LeadershipWatch

Leading Change: 3 Misconceptions about Successful Collaboration

White lines of a sailboat wrapped around brown wooden pins

Are you leading change? Do you believe in the importance of a collaborative culture in your company? Do you want to encourage successful collaboration between people and teams across organization units, even across companies?

Let me share a few considerations, which might help to avoid frequently occurring misunderstandings. Pitfalls in our thinking that create a false conception of what good collaboration is! I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the following three important misconceptions about successful collaboration.

1)    Vision and strategy come first and collaboration is an  outcome

The dominant reasoning in this misconception is that successful collaboration is an outcome of a strong vision and strategy coming from the top. If executive leaders at the top are capable of defining a strong and compelling vision and strategy, people will follow and successful collaboration will be a logical result. This misconception exists more often than we think. I regularly witness leaders having this reflex, particularly in organizations facing complex changes.

But it is false! The most powerful visions and strategies are built on involvement and collaboration between a broad range of people early in the process. Successful organizations handle change faster and more effectively, because they focus on establishing a collaborative approach to define the new direction and destination (vision), and the best way to get there (strategy). Collaborating successfully to define a collectively shared vision and focused strategy that people commit to! It is important for leaders to find the right way to stimulate this.

2)     Successful collaboration means everybody needs to have a say

“People always had a good reason for meeting. You’re sharing best practices. You’re having good conversations with like-minded people. But increasingly, we found that people were flying around the world and simply sharing ideas without always having a focus on the bottom line.” (Executive leader quoted by Morten Hansen in his excellent book ‘Collaboration’, p.12)

Do you recognize this? Mistaking extensive, crowded and long meetings for successful collaboration. Yes, sharing ideas, experiences and expertise across the organization is very important. But successful collaboration implies efficient and effective decision-making, and successful execution of these decisions! The goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but results (innovation, revenue growth, …)

Successful leaders stimulate collaboration that is focused on efficient decision-making and on fast and effective execution of these decisions. They make sure their organization does not get infected by ‘committee-fatigue’, which will destroy the positive energy and drive of people. They are very aware of their own role in the decision-making process, and know when to step in and take decisions themselves to keep everybody on course and to maintain speed. Or as Morten Hansen puts it: we need ‘disciplined collaboration’, not ‘over-collaboration’.

3)     Successful collaboration depends on the level of friendship and camaraderie between people

The misconception here is to think that collaboration will be easier and better if we are friends. In other words: the better our friendship, the better our collaboration. But this is not always the case!

I have worked with organizations that suffered from poor collaboration because people were afraid to discuss sensitive topics and to criticize each other. They were afraid to do this out of fear of damaging the friendship. Apparently, friendship and successful collaboration are two different things. Sometimes successful collaboration arises because of friendship, but there are as many examples of situations where friendship arises because of successful collaboration. And there are as many examples of situations where people collaborate successfully, without becoming friends.

“Leaders who want to create successful collaboration should focus on the ability of people to build high quality relationships driven by respect, openness and trust, despite mutual differences!”

Attitudes and skills to build high quality relationships across borders and despite mutual differences lead to successful collaboration. Leaders have an important role in coaching their teams on these attitudes and skills (read this previous article about the coaching role of leaders). Organizations that master this are more adaptable, more flexible, faster and more successful in dealing with change.

Are you encouraging successful collaboration? Feel free to share your experiences below.

If you would like to increase the quality of collaboration, then our Team Alignment Approach might interest you.

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Photo: John and Elza Bakker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

___________________

Aad is a global business advisor, change leader, senior executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

Building Your Executive Team: 3 Valuable Lessons from Andrew Carnegie

Photo of Andrew Carnegie sitting in chair in front of a black background

“Here lies a man who knew to enlist in his service better men than himself.”

