In both of the intensive leadership programs I’ve participated in–California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI Co-Active Leadership–there has been an emphasis on health and fitness. The central message was to be an effective leader you must manage your health so that you are not hampered by illness. I have always needed to lose a few pounds but otherwise have enjoyed good health, so I never understood how important health is to achieving my leadership potential.
Then menopause happened and my fibromyalgia came roaring back. I now have empathy for people dealing with any kind of chronic pain. I am not sure the energy tax I’ve been paying for my fibro-related pain, but I would guess my productivity and enthusiasm are down 15-20% compared to 2 years ago.
Then on February 10 this year I developed hives and I’ve been experiencing them in different parts of my body in the weeks since. The over the counter medication does not control them very well either. I am at my wit’s end, so I am starting an elimination diet.
I will chronicle my journey giving up almost everything I usually eat to find a way to release the healthier, stronger, focused leader in me.
Or do they? Thinking about the “Leaders Say…” series, I brainstormed topics and wrote down “I’m sorry” without a second thought. There has been a fair amount of criticism of 45 because he seems incapable of admitting a mistake or giving a sincere apology. But do we really see an apology as a sign of leadership or as a sign of weakness?
About once a year a Japanese CEO makes a very public apology on behalf of his organization’s failings. My friend Keiko Sakurai is an expert on cross-cultural business practices as a consultant for Aperian Global. I skyped with her to learn more about apologies from her experience.
She graduated from UC Berkeley’s Haas Management program after working in Japan. In her first role with a U.S. team her supervisor gave her feedback that she was apologizing too much. “In Japan saying you are sorry is a social lubricant; we say it all the time in social and business situations.” It is expected especially from people with less status to people with more status, consultants to clients, and peer to peer.
In Japan if an organization makes a mistake and does not publicly apologize, it is perceived they will pay a price in public opinion. This does prompt some superficial apologies and we agreed these probably do not restore much trust. And behind every apology is a desire to repair a relationship and to begin to restore trust. Apologies, in our experience, work most effectively when they are specific and sincere and are undermined when accompanied by justifications.
We were troubled that we could not think of more examples of a US leader effectively apologizing. Keiko related a story from a workshop she led with participants from several cultures. She posed a situation: Your boss and team are giving a presentation to potential clients when you realize the boss is presenting old pricing information. What would you do?
–Pause and think of your response.—Read on.
I thought of a team I work with where we share mutual respect and I replied, “I would say, excuse me, I am so sorry there is more recent pricing information and I did not update this slide. Please let me share the most up to date pricing.” Keiko shared this is what the participant from Korea said they would do. Whereas the participant from Japan said they would call for a break and then pull aside the boss to point out the mistake and then they could introduce the information after the break saying they just got a call or email from the Head Office.”
What did the participant from the USA say? He would interject and state the facts objectively, without apology or blaming anyone, “There is more recent pricing available.” And offer a new slide. Or, he qualified his response, if he was competing with his boss and gunning for his position, he would actually point out to the client that the Boss made the critical mistake, and he will stand up and take over the presentation with the correct information, causing the boss to lose face. .
All I could say was, “Wow!”
Keiko explained that in Asian culture there is much more interest in maintaining harmony and people are more willing to put the organization’s needs ahead of their individual aspirations than in the USA.
I wondered how research says about on apologies and in a recent Washington Post article journalist Jena McGregor assembled a nifty summary. She found that the research is not totally clear.
Harvard Business School professor Francisca Gino finds that apologizing is generally beneficial for leaders, with even superfluous, unnecessary apologies leading to greater trust. If an apology is botched or if the leaders isn’t trustworthy, then there may be downsides and may be seen as backing down from a dispute.
Researchers from Queen’s University in Canada tested whether apologizing was a sign of weakness. They surveyed hockey coaches and referees as well as other lab experiments, and they found generally, those who apologized were seen as more “transformational.” Rather than weak these leaders were perceived as having the ability to inspire, motivate and challenge their followers.
Research has also shown that apologizing is associated with better psychological well-being among a boss’s employees and for themselves.
In another study, CEOs who show expressions of sadness on their faces when they issued public apologies were viewed as more remorseful and their customers tended to be more willing to do business with them in the future.
On the flip-side, there are some who do perceive apologies as weak, an admission of responsibility, or accepting blame. And in the US litigious culture often leads to non-apology, apologies. “Writing in the Washington Post in late 2015, political scientist Richard Hanania said that people, particularly men, who don’t ‘back down in the face of controversy [show] confidence by not giving in to social pressure, and [take] a risk refusing to follow the conventional path. Some on the right openly suggest that part of Trump’s appeal lies in his refusal to apologize and his unwillingness to be ‘politically correct’.”
Keiko and I met through CTI Co-Active Leadership training where we learned how to “stay and recover” when we make mistakes as leaders, when we are attacked, or when events do not unfold as intended. Sometimes we need to “repair” with colleagues—a boss, a direct report or a customer. A repair is just what it sounds like—doing what is needed to restore the relationship. In our experience, apologies have strengthened trust in relationships and have served our leadership well.
