrong) creates ownership. And ownership, creates a caring spirit.

Don't post a sign and stay in your office. Leave your office and send the signal that you want to be a part of the conversational stream of your employees. Sure, you will alwasy be an outsider to some degree. But you will gain important insights and the confidence of people if you listen rather than squelch.


     1) People are going to talk

     2) What you do will either create subversion (underground gossip) or inclusion (you hearing and yes, shaping those conversations, providing insight, and making changes based on what you learn).

It's your choice.


To gossip or not to gossip (in the workplace)2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

Man calls 911 to rescue him from police

So you can read the story here

OK, allow me to stretch the analogy a bit; you can decide if it works.

Though this story sounds like it should make some top ten list (you choose the title of the list), business leaders and managers do this all the time. They try to solve a problem at the same level that got them there (to the problem) in the first place.

There's been a saying in TQM circles for years: Your processes are perfectly designed to produce the results you're experiencing today.

Here's another one from Einstein: The significant problems we face today, cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

OK, I'm stretching it a bit, but I think you get the point.

Where do you need create, what systems thinkers call, second order change-- a qualitatively different way of thinking that has the potential to generate a real breakthrough, a true innovation?

The point: If you're already in trouble with the police, calling them to rescue you from "them" isn't going to cut. If you are trying to rescue your organization by doing more of what caused you to get stuck, it's only going to generate more of what you already have.

Man calls 911 to rescue him from police2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

Who (or What) is your threshold guardian?

I mentioned that I recently read, The Dip-- Seth Godin's book on mastery and learning to push through the difficult in order to become truly extraordinary at a particular endeavor. There's a related concept that has been helpful for me for a number of years now. It comes from mythological writing. In myths, there is always a "threshold guardian."

The threshold guardian is the person or set of circumstances that the hero or heroine must face and "get through" if he or she is to accomplish the dream, win the prize or actualize potential. Have you ever noticed that, as you walk into your dreams, there are always thresholds that challenge you? These thresholds are frustrating because they seem counterproductive to the pursuit of the dream. However, on the other side of the guardian, we often see the immense value the guardian brought to the moment and to our lives.

I've had so many threshold guardians: an editor who kept sending my drafts back again and again; a Dean that challenged the need "anyone would have to study the topic of your dissertation" (which was  about the perceptions employees have with regards to workplace spirituality);  the many requirements I've had to meet to  enter some new realm of study or work or life.  On I could go.

How about you?


What threshold guardians are you facing today? What guardians  are making your life hard, but just might be exactly what you need to make it through the difficulty (The Dip) and into a new place of life and effectiveness?

Who (or What) is your threshold guardian?2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

If you’re a leader, promixmity matters (part three)

You're kidding, right?

I already have plenty to do and now you want me to hang around and watch my employees work?

Obviously, you don't understand the world I live in.

These are common objectives leaders I've coached have given me over the years when I bring up proximity.

There are, potentially, a couple of dynamics behind responses like these. The first is scope and the second is arrogance.


Of course a leader can't be in proximity to everyone in the organization, unless the organization is very small. So, the scope of proximity coaching has to match the size of the organization. If a leader has an executive or management team, then that could be the scope of her proximity coaching.  Finding the right scope makes proximity coaching sustainable. If you are trying to coach 100 people, in a variety of jobs, you are obviously giving very little value to most people. But, if you are focused on three or four or six, now you can offer something of value.

Even if you find the right scope, there is another obstacle that can kill proximity. It's arrogance.


I'm just too important.

There is a mindset that leaders can fall into--one that kills proximity. The mindset is that somehow, because of the position, a leader just doesn't have time to bother with the trifles of people development. What?! Can you imagine Phil Jackson making this argument? I'm just too important to come to practice or to the game. I'll send someone else to do that. You've go to be kidding. Senior leaders who have a bad case of what I call the, Jabba the Hut syndrome, aren't leaders at all. They are dictators? Meaning: They dictate rather than coach.

If a leader is going to coach, he will have to get over himself. Pride kills proximity. Not too mention the fact that people would rather have the "arrogant leader" stay home.

So, to sustain coaching:

    1) You have to find the right scope

    2) You have to remember you are not "above" the duty of coaching

Why is all this important: If you are you too distant, your leadership is in danger of being received as an unanchored overture that is based on secondary information, rather than insight based leadership founded on primary observation and engagement.

Of course, you can be too close to your employees as well. That’s called micro managing. But that’s for another post. Proximity coaching means that you care enough about the development of your employees to watch them perform. This means you will have to appropriately insert yourself into environments where they are working or leading. As you do this, your credibility will go up in the eyes of that employee and you just might learn new things about a part of your community or organization you had been unaware of up to that point.

If you’re a leader, promixmity matters (part three)2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00

Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 05:19 PM


I've always liked Godin's ideas about business and marketing. This book is a bit of a departure from all of that--and a worthwhile departure it is. Godin talks about the cost and rewards of being great, and how to determine when the cost is too great and we should quit. Yep, quit.

Message One: Choose what to be great at--choose wisely. Stay with it through the inevitable difficulties and you will become great because so few people are willing to stay through the dips.

Message Two: If what you've chosen isn't right for you or you are not willing to pay the price, quit and quit now. Then, go back to message one.

I also just listened to an interview with Godin on this book. Go here to listen.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 05:19 PM2019-03-26T10:44:34-04:00