This is how Andrew Carnegie, the (Scotland-born) U.S. steel magnate who gave away the vast majority of his fortune, wanted people to remember him. (Among other things, Carnegie’s money built 2509 libraries worldwide, founded or established large trusts at several universities, constructed Carnegie Hall in New York, and built The Peace Palace in The Hague). Carnegie wrote his epitaph himself, right before he passed away in 1919 (take a peek at this interesting piece The New York Times published at the time).

The words engraved on Carnegie’s tombstone intrigued me, so I decided to delve into his autobiography. What did this business leader, once the richest men on earth, consider to be the secret to his phenomenal success?

“The development of my material success in life”, he wrote, can “not be attributed to what I have known or done myself, but to the faculty of knowing and choosing others who did know better than myself.” (source: Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie).

Think about it.

Just like Carnegie you live in a time of relentless change, and are working hard to future-proof the company you lead. You know that your success not only depends on your own capacities and vision, but to a large extent on the effectiveness of your executive team as well. You need an executive team that thrives on openness and trust; a team that gets collaboration right, and creates a shared sense of focus and commitment throughout the organization.

You want to put together a top-notch team to help you lead the way. Who do you select? Let me share 3 lessons from Andrew Carnegie that might be of use to you:

1.  Look for people better than yourself

Do you surround yourself with capable people whom you know and like? People you have worked with before, who look up to you maybe, who are eager to learn from you, will run the extra mile for you? It is maybe appealing to do this. But Carnegie’s strategy was different. He built a team comprised of people who knew steel and business way better than he did, and then set out to learn from them. By doing this he showed a great strength that still is a valuable example to leaders: he always put the interest of the company above his own interest, and he never let his ego get in the way of the success of his team.

It made me think of that other great leader who arrived in Washington unknown, and filled his cabinet with people far more educated and versed in politics than he was. People who initially looked down on him: Abraham Lincoln.

2.  Create and stimulate diverse opinions

Do you have a preference for people who think like you do, have similar backgrounds, people you feel comfortable with?  Or do you actively embrace diversity and make sure your team, and teams throughout your organization, reflect diversity in age, gender, personalities, skills, business experience and – especially important in today’s business environments – cultural backgrounds?

A lack of diversity limits the ability of a species to adapt and change, Darwin taught us. If that is true for nature, could it be true for business too?

Consider these 10 reasons why diversity is good for business teams, as recently listed by Mike Myatt and Patricia Lenkov in Forbes:

  1. It reflects the real world – something every company should be sensitive to.
  2. Healthy debate can lead to better decisions.
  3. Divergent backgrounds mean tackling the same idea in differing ways.
  4. Great ideas come from disruption of the status quo.
  5. Your clients and customers are diverse.
  6. This can make your company knowledgeable and sensitive to a wider variety of groups.
  7. Counsel from a variety of authorities is sensible.
  8. Setting an example at the top will hopefully have a trickle-down effect within the organization.
  9. Improved reputation and brand.
  10. A variety of backgrounds can make the company more adaptable to its ever-changing environment.

3.  A genuine will to learn from the people you lead

A third thought to conclude. Hiring people who know better than you, investing in diversity: none of this makes sense if it doesn’t come with the genuine WILL to listen and learn from people you lead. Especially in times of change, when stress and anxiety increases, it is tempting to tell others to listen to you and to do as you say. But by doing that you run the risk of neglecting the potential power and energy in your team that you could have unlocked if you would have listened to them better.

In Carnegie’s own words:

“I did not understand steam machinery, but I tried to understand that much more complicated piece of mechanism — man.”

Are you leading a successful executive team? Why not share your experiences below, including any tips or checks, which executive leaders should make when selecting the right people to their teams.

Co-Author: Hanneke Siebelink

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___________________

Aad is a global business advisor, change leader, senior executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here.

How Successful Cross-Cultural Leaders Work

Cross-Cultural business Team meeting

How to Boost Your Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills

25 years ago I started my career as a leadership consultant. From the start I was fascinated by how leaders can boost a company’s success by stimulating successful collaboration between people from different cultures. At first my work was mainly at national level dealing with local cultural differences, but soon I began to work for clients abroad and was confronted with international cultural differences.