In closing, let’s look at the McGregor’s checklist for an apology to be effective: “an expression of regret and an explanation of what went wrong to an acknowledgement of responsibility, a statement of repentance, and request for forgiveness.”
Up With People is in Sacramento this week. The program participants exercise their leadership by organizing various events including a leadership round table. Fourteen local leaders, including me, joined the 100 cast members to talk about leadership. In each group of about 6 people, we could ask each other anything, follow any aspect of leadership. We talked for about 10 minutes and then moved on to the next circle.
I was very impressed by the young people from around the world who are a part of the program. They are a terrific reminder that many 20 somethings are ready to take on leadership and make our world a better place.
They also sing and dance. If you are in the Sacramento area, please support this terrific program by attending their performance on Friday September 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. Tickets available on-line or at the box office. $25 per person.
Postscript: In a couple of our circles I was asked questions that led me to reflect my early leadership training was all about the externals: running a meeting, public speaking, time management, setting goals. Then midway through life the leadership tasks before me were more daunting and these externals were not enough. I found myself seeking out executive coaching, then CTI Co-Active Leadership training. This program focused on my inner life and becoming clear about my motivations and self-management to be a more effective leader.
I was reminded of this again this morning when I read Chapter 6 of Parker Palmer’s The Hidden Wholeness. He uses the story of the Woodcutter to explain how circles of trust help us to do “the work before the work”. This is a great way to describe the CTI training: the work you need to do internally before you can do the external leadership.
My church St John’s Lutheran is helping to bring Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money to Sacramento on October 5. I attended a dinner and musical evening to raise the funds for her fee. It piqued my interest in her book. I may have read it before a few years ago but it resonated in a much deeper way this time. Sometimes the timing is finally right to think about a subject more deeply. I am at a bit of a crossroads as to the ways I am earning a living. I was ready to be inspired by the idea of sufficiency.
I am all too familiar with the idea of scarcity. Our western economy depends on the idea that we live in a zero-sum game where only the most competitive win. “This mantra of not enough carries the day and becomes a kind of default setting for our thinking about everything, from the cash in our project to the people we love or the value of our own lives.”
“In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear; a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase or discomfort around money.”
“Scarcity is a lie. Independent of any actual amount of resources. It is an unexamined and false system of assumptions, opinions, and beliefs from which we view the world as a place where we are in constant danger of having our needs unmet.”
I have been caught up in these 3 toxic myths: 1) There’s not enough. 2) More is better. 3) That’s just the way it is. It is exhausting. I have had glimpses my whole life of another way but I have not been able to completely embrace it. I did not have a vocabulary for the other way. The way of sufficiency.
“Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough… When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.”
“I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.”
“Enough is a place you can arrive at and dwell in.”
“True abundance does exist; it flows from sufficiency, in an experience of the beauty and wholeness of what is. Abundance is a fact of nature. It is a fundamental law of nature, that there is enough and it is finite. Its finiteness is no threat; it creates a more accurate relationship that commands respect, reverence, and managing those resources with the knowledge that they are precious and in ways that do the most good for the most people.”
The book is long on concept and short on practical steps. I look forward to attending the Impact Foundry’s conference on October 5 to learn more.
“When your attention is on what’s lacking and scarce–in our life, in your work, in your family, in your town–then that becomes what you’re about. That’s the song you sing, the vision you generate. You engage in lack and longing and what’s missing, and you call others to that same experience. If your attention is on the problems and breakdowns with money, or scarcity thinking that says there isn’t enough, more is better or that’s just the way it is, then that is where your consciousness resides. Those thoughts and fears grow from the attention you give them and can take over your life. No matter how much money you have, it won’t be enough. No amount of money will buy you genuine peace of mind. You expand the presence and the power of scarcity and tighten its grip on your world.
“If your attention is on the our capacity you have to sustain yourself and your family, and contribute in a meaningful way to the well-being of others, then your experience of what you have is nourished and it grows. Even in adversity, if you can appreciate your capacity to meet it, learn, and grow from it, then you create value where no one would have imagined it possible. in the light of your appreciation, your experience of prosperity grows.”
CTI Leadership instilled in me a belief in collaboration and cooperation based on the 10 month program experience. “A you-and-me world is full of collaborators, partners, sharing and reciprocity… Respected evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris notes that Nature fosters collaboration and reciprocity. Competition in Nature exists, she says, but it has limits, and the true law of survival is ultimately cooperation.” This is the reality I know exists and now I want to lean into it more fully.
In A Jane Austen Education, a memoir by William Deresiewicz, he quotes his mentor professor: “Answers are easy,” he would later say. “You can go out to the street and any fool will give you answers. The trick is to ask the right questions.” (Karl Kroeber)
This resonated with me because I learned the importance of powerful questions in my executive coach training with CTI. The training provides you with examples of powerful questions; however, the key is to let your intuition take the lead.
