Triage & Post-Mortem Your Actions – Season 2020, Episode 25

Robert woke up around 5:30 in the morning, more tired than when he went to bed. Back in mid-March, his company was outpacing their projections so significantly his team was wondering how they had failed to more accurately project revenues and profits. At the time, back in the fall of 2019, Robert’s team was skittish about being too aggressive with their 12% revenue increase projections. As the end of Q1 approached – along with the pandemic – sales were almost 20% higher. Like most teams experiencing grand success, they just accepted it and were thankful.

By March 18, 2020 life began to change. Dramatically.

Robert’s banker made sure the company got all the federal funds possible. Thankfully, they qualified for a significant loan, which was easily converted to a forgivable “grant” as Robert used almost all the money to keep staff on the payroll. At the time, Robert was hopeful the money would be enough to help him ride out the pandemic storm. But it wasn’t.

During those days he assembled his leadership team on Zoom calls trying to wrestle to the ground strategies that would help them hang on. In the span of about 90 days they went from feeling stupid because they had so grossly under-estimated sales projections…now, here they were talking about how to manage cash flow so they could just survive. Robert admitted, “Somedays, it was just too much of a swing. My mind couldn’t seem to handle it.”

The employees have been prominent in Robert’s mind. He’s got talent that has been with him for years. Some that’s quite specialized. All of it, to hear him, are loyal. It was crushing for Robert to even entertain conversations about how impossible it was going to be to keep the payroll fully intact. Harder still when he had to personally inform people that the company could no longer retain them. For Robert, it was especially painful to do such a thing by way of a video call rather than in person. “That’s as bad it gets,” said Robert. “You lose people who have done great work for a long time and you can’t even show them the respect to do it in person.”

Like many, Robert experienced death by a thousand cuts as he tried every day to figure out ways to avoid the inevitable. At every step he and his leadership team – who were all the first to forego pay so they could try to hang onto as many employees as possible – were pre-thinking every possible scenario and he’ll tell how they were “second-guessing every single thing we do.”

Triage is mostly a medical term. It refers to the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. I’ve used it for years to refer to a management team’s assessment of the present circumstances in order to decide the priorities. It’s the ability of leadership to accurately figure out what course of action should happen next!

Robert and his team were putting in the hard work to triage their situation. But this was and is an unparalleled time. There’s no precedent upon which to draw. Robert’s vast experience seemed inadequate.

Like most business owners Robert made some personal decisions early on. Each based on how he personally felt he had to react. He remained true to himself by erring on the side of gratitude toward his staff. That’s why he decided to stave off parting ways with people as long as possible. Meanwhile, I know other owners who operated quite differently. Being true to themselves, some had little to no compunction about parting ways with anybody. I’m not judging it. Some owners view their staff as invaluable to the success of the enterprise. Others view them as more disposable. Robert held the former viewpoint.

This is important because we love to think that every decision is purely logical, reasonable and hopefully accurate because of that logic and reason. But we’re humans. We have feelings. Emotions. Thoughts. Life isn’t so simple or easy.

Part of triaging decisions and actions is figuring out what you can live with. Decisions aren’t perfect. Or made with perfect information.

Robert is the kind of leader who couldn’t live well with himself – meaning, he would be unfazed or unbothered – if he made a decision without thinking of the welfare of his staff.

Others might be able to look past any individuals and do what they think best serves their operation. They’re able to live with themselves believing their first responsibility is to take care of the company. They’re able to distinguish between “the company” and the people who work there.

I’m not judging the choices made in today’s show, but I am mindful that as leaders and managers we’re driven to make choices we can live with, even if the choice is hard.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

We must prioritize actions and decisions. Triage is the critical part of figuring that out. What is the most important thing right now? What’s critical right now – the thing that is most urgent?

Some of our decisions may not be that important, but their time component makes them urgent. If your delivery truck gets a flat tire, that’s urgent. It needs to be taken care of quickly. It may or may not be a make-or-break decision, but there’s no reason to procrastinate on fixing it so you can move on. Such choices won’t require much thought – either in triage or post-mortem.

