Stephen Covey really got it right by emphasizing, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Through my coaching I would categorize a majority of the workplace challenges and stressors as two individuals (or groups) with misaligned expectations. My advice is always the same: “That person is probably dealing with something you aren’t aware of, so understand where they’re coming from, and then, and only then, help them understand your point of view.” That is the only way to influence someone so that they willingly commit to your point of view. It sounds so simple, but it’s obviously one of the hardest parts of working collaboratively, because teamwork is more critical than ever.
One of the reasons executives aren’t able to execute strategy and move their organizations from excellent to extraordinary is because those that need to support and carry out the strategy weren’t involved in helping create the strategy. Not helping people find their place in the vision and the strategy (their purpose for commitment) is the root cause of team dysfunction. A recent University of Phoenix survey found that 95% of people said teams serve an important purpose, but only 24% prefer to work on a team. Logically and rationally, we know an effective team can be extremely rewarding experience. We know teams are capable of accomplishing far greater things than one individual, yet we allow our emotions to get the best of us. We get angry with others because they let us down. The anger comes from perceived injustices, conflict, humiliation, negligence or betrayal. We usually respond in classic fight or flight: We lash out and attack, or we withdraw and sulk. Neither response improves collaboration, job satisfaction, or personal fulfillment.
People support what they help create. It’s that simple, but leaders are hanging on to outdated “command and control” practices, where only they know what’s best because they have “the big picture.” Management strategy alone is no longer adequate, because artful leadership is required for effective execution and accelerating results. Leaders must become teachers and engage the entire organization in helping craft strategic imperatives and prerequisites.
I don’t come across many organizational challenges that are truly unique. Solutions don’t involve being more innovative, developing competitive matrices, or creating the most clever strategy. Leading is simple, but extremely hard, because it involves a myriad of variables that revolve around human emotions and plenty of irrational and illogical behavior. Rather than focusing on interpersonal skills and “communicating” more effectively, leaders can accelerate their organization’s growth by involving others in initiatives that improve the organization’s overall effectiveness. As a math problem, it would simply be, E=Q*A (E – Effectiveness, Q-Quality, A – Acceptance).
Assuming everyone is dealing with something – some adversity, some crucible, some trying time – it’s important to keep help others keep a perspective on the big scheme of things.
After seeing a photo of earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of 3.7 billion miles, Carl Sagan wrote about the Pale Blue Dot that is our planet. I believe his primary intent was to underscore our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
How are you guiding people to the source of their own power to collaboratively and heroically lead your organization?