In this graduation season there have been many videos of speeches posted, and this one by Dean James is a keeper:
Here are the five questions and bonus question listed for future reference:
2. I wonder why/if?
3. Couldn’t we at least?
4. How can I help?
5. What truly matters?
Bonus: And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?
Co-Founders of CTI (Coaches Training Institute) Karen and Henry Kinsey-House have written a slim volume on Co-Active Leadership that introduces one aspect of a much deeper subject. Co-active is all about being active together. Co-active Leadership is also the name of the 10 month program that I participated in over 5 years ago. My main concern with this book is that readers will think that this shallow treatment is as deep as it goes.
The Co-Active Leadership model is a venn diagram with “Leader Within” where the circles intersect. The four circles are:
Leader in the Field
Leader in the Front
Leader from the Back
Most people associate leadership with the classic front of the room leader. The authors help to expand the definition of leadership by explaining the other roles that leaders can play and by asserting that everyone is a leader. The best leaders are flexible.
The book is a quick read at just over 100 pages–I read it on the flight home from Miami.
If you are having the nightmare where you get to class and discover there is an exam that you forgot and did not prepare for and you are way past school age, then you need to learn to manage the particles. At the World Domination Summit, Jon Acuff recommended David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I jotted it down in my notes and downloaded it later in Kindle. At one point in my life I had that nightmare on a recurring basis with a twist: I forgot that I was enrolled in the class and had not attended most of the semester.
I no longer have this dream because I have created systems that help me manage the particles. In the CTI Co-Active Leadership Program they challenged us to not put too much energy into managing the particles. Our trainers were concerned that we would substitute a focus on details for leadership that sees the big picture. You can carefully care for your calendar and never drop a ball, but without a clear leadership stake and a strategy for accomplishing it, and then the details are just particles. They admonished us to do more than manage the particles.
However, if you do not have a way to manage the particles they will undo your leadership. As Allen says:
“Managing commitments will requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors:
First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection tool, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.
Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.
Third, one you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.
You must use your mind to get things off your mind.”
Getting Things Done, page 14
If this resonates and you could use a system for tracking your “open loops” and identifying your priorities, then read Getting Things Done. If you have figured out a system that works for you, then carry on and give this book a pass.
One of my strengths as a leader is my lack of certainty. (You may recall it also one of my weaknesses.) For many years I reveled in my ability to make snap judgments and decisions. I believed that I was right 98 percent of the time. It led to much unhappiness. It also achieved results.
One of the CTI coaching workshops is called Perspective and it changed my life and leadership. The basic premise is you start with a statement that you feel fairly certain about, but one that is unsatisfactory. For example, “I am not an athlete and I am going to suffer on RAGBRAI (upcoming 7 day ride).” Then you move physically (as simple as standing up and turning around) and make an opposite statement (even if you do not believe it). For example, “I am an athlete and I am going to kick RAGBRAI’s butt.” Then you take on other perspectives and make other statements, each time moving physically. Ultimately you will land on a perspective that resonates and is sometimes far from where you started.
This process enables me to find a perspective that serves my goals and is actually closer to the Truth. It also helps me hold my judgments more lightly and as a result I suffer less.
Today I found a children’s book by Mo Willems from the Elephant & Piggie series, Are You Ready to Play Outside? Gerald the elephant asks Piggie if he is ready to play outside. Piggie can hardly wait to run and jump and play outside. Then it starts to rain and Piggie’s perspective is that it is the end of the world. He cannot play outside. Then he sees two worms playing in the rain and he gains a new perspective. Just as he begins to relish playing in the rain, the rain stops. Now Piggie is again upset. Then Gerald provides rain via his trunk and Piggie is happy again. It is a perfect illustration of how easily we can get stuck and unstuck in a perspective.
It sounds so obvious, yet in my experience it is hard to practice. With the work on the Delta projects, it is easy to adopt one way of looking at issues and to stop asking good questions and get stuck in a perspective even when it no longer serves my stake or most accurately reflects the Truth.
I have been a leader all of my life. I believe all of us can lead, and some of us have a combination of personal traits and skills that means that when everyone on the line takes a step back we are often the one still standing there willing to provide leadership. Ever experience this? I have over and over again.
I rarely say “pick me!” The one experience on USC Student Senate cured me of wanting a career in politics as an elected official. And the burnout from leading nonprofit organizations resulted in a complete redesign of my life at age 49.
Yet over the years I have honed my leadership skills. From leadership roles in 4-H, church youth group, Student Senate, nonprofit boards and organizations, Habitat for Humanity Global Village builds, Friends’ monthly meeting, and in my family, I have life experiences informing my leadership choices in the second half of life. I also have read countless books and am a fellow of the California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program.
Those are my credentials, and I continue to learn. You can read for yourself whether I have any wisdom to impart.
I am ready to attempt to synthesize what I have learned. I also believe the challenges we face as humanity today demands a evolution of leadership to something less ego-driven and more collaborative. I hope to engage others in a dialogue about what this looks like in real life.
In my life my leadership journey has taken a turn inward. You can join me if you dare.