I vividly remember my first international job, for a French client, and how a feeling of discomfort overwhelmed me during one of the first meetings. Not being able to speak my own language was one thing, but what confused me most was the fact that even if I understood what they were saying I still couldn’t be sure whether I really understood what they meant. Apparently there was a whole world of cultural differences apart from language and habits.

Language and habits are observable, can even be amusing to experience, but there is a deeper and more fundamental level of culture. A level that reveals how we deal with values, beliefs, and norms; a level that is formed by our history, educational system, and social environment. Being confronted with this deeper level can put you out of your comfort zone, making you uncertain on how to interpret and value what you observe and hear. I remember how it impacted my feeling of self-confidence, my trust in others, and my level of comfort to openly share my thoughts and ideas.

Learning to understand and getting comfortable with this deeper level of a culture that is not your own requires a certain mindset.  A mindset that can significantly improve your effectiveness in cross-cultural settings.

Later when I also began to work with Asian cultures this cross-cultural mindset proved its value various times. It showed me that if you really want to come to successful relationships and collaboration you have to be able to reach this deeper level and find effective ways to reconcile the cultural differences you perceive.

We see every day how globalization has a significant impact on companies, and how leaders are increasingly facing cross-cultural challenges, particularly where East meets West. It is clear that in today’s business reality there is a strong business case for strengthening your cross-cultural competency as a leader.

Intrigued by the challenges I encountered working with executives and leadership teams in cross-cultural situations, I decided to investigate existing literature and leadership programs on developing cross-cultural competencies. I discovered that most materials rather focus on cultural differences in habits and customs, and on how to adjust to these in order to ‘fit in’.

But your effectiveness depends not just on how well you can fit in another culture. It depends much more on how well you can create effective relationships based on mutual understanding, despite cultural differences.

Academic books and programs, on the other hand, generally offer data and explanations of cultural differences and their background, but lack the hands-on advice and support on how to create successful collaboration in real life business situations.

What I looked for was a short and practical program going beyond ‘how to introduce yourself at a reception’, ‘how to address your audience’, or ‘how to behave at a karaoke party’.

A program sharing key insights and real-life observations about how successful cross-cultural leaders work, and what it is that differentiates them from other leaders.

A program that doesn’t try to box the complexity of your business reality into simplified stereotypes, but offers you a ready-to-use compass, giving you direction in cross-cultural business situations, helping you to navigate easier, and to strengthen your cross-cultural leadership skills.

A compact program filled with valuable business cases, tips and insights that you can apply at all times in your daily work and life.

I could not find such a program, and therefore decided to create it myself. I created two compact and interactive programs together with Hanneke Siebelink and called them the Cross-Cultural Booster Programs.

Some of the questions the Cross-Cultural Booster Programs will help you answer:

  1. How do you move people from ‘knowing we are different’ to ‘knowing how to work together successfully’?
  2. How to create openness and trust between team members, despite cultural differences?
  3. Which key leadership traits foster your cross-cultural competence?
  4. How can you turn cultural differences into strengths?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”, Benjamin Franklin once said.

The Cross-Cultural Booster Programs want to do just that.


006_LW bijgesnedenAad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact Aad here.

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3 Good Reasons For Boosting Your Cross-Cultural Leadership

Cross Cultural Compass Quote

Why is cross-cultural leadership getting so much attention? Why is it important for today’s leaders to develop their cross-cultural effectiveness?

Let me tell you a story.  It starts on a hot summer day in 2001 when the managing director of a family-owned company – let’s call him Paul – arrived in Hong Kong, flanked by his best lawyers.

He had worked with a Chinese partner firm for more than 30 years, much to his satisfaction, and now he had the opportunity to buy 25 percent of its shares. ‘We should set up a joint venture’, his lawyers had advised him, and Paul had rubbed his hands together with delight.  He knew it was a brilliant business opportunity.

