Leaders need strength to be successful. While this obvious truth is widely recognized, opinions differ on what constitutes “strength.” In the eyes of many, strength means standing firm, winning your position, exuding confidence, and minimizing vulnerability. At PMC, our clients are often surprised to hear that we see vulnerability as a key source of leadership strength. Which is stronger, a leader who advocates a position and stands firm until others bend? Or a leader who advocates a position while remaining open to different views, even inviting challenge from others? Leaders who take the path of openness will naturally feel vulnerable. Paradoxically, this vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather a clear indication of leadership strength.
Here at PMC we are concerned, as many Americans are, by how deeply divided our country continues to be both politically and ideologically. But in this age of division, let us remember the words contained in the Seal of the United States – E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one.” Lively political discourse is essential for a healthy nation, of course. Yet even as we debate, we are still one. It’s easy to forget this crucial fact. The more mindful we are of our national unity, the more peaceful we will be toward each other, despite our ideological differences. And who knows? If we can see beyond our political divisions, what’s to prevent us from defining our loyalties even more broadly? As Martin Luther King said so famously: “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” Here’s wishing us all some perspective in these tumultuous times.
Candor in the workplace, even “extreme” or “radical” candor, has become a hot topic in recent years. And for good reason. The creativity, buy-in, and efficiencies possible through candid conversation are remarkable and well-documented. There’s no question that candid dialogue, when seen as the norm and practiced routinely, is a key source of competitive advantage — companies like Google and Bridgewater Associates are good illustrations. Yet practicing candor company-wide is not nearly as easy as popular writings imply, especially if a company’s existing culture is less than candid. We at PMC believe a vital ingredient has been missing from the candor discussion. Until now, that is. The Fearless Organization, by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, is hot off the presses. In this book, Edmondson discusses the often subtle yet widespread effects of fear in the workplace, and how fear impedes candor and creativity. Her basic argument is that, for a culture of candor to take hold and endure over time, an organization must first propagate psychological safety throughout its ranks. We couldn’t agree more. This book is highly recommended reading for leaders at all levels.
The clients we work with at PMC often ask for advice on how to get more buy-in from those they lead. Almost all of these leaders believe buy-in is obtained through personal qualities such persuasiveness, passion, intelligence, charisma, and so on. Important as these qualities are for any leader, they’re secondary when it comes to garnering commitment. The primary source of commitment is choice. That is, in order to truly commit to a course of action, those from whom commitment is sought must be given some choice about whether, or how, they will carry out the action. Think about it. If you have no choice in what you do or how you go about doing it, how will you feel? If you’re like most people, your natural response will be to feel as though you don’t really own your actions. It’s human nature. Ownership and commitment go hand in hand, so a lack of felt ownership almost always diminishes the commitment we would have – or at least could have – if we were given some choice in the matter. So, if you’re not getting the commitment you’d like from those you lead, consider the possibility that you may be constraining their choices too much. The more willing and able you are to let them choose (or at least influence) their own path, the more you will get their commitment. To be precise, you won’t be “getting them” to commit. Rather, to the extent they step up and make the choices you’re offering them, they will commit a result of their own choice-making.
As 2018 draws to close, we would like to thank the many clients, colleagues, and partners who played a part in the continued success of Paese Management Consulting over the past year. It’s been our best year ever at PMC, and we know our continued success will depend as much as ever on the relationships we’ve built and the creative possibilities that arise through partnership and collaboration. Wishing you the happiest of holidays and all the best in 2019!
PMC is proud to contribute to executive education at Olin Business School at Washington University. In addition to teaching in custom programs offered by Olin to single organizations, Paul Paese also teaches open enrollment seminars that executives from any organization can take. This year Paul is co-teaching Leading & Growing Highly Effective Teams with Markus Baer. This two-day seminar will be held on November 27-28 at the Charles F. Knight Center from 8am-4pm each day. For a description of the open enrollment sessions offered at Olin this year, see the program finder.