Listening WITH or Listening FOR

Have you ever felt someone was talking to you not with you? I was trying to sell my apartment a few weeks ago so I had many meetings with real estate agents. I remember sitting in some of these appointments and after a few minutes thinking to myself – “this guy is not talking with me – he is talking to me”. The guy went on and on about how great his agency is, about their system and its benefits etc. he did not start by asking me what I need. He did not notice that I understood the point he was making after the first minute and kept boring me for ten more minutes. He was so in his own world that there was no way I was going to connect with him on any level – personal or professional. In a profession that is built on trust, his lack of attention to me truly amazed me.

The whole situation reminded me of how Edgar Schien defined one of the main problems with helping in his book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (I wrote about this wonderful paragraph in the past):

The trap for the helper is to move too rapidly to solutions, to provide advice or guidance on the hypothetical problem and, thereby, cut off the opportunity to learn what the real problem might be. Working the hypothetical problem does little to equilibrate the relationship.

Then I was watching the above TED talk by Julian Treasure and heard this:

Ears are made not for hearing, but for listening. Listening is an active skill. Whereas hearing is passive, listening is something that we have to work at. It’s a relationship with sound. And yet it’s a skill that none of us are taught. For example, have you ever considered that there are listening positions, places you can listen from? Here are two of them. Reductive listening is listening “for.” It reduces everything down to what’s relevant, and it discards everything that’s not relevant. Men typically listen reductively. So he’s saying, “I’ve got this problem.” He’s saying, “Here’s your solution. Thanks very much. Next.” That’s the way we talk, right guys? Expansive listening, on the other hand, is listening “with,” not listening “for.” It’s got no destination in mind. It’s just enjoying the journey. Women typically listen expansively. If you look at these two, eye contact, facing each other, possibly both talking at the same time. Men, if you get nothing else out of this talk, practice expansive listening, and you can transform your relationships.

I love the idea that “Listening is an active skill”. It reminds us that it doesn’t just happen. It requires work. It requires as to be present and attentive. It is a skill one can develop.

I think it goes both ways. In professions that are based on relationships, and management is all about relationships, I think developing the ability to talk with and listen with is crucial

So my question is – are you talking to or with someone? Are you listening with or for?


We are all Heroes

Dave Meslin gives a great talk about apathy at TED. This is what he says about heros [starts at 3:43]:

Look at these 10 movies [Matrix * Harry Potter * Golden Compass * Pokemon * Power Rangers * Sailor Moon * Lion, Witch & Wardrobe * Alice in Wonderland * The Neverending Story * The Golden Child]. What do they have in common? Anyone? They all have heroes who were chosen. Someone came up to them and said, “You’re the chosen one. There’s a prophesy. You have to save the world.” And then someone goes off and saves the world because they’ve been told to, with a few people tagging along. This helps me understand why a lot of people have trouble seeing themselves as leaders. Because it sends all the wrong messages about what leadership is about. A heroic effort is a collective effort, number one. Number two, it’s imperfect; it’s not very glamorous; and it doesn’t suddenly start and suddenly end. It’s an ongoing process your whole life. But most importantly, it’s voluntary. It’s voluntary. As long as we’re teaching our kids that heroism starts when someone scratches a mark on your forehead, or someone tells you that you’re part of a prophecy, they’re missing the most important characteristic of leadership, which is that it comes from within. It’s about following your own dreams — uninvited, uninvited — and then working with others to make those dreams come true.

This is what I wrote a few weeks ago:

We have a bias towards the need of a forceful – somehow holy and external – leader who will show us what needs to be done and take us to a better place… these myths about the importance of the single leader stand in contrast to the needs of many modern organizations. In contemporary knowledge-based, dynamic and complex team environments, both the cognitive and the behavioral capabilities of the wider workforce are needed to achieve optimal effectiveness and competitiveness. While some may be drawn to the idea of a larger-than-life, charismatic, all-knowing leader who can inspire and single-handedly positively transform work systems and the employees who work in them, the realities and challenges of contemporary organizational life require an alternative view of leadership.

Leadership is not about hierarchy. It is not about being told what to do. It is about making a change. It is about creating a different future. It is about not accepting the status quo.

Some perform leadership by relating with other people, creating environments where they can excel and be creative. I call that management. But that is not the only way to be a leader. A leader is somebody who speaks up and says “You’re hurting us, this is wrong”. A leader is somebody who creates Art – something new and wonderful that touches us, each in our own way. A leader is someone who changes the world by performing one small meaningful intervention at time.

Most importantly – leaders are not other people. Leaders are all of us. If we choose to be one. Like many things it would probably not be easy, but that why it’s worth it. I decided not to keep waiting for the hero or the prophecy. I decided I am already a Hero. How about you?


What is your team’s creed?