If a supplier contacts you that a vital shipment is delayed 2 weeks you’ve got both urgency and importance. It’s scramble the jets time! Options may be limited. Or non-existent. But decisions and actions must be taken to find some solution that can at least minimize the damage. Hopefully, an alternative can be found quickly to remedy the situation, even if it robs you of planned profits.

Daily decisions vary wildly in their urgency and importance. Some have quick, easy solutions. Others are more laborious. It’s those laborious decisions and actions that likely are worthy of post-motem (reviewing what you could have done to improve that situation now that you’re looking at it in the rearview mirror). All the decisions and actions require triage. Flat tires are easy to triage. Delayed critical shipments are, too. Most of the time we’re not challenged with a multitude of urgent, critical decisions simultaneously. That’s when triage gets harder.

One of the biggest challenges of post-mortem is our imaginations. We sometimes like to think that if we would have made a different decision, then things would have worked out better. Or, we can imagine them working out worse. Glass half full versus glass half empty.

Truth is, we’ll never know because we only know the outcome of the actions we took. But history is valuable. So are patterns.

Robert has a history of putting his people upfront. He also has a history of loyal, hardworking employees. Turnover in Robert’s company is almost unheard of. That’s not an accident. It’s the way Robert leads. And manages. Is that worthwhile? It is to him.

Meanwhile, another owner has a history of putting the company first. He’s the sole stockholder. In essence, he’s putting himself first. He has every right to do that. He’ll tell you that he’s poured his life into the company and his welfare – and his family’s – are the paramount thing to him. That’s his history. That’s his philosophy. That’s his pattern.  Is that worthwhile? It is to him.

There may be nuances that stop working for both men though. As they examine how they approach making decisions and taking actions, each man might see themselves in view of their history and patterns and decide something may work better. Maybe not. But if they don’t look at closely, they’ll never know.

Robert will admit that there have been times when he was too patient with people who simply couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work. But he’ll also tell you he hates the confrontation required to hold people as accountable as he should. When he looks closely at his habits of triage and post-mortem he realizes that he relies heavily – “too heavily,” he says – on finding just the right people. The right people who thrive in his environment. The right people who have the kind of loyalty he has. But when he doesn’t, he’s frustrated and unsure of how to best handle it. By looking at his decision-making process and his behaviors, Robert has learned he manages and leads in a single way. It works for some – even most. But he looks back and expresses regret for a few “very talented people who simply couldn’t find a fit here.”

Meanwhile, his counterpart who operates with a dramatically different philosophy is facing a different challenge as he looks at his history and patterns. Like Robert, he only knows what he knows. When asked, “Are you often frustrated with your people?” he jumps to answer. “Constantly! I am always disappointed.”

Turns out neither owner is behaving in ways that fully work for them. Turns out they’re both vexed a bit by their history and patterns. It’s a first step toward greater awareness that life can be different – better! That just because some things were urgent and important before doesn’t mean they are today. That just because you made one choice yesterday, it doesn’t mean you’re unable to make a different choice tomorrow.

Learning is about growth and improvement. It only happens when we commit ourselves to deeper scrutiny – the scrutiny of self-examination.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Humility Is The Path Forward – Season 2020, Episode 24

Admittedly, humility is a trite topic when we’re talking about leadership. It gets lots of lip service, but less practice. Humility sounds wonderful as a characteristic, but many people disbelieve it has real power. And real power is largely what folks clamor to obtain. Those who have it can be desperate to hang onto it.

Making decisions. That’s the name of the game. We want power, control, and authority. We want to make the decision and issue orders. There’s no place for humility when that’s the objective. So we may think.

Let me tell you what prompted today’s show.

Before the pandemic shut us all down I was engaged with a number of groups about making a leadership presentation. They had similar desires – growing and developing leadership that could propel them forward. Each group had so-called leaders, but each group felt leadership was largely ineffective.

At the heart of the conversations about how I might be able to help them was culture, a term I insisted we talk about it. Specifically, I wanted to hear their own description of the culture – the environment, the feelings, the opinions of the group members.

Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the cultures. Keep in mind, this is how THEY described themselves – their own culture.

“Participation is sparse.”

“Some are always chasing the spotlight for attention and power.”

“Most of us don’t speak up. Ever.”

