This past week Amy and I were privileged to deliver a keynote at a conference for business leaders, execs, and intelligence (competitive intelligence) professionals. In a seldom seen moment we were asked to facilitate a conversation about creating cultures of humility. Risky move on the part of the conference designers.
Amy and I were reminded that there is nothing new under the sun!
Leaders of stripes and in all kinds of locales need encouragement to live with fear and press on.
Consider this exchange on the livestream conversation thread as we were leading our session: (the names have been changed to protect the innocent!)
I have highlighted some of the key insights I discovered…
Bruce [8:46 AM]
Any thoughts from the online audience?
Dr. Fred [8:51 AM]
…Intel analysts have to get their executives to envision a more desirable future… to get a vision that they have painted from their work processes, and then to communicate it to a boss that may not want to go there or share that view (think about others in our companies who need to deliver the “bad news,” or the truth that folks don’t want to face). That’s where courage comes in.
Sandy [8:58 AM]
Not just bad news. Uncertainty. Too many execs want zero risk, but they want exponential growth and breakthrough innovation. Can’t have both no risk and breakthrough.
Dr. Fred [9:28 AM]
As our groups were doing the exercise, it was very clear how difficult it was to share vulnerabilities, fears. But once the participants could do it, it provided a relief. And having supportive participants was affirming.
Being an observer… and listening without commenting, was VERY difficult for most of the intel pros in the room! It is a critical skill for intel folks, who are likely thinking of responses as the speaker shares.
Dawn [9:31 AM]
@Dr. Fred the #1 failure I see in most aspiring leaders – intel or not – is the ability to actively listen and wait to formulate a response.
Sandy [9:31 AM]
So, is it our job to articulate the company’s fear so we can move toward breakthrough? This tends to make certain execs shut down rather than be open. What’s the secret sauce?
Spot on, Dawn!
Victoria Richard [9:33 AM]
@Sandy I think it’s our job to nurture relationships that will help us to understand the company’s (and exec’s) fears and acknowledge them, and work with them to find solutions that address the ones that need addressing
Dr. Fred [9:33 AM]
I’m not sure that it is our job to articulate the fear, but rather it is our role to be truthful and honest about our condition, plans, decisions or choices, fully recognizing we may be fearful in doing that and others might become fearful in responding to our views.
In the room, we are noting that our role is to ask better questions that others (especially its leaders) in the company are unwilling, fearful or unable to ask. If we can’t or won’t do that, who will? #G2 (edited)
Sandy [9:36 AM]
Asking questions is certainly the only method that has ever worked for me with the tough nuts.
Dr. Fred [9:39 AM]
Do we have the courage to dream our dreams? To conquer our fears? To embrace our inner child? And to help others in our companies do some of the same things….?
Sam [9:40 AM]
Getting out of our adult headspace is truly a challenge. It is the unlearning of old habits and tired practices that have been baked into corporations for decades. I always try and take child-like wonder to solving problems. I bring child-like curiosity to manage change. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/approaching-change-child-like-curiosity-bill-kirst/
Dr. Fred [9:42 AM]
Such a great perspective, Sam! I liked this statement you shared in this: “The objective we take on with laser focus is to help others see their full potential and feel relevant amidst an unprecedented amount of change.” It is aligned with what I try to do with my children, and try to do in supporting my work colleagues. Thanks for sharing that!
I always remember that as a parent, that having opportunities to see the world through our children’s eyes keeps our eyes wide open, too! Keeps us young, creative, and “fearless”, as well.
Sometimes I hear observations from my kids that I wish bosses would be open to hearing…
Sandy [9:44 AM]
We have executives caught in the tug of war between absolutely ridiculous goals from the unreachable top (e.g., double-digit YOY growth in a down market) and knowledge that they must innovate big to have a prayer to reach those goals, but also much higher risk with that. At my company, it holds them to moving not far outside the box, not embracing vulnerability
They don’t want the data. It scares them.
And they’re not wrong. They WILL be punished for failing.
Dr. Fred [9:46 AM]
I know dozens of C-suite execs who share that reaction. You are far from alone. I absolutely dread going into company HQs where that culture of fear dominates and resonates throughout the building.
Sandy [9:51 AM]
I feel like I’ve spent 30 years trying to help create a learning culture against a brick wall of executive fear. It has gotten worse in the last 5-10 years. Or maybe I’ve grown more impatient, lol!
Dr. Fred [9:54 AM]
One of the most difficult exercises I do with my CI students in a Managing CI course Ive taught is to help them face the ethical dilemma of working for bosses who manage by fear and punish people for making mistakes, The reality is that many of them will have these bosses. I can speak from experience that it is a most uncomfortable place to be, and the choices (leaving, not being honest, blowing the whistle, etc.) often seem extreme. Any really veteran CI pro has had to experience being “on an island,” out there on our own (and maybe on a ledge), or having bosses we just couldn’t for the life of us respect and serve responsibly. How people responded to that dilemma, IMO, has separated most of the CI pros who shined versus those who wilted.
Sandy [9:55 AM]
Dr. Fred [9:55 AM]
The race is often a marathon, not a sprint. Keep running toward the finish line…
Sam [9:58 AM]
Vulnerability is something that all my leaders are working toward understanding. It is a slow journey, with many missteps, but it is something that makes the biggest difference in building the next generation of leaders.
This was a great session Jeff & Amy! :+1:
And, my favorite comment of all…Intel