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Amid economic challenges like those at work today, companies need to transform themselves, adapting to survive and even move ahead. But given the volume of coverage and advisory-oriented information out there, surprisingly little attention is paid to the role of one important person – the CEO. What can this key leader do?
According to a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, issued by management consultants McKinsey & Company, the first thing CEOs should do is something I agree with a thousand percent. CEOs must make their organization’s transformation meaningful by making it personal, and they should do that through storytelling.
“People will go to extraordinary lengths for causes they believe in, and a powerful transformation story will create and reinforce their commitment. The ultimate impact of the story depends on the CEO’s willingness to make the transformation personal, to engage others openly, and to spotlight successes as they emerge,” say the experts at McKinsey, and they’re right.
I wrote a speech for a client some time ago that proves the point. This gentleman had been named CEO of a company he had worked for all his life, succeeding a much younger man who had been brought in from the outside but who had passed away quite unexpectedly. While the younger CEO had done a fine job improving efficiency and shareholder returns, he lacked interpersonal skills and internal morale had suffered.
The new CEO, conversely, having been such an old hand within the company, was well-known and even more well-loved. He believed – truly believed – that when people came first, business results would follow. And that message served as the central theme of the speech I wrote for him, as he addressed all employees as his first act as CEO.
He told stories drawn from the people who mentored him as a young man, those who worked alongside him, those who inspired him, and those who came to look up to him over time. He tied these wonderful, warm stories to his vision of where he wanted the company to go. He told the people of the organization he now led that he needed them to believe in each other the way he always believed in them.
And by the time he was finished, every one of those 2,400 people – whether they were in the same building, or watching via video across the company footprint – would have ran through a brick wall for him.
He made the transformation personal through heartfelt stories. There’s no reason that CEOs in any organization, regardless of the challenges they face, can’t achieve the necessary transformations the same way. It can’t be faked. It can’t be half-hearted. But when it’s done well, it can’t be denied. A great speech delivered with conviction can transform people and organizations.
Reference: Hayes, Tim, Jackass in a Hailstorm—Adventures in Leadership Communication, 2010 Transverse Park Productions, LLC. This book is available on Amazon.com. Tim is a Leadership Communication Consultant, Trainer and an associate in the Perla Group – Coaching and Consulting.
Speaking in a manner that is concise, energetic and clearly communicates ones requests, information and desires is refreshing and important in our information-cluttered age. As one teacher said, “So many ways of communicating and what ARE WE communicating?”
How many conversations in meetings, emails, face to face and blogs do we come upon in a day—do you feel certain that you are communicating powerfully and successfully? Too often, we get caught using language that does not sound powerful or effective. Language like, “I should, could, have to, etc.” which communicates more of an “external locus of control.” That is, your response or thinking is based more on what you think others want you to do. This language is more reactive, less powerful and often does not result in what we intended.
Language that is far more effective and concise consists of words like, “I prefer, or plan to, or want to, or have a passion for…” which lets the listener know that you are speaking from more of an “internal locus of control.” Meaning, you are responding in a well thought out manner that is more receptive and focused – based on your deliberate thinking and experiences.
I owe this valuable teaching to my colleague and friend, Dave Ellis, a Master Coach, workshop leader and author. In fact, this teaching is so powerful that I use it quite a bit in my coaching practice when describing ways that leaders can develop healthier communication and encourage and teach this in their work places.
This graphic that Dave developed shows that when we get stuck in “obligation” we speak with “victim language” (an external locus of control), e.g., “they made me, I should, I must, etc.” However, if you can think of climbing the ladder, or as we use more “assertive language” (an internal locus of control) we use language using words like: “Is it possible, I prefer, We have a passion for…, We plan to…, I promise…”
The next time you find yourself speaking and using “must, should, ought to, need to” question whether your thinking is “stuck in victim mud.” Ask yourself how you might climb the “ladder of effective speaking” by questioning what you want, prefer or what is even possible that might move you to a sense of personal empowerment regarding your wishes, desires, dreams and plans. And, cause your communication to be more effective, meaningful and powerful.