“We’re told our opinions matters, but nobody listens so most of the time we just keep quiet.”

“We’re told what to do. Nobody ever asks us anything.”

“Decisions come down without any discussion.”

“You can’t have a conversation because it feels like people have their mind made up.”

Sound’s inviting, huh?

Sadly, it describes too many groups and teams. Long ago I figured out that leadership challenges largely stem from how people view authority. And how badly some seek authority.

In my coaching practice, I’m blessed because I always – 100% of the time – am commissioned to work with high achievers and performers. I don’t do remedial work. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not my calling. By the time I was 25 I learned I wasn’t a zero to 60 guy, but instead was a 60 to 240 guy. That is, I’m innately focused on taking an existing performance and finding paths forward to even higher performance. It was true in the businesses I operated and it’s been true in the teams I’ve assembled, and now in the people I coach. For me, the biggest question is, “How much better can it be?

I say that because it’s rare for me to encounter a client with a poor view of authority. My clients all lean very heavily into recognizing their responsibility and are very intent on upping their game. Along the way, we almost always engage in conversations about lessons learned from the bad bosses they had along the way. Invariably we have a discussion about authority and why some people see it as decision-making rather than service. It’s at the heart of many leadership challenges because too many bosses lack the humility to lead.

My focus on leadership humility centers on curiosity, compassion, and understanding. These are the path forward for all leaders, even those who are already high achievers and high performers. We can all improve our abilities in these 3 areas.

The reason I focus on this triad of traits is because humility fosters these and lack of humility erodes them. The real focal point of humility? Others. When it’s not about others it’s about us, but not in a selfish way. It’s about our willingness to question ourselves. It’s about our commitment to our own learning, growth and improvement so we can help others do the same.

Permit a made up story to illustrate.

The entire team is assembled in the room. There is no boss present, only peers. This is a meeting to discuss an opportunity. A challenge. Take your pick. The purpose of the meeting is to have the first discussion about it. These people are present to provide their insights on the matter. Each of them has a perspective that could be valuable to the overall clarity.

As the meeting begins one person, the self-appointed leader of the group, takes command of the meeting. He begins by stating his views on the matter as well as his suggestions on what should be done. When he winds down he asks if anybody else has anything to offer. He’s instantly shut down more than half the group who simply want to leave and be done with this meeting. Most are silently frustrated by his obvious quest to be in charge. But some brave soul pipes up and tactfully states a few opposing viewpoints. Mr. “I’m In Charge” immediately discounts these opposing views, attempting to point out why they’re not the best course. Or, as is quite often the case, Mr. “I’m In Charge” ignores the comments altogether and then asks, “Anybody else?” It’s as though the first person never uttered a word. This teaches the rest of the group that there’s little point in speaking up because you’re not going to be heard anyway.

This happens in group meetings held in person or virtually all over the globe. It happens when no boss is present or when the boss is present. Most people go along to get along. And all along the way people are dying inside, along with their brilliant insights, ideas and suggestions. All because somebody driven by their own desire to be in charge lacks humility.

No curiosity about what others are thinking or feeling.

No compassion for anybody but themselves.

No desire to understand.

But I’ve found it begins with no urge, willingness, or commitment to questioning themselves. No desire or willingness to get better because they’re already the smartest person present. How can you improve when you’re already the best? 😀

That’s the great thing about high performers. They don’t have to convinced. They already believe in the power of questioning themselves – and in having others question them. They already know the power of the collective inside whatever room they’re in is infinitely wiser than they are alone. High achievers are committed to finding ways to better leverage the power of others. That’s why these are the people I serve!

But let’s end with some potential bits of help, some tips that might provide a path forward even for those who are bent like Mr. “I’m In Charge.”

  1. Don’t be the first to express your viewpoint. Hold your peace. Resist telling others what you think or how you feel. Respect others by first respecting yourself. Enough to keep quiet.
  2. Ask others what they think or how they feel. Solicit the insight from others with the aim of learning and understanding.
  3. Try to have compassion and understanding for where they’re coming from, even if (and especially if) it opposes how you think. You don’t have to agree in order to embrace curiosity, compassion, and understanding.
  4. Solicit the quietest people in the room. They’re often the more thoughtful, deliberate people. They could be the shyest, too. No matter, lead the way to make sure more folks are involved.

