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In the Absence of Good Leadership, We Must Lead Ourselves

A Reformation, Really?

At the close of Drucker Forum 2017, Charles Handy called for a reformation of business enterprises. Frederick Bird and Henry Mintzberg responded with a tongue-in-cheek revision of Luther’s 95 Theses, their 9.5 Theses which included this paraphrase of Luther’s thesis #32:

Those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have achieved higher share value will be eternally damned, together with their consultants.

In the US, government seems to gladly allow enterprises to set their own scopes of responsibility, mainly shareholder value, even when that directly conflicts with the best interests of the employees and the communities affected by the production, transportation, and disposal of their products. (Here's a recent glaring example).

Could it be that in our zeal to separate economic and political considerations, we’ve absolved businesses of moral responsibility and stalled the conversation about the equitable distribution of costs, income and wealth?

Commerce and Damnation?

This is a sensitive topic, but we need to be clear about who business is serving. As we produce more, how do we determine how gains are distributed? Already 13% of the world’s population is undernourished, despite an abundant food supply. As W. Brian Arthur of McKinsey recently wrote:

The economy...produces enough in principle for everyone, but the means of access to these services and products, jobs, is steadily tightening. So this new period we are entering is not so much about production anymore—how much is produced; it is about distribution—how people get a share in what is produced. Everything from trade policies to government projects to commercial regulations will in the future be evaluated by distribution. Politics will change, free-market beliefs will change, social structures will change.

Who Reaps Technology's Rewards?

As automation makes production and labor cheaper and shareholders lock in gains via share repurchases, some are already insisting on more equitable distribution of profits, like the $15 minimum wage movement in the US, or a Universal Basic Income.
Arthur anticipates “a Scandinavian solution: capitalist-guided production and government-guided distribution. Europe will find this path easier because a loose socialism is part of its tradition. The United States will find it more difficult; it has never prized distribution over efficiency.”

Avoiding the Evils of Socialism?

Let us be clear, not all Americans are misinformed about the extent to which our country is already a corporate welfare (or socialist) state. Our Medicaid system pays premium prices to big pharma, taxpayers clean up and pay for the collateral damage of innumerable industries: opioid abuse, corn, snack and tobacco companies whose products cost Medicaid billions, farm subsidies, bailouts for banks and auto companies, subsidization of highways, defense contractor premium pricing, security for oil producers in the Middle East and beyond. Nevertheless, socialist wealth distribution to individuals remains anathema for many politicians. Here in the US, the conversation about access and distribution will most likely remain the responsibility of individual citizens and a few “radical” elected officials until reason returns to conservatism.

If we let enterprise and government leaders define the scope of their responsibility, we can assume that many will be self-serving. Public company management teams seek to manipulate their stock prices (and bonuses) by repurchasing shares rather than investing in creating jobs, minimizing impacts, increasing production capacity or new offerings. In fact, Goldman Sachs recently reported that stock buybacks are exceeding capital investment in 2018.

We can also expect that the communities who are absorbing the incidental damage of our industries will be demanding a larger role in future decisions. Robert C. Wolcott in HBR states, “history suggests that concentration of wealth in too few hands leads to social pressures that will either be addressed through politics or violence or both.” If inequality continues to grow, automation causes significant unemployment, a recession hits, and/or geopolitical conflict flares, our liberal democracies will require morally reinvigorated leadership to survive (France's gilets jaunes protests are only one recent example).

We can wait for governmental regulations, which will be mired in political torpor and which corporations will most certainly fight, or we can recognize our own power as workers and consumers of products and begin to affect change ourselves.

What’s an Effective Moral Response?

Both leaders and workers are implicated in the actions of enterprises they work within or patronize. If you participate in an industry that earns profits by exploiting workers, natural resources or the environment in ways that are damaging and unsustainable, then you are morally implicated in those actions. As a consumer of the products of these industries, you are implicated, too.

“Tell me what company you work for and I will tell you what kind of human you are.”
- Emmanuelle Duez at GPDF 2018

As individuals, we each have at least three forms of capital: labor, money, and social capital (our networks and reputation). It is time to take stock of both our own values and our own power.

    How are we implicated in the larger impacts of the businesses we serve, invest in, and patronize?
    What is the quality of leadership we are offering and accepting?
    Who and what will we be optimizing for?
    Who do we want to be in this time of great change and opportunity?
    How do we begin to hold ourselves and our leaders more accountable for impacts on ourselves, our society, and our world?

We should not fool ourselves into believing that our work has no impact on our ontology, or who we are being in the world. I can imagine a future in which I am asked, “How did you help fight inequality, climate change and mass extinction, Grandpa?” Today is the day I am given to start creating my answer to that inevitable question.

Humane Leadership?

At the Humane Leadership Institute, we’re interested in creative conversations around what might be a more humane approach to leading ourselves and each other. How can we actually produce the greatest good for the greatest number effectively, profitably and humanely?

We believe that individuals empowered to communicate, collaborate, hold accountable, and humanely lead can conduct business in a way that generates productivity gains, engagement, shareholder returns and benefits to our communities. These empowered citizens, workers, and leaders can use their own capital to hold themselves, others and enterprises true to their values while creating the goods and services we all need.

We hope that you will join the conversation at the Humane Leadership Institute. We are collaboratively developing the tools for individuals and teams to practice identifying and clarifying the values they want to bring to their workplace and the world. We seek to make those aligned with their own highest values even more effective at self and team leadership.

