Are You A Wall Maker or a Bridge Builder?

Our power went out this morning. Two seconds after I turned the light on in our kitchen everything went black – and quiet. It’s amazing how much noise caused by electricity there is in a house. We were in the dark for about four hours. In the big scheme of things, compared to hurricanes, fires, floods, and terrorism, losing your power for four hours is definitely a luxury problem.
It turns out that our entire neighborhood was affected by the outage. A transformer somewhere on our line blew out. The electric company had crews on site responding to the call within a half an hour at 6 AM. One of our neighbors, who called in the outage, ranted at the serviceman as if it was his fault for the power going out. When Val, my wife, met the repairman, she chose to be grateful that he got up early and arrived as soon as he could. She thanked him for his efforts, offered him a cup of coffee, and expressed a sincere appreciation for him coming out when he did. She built a bridge with him rather than created a wall. She helped to start his day – and her own as well – a little better. And we both, as neighbors, got our power back on at the same time.
My grandmother, in her old-fashioned wisdom, said this much more simply: “You catch for more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” While I’m not sure that anyone actually wants to catch flies, you really do make more friends and get more accomplished by being ready to lend a hand than by being rude. Bringing qualities of empathy, civility and respect to your life and the lives of others will always provide a better chance of getting the results you want than entitlement, bitterness, and antagonism. Being part of the solution will take you farther than adding to the problem.
Are you a wall maker or a bridge builder? Here are five ways to be a bridge builder:
1)    Decide to be an encourager. Everyone needs encouragement. Mark Twain said once that you can live two months on a sincere compliment. When you look for ways to encourage others, you will find your efforts will come back to you – in some form. Encouragement is about giving courage to those around you.
2)    Don’t blame your helpers. Don’t blame the repairman for your electricity going out. Don’t blame the airline agent for your luggage not making the flight. Don’t blame the waitress if the restaurant is short staffed. Don’t blame the health care worker for your injury. Decide, once and for all, that all blame is a waste of time and your life will change forever. Help your helpers. Don’t blame them. Most of us really are doing the best we can.
3)    Give what you expect. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who help and those who hinder; those who lift and those who lean; those who contribute and those who consume. The more you look for ways to give, the more you will be given in return.
4)    Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” If you want help, be helpful. If you want support, be supportive. If you want appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. Watch how valuable it is to create value for others. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
5)    Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates. A friend told me this week how she tripped and fell off the curb crossing the street. As she picked herself up from the asphalt and was observing the scrapes on her knees and hands, she looked up and saw a car turning carelessly into the path where she would have been if she hadn’t fallen. Be thankful even for what appears as obstacles in your life. Gandhi said once: “Divine guidance often comes when the horizon is the blackest.”
Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin was at the University of Alberta last week to deliver the Department of Philosophy’s annual public lecture. The lecture was about the landmark moments in Canada’s 150-year constitutional history. In her speech, McLachlin delivered an implicit rebuttal to the spirit of nationalism, racism, and prejudice so prevalent in the world these days. Some nations, she told her audience, define themselves by exclusion – by borders, by walls. In contrast, she insisted, Canada defines itself not by walls but by bridges.
As you step back and observe your own history and your own life, how will you define yourself? Will you be a wall maker or a bridge builder?

Is Your Boss A Bully? Or Just A Poor Communicator?

In recent months the topic of bullying has surfaced in my leadership development programs. Although I haven’t thoroughly researched the topic, my observation is that there is an increase in abusive and bullying behavior in the workplace. Perhaps it is related to the economy, increased stress at work, or maybe people are getting more courageous, bringing it to the forefront and are no longer willing to be abused. Even if you are not experiencing bullying, I hope the following will help you to communicate in any of your relationships.