Humility is the path forward for YOU and everybody else. Nobody loses. It makes you more approachable. Safer. It fosters more insights from others. There just isn’t any downside to it.

Fools think it’s the way of cowards or low achievers. They think bravado and insistence is the path to authority. They incorrectly see leadership as authority, but they’re not the same. People make up their own minds on who they’ll follow. Or who will influence them. Somebody imposes a boss on us. It doesn’t make them leader. Leadership’s power is first over one’s own pride and ego, and next, over one’s ability to influence others because they know their best interest is the primary consideration.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

The Destructive Power Of Restlessness – Season 2020, Episode 23

Since I wasn’t alive during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, this is my first pandemic experience. But I have experienced disruption. My working life really began during major disruption in the 1970s because of the oil crisis. Thankfully, I was a teen and didn’t know any better (or different). From then until now I’ve encountered numerous downturns that weren’t gentle slopes, but more like rock slides. Maybe that has something to do with how I approach market disruptions. Mostly, I don’t get too preoccupied with them because they’re so much bigger than me.

I don’t remember ever feeling dispair. Uncertainty? Of course, but maybe because I started out as a high-schooler when the economy was awful…I just don’t pay much attention to it. I certainly don’t claim to have some special mental toughness or special gift. Experience and perspective must be the reason.

There is a game that is played far above my level. Sports stopped during the pandemic, but the game of business ramped up to super-major-league levels. Unfortunately, the play happens out of sight of the public. We’re only able to see the score when the game is finished. The winners are business people able to leverage the restlessness of others to their advantage. It’s among the reasons why some companies experience exponential growth during tough times. It’s why others are able to acquire valuable assets at greatly reduced investments. And it’s why others fail and fall off the game board giving increased opportunities to the competition.

Restlessness in markets has an upside if you’re able to take advantage.

Restlessness also has a powerful destructive force in our professional and personal lives. And in our organizations. This is why we have to be more keenly aware of it and work to manage it in our lives and in the lives of the people we serve.

Today I just want to focus on one big element that makes restlessness destructive and see if we can help leverage it, instead, to serve us positively.

Restlessness kills curiosity because we grow increasingly impatient. 

This pandemic is an ideal manifestation of it. People are anxious and exhausted. The polarization of opinions is growing. All because we’re restless with the situation. We just want to get past it. Never mind a deeper understanding. Out goes whatever curiosity we may naturally have. And if we lacked curiosity before the restlessness set in, then we’ve ditched it all together now.

The formula is ridiculously simple: curiosity prompts the quest to truly understand, which in turn drives our understanding. Greater understanding arms us with better data from which to make a decision resulting in improved actions, assuming we can execute as we want.

It starts with curiosity, which requires patience. Insert the pressure of “no time” or the perception that we have no time and patience goes down (or away). There goes curiosity.

During this pandemic, I’ve actually heard a phrase uttered by folks who ought to know better. “My mind’s made up.” Translation: I don’t care what you or anybody else says. I already know what I want to do. I don’t have time for any input or insights.

It’s a recipe for a fatal decision. I’m not saying that’s guaranteed, but we dramatically improve our odds of making a very poor and costly decision.

The destruction caused by our unmanaged restlessness goes deeper though. It erodes our relationships. When we lose our curiosity we lose interest in others. We stop caring what they think or how they feel. Selfishness grows. We know what we know and we arrogantly think we know best. Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. But our restlessness propels our ego forward while shoving other people aside.

How many “smartest guy in the room” people do you know who excel at curiosity and seeking understanding?

Exactly.

None.

Restlessness can contribute to making any of us be like that. We think what we think and we lose our open-mindedness to listen to others. We don’t care what they think, or why. We don’t want to understand their viewpoint because our mind is made up. We already think we know better.

Never mind that we might have it wrong. Think of the consequences of our leadership and influence.

When others see our curiosity dwindle they notice immediately. When others notice we no longer listen to them, we lose our influence. Everybody wants to be heard and understood. Leaders owe that to anybody they hope to serve. It’s especially harmful to us if our restlessness is temporary. We cause long-term damage due to a short-term problem.