Join us, there’s still time and much to do.

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Stephen Interviewed by Heidi Gehman

HLI Int18.003b

Heidi Gehman had some questions for Stephen about HLI. Heidi is a higher education administrator and former colleague of Stephen’s at Oregon Extension. This is part of Stephen’s conversation with Heidi about her work here.

Topics discussed in this interview

    • Integrated, whole self leadership
    • Self leadership
    • Fear-based vs. hope-based motivation
    • Impeccability
    • Wisdom jigs

Continue reading Stephen Interviewed by Heidi Gehman

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The Leadership Game: Deciding Who Gets to Play

Recently, the New York Times reported on a crisis in leadership at the New York City Ballet:

“The country’s premier ballet company, which has defined grace, speed and precision since the days of its co-founder George Balanchine, is now also a stage for the era’s #MeToo convulsions.” In the end, the ballet is looking to hire a new “humane leader.”

Principal dancer Ashley Bouder wrote on Instagram, “May we find a moral and fair individual to lead us out of this darkness and into future respect, integrity and success.”

This new leader will need to create an environment that incorporates: “a culture of equal respect for all...common decency...a moral compass...a more nurturing environment...a more open anonymous complaint system...annual performance evaluations...more counseling for mental health, substance abuse, performance anxiety and nutrition” and “safe working environments.”

How exactly does a leader create such a humane environment?

At the New York City Ballet, and in any organization, the leader sets and hosts what Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga likens to a “game” each day. The leader of the game sets the environment, physically, socially, and culturally.

Within this environment, the leader invites or removes the players/actors (in a ballet this would be dancers and choreographers, but also bookkeepers and maintenance people). Relationships between all the participants must also be established and held by the leader. This process requires that the leader decides: Is the company just the dancers? Does it include the staff too? Does the game include the Board of Directors? Key donors? The audience? Which segments of the wider community? Where and how clearly these lines are drawn profoundly affect the experience of everyone involved.

Humane leaders work with all the actors involved to develop a clear, shared set of rules. Where there is ambiguity the leader hosts conversations to bring clarity and alignment.

The #MeToo movement has exposed leaders and organizations to fresh judgement under a more enlightened sets of game rules. Not only the rules are changing, but some team members are now demanding more control over which actors get to continue playing.

A humane leader is the one who watches, encourages, and empowers the greatest good for the greatest number. Sometimes humane leaders must remove from the game anyone not willing or able to play by the shared rules, even if the errant person is a star or a key donor. This is a service to everyone in the organization.

If the leader tries to play nice with errant people and not hold them to account they are often sowing the seeds for dissatisfaction and potential implosion of the entire organization.

Typically, teams cannot effectively hold the rules all by themselves. In the absence of a strong leader who holds the entire game for the best interest of the group, entropy of consciousness will allow lowest denominator standards and short-term self interests to undermine the cohesion and effectiveness of the group.

While holding the team and the rules, the humane leader will then host conversations about prioritizing and implementing all the clear, nurturing, supportive ideas the team has voiced.

May the New York City Ballet find its humane leader.

Once they do, the question remains: How do we cultivate enough humane leaders to meet the needs of all the other organizations who would benefit from one? This is the question we ask every day here at the Humane Leadership Institute with our research and leadership trainings.

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A More Humane (and Effective) Performance Review

Photo by Jj Mendez on Unsplash

85% of employees are "not engaged" or are "actively disengaged," according to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report.

We agree with Jim Harter that this points to a crisis of leadership.

How leaders drive performance is one source of this crisis. Aggressive leaders can push their teams to high performance in the short run but will drive away the best contributors over the long run. Great leaders build teams and team productivity simultaneously by creating great experiences based in great performance.

Traditionally, employees' performance has been evaluated with a formal performance review meeting, which is often met with anxiety by all involved. And once the review is over, it is swamped by the demands of daily responsibilities. There's sporadic follow up, only periodic accountability, and little opportunity for meaningful change.

We at the Humane Leadership Institute have developed a different approach to performance evaluation and improvement. We call it a longitudinal performance development process and tool. Kind of a mouthful, but, you'll see, it works. 

This leadership tool will help you evaluate your own and others' performance and reveal improvements to make in the areas of motivation, time usage, delegation of authority, clarity and ability. We call this the MOCA model of performance. As a leader, are you successfully motivating your team? Do they have the time and opportunity to do their tasks well? Are your expectations clear? Does your team have the skills needed to do their jobs?

Recently, an HLI client wrote:

It is of the utmost importance we use MOCA.

We have folks in here every day with a wide variety of needs. We want to make sure of the fact that each employee is Motivated to help, they have the time and Opportunity to help the customer, that we have been Clear to what degree we are expected to help (we LOVE to help make their day, and create one of those magical moments) and we want to know we have folks on the sales floor with the Ability to perform the helpful tasks for customers that we may be asked to perform, be it a return or a purchase or a warranty claim.

This is a very useful tool in giving feedback...

Try it for yourself! Click on the Performance Improvement wisdom jig (.pdf) below and let us know how it works for you and your team.

Sign up for our email list to learn about new tools as they are published.

If you are interested in a facilitated leadership training program using this tool and many others, please check out our workshops or contact us.

We'd love to talk to you about how we can improve your team's experience and performance.