Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for September, 2012

Honesty and Openness

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I witnessed a beautiful example of great leadership the other day during one of my client’s retreats. The executive group was discussing a fellow employee and mediating on whether he was a good fit considering the direction they wanted to take

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the company and its culture. One of the group

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confronted the CEO, arguing that the problem was not a fault of the employee personally, but was a result of the CEO and one other member of the leadership team not communicating effectively with the individual. It was a leadership issue in other words, and not an issue with any single person. This particular leader continued to say that she had raised this point more than once, as had others, but the concerns seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. So in this case the deeper issue had to do with the leadership team as a whole and the way they communicated.

Hearing the problems faced by the executive team voiced in such a direct and honest way was impressive to me. This leader demonstrated courage, and did it in a way that cut efficiently to the heart of the issue. At first, the CEO didn’t get it. He kind of sidestepped the issue she was raising about his not listening, thereby repeating the pattern. He was not defensive, but it was as if he did not really hear her point. Instead of resigning herself to the pattern she persisted, pointing out that it was happening here and now in this meeting. To the CEO’s credit, he understood and asked more questions so as to understand what she was saying. The other leader who had not communicated well with the aforementioned employee also acknowledged that confrontation was an Achilles heel for him. He said he felt what she was raising was great and that he was glad she persisted, since he wanted to do better in his role and he wanted to cultivate this kind of shared learning in the meeting. She on her part acknowledged that she had put off raising her concerns for fear they would not be heard. The result was magical. Together they talked through what to do about the person, and more importantly how to shift their dynamics as a team so that they wouldn’t keep repeating their mistakes.

If I could conjure up a recipe for deep and powerful dialogue—you know, the kind that produces true synergy—it would be this:

  1. Honesty
  2. Open minded and open heartedness
  3. Deep curiosity

That’s it. That’s what showed up and it truly transformed the conversation.


Too Much Lying

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

“Leadership is Dead,” says a provocative new book on the subject written by Jeremie Kubicek. Says the author, “In my view, leadership as we have known it is dead because far too many leaders have abused their positions and lost their moral bea

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rings.” Sadly, to a large extent, this appears to be true. Perhaps it is not leadership that is dead, but the paradigm under which it is too often practiced.
Consider this: What do Mike Hurd, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods have in common? Their amorous transgressions have been painfully out in the public. More recently, Arnold Schwartzenegger has been in the news for his infidelity as well. But they are not alone. It seems to me that the phenomenon of powerful people believing they are above it all has been around for a long time. It’s just that it has not been so public due to the modern world’s ability to detect, discover, unearth, and make public what goes on behind closed doors.

David Larcker, a Stanford Accounting Professor, and his associates recently analyzed 30,000 conference calls, during which executives announced their company’s earnings. By correlating their communications with instances of deceptive accounting, Larcker and his associates found some interesting patterns that reveal clues to how leaders deceive. CEOs who are less truthful tend to distance themselves from their subject matter and push responsibility on their team. When they are lying, they eliminate the word “I”, opting instead for the third person. They also tend to use hyperbole or highly effusive language such as “great”, “incredible” wonderful,” “no problems,” statements that tend to obfuscate the truth. This is in contrast to truth tellers who have no need for excessive descriptors, preferring the more balanced truth in their communication.

I find this study quite interesting and revealing. I have often sensed that I could tell if someone was telling the truth, but didn’t know precisely what I was picking up that caused me to have this sense. And yet the intuitive sense of lying was there. Recently, I arrived at a client site and asked the IT person if he could explain how I used their wireless to get on the Internet. He handed me a sheet of paper that explained how to use it and the special code I would need as a visitor. After 20 minutes of multiple attempts to get on their wireless, I returned to his office for help. After asking a couple of questions, we discovered that their system did not work with Safari, the web browser I had on my Mac. Frustrated by the amount of time I spent unnecessarily, I suggested to him that they specify this limitation on the sheet of paper to avoid the unnecessary effort I just put it in. He frowned, seemingly somewhat perturbed and said he’d ask the person responsible to do it. I left with this subtle yet clear sense that he was not telling the truth and that he was simply trying to remove me from his presence so he could get back to what he was doing. He was saying something that was designed to try to satisfy me in the moment, but his body language showed no sense of intention to follow up. It was not the words he used, but his posture, his tone, his cadence, and his energy. I cannot explain exactly what it was, but I suspect that just about everyone on the planet would have detected the same thing—he was lying. I returned to that same client organization a few weeks later and wanted to get on the wireless again, only to discover nothing had changed.

Such an experience is not uncommon. Why would someone lie in such a moment? Wouldn’t it have been better for the IT person to tell me the truth? He could have said something like, “I’m sorry about this oversight. We are just so busy at this time that it hasn’t been high on our priority list. And even though I know it would be helpful to you and others, it’s just not something we’re going to attend to right now. We don’t get this request often enough to warrant our attention. I’m sorry to disappoint you.” I might feel a bit discouraged by this response, but I’d know where they stand, and I would have respected the integrity of the response. Instead, I left with one more of a series of pits in my stomach

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at the truth having be obfuscated or twisted.