So what should we do?

  1. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. You can’t manage restlessness until you first recognize it. Get in touch with how restless you are.
  2. Gauge your curiosity. It’s the best measurement of the negative impact of your restlessness. When you find yourself not asking questions in an attempt to better understand others, then you know you’re in trouble and need to course correct.
  3. As good as it feels to think you’re smarter than everybody else, know that it’s a delusion and therefore, dangerous. Don’t view your curiosity as a challenge to your smartness, but a confirmation of it. The more curious you are, the smarter you are. So act curious if you must, but be curious enough to learn more so you can deepen your understanding.
  4. Go three steps deeper than you may want. When you begin to think, “Okay, I’ve got this. I have everything I need” then dig deep and figure out three more good (or great) questions to ask that can bring you an even deeper understanding.
  5. Embrace kindness. Your restlessness will cause you be abrupt, harsh and judgmental. Your leadership influence will be tarnished for a very long time if you don’t manage restlessness.
  6. Care. Care about yourself and your impact. Care about the people you lead. Care about the truth, facts and getting it right. Care enough to foster dialogue and conversation. Most of all, care enough to listen so you understand.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

What Do We Have In Common? – Season 2020, Episode 22

Two extremes. One is our tendency to notice things just like the things we own. If you drive Limerock Edition of a BMW M3 you’ll quickly notice anybody else driving the same car. That flashy orange is easy to spot. But you don’t have to drive something quite so exotic. You’ll notice every car on the road that is identical to your.

Another extreme is our tendency to notice things out of the ordinary. They stick out. Okay, to be fair, the Limerock Edition of the M3 will stand out as extraordinary…so if you own one it fits both of these extremes. One is sameness. The other is differentness.

We’re all unique and as Angela Maiers is so fond of saying, “You matter!”

Yet we all feel we’re so different. Sometimes we even feel like nobody knows or understands what we’re going through. Intellectually we know that’s not true, but our feels are quite real all the same.

You could certainly make an application to these extremes in this current social unrest brought about by racism. Nothing new about racism. I’m in line at the bank drive-through and notice a bunch of pigeons. They all look the same. There’s about 6 of them. In flies one that is a very light tan color. The rest of them were dark grey. He or she (I can’t tell if a pigeon is male or female) was different. They clearly noticed. They didn’t misbehave, but you could tell the grey ones stuck closer together. I’ve seen such things before though even though I’m not an anthropologist. 😉

Creatures, including humans, notice differences. Sadly, as people, we have the capacity to more fully understand the differences…than say, a pigeon. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. I’m basing that on my assumption that humans have higher intellectual and communication abilities than pigeons. 😀

All it requires of us is curiosity and communication. Well, to be perfectly clear – non-judgmental curiosity and communication. There is a difference.

Asking questions in hopes that we might better understand is key.

Here’s the fascinating thing about the quest to understand differences — we tend to understand that we’re not so different after all. We have quite a lot in common. As for the differences, they can expand our ability to think, understand, and have compassion.

I’ve seen a number of stories written chronicling people of different races who have, for the first time, engaged in sober conversation with somebody of another race. The conversation topic? The current focus on racial inequality. Many of these stories end with both people admitting they had never had such a conversation and never had an understanding of how the other person felt. Or known what that might be like, to be the other person. And in every story I’ve read both parties concluded they had quite a lot in common in spite of the vast differences of their life experiences. Both are still human and experience all the same human emotions common to us all.

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” is the refrain of that famous song by Mahalia Jackson. It’s a hymn that mostly speaks to the truth that Jesus knows. But the other truth is, many other people do know – and do understand. We just don’t often enough talk with each other with the aim of truly understanding each other so we can learn to be more kind toward one another.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but He knows my sorrow
Yes, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
But glory, Hallelujah
Sometimes I’m standing crying
Tears running down my face
I cry to the Lord, have mercy
Help me run this all race
Oh Lord, I have so many trials
So many pains and woes
I’m asking for faith and comfort
Lord, help me to carry this load, whoo
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Well, no, nobody knows but Jesus
No nobody knows, oh the trouble, the trouble I’ve seen
I’m singing glory, glory glory Hallelujah
No nobody knows, oh the trouble, the trouble I’ve seen
Lord, no nobody knows my sorrow
No nobody knows, you know the trouble
The trouble I’ve seen
I’m singing glory, glory, glory, Hallelujah!

