Tag Archive for: Articles by David Irvine

Hurriedness, Kindness, And Organizational Health

I was driving to a meeting a few days ago when I noticed a young woman, with two children in the back seat of her car, stopped on the side of road attempting to change a flat tire. Ordinarily, I’d like to think that I would never pass someone by like this without stopping to offer assistance. But not that morning. I was late for an important meeting with a client. Torn between two conflicting values, accountability to my client, or compassion to a stranger, I quickly made the choice to pass by this woman in need. Accountability won out. I kept my commitment to be on time and kept feeling guilty about it all day. I have since come to an important realization: I’m not as compassionate when I’m in hurry.

Over the past few days, I have spent some time researching the effect of hurriedness on one’s level of kindness. What I found is a classic social psychology study, conducted by researchers who were interested in how situations affect people’s helping behaviours. John Darley and Daniel Batson, psychologists from Princeton University, studied a group of theology students who had to listen to a lecture on charity, and who then had to move, one by one, to a nearby building. On the way, they met an accomplice of the experimenters.  This person was down on the floor, pretending to have fallen and hurt himself. Most of the students helped him. But when they were pressured and had to hurry from one building to the next, the Good Samaritans among them reduced radically. One of the priests, in his hurry, even stepped over the unfortunate crying actor and headed straight for his destination. We really are not as compassionate when we are in a hurry. We are kinder when we have more time.

One of the indicators of organizational health is kindness. It’s a sign of a healthy environment when people feel cared for, when they feel supported, when they feel acknowledged, respected, and appreciated, even in small ways. How is the level of kindness in your culture? How are hurriedness, pressure, and demands affecting people’s level of compassion? How is the hurriedness, so prevalent in today’s organization life, affecting your culture’s health and the well-being of your workplace?

What if we all slowed down and took time to be kind? Would we actually be less productive if we created a compassionate place to work?

Love And Profit: Do You Care Enough To Lead?

In my work with executives, I am continuously struck by how those who have the credibility and the respect of their employees and colleagues are those that practice what I refer to as ‘caring leadership’. It was Voltaire who  referred to what I discuss in this article as a “triumph of humanity.” Innumerable triumphs of humanity occur every day when executives, managers, teachers, coaches, parents and others invest themselves selflessly in caring about and developing others.

During his thirty years at Meredith Corporation, James Autry was known as one of the most respected magazine executives in America, overseeing a $500 million operation with over 900 employees. “Leadership,” Autry was known to say, “is a largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because good leadership involves caring for people, not manipulating them.”

Caring for people is not a fad. It’s a tried, true, and timeless principle that will always be a part of great leadership. James Autry had it right and in today’s increasingly complex, demanding, and changing world, it’s never been more true. In a position of leadership – whether executive, manager, supervisor, school principal, board chair, or parent – you are asked to hold a group of people that you serve in trust. However, having a title does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership is like having a driver’s license. Just because you have one doesn’t make you a good one. One measure of a leader is the capacity to influence, but another is the direction of that influence. Is the leader influencing others towards a goal worth pursuing? Leaders who influence are leaders who care – about their people, about the work they do, and about the difference they make.

Here’s what I believe it takes be a caring leader:

  1. A Decision. Caring is a decision. It’s not an emotion. You can decide to care about someone. If you care enough to look deep enough, you will find a reason to care. You can’t always control how you feel about other people, but you can certainly control how you behave toward others. Caring is not how you feel; caring is how you act. Caring is not a noun; it’s a verb. It’s leadership in action. The eminent NFL football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “You don’t have to like your players and associates, but as leaders, you are called upon to love them.”
  2. Discipline. Almost everything humanly expressed beautifully in the world – a musical piece, a work of art, an athletic performance, or successful business venture – is manifested through discipline. The art of caring leadership is no different. Being disciplined about care means intentionally setting aside uninterrupted time to be present for people – in your office, in their office, on the plant floor. I’m not a fan of an “open door” policy for leaders. What I do like is structured office hours when employees know you will be there for them and with them. It takes discipline to carve out the time to show you care. The effort required to a build a discipline of paying attention and extending yourself for others takes work, but it’s worth it. Caring in this way is filled with rewards since having someone listen to them and acknowledge their story rewards everyone. The renowned business philosopher, Jim Rohn, once said, “for every disciplined effort, there is a multiple reward.”
  3. Space. So just what do you do in that disciplined time that you have set aside? You turn off the computer and the cell phone and anything else that can be an interruption, and you give people your full attention. You create an uninterrupted space that makes it safe to be open and honest. You can create a space in your office or you can create a space in their world. Creating space means making the workplace safe to do their work, to make mistakes, and to be who they are. Space is where the real work of leadership is done – sharing the vision, the beliefs, the values – and how all this relates to where the organization is headed and where the employee is needed.
  4. Kindness. Leadership is about producing results, but caring leadership involves being committed to people’s growth as you produce results together. Willingness to feel the pain of another’s journey and accepting without equivocation a person’s failings provides a sense that “we are in this together”. Kindness means expressing genuine concern through knowing the name, the interests, and the values of every person held in trust to you. Kindness means expressing appreciation, offering a word of encouragement, or catching people doing things right. George Washington Carver said, “Be kind to others. How far you go in life depends upon your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.”
    The Absence of Self-Importance. T. S. Eliot once said, “half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.”Manipulation, by definition, is influencing people for personal gain. Caring means you don’t need to take the credit. Caring means you make it about others, not you. Caring means a willingness to leave your ego at the door and make others feel important.
  5. Service. Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among us who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Servant leadership is being committed to serve those in your care, insuring that they have what need to get their job done and grow in the process. Servant leadership is different than “pleasing” leadership, where your effort is spent trying to give people what they want. Pleasing breeds resentment, results in burnout, and turns you into a slave. Serving leads to freedom, self-respect, and well-being within and around you. You can’t make everyone on your team happy. What you can do is support their success by helping them meet their needs. Start by making a list of what you think your staff needs – resources, training, support – to achieve the results that are expected of them. Simultaneously, have them make a list. Then compare lists and have continual conversations about how you will work together to meet those needs.
  6. Clear – And High – Expectations. Caring means building a platform where people can grow. You don’t show caring by having low standards or letting people off the hook. You have to care about people and the results they produce. Caring requires high support and accompanying high expectations. You care by supporting people to go beyond what they thought they could do. Then hold them accountable for what they have agreed to. These expectations are part of a leader’s value system that must be communicated to those being led. It is important to define your top priorities with your workers and clarify the results and the attitude that you need from them. Then model what you expect – so you will be credible to hold them accountable.
  7. Organizations don’t give a leader power. Power comes from the people you serve. You earn power by earning the trust of others. And if you don’t use this power well, they will take it away from you. They take it away by making leading difficult for you by resisting and refusing to be influenced, even if they pretend to follow you because you have a legislated title.

When you choose to extend yourself by serving, sacrificing, and caring for others, you increase your capacity to influence. My good friend and high school principal, Larry Dick, says, “Caring leaders are invitational leaders.” When you care, you invite people along on a journey, and inspire them to join you. You offer them a seat on the bus – not because they have to but because they want to. A leader who knows how to influence through genuine caring will be a leader who is in great demand. The paradox, of course, is that caring leaders don’t do it to be in demand. They do it because they care.

When James Autry wrote his best-selling book, Love and Profit in 1991, he examined carefully the financial benefits of the timeless principle of leading with love. But I think he would agree that profit comes in many forms besides income, including personal and professional growth, increased confidence, friendships, community, an opportunity to contribute and make a difference, and a fulfilling, meaningful life. At the end of the day, why else are we going to work.

Organizational Culture: Lessons From A High School Musical

This past week our seventeen-year daughter, Hayley, performed in an amazing high school musical production of Les Misérables. Months of preparation went into this production. As these young people prepared themselves for a performance, I witnessed organizational culture at its very finest.

Here it was: a group of ninety youth (from grade nine through twelve), all focused on a shared vision, all deeply engaged in the project, all passionate about their work, with high energy, and servant leadership. I sat back and just took in the buzz with absolute awe. I started to think, “What if we could create this kind of organizational culture in a workplace?” With the right ingredients, focus, and leadership, I believe it’s possible because I’ve seen it done.

Here are some lessons from this high school musical theater production that I believe can be applied to any organization.

  1. Leadership with a vision. Merilie Stonewall, the artistic director at Hayley’s high school, had a vision to  produce this musical years ago when she first saw Les Misérables and was spell bound. Then she waited nine years after the rights became available for the special talent needed to cross the band room threshold. Everyone – from the actors to the crew and set designers to the tech staff, had a vision of the end result.
  2. Leadership inspired by love. Merrilie has invested years of her life into her students at Cochrane High School. She cares deeply for her work and her students. She has never, in all her years of teaching, ever fallen out of love with her work or her students. It is inspiring simply to be around her. Merrilie’s credibility was earned long before the first audition. It’s built on her love and commitment to youth and to music. And everyone knows it.
  3. Everyone’s talent was needed. Everyone in the production – from grade nine to grade twelve – contributed. Everyone made a difference. And everyone knew their important piece they played in the puzzle. When talent gets aligned with the vision, loyalty, passion, and energy is the result.
  4. High standards of performance were set and expected. No one ever takes pride in doing something easy. Every person on this musical team was stretched and pushed beyond their comfort zone. Football players were inspired to sing in lead roles, work on technical support or paint sets.  Shy kids were coached out of the woodwork to bring their unique talents forward. High standards were set and reached.
  5. Open communication. Conversations were going on continuously. Everyone seemed to be communicating with everyone. Roles were clear and openness abounded.
  6. Work was fun. Even in the midst of high expectations, everyone somehow knew that the goal of all this, was to be in the moment of creative human expression. If we aren’t truly enjoying ourselves, what’s it all for anyway? Ms. Stonewall, like all great leaders, understands that the work is merely a means to a much higher end: the building of stronger, more confident youth. She, like all who watched this production unfold in the past months, knew that the experience and memory of being on this team will stay with these kids the rest of their lives.
  7. Results. Results are essential as they are the ultimate measure of success. Hundreds of people in our community attending a sellout performance for five straight nights. Five straight standing ovations. It was as good of a product as you will see anywhere from an amateur theater group. When a team produces these kind of results everyone wins, and everyone on the team knows they made a difference in making that happen.