Ellis, Dave. Falling Awake.
Ellis, Dave & Lankowitz, Stan. Human Being.
David Burns, MD has contributed many books to our understanding of how our thoughts and feelings can be managed to change our moods. His method for effectively communicating is excellent especially in situations that are difficult, “heated” or in conflictual conversations in the work place – or at home. The key here is to use a method below which you can genuinely express. If it seems inauthentic to the listener, it is not effective. Practice!
1. The Disarming Technique – You find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair.
2. Empathy- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world through their eyes.
3. Inquiry: You ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.
4. I “feel” statements: Shift to “I feel”, e.g. “I feel confused by this…” rather than “you” statements. i.e. “you’re wrong” or “You make me furious!”
5. Stroking: You find something genuinely positive to say to the other person even in the heat of battle. You convey an attitude of respect, even though you may feel very angry with the other person.
*Copyright © 1991 by David D. Burns, MD. Revised, 1992.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
We all can understand the concept of personal space, e.g., someone moving too close to us and then we feel the need to back up to “get our space back.” We also have “psychological boundaries” that need to be respected. Sometimes, with some people, those boundaries are violated.
Example: If you have a swimming pool in your backyard without a fence around it, you might have all kinds of unwelcome guests splashing around in it. When a sturdy fence is in place, what happens? People have to ask permission to jump in; they have to be invited. You are the pool, the fence is your boundary. In simple form a boundary is the word, “No.”
Boundaries need to be put in place to keep any damaging influences out of your way. Those influences may be circumstances you created or that someone else, through their actions, has created for you. These negative influences, can seem small at first, but, over time, can build up to cause difficulties in everyday interactions.
Interpersonal boundaries are invisible. You have to communicate them to be known. If other people can’t comply, you may have to make an effort to avoid them altogether. For example, co-workers making remarks about your weight or getting personal phone calls from a family member at work…a response, clearly and respectfully setting a boundary may be: “It’s not O.K. that you comment on my weight. I’d like you to stop.” Or, “I have decided to take all personal calls in the evening in order to get my work done. I will call you later.”
Take away: Put your boundaries in place:
If they are not cooperative, add 6 or 7:
6. Demand that they stop.
7. Walk away without a fight.
The bottom line is that “they” are not doing anything to you that you are not allowing them to do.
Take Yourself to the Top, Laura Berman Fortgang, 1998, Warner Books.
“There are, at least, TWO ways to relate to anything: a small minded way and a large minded way. Choose large mind.”
John G. Sullivan
Open up the lens of your thinking by choosing “large mind”. A helpful image to consider when your thoughts, under stress, are going down the “psycho path”: when we feel upset, scared, angry, or generally thinking negatively. Soon, pessimistic recourse is all that we can imagine. Consider the comic from the New Yorker magazine: A person is walking through the woods and comes to a fork in the road—one path is marked “scenic path” and the other is marked “psycho path”. Choose the scenic path of large mind, which can offer a way to shift into a perspective that permits integrative, insightful and creative thinking.
Take away: A colleague of mine, Dr. Lynn Johnson suggests a method called “Shifting up” when confronted with stressful situations, made up of three steps: Shift, Recall and Ask:
1. Shift from stressful thoughts to breathing. Breathe in slowly for 30 seconds and focus on your heart beating.
2. Recall a positive situation and emotion where you felt peaceful, confident and secure or genuine love for someone.
3. Ask yourself, “What is the highest and best way to handle this situation?” Listen to your heart, a change of feeling, a thought from the frontal lobe of your brain (where advanced insight comes from). Trust what comes and do it.
Our challenging work environments require intelligence and creativity. Being your best necessitates practicing methods to connect with your innate wisdom. I invite you to practice some of these methods as ways to tap into your heart’s wisdom to solve some of your daily challenges.
Resources: Johnson, Lynn. “Activate Your Frontal Lobes: One Minute to Increased Intelligence and Creativity.” 1999 – 2004.