A coaching client shared a recent experience with her boss that went something like this:
“My boss asked me to come to her office. As soon as I sat down she laid into me about how unproductive I was, how my performance had slipped drastically in the past six months, and how I needed to step up my performance or in my next review she would start to document my work with ratings that would put my future career in jeopardy.”
While this behavior is obviously indicative of a controlling, bullying person, how do you determine if this is a bully or a boss that doesn’t handle stress well and is a bad communicator?
Following is a process that I suggest you can use to find out.
Step 1. Don’t communicate when you are in a high emotional state. As I learned from my colleague and friend, Valerie Cade, an expert in workplace bullying, “to be honorable, you have to meet dishonor with honor.” Getting angry or defensive in response to destructive communication is only throwing fuel on an already damaging fire. If you are hurt, angry, or in any way upset by this kind of feedback (and who wouldn’t be), take a few more moments to listen, then give yourself permission to say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I want to get to the bottom of this, and in order to do so I need to step away and get some perspective. Let’s come back when we can problem solve this rationally and strategically.” Then politely excuse yourself.
Step 2. Get support from a confidant. Allies are trusted friends, colleagues, or coaches who provide perspective, wisdom, encouragement, support, and honesty. It is vital, in the work of leadership, to know we aren’t alone. The most important kind of allies are confidants: people in your life who create a safe space to be who you are, who will listen to your truth and will, in turn, tell you the truth and help hold you accountable. Confidants ask questions like, “What’s going on? What can be learned from the mistakes and failures? Can you learn something for the future? What are your options?”
Step 3. Once you let go of the emotional reaction, schedule a time to meet with your boss to problem solve a solution that responds to their concerns. When you meet next, bring a notepad and ask only one question, “What do you need from me to ensure that I get my performance right, so that you will never again accuse me of these things. I want to understand exactly what I need to do to turn this around.” Then sit and listen and make notes. You don’t have to agree or disagree. The goal is to understand what your boss is asking for. If they need more time to clarify this on their own, then of course, give them the time to do so.
Step 4. If your boss starts to attack you, stop and ask them to clarify what behaviors they are expecting. Reiterate that you are here to solve the problem, to be a part of the solution moving forward, not the problem going backwards. In any of these steps, do not allow yourself to be put into a situation where you are being criticized, demeaned, or bullied. Take charge of the conversation to shift it from criticism to identification of solutions or requests.
Step 5. Once you hear your boss out and list the behaviors they are asking you to change, then negotiate an agreement between you. Conflict comes from unmet needs. You don’t resolve conflict with more conflict. You resolve conflict by getting to the root of the problem. The negotiation process may take a few meetings. Give yourself and your boss the time and the space to carefully clarify the expectations, agreements, and needs for support from each other.
Step 6. Assess Intent. This is the step where the rubber hits the road, where you assess if your boss is a bully. Bullies have no intent to work toward a solution. Bullies have themselves been bullied. They have no interest in problem solving, in helping you find a solution, and in helping you succeed. They only have interest in criticizing, controlling, and manipulating with the intent to bully. You can assess their intent by giving them (with an open mind and a spirit of generosity) a few chances to move toward a solution. Give them the benefit of the doubt in the first meeting. Maybe they are just stressed and are communicating poorly. But if after a few tries they still have no interest in moving toward a solution and helping you understand and change your actions, take the appropriate action toward taking care of yourself. If they are, in fact, a bully, here are a few options to consider:
a.    Get support from a trusted outsider – either an HR manager inside your organization or an outsider who specializes in bullying. Don’t ever attempt to deal with a bully who has positional authority over you on your own.
b.    Take full responsibility for your willingness to work on a solution, and be honest about what you are up against.
c.     You may have to consider leaving your organization. Be sure you have  covered all your bases, documented all of your interactions and done everything possible on your end to resolve the issue.
Please note that these are very general points. If you need support with any of these steps, contact our office for a confidential and complimentary half hour consultation, and we’ll help you find the resources and support that you need.

The Tyranny Of The Urgency: Why Too Many Priorities Means Nothing Is A Priority

Earlier this month I was on a United Airlines flight from Calgary to Oklahoma City via Houston. It was on the morning of Calgary’s first snowstorm of the year and we were sitting on the tarmac for several minutes before passengers started to get restless, anxious, and impatient. You could feel the tension in the cabin.That’s when the captain came on the intercom and demonstrated some good leadership.

“I want to apologize for the delay, folks,” he said. “You can see the snow on the wings, and we are waiting in line for the de-icers to do their work. Unfortunately, they are a bit backlogged with the demands this morning. There are three or four planes ahead of us, so it appears it will take about ½ hour before we will be ready.

We also are having some difficulty with our computer system communicating with air-traffic control, so we have to reboot the system. That will take about an additional ½ hour.

What I want you to know from the flight deck is that we have only one priority: your safety. And I am promising you that we will not take off until we know this aircraft is 100% safe to do so. You can count on us for this. What I ask is that you have patience with us in this process that will enable us to make this a safe flight for all us.”

All the frustration that was surfacing amidst the passengers seemed to subside with this direct and honest message from the captain. In less than a minute, impatience was transformed into support. We shifted from being irritated with the airline to being sympathetic to the captain and committed to helping him make it safe for us. The tension in the cabin was dissolved in a few short moments with the clear and calm message sent by the leader at the front of the aircraft.

This is what leaders do when they are clear about their priority and are honest with those they serve…

The word priority didn’t always mean what it does today.

