Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Switzerland

Coming from very large families and generally staying out of the fray of disputes has granted our home the status of Switzerland. It is a neutral place where all baggage is left behind and good time can be had by all.

This weekend we attended the graduation ceremony for my nephew from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams. MA. It was a nice celebration in the gymnasium of the Trailblazers. As with most graduations, the bleachers were full of family and friends. In our case, my nephew’s father drove up for the event from Tennessee and participated in the graduation party thrown by my sister. While I’m always neutral, it was fantastic to see everyone drop their differences for the sake of a significant achievement and celebration.

It made me think about the environments we create for our people as leaders. Do our teams think of us as Switzerland? Do we foster environments that bring people of different thoughts and opinions together, or drive them apart?

What do you do to foster an environment of inclusion and safety?


Leadership Freak said...

Hi "neutral" John,

It's great your family is the neutral zone for others.

I'll suggest one way to make work a Switzerland is by celebrating diversity.

We don't have to agree we just have to be agreeable.



Peter Dawson said...

Great Question John !!

I recently read a comment in this Forum I don't know who posted it.. but it read something like this ==> The mind needs to be like a parachute, because it only works when it is open !!

That is the true essence of a leader is to be "open" to all thoughts and opinions without casting judgement. Eventually as a leader they are tasked to make the right decision based on what they eventually precipitate as a "judgement call". Those that make these calls with accuracy and ensure wellness of others and their teams, generally are the ones who make good leaders. They take care of their Team, rather then themselves. They push others to their limits and instill in others a sense of pride for themselves.

That's what leaders do - they lead and without hestitation the team follows !!

Tom Wunder said...

Do we, leaders, 'foster environments that bring people of different thoughts and opinions together, or drive them apart?" Good question.

For me, part of that question addresses the expectations we as leaders put forth in our teams. Do we set clear expectations (and examples of behavior) that enable people to separate a person's ideas or position from his/her personhood?

Ownership is a wonderful thing--we don't see enough of it. One's time investment in their idea/project/goal directly correlates to their level of ownership. What I often see happening, however, is that as a person or team's ownership in an outcome increases, their ability to listen critically to others' about their project decreases. What follows is that owners become blind to how they can improve or strengthen or change their outcome. It is how they become "blind" that we find ourselves in some place other than Switzerland!

We become blind by blaming others, suspecting others' intentions, assuming we know the other speaker's intent (faulty attribution), and cutting off the communication by not taking the time to listen. Exposure to enough of those behaviors (counter productive team practices) erodes trust.

So fostering an environment of inclusion and safety is another way of saying how do we build trust in our teams and organizations? Another good question!

One part of that answer is addressing, directly, the importance and value of trust. I have read some who say don't bother with trust, focus on performance and trust will come. I don't believe that. I have seen top performers (people who set new records) do so in such a manner that they destroy relationships both within and outside their organizations. Directly addressing trust says this is a value and linking it to performance objectives quietly adds impetus.

Creating objectives that bridge groups helps as does incentives that are team based not just individual or department based. Direct and productive feedback helps as well. The "and" in that statement says that productive (translated helpful) feedback ensures that the potential for punitive only feedback diminishes. I also think it can be a challenge for executives to hear what is being said and what is not being listening helps keeps us in Switzerland if we have the discipline to do it.

I suspect that many people would like to live in Switzerland but can't figure out how to do it. They become discouraged, or feel the status quo can't be overcome. But, then some have an experience like you did this weekend and they realize that there are other better ways!

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