What do we have in common?

Everything that’s important. Feelings. Emotions. Thoughts. Insights. Experiences. Beliefs. Fears. Anxieties.

All those may be different, but I don’t care who you are or what you’ve experienced, or how educated or uneducated you are – you know about love and hate. You know about fear and comfort. You know about family and enemies. You know about safety and danger. You know about kindness and unfairness. We all know those things – and so much more.

Something else we have in common – the capacity to do better. The only way to be better is to behave better. The road to kindness is paved with being kind. Nothing more. We can’t think about being kinder. We can’t wish it. We can’t plan on it. We just have to make up our mind to be more kind – and that will result in our doing the things that kinder people do.

We have far more in common than not. But sometimes we relish a focus on our differences hoping to feel superior to one another. It’s not the differences that separate us, it’s pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness. It’s that notion that I’m sure happy I’m not you…because I’m better than you.

It makes us feel better about ourselves. Superior. And yes, that fosters bigotry of all kinds – not just based on race. There’s plenty of bigotry to go around. Intellectual. Social. Financial. Racial.

Permit a Bible illustration. It’s recorded in Luke 18:9-14

“And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Context matters. Pharisees were very righteous people. Well, to be accurate they could be known for feeling superior to everybody else. They largely enjoyed being noticed for being more spiritually superior. Publicans on the other hand were tax collectors. As a group, they were generally corrupt because they’d take bribes and behave with greed. But the fact is, both groups are just like any groups. We could make generalizations about them as a group and we might miss the mark horribly when it came to how any individual Pharisee or Publican might really be.

The story, told by Jesus, isn’t specifically addressing that truth, but He is addressing how we think about ourselves and how we view others. I came across something interesting a few weeks ago that speaks the truth of this parable.

But still we blow on other people’s candles, fooled into thinking if their candles go out then our candles can’t help but shine more brightly. That’s what the Pharisee thought. He was fixated on his life and had no concern for the Publican. And he was surely guilty of judging the Publican in general and not as an individual.

The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 perfectly illustrates the same thing adding to it the answer of how we ought to behave toward each other as neighbors. When the pandemic began I started a YouTube playlist of sermons and this was the first one I published, entitled “A Certain Samaritan Answers The Question, “Who Is My Neighbor?””

Our experiences differ, but even in those differences are similarities. I’m an old white guy. I don’t know what it is to be pulled over by police because I’m black and the cop thinks I’m out of place. But I do what it feels like to be treated unkindly and to be misjudged. I do know what it feels like to be mistreated and misunderstood. Those are common to all of us. Which makes the current situation more frustrating. That some among us can’t seem to find the path forward to understand that just because I haven’t had that specific experience doesn’t mean somebody hasn’t. Nor does it mean that I can’t understand it enough – even though I haven’t experienced – to imagine what it might be like so I can elevate the compassion I feel toward the person who has experienced it.

I talk quite a lot about how we can benefit from surrounding ourselves with others who have a different experience, different insights, and different viewpoints. All true. In my opinion. But perhaps the greater power is our ability to surround ourselves with others who will embrace the curiosity and communication necessary so we can all learn from one another and teach one another just how much we have in common.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Profitable Disagreement – Season 2020, Episode 21

Is the ideal really full compliance and cooperation?

I suppose it depends on the situation. What’s the context of the group or team? What’s the purpose of their coming together? Lots of factors might influence how we approach things…and will influence our expectations, too.

First, we ought to define what we mean by compliance and cooperation. I can make the argument that full compliance and cooperation may not mean I agree with everything said. Or done. It may mean that I’m in such a safe space that I feel free to openly share my insights, concerns, and thoughts. I know many people might view it differently, thinking it means you just go along and don’t make waves. Without waves though, there’s no momentum. We have to work much harder to go anywhere until there are waves for us to surf.

Is the ideal being productive, effective, and efficient?

Could be. Likely true.