In his best-selling book, Essentialism (a great read by the way), Greg McKeown explains the surprising history of the word and how its’ meaning has shifted over time.

“The word priority,” writes McKeown, “came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.

Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things.

People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.”

The captain on UA Flight 1599 knew what his priority was in the context of his job. A clear focus leads to clear leadership. This priority is transferred to his entire team. While the flight attendants serve us drinks and are expected to be pleasant and supportive to the passengers, and help us make connections to our next flight, the bottom line is that I got to Oklahoma and back safely. And even if our baggage got delayed or passengers missed connections and people were inconvenienced, our safe arrival to our destinations was all that really matters.

So what is all that really matters in your world? If I were to wander around your organization and ask your people, “What is you #1 priority right now?” what answers would I get? Are people clear about what is the only thing that is important? What have you done to identify and clarify this?

Let’s gain some liberty from the slavery of the tyranny of too many priorities. Let’s get focused on what matters most and get people enrolled in that effort. Just because somebody wants something from us doesn’t make it a priority.

How To Build A Respectful Workplace: It’s Not A Program

I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.

“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”

Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.

But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.

If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.

Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.

  • Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
  • Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
  • Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
  • Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.

Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.

I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.

Three Attributes of Authenticity – It Goes Beyond “Being Yourself”

“We are in the age of authenticity,” writes Adam Grant, in a recent New York Times article, “where ‘be yourself’ is the defining advice in life, love and career… We want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, vote for an authentic president. In university commencement speeches, ‘Be true to yourself’ is one of the most common themes…”
But I think we have to understand just exactly what we mean by authenticity and “being yourself”.
If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ll remember the children’s story of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Br’er Rabbit, in the famous Joel Chandler Harris story of the old south, walks along the road of life, whistling and happy, until he encounters a tar baby on the side of the road who he believes is insulting him. Br’er Rabbit strikes out at the tar baby because he thinks he would not be true to himself if he were to let someone say nasty things about him. But by kicking and hitting the tar baby he ends up getting completely embroiled in the tar. He actually loses his sense of self by reacting to someone else’s evaluation of him.
Just because you are upset with someone doesn’t mean you have to confront them in order to prove your authenticity. Being authentic is not about showing your “true self” indiscriminately to the world. It’s also not about erasing the gap between who you are on the inside and what you reveal to the outside world. In fact, if you aren’t careful, this approach can easily get you enmeshed in tar. We all have thoughts and feelings and tendencies and impulses in our lives that are better left unspoken, or at best spoken only with trusted friends or confidants.
An example of this is cited by Adam Grant in his NYT article. When Cynthia Danaher was promoted to general manager of a group at Hewlett-Packard, she announced to her 5,300 employees that the job was “scary” and that “I need your help.” She was supposedly authentic. She was “being herself,” and her team lost confidence in her.
I have learned from my colleague and co-author, Jim Reger, that authentic people exhibit three fundamental qualities:
1)  Their identity and security come from within, not from someone else’s view of them. Br’er Rabbit loses his way by reacting to someone else’s opinion of him. The more we react to other people’s evaluation of us, the more we demonstrate a lack of self-assurance.
People who are dependent on others for a sense of worth spend their time and energy seeking approval, rather than pursuing their own goals. Subsequently, they fall short of their potential. They are obsessed with getting recognition from others instead of relaxing and bringing to the world who they are meant to be.
Being authentic means you are able to clarify your own values and decide what is most important to you. You are able to live your life in a way that is truly expressive of your beliefs, values, and desires. This does not mean you express yourself without regard for the opinions or feelings of others. It means, instead, that you are self-aware enough to be both honest and respectful.
2.   Authentic people are comfortable with themselves. When your worth and security come from within, you have no interest in bullying, abusing, or disrespecting others because you are at peace with who you are. When you are at peace with yourself you are open to learn, to respond appropriately rather than impulsively, and are open to the possibility of change. Authentic people are willing to re-evaluate their point of view when presented with new information.
Authenticity means a willingness to think through your position when you encounter different points of view. Authentic people are humble enough to bring curiosity rather than rigidity to their relationships. They can set their own limits while also considering the views of others. Rather than needing to defend themselves or criticizing, they respect differing opinions and are open to learning.
3.   Authentic people care. They care about their work. They care about the people around them. And they care about themselves enough to not let themselves be disrespected. Authentic people seek the betterment of all constituents. They choose service over self-interest.
The ability to clarify and pursue what you genuinely want for yourself while also maintaining close relationships with others – and respecting them to also be themselves – is one of the major attributes of an authentic person. Most of us are able to do only one of these at a time. We either conform to the culture in order to be accepted, or cut ourselves off from others in order to be ourselves. It’s a sign of authenticity if you able to walk the line between seeking both independence and connection.
Authenticity is a tall order. However, if you are sincere (you don’t have a hidden agenda for personal gain) and you are honestly striving to work for what serves the greater good people are much more apt to trust you. Trustworthiness results from authenticity.
If you are interested in assessing your own authenticity or getting some input from others on how authentic you are perceived to be, you will find a quick no-fee authenticity assessment on the home page of my website: www.davidirvine.com
If you are interested in learning more about how to be authentic and deepening your authentic presence, send me an email or contact me at: www.davidirvine.ca/contact and we’ll schedule a ½ hour complementary call to explore your options.