What a vision to aspire to, as we bring our passion and unique gifts to our work.

The 80/20 Rule of Leadership

There’s an old leadership theory of human behavior called the 80/20 rule, which states that 20% of the people in an organization produce about 80% of the results, while 80% produce about 20% of the results. If you manage sales people or volunteers or a team of employees where you expect results, then you are likely to find that these numbers – give or take 10% or so – to be accurate. In terms of the culture, about 20% if the employees create about 80% of the culture, and visa versa. This can happen at any level. I have seen front line service people, passionate about their work and about service, have a greater impact on the culture than a senior executive. The pull will always be toward the group or the individuals who are underachieving by your standards, or to attempt to change the ratio to prove to yourself that you can be a leader who can get the same results from all of your employees or volunteers.

What I’ve learned is not to mess too much with the ratio. It seems to be human nature. Even if you go and fire the 80% I’d bet that you will find that 80% of the remaining group will drift into being the under-performing group.

Rather than change the ratio, I’ve learned an important leadership principle to respond to the 80/20 rule: be conscious of spending 80% of your time with the 20% of the result producers, and 20% of your time with the under performers. Remember: the pull will always be toward to people who complain the most and who produce the least, so be careful not to get drained by the energy of this group. Your “top 20%,” on the other hand, are what I call your “critical employees,” the people who ultimately keep the organization running, the leaders (who may or may not have a title) at every level. Keep your primary focus on these people. Make sure they are recognized, supported, and duly rewarded, because they are critical to your future.

I was recently facilitating a leadership development program with a group of managers who run laboratories in our health care system. This was a group of scientists developing the people skills for building a strong organizational culture. As I drew white dots on a slide of an organizational chart representing these “critical employees,” a manager jumped up and said, “I know what those white dots are.They are the white blood cells, the cells of the immune system that defend the body against both infectious disease and foreign materials.” These cells, called Leukocytes, are found throughout the body, making up about 1% of the blood of a healthy person. We all concluded that, considering that the body only needs about 1% of its blood to fight off toxic substances in the body, leaders are fortunate that they have 20% of their employees to develop a healthy organizational immune system. If you want a healthy, vibrant workplace, take good care of your organizational immune system.

On another note, while thinking about white blood cells and immune systems, I came across the best article I have read yet on the fear of the H1N1 flu that is sweeping across our country. This article, was written by a good friend of mine, Brooks Tower, who is not a medical person, but he is a thoughtful person. While we all have to be concerned and take whatever precautions we can to do our part to prevent the spread of any kind of virus, reading this article may give you a new perspective on H1N1.

The Art of Building A Strong Culture

Learning to build a culture is an art, and you can master building a culture if you are willing to invest the time and energy. The practice of any art, whether it’s music, carpentry, or athletics, requires four practices: First is discipline. To become good at something, you must undertake it in a disciplined way. Anything you do only if “you’re in the mood,” may be a nice hobby, but you’ll never become a master at it.

The second practice is concentration. Paradoxically, what you need to concentrate on to build a culture – which is about connection to others – is self-reflection: connection with yourself. If you want a better culture where you live or work start by developing a mediation practice or a practice of mindfulness. Make it a daily discipline  to go inside and listen to your needs, desires, and values. Make time for a spiritual discipline to pray, or create a community of people around you to share your life with, or  simply take time to think and reflect. Make any one of these practices a concentrated discipline, and you will see a significant change in your culture in a matter of weeks.

The third practice is patience. Anyone who has ever tried to master an art knows that patience is necessary to achieve anything. Patience is difficult in a society that demands instant gratification and speed, but without patience and perseverance, mastery remains illusive. To build a culture we must be patient with ourselves and with others. There is no prescription or quick fix to a better culture. An apprentice in carpentry must learn to be patient while learning to plane wood. A piano student begins by practicing scales. The apprentice in the art of culture learns by being still and listening to the voice inside and then learning to overcome self-centeredness, realizing that building a better culture begins with building a better you.

A fourth practice is that you must make it a priority in your life. When you make culture – the environment and key relationships in your life – a priority and then create concentrated practices around connecting with yourself and others while maintaining patience, you won’t just have a better culture, a better environment to live and work in. You’ll have a better life.

What practices do you incorporate into your life and how does these practices impact the environments where you live and work?