But full compliance and cooperation may not resemble being productive, effective, and efficient.

Some groups and teams put a premium on avoiding debate or tension of any kind. They see disagreement as destructive so their culture has little tolerance for it.

Those in charge – bosses – can easily fall into that trap, too. Fixating on what they feel is best and what they think needs to be done, the boss may be intolerant of opposing viewpoints. Many a boss has been frustrated by what they see as a lack of cooperation. It can even result in the loss of a well-intended productive employee if the boss grows too disgruntled.

The viewpoint is understandable. Most of us don’t have much fondness for disagreement because of our life experiences. We’ve seen people behave poorly. Maybe we’ve even behaved poorly ourselves. Many of us associate anger with disagreement, but that’s a very narrow view. Disagreement doesn’t have to include anger or any of the negative emotions we often associate with disagreement.

Let’s talk about what we lose when we can’t – or we refuse – to understand how disagreement can be profitable.

Truth.

This presupposes that you value truth. We all claim we do, but sometimes we deceive ourselves preferring to avoid having our assumptions, beliefs or thoughts challenged. We know what we know. Or we think we do.

Fixating on tactics and strategies may help us execute more effectively, but nothing beats genuine kindness and curiosity.

We could find plenty of books and other training materials that would give us frameworks, templates and tactics. Lots of experts are willing to tell us how to go about conducting a meeting. Or having a conversation. But the net bottom line, it seems to me, is if some people in the group or team are jerks, then we have to deploy tactics to help mitigate their destructive power. What a waste of effort in the long haul?

Organizational behavior experts talk about gratitude and lower ego, but what if a person isn’t grateful? What if they truly do believe they’re the smartest person in the room? What if they don’t want to listen, much less, understand a point of view that is different from their own? What do you do then?

Craig Weber, the author of Conversational Capacity, appropriately points out we’ve got 3 choices when such a person is in charge. One, we can ignore them. Two, we can deploy strategies and tactics that may (heavy emphasis) help minimize their negative behavior. Three, we can hit the eject button and leave. Craig argues, if you’re going to leave, then you may as well use strategy number 2. What have you got to lose?

Sometimes it may be others besides the boss though. People who just don’t understand how disagreements can be valuable. Then what?

Such questions are impossible to distill into some neat tidy package, but I’m gonna try anyway. 😉 Every situation is different. The people in a group or team differ. So do bosses or those leading such groups. So permit me to restrict myself to things I know to be absolutely true through years of experience, and even then, be aware – these are hardly foolproof. They’re just things I hope can help you better figure out for yourself what may be best.

One, make up your mind you’ll be a leader in kindness. 

Brace yourself for a real truth – being kind is a competitive edge. That’s right. Choosing to be kind will set you apart from the crowd.

I honestly believe most people want to do the right thing, but I reserve the right to be wrong, too. Also, I’m painfully aware of human nature to compete, fight back, run/hide, be in charge, etc. Human behavior is reasonably predictable in that when push comes to shove, most of us will push and shove to get our way. By and large, selfishness is a curse everybody lives with. Some of us manage it or tame it better than others. Some of us aren’t even trying to curb it.

I’m wrapping up many different things under the single banner, kindness. Things like gratitude, humility, being genuine, being curious, understanding and compassion. Roll ’em all up and you’ve got kindness. Exclude any of them you negate kindness. In its place you insert self-centeredness, arrogance, conceit and pride. All of those are the enemy of kindness, which means – they’re more common than kindness. The reason is simple – it’s easier to embrace those behaviors than it is to behave with kindness. We can act with arrogance, conceit and pride without even thinking about it. But we have to work really hard (and concentrate a great deal) to maintain kindness.

You get to decide. Which is it going to be? Kindness, the road far less traveled? Or arrogance, the superhighway of humanity?

Kindness will not only serve YOU better, but it’ll help you serve others. Avoid kindness if those are unimportant to you.

Two, determine to understand.

The hard part is tapping the brakes long enough to forego quick conclusions or assumptions. Again, those are easy. By default, we can behave with those in the forefront. We naturally think if it’s our opinion, then it’s right. If your opinion differs from mine, then you’re wrong. All of us are prone to overvalue our own judgments while undervaluing the judgments of others. It’s the great divide in every endeavor, made most clear when we examine the national political scene in America.