I was watching Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk the other day. He gives an interesting perspective of leadership and learning the deal with the challenges of modern management in a very hierarchical style organization like the army. This is one issue he discusses:

And you have to watch and take care of each other. I probably learned the most about relationships. I learned they are the sinew which hold the force together. I grew up much of my career in the Ranger regiment. And every morning in the Ranger regiment, every Ranger — and there are more than 2,000 of them — says a six-stanza Ranger creed. You may know one line of it, it says, “I’ll never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.” And it’s not a mindless mantra, and it’s not a poem. It’s a promise. Every Ranger promises every other Ranger no matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I’m coming.

When we talk about culture and the norms of the team that are a part of that culture we always need to consider how these norms are maintained. What is your team’s creed? What do you stand for and do you talk about it every day? What do you actively encourage – not as a blind command coming from above – but by a passionate belief emerging from below?


Capitalism, unions, equality, the fallacy of the average and mediocrity

Photo by finsec

A short caveat: while this post is not totally unrelated to my regular line of writing, it does somewhat detaches from my usual subject matter and is focused more on personal doubts, questions and thoughts and less on practical implications.


I see myself a capitalist. I believe in its basic premises. And while my views have become less extreme in the last few years and I do think there is a need to rethink and change some of the basic practical behaviors we derive from the concept, it is still a part of how I define my world views.

Within this framework I have always wondered about the idea of work unions. On a very shallow level it seems incompatible with the some of the ideas I used to think capitalism represented, so in my younger years I immediately thought of unions as something wrong. However, over the years I understood the importance of mechanisms that will put some balance into the capitalist system so it will not undo itself. Having said that, maybe because of my biased viewpoint, wherever I looked I saw unions resisting change and progress, upholding stupid rules (see this Gates talk on TED for some examples) and keeping the interests of the top quartile of employees instead of those who actually need protection. This has always bothered me.

Lately, because of current political and economic issues in Israel, I have been thinking about this issue quite a bit. This week, while listening to a freakeconomics podcast about the negotiations between the NFL league and the players union (negotiations, many of the players themselves are not privy to) I came to a realization that what troubles me about unions is something that has been troubling me about other fields as well. The misuse of the idea of equality. I have written before (see also here):

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents. And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems. Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong.

In the case of unions, the idea of equality means that unions can act like all workers are equal. If they are equal, they can talk about the average worker. It is a classic case of the fallacy of the average. Because of everybody is equal and we are taking care of the average worker we are losing the individuality. And that is the fastest way to mediocrity.

In Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe write:

That’s what Aristotle meant when he said that practical wisdom as opposed to a universal rule was necessary because of the priority of the particular. A wise person knows how to do the right thing, in the right way, with this person, in this situation. To be wise, we need cognitive and perceptual machinery that picks up on similarities without being blind to differences.

I am not an expert on the issue of unions, their history and their contribution to society. I am also not against the idea that workers should be protected to some degree and have a right to be represented. I do resent the fact that some unions focus their attention on keeping the status quo and base their thinking on a misconception of equality that leads to a discussion of averages. In general, the work of any leader, political, business, union or other, is to balance similarities and differences. I am not sure that many of the union leaders or those that sit with them to the table of negotiations are actively thinking of this balance. What will happen if both sides of a labor dispute (or even better, prior to the dispute) will start doing just that? Isn’t it worth a try?


Re-learning about purpose

If there is a lesson I am happy to re-learn many times it is the important of purpose in numerous organizational contexts. Its importance for employees’ happiness, for long-term organizational success and for alignment of strategy never ceases to amaze me. In the last few days, I encountered a number of reminders for its importance.

In the fascinating TED talk above Barry Schwartz gives many examples for the importance of practical wisdom. One of them is other the story of Judge Russell:

Judge Russell created the Veterans’ Court. It was a court only for veterans who had broken the law. And he had created it exactly because mandatory sentencing laws were taking the judgment out of judging. No one wanted non-violent offenders — and especially non-violent offenders who were veterans to boot — to be thrown into prison. They wanted to do something about what we all know, namely the revolving door of the criminal justice system. And what the Veterans’ Court did, was it treated each criminal as an individual, tried to get inside their problems, tried to fashion responses to their crimes that helped them to rehabilitate themselves, and didn’t forget about them once the judgment was made. Stayed with them, followed up on them, made sure that they were sticking to whatever plan had been jointly developed to get them over the hump.

This reminded me of something I wrote almost two years ago:

I don’t remember where exactly I read it. I think it was in one of Marcus Buckingham’s books. Anyway, the writer described an interview with a manager of the prison authority in England. That manager told the interviewer about the ways in which that organization became much more effective. Now, when you think of a prison, you would probably think about things in the lines of tightening security. But the most important activity that was described had to do with the way the prison authority measured its effectiveness. Instead of measuring how many people got out or escaped, which was the traditional way to measure the effectiveness of prisons, the manager changed the way that organization measured it success. They started measuring how many people who got out of prison legitimately, returned to prison. The manager said that he realized that the objective of a prison is to make sure prisoners who return to society don’t go back to the life of crime. In how many other places in life do we still measure the wrong thing because of habit or because of the available data?