Now buy generic cialis online I understand why people shade the truth or lie. It is almost always self-protection. The IT guy was busy and didn’t want to deal with me, so he said something designed to get me to go away. We do this all the time. What this IT person does not know is that his lying, and that of all others on the planet takes a toll on us all. Do you remember that phrase often spoken by our mothers when we lie? “You’re not just hurting others, you’re hurting yourself!” Well it turns out to be true. Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at Notre Dame did a study designed to measure the effect of lying on our health. Each week, for 10 weeks, 110 people participated in the study. Half the members of the group were instructed to “refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone.” The members of the other half were not given any instructions. Then they took a lie detector test to discover the number of lies they told in that week. In addition, they completed a health assessment. The health of the group that told no lies improved meaningfully when compared to the group given no instructions. Subjects who told three fewer lies than in other weeks, for example, had an average of four fewer mental-health complaints such as tension or feeling melancholy, and three fewer physical complaints, such as sore throats or headaches.

Kelly says that Americans average 11 lies per week. Depending on how that is defined, we do it much more. A study done by a University of Massachusetts researcher named Robert Feldman shows that we lies as often as 3 times every 10 minutes. In his study, published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Feldman and his team of researchers asked strangers to talk for 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Before looking at the tape, subjects consistently reported they were completely honest. More often than not, upon looking at the time, subjects were amazed to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation. On average subjects told 2.92 falsehoods.

We lie, sometimes brazenly, sometimes subtly. We give each other room to tell white lies that don’t hurt others. And we don’t lie just to protect ourselves. Sometimes we lie to get ahead, or to defend our point of view, or just so another person isn’t emotionally hurt. Leaders lie for all those reasons, but also to influence others. They are often well skilled in shaping their communication to be believable or to impress. They use grand phrases to stress a point. Many in the age of “visionary leaders” learn that we should always look on the bright side—envision a brighter future, something to reach toward. Yet in the hyperbole something is lost—credibility. When we hear words like “great,” “wonderful,” “the sky’s the limit,” we get somewhat mistrusting. Your intuition and mine can often see through it. We’re picking up an indefinable gestalt and sensing the truth is not being spoken. I have often found myself distrusting people who, whenever I meet them and say, “how are you?” their response is “great” all the time. It’s as if they are trying to obfuscate the truth or fake it ‘till they make it. They are communicating in hyperbole much like the research described above.

The question is, why the hyperbole? The answer lies in the deeper patterns of power and influence. When you consider that leadership and power are inextricably intertwined, it starts to make sense. The hyperbole is a method where the leader is trying to get us to think a certain way. Many leaders, having learned that great leadership has something to do with vision, start to shape their message to try to create an impact. Why settle with good when great is just around the corner. So they spin the truth for effect.

Is it any wonder that power and politics rein supreme in many executive populations throughout the world? The ones that make it to the top are often the most driven by power and the ones who play the political game most effectively. This lends itself to finding ways to effectively manipulate the truth to one’s greatest aims. It is perhaps this reason why you see so many leaders of business later found out to be liars and cheaters.

Power, Politics, and Being a Leader

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Because leadership is ultimately a game of influence, and power and influence go hand in hand, leaders, especially those that aspire to being top dog, tend also to be imbued with a desire for power. Along with such a desire is also the tendenc

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y to be political. By political, I mean shaping the truth to have the greatest affect, being strategic about what one says and how one says it. Such tendencies are often referred to by psychologists as game playing, and alas, the more games one plays, the less one is trustworthy. Perhaps that is why so many of us don’t trust politicians, who by their very nature are political, and therefore lean toward being inauthentic.

Put differently, authenticity and trustworthy leadership also go hand in hand. Hence, the powerful paradox of leadership that requires authenticity, yet those that aspire to leadership lean toward the opposite. Every now and then, a leader of a company or a country comes through that breaks the bonds of this paradox and finds a way to be both politically astute and quite authentic. I believe this ability to break that paradox is what remarkable leadership is all about and why Barack

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Obama will likely go down in history as one of the finest leaders of our country or of any country, for he has that enormous ability to speak the truth in a highly charged political climate. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had that same quality, as did Harry Truman, each of whom are notable for their inspiration. I contrast this with the many other leaders of our country who have been seen as questionable in their ethics and who, unfortunately, although they have given a lot, they will be remembered in part for their tendency to shade the truth too often. Nixon and Clinton are among them.

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I am reminded of a story I once read in a book about people who were afflicted with a neurological dysfunction that caused them to be unable to understand the spoken word because their brain could not piece together words. Words came out in a jumbled fashion. Instead, they communicated through signs and body language, and simple utterances. There was a group of those afflicted with this condition sitting in front of a TV listening to the then President of the U.S. giving a speech and apparently they were howling in laughter. When asked why, they explained that the man they were listening to came across as so inauthentic as to be laughable, literally. The incongruity between the seeming message and the President’s body language told these folks that was he was saying was anything but the truth, and that struck them as very funny, especially coming from a person that supposedly was our leader. Their highly honed inner “shit-detectors” were so strong, they could see through this leader.

It is my belief that we all have this capability and that if we were to elect a leader that, even if we didn’t like their message, we trusted them as a person, I wonder how much further our planet will have progressed.