When he walked into the room where the joint venture talks were scheduled to take place, Paul frowned his eyes in disbelief.  He had brought five of his own legal staff and hired local lawyers too. His Chinese partner had come to the talks without any lawyer present.  The talks proceeded without problems, and wrapped up after just three negotiating sessions. Paul returned home a happy man. He had a very beneficial agreement in his pocket.

After some months, however, the Chinese partner ran into some of the legal consequences of the joint venture agreement.  If he wanted to invest more than 100,000 USD, for instance, he needed Paul’s formal agreement.  He did not like that.  If he wanted to appoint a manager, he needed Paul’s blessing too – all in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

The relationship deteriorated. 

‘This was a very difficult period for me’, Paul recounted what happened. I needed my partner, who did 50 percent of my production. I was a very privileged customer. In the 30 years we worked together, we had really come to trust each other. And now the entire relationship suddenly seemed to be on thin ice.  Somehow, my Chinese partner interpreted the joint venture agreement as a lack of trust from my side.  What could I do?  I wasn’t sure.’

How often do you think companies run into these type of situations?  Entire business relationships suddenly turning sour, preferred suppliers and/or customers suddenly turning their backs on you, all because of cross-cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – in Paul’s case a disconnect between his universalist and rule-based approach (preference for legal agreements with clearly spelled-out rules) and the relationship-centered approach (you are not a legal entity but my friend) of his Chinese partner? (find more here about this culturally determined difference)

Much too often, in our experience.

1.  Millions of dollars can be suddenly at stake because of unexpected, and often unintentional, cultural misunderstandings.  That’s the first good reason for examining and sharpening your own cross-cultural leadership skills. Today’s business leaders increasingly face challenges that are directly related to cross-cultural differences.  If you are able to reconcile these differences you can accelerate success. If you don’t, unexpected behavior, resistance and conflicts could seriously hinder your success.

There are more good reasons for boosting your cross-cultural leadership.

2.  Your ability to move people from ‘knowing we are different’ to ‘knowing how to work together, despite cultural differences’ is crucial to building successful collaboration across cultures and companies. Research shows that this in turn increases creativity and innovation (see Harvard Business School’s Roy Chua)

And there is a third reason. Recent investment figures show that more and more western multinationals are shifting their centers of gravity towards Asia (see McKinsey report on this). And mergers and acquisitions are starting to take place in the reverse ‘from East to West’ direction too.

3.  Chances that you will, somewhere along the road, have to lead people and teams from cultures that are not your own have never been as high. Your ability to lead, motivate, and inspire people across cultures is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but has become a crucial competency for leaders in today’s international business environment.

By the way, Paul’s story ended well.  After a long period of reflection, he advised his board to give up the joint venture, which they grudgingly agreed to in the end (‘I was quite lucky that my board followed my advice’).  ‘Better off without a joint venture, but with a happy partner,’ Paul concluded. Trust between the parties was restored. The relationship with the Chinese partner is currently as strong as ever.


Cross-Cultural Leadership

Click here to check out our Cross-Cultural Leadership services

 


Hanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. One of her fields of expertise is studying leaders and the way they lead change in cross-cultural environments, with a special focus on China and East-West relations. She is also an experienced manager of book projects for companies and organizations. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite us to your organization feel free to contact us here.

Leadership: What is The Essence of Building Trust

Being able to build trust is regarded as a crucial element of successful leadership. Especially in today’s globalized business world with its high rate of change and its cross-cultural challenges. But what is the essence of building trust? What does it actually mean? How does it work? Why is it often so difficult to establish, but so easy to lose?

These days we hear and read a lot about the need for trust. Trust in politicians, trust in the financial sector, trust in emerging markets, trust in new business partners, etc. Apparently there is a tendency to believe that we nowadays suffer in many areas from a lack of trust, and that it needs to be restored. We hear leaders say ‘we need to have more trust in each other if we want to create a successful future’.