Here’s the kicker. Don’t confuse curiosity and trying to understand with agreement. I know you’re fearful you might be asked to agree with somebody, but resist being a contrarian. Opt instead for trying to understand the other viewpoint. Work to learn WHY. Why do they think what they think? What makes them feel that way about something? Lean hard into your curiosity and if you don’t have much of it, then build it. Ask yourself how you’re hurt – in the least – by better understanding a person or their position on anything? Where’s the harm in it? On the flip side, consider the high (sometimes, the extraordinarily high) value of learning something you didn’t know before.

Three, respect what you understand. Enough to avoid easy dismissal.

Ask anybody who ever created something worthwhile about differing viewpoints and you’ll likely hear stories of how something that at first seemed unreasonable or ridiculous paid off after some consideration.

Here in the DFW area one of the more famous business tales is of Herb Kelleher, who helped found Southwest Airlines. Over drinks, Rollin King outlined for Herb an idea for the airline on the back of a cocktail napkin. One important detail is Herb’s directive to King, “Convince me.” Translation, “I’ll try to understand your business idea.”

What are you trying to understand? Maybe more importantly, what are you trying to avoid understanding?

The crux of it is likely this question – what are you afraid of? Why are you fearful of gaining greater understanding? Scared you’ll be convinced?

Don’t dismiss things because you don’t understand them. It’s fine if you choose to dismiss them because you do, but you can still do it in a way that fosters deeper discussion and dialogue.

Four, avoid hitting the shut down point.

The more you can discuss, the better. When discussion can no longer happen, you’ve hit the shut down point. And we all have one. It differs from person to person. My shut down point may not resemble yours, but we all have one. That place we reach where we say to ourselves, “I’m done.” When we reach that point we shut up and stop contributing. It’s just no longer worth the effort. To be ignored. To be ridiculed. To be judged. To be barked at. Or whatever other negative reactions we get to our thoughts, insights, opinions or feelings.

Handling disagreements while avoiding the shutdown point is THE key. Sadly, too many have that key missing from their ring.

It’s not so hard really. Simple things can help.

Instead of, “What? Are you crazy?” say “Explain more about it.” Or, “Tell us more.”

Instead of, “That’ll never work” say “Why might that work?”

Instead of anything confrontational or threatening – or even anything that might indicate your disagreement – aim the dialogue toward deeper understanding.

“Help us better understand why you feel that way.”

Ask questions to get more clarity on what’s being said.

Repeat back what you THINK you heard and then ask for confirmation, “Do I understand that correctly?”

Most of us have some understanding of the ways we can say things to avoid shutting others down…but the problem is, too frequently we WANT to shut them down. Especially if they don’t see it the way we do. But we all pay a heavy price for such behavior. We lose our best ideas. We prolong our problems and challenges. We delay brilliant solutions. We negate terrific opportunities. All because we’re too bull-headed and arrogant to listen, understand, and open our minds to the fact that there may be some better ideas than our own. Or there may be some opportunities for us to see things more clearly.

Over on Netflix during this pandemic, my wife and I watched a 10-part documentary series on The Innocence Project, a legal initiative aimed at freeing convicted felons who are innocent. A few of the episodes focused on the unreliability of eye witness testimony. Numerous stories illustrated the point with victims who were dead solid sure that the people they identified were the people who harmed them. Only years later, thanks to DNA testing, were proven to be innocent. The colossally high price paid by both the victim and the accused of decades spent in prison we demonstrated over and over again in the series. Imagine being a person who improperly identified somebody who spent 30 years in prison…only to find out, you were wrong. Imagine being imprisoned for 30 years all the while professing your innocence, but nobody listening…until somebody finally did.

People can get it wrong. We can all get it wrong. When the stakes are extremely high – like life or death or imprisonment. When the stakes are lower – like seizing a business opportunity. Or finding a solution to a career or business problem.

Contrary viewpoints can pressure test the truth. The truth can withstand it.

Disagreements can be profitable. We just have to open our eyes and our minds to see the value in it so we can foster it more and more.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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