The Lean Management Approach – Five Keys To Building An Accountable Culture

Last Thursday I had the good fortune of attending a one-day Lean 101 course, hosted by POS Bio-Sciences in Saskatoon. The Lean approach has been integral to their success, and I wanted to learn first hand how the tool of Lean is used to help build the “POS Way.” POS has inspired me over the years by their leadership, innovation, and customer driven entrepreneurialism.

I also had another reason for attending. Being passionate about accountability, I wanted to learn how the Lean management approach can help strengthen the accountability process I help organizations implement.

What I learned about Lean

Lean is a philosophy, an approach to business, and a set of tools designed to eliminate waste while adding value for the customer. At its core, business is a set of processes for delivering results. And Lean is a mind-set for continuously improving these processes. Lean turns employees into leaders by encouraging and empowering ownership and better contribution at every level.

But Lean isn’t just a business philosophy. It’s a philosophy for life. Who, after all, doesn’t have waste in the way we do our work and live our lives? Life is a series of processes, whether it’s doing the laundry, finding your keys, managing stress, or improving a relationship. Whenever you are systematic about improving these processes, you are practicing Lean.

As a novice to Lean, I am making it comprehendible by breaking it down and outlining a five-step approach. Below is a process you can use for applying the Lean philosophy to any aspect of life.

Take a look at anything in your life that is frustrating to you. It might be as simple as finding your keys in the morning or as complex as an under-achieving sales team.

Do a Value Stream Map of your process:

  1. Define your goal. Your goal can be as simple as having your keys in your pocket as you walk out the door – with zero frustration, or, in the case of your sales team, having achieved a specific sales quota.
  2. Clearly identify all steps in the process to achieving your goal. For finding your keys look specifically at what you do with your keys when you come home right through until you need them the next morning when you leave for work. On your sales team, break down the sales process from the time a salesperson enters the door to the end of the month when celebrating your team’s success. It is best if you do this with everyone who is involved in the process. With your keys, you might do it with your spouse, who experiences the impact of a stressed marriage partner in the morning. With your sales process, get the whole sales team to help you identify all the steps it takes to make it a successful sales division.
  3. Identify each step as value-added or non-value added. Value-added means it moves you closer to your goal and decreases frustration of everyone. It’s also what the customer is willing to pay for. Non-value added is waste: anything that doesn’t add value to the customer.
  4. Identify and remove waste. It’s a waste to hang your pants up in the closet with your keys still in the pocket because you’ll have to run into your bedroom the next morning when you can’t find your keys. It may be a waste for your sales team to be coming in to the office and returning emails unrelated to sales when they need to be spending time following up on leads.
  5. Focus on process execution. Once you have identified and removed waste:
    1. Decide who will own the process (one person needs to be accountable for the accomplishment of the process).
    2. Identify the most effective step-by-step process to accomplish your goal.
    3. Ensure everyone understands the process and their part in making the process a success.
    4. Get agreement on people’s contribution to the process.
    5. Monitor for success. Lean has a term called, “Hansei,” which means, essentially, “Looking back with critical eyes.” Self and group reflection is critical to process improvement. You will likely decide to hold regular meetings to see how the process is working. Above all, make it safe for anyone to identify waste and make suggestions for improvement at anytime. Always question. Don’t just accept what’s there. The only failure is failure to learn ways to improve.
    6. Don’t hold people accountable for results. Hold people accountable for following the process. If the results aren’t there, don’t blame the people. Instead, change the process and ensure that everyone understands it.

I am aware that this short summary from my rookie mind-set of Lean is incomplete and overly simplistic. I look forward to learning more and continually improving the processes that run my own organization and the processes that help me manage my life with the greatest ease. I also look forward to continuously learn about how to use the Lean philosophy in helping foster accountability in organizations – without blame.