Of course, for organizations, its people and teams, it is absolutely vital to have trust in each other in order to create successful collaboration and business results. But for leaders it is important to understand what building trust boils down to. In this regards I’d like to challenge a persistent assumption about building trust: the assumption that a lack of trust is bad and that having more trust is good. Is this really the case?

Do we really need to have more trust between people, or do we need to increase something else?

In my work over the years with leaders and their teams all over the world I have witnessed many situations where trust was declining, in the leadership, between people or groups. In many of these situations the decline of trust was actually necessary. It would have been wrong and even dangerous for the company to keep trust under the current situation. To put it differently, I have seen as many situations where a company gets into serious trouble because of blind trust between people for too long, as I have seen companies getting into trouble because of too little trust in each other for too long.

Apparently the amount of trust itself is not the essence, but the reasons why we trust someone. Not so strange. You would probably not teach your children to trust anyone, you would probably teach them when to trust someone and why.

We have specific sensors that scan whether or not we can trust someone. We use these sensors actively and subconsciously, when we’re in a meeting, when we have a one-on-one, when we read an email, when we watch an interview on TV, when we read the newspapers.

What do our sensors scan? They do not scan for trust! They scan for trustworthiness!

If you want to build trust as a leader, you have to be trustworthy.

I observe many leaders who regularly step into the pitfall of emphasizing the importance of building mutual trust, without paying sufficient attention to trustworthiness and how others perceive that.

Now, the question is of course ‘What is trustworthiness?’ How can we define it?

I like to use the three ingredients Onora O’Neill uses to define trustworthiness: Reliability, Competence, and Honesty. I translate these three as follows (in my own words):

1)   Reliability

Do what you say you would do. Stick to agreements. Show your commitment by your actions.

2)   Competence

Be competent in the matters at stake. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be open about it. Don’t overestimate your competence.

3)   Honesty

Tell the truth. Don’t lie. Distinguish fact from perception.

These three ingredients provide a powerful checklist for leaders and their teams. It can facilitate an open discussion with each other about the perceived level of trustworthiness and its effect on mutual trust. And be careful: for leaders of cross-cultural teams it is important to be sensitive to the different ways these three elements can be perceived across cultures (read more here about how to build trust in cross-cultural teams, and how misinterpretations of dishonesty can hinder teams).

Successful leaders understand that building trust depends heavily on establishing trustworthiness in the behavior and actions of everybody involved. Starting with their trustworthiness as a leader.

“When in doubt, tell the truth.” – Mark Twain

What is your experience with building trust and trustworthiness? Please share your thoughts with us.

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___________________

Aad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here.

Cross-Cultural Leadership: Jacques Rogge on Negotiating with the Chinese

Cross Cultural Leadership, Olympic Games

Jacques Rogge, Honorary President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), speaks with a surprisingly soft voice.  I had the chance to meet him last week, when he – invited by The Antwerp Forum – shared his insights on ‘How to Work with the Chinese.’  A man who led the IOC for twelve years and co-organized the Olympic games in Beijing must have solid cross-cultural advice to share, I thought.  Rogge did not disappoint.  What really struck a chord with me was Rogge’s observation that – no matter how many top advisors you add to your negotiating team, no matter how many China books you read – it is the direct contact with your Chinese counterparts that teaches you the most. ’There is no substitute for that’, he said.  Developing cross-cultural leadership skills is, more than any other thing, a people business.

So what should westerners be aware of when working with the Chinese?  Three key things, according to Rogge.  In his own words:

1.  The Asian emphasis on finding a win-win

‘Win-win’ is not a concept only known in China.  In every negotiation, you want to look for a win-win, and that goes for both the Western and the Eastern business world.  But in Asia, I find, there is more emphasis on reaching a win-win situation