I think the two stories are connected. Later in the talk Schwartz explains that none of the Vets that appeared before the special court have re-lapsed. None. 108 success stories. When you think about it through the lenses of the right measurement you understand how profound an achievement it is.

And this made even more sense when I read this paragraph from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning:

Much of what modern workers are required to do on the job is dictated by demands that make sense at some higher organizational level, but are obscure to the worker. Why do we need to fill out these forms? What is the purpose of this rule? What is the outcome of this process? And often even if the worker understands what she is doing, it is not clear to her why. Yet without well-defined goals, both long-term and moment by moment, it is difficult to enjoy what one is doing.

Do I really need to spell out the connection? I don’t think so. It is obvious. I wish it was also more common.


Environment of learning

Photo by afromusing

A couple of days ago, the Freaknomoics blog wrote about TED quoting Anya Kamenetz saying that:

TED is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it’s creating a new Harvard — the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.

More interesting was the quote by college professor and TED-lecturer, Barry Schwartz:

Well, people who come to TED are open to being changed by their interactions and conversations. They’re in an environment where they’re going to learn something new every five minutes. You could create something like that on a college campus, but generally that doesn’t happen.

As lately I have been grappling with the issue of learning behaviors and how you encourage them in team settings in order to support innovation, I find this comment fascinating. The answer to the question of how you create an environment where people are receptive and actually expect to learn is a million dollar question for organizations that are focused on radical innovation as part of their strategy. And frankly, that is true for most companies today.

Work used to be a place where you come in, punch your card, don’t ask questions and do what you already know. The more time passes, the more the jobs that answer this description disappear. Instead, we have jobs where you have to constantly learn and more importantly, be open to other disciplines, perspectives and assumptions about how to do things. But when you come with the attitude of the former to a workplace that employees the later, bad things are going to happen. Thus, companies need to find ways to create the “Magic of TED” in their own back yard and to make people ready to be changed by their interactions and conversations. Not an easy task. How do you think companies can accomplish this challenge?



Passion as the basic capability


I copied the above picture from a slide on a presentation given by Gary Hamel in a webinar as part of the Management Innovation Exchange (you need to register to access it; it will be available for a limited time). The hour-long presentation touches on so many subjects and is defiantly worth the time of anyone who leads or manages people, but this particular slide really sparked my interest.

Trying to create some equivalent to Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, Hamel created what he calls Gary Hamel’s Hierarchy of Capabilities. These, according to Hamel are the thing people can bring to their work place. The bottom three is what we used to rely on and what most companies rely on every day. However, the three things at the top (Passion, Creativity, Initiative) are the capabilities that create wealth in this new creative economy. The problem is that these capabilities at the top cannot be commanded. These are things that people choose to bring to work every day or they don’t. Thus, Hamel claims that our job as managers is to create work environments that create a sense of purpose, that motivate and cultivate an atmosphere where employees can bring these things to work every day.

I can’t agree more. In a very simple way, Hamel touches on what, in my view, is the heart of managing. Helping people find their flow. In addition, it also reminded me of an important point about passion.

A lot of people have a problem with the issue of passion. They claim that “Follow you passion” is advice that makes a great story, but in the real world, you can’t really make a living out of your passion. Yes, some do, but they are the lucky ones. You need to be careful with the idea of passion, because it could lead you on a fool’s errand. Mike Rowe makes this claim in his TED talk.

I have written about it before and it is an important lesson that I need to remind myself of:

After I thought about it I realized that I don’t agree with Rowe. I think “follow your passion” is a very good advice. But I think our disagreement lies in the interpretation we give to the phrase “follow your passion”. While – I think – Rowe interprets “Follow your passion” as “do something you love”, I interpret “Follow your passion” as do whatever you do with passion. In the E-book I describe how in my view, being passionate means three main things: Being interested in what you do, striving for change and improvement and sharing your knowledge.

Now, I don’t know that pig farmer from Las-Vegas [Rowe motions him as an example in his talk], but I am pretty sure, that the moment he went into this industry, he followed some or all three of these rules. This doesn’t mean he loves the pig industry and sees higher calling in it. It just means that he does what he does with passion. And this leads to him being successful.

One thing troubles me in Hamel’s explanation as I think he did not take it far enough. In contrast to Maslow’s theory, Hamel’s is not really a hierarchy. The point is, in today’s creative economy, we need to flip the list and start with passion. Creativity, Initiative, intellect, diligence, and yes, even obedience, emanate from passion, and not the other way around. At least the sustainable true kinds do.

So, where are you and your employees on this hierarchy? How are you going to change that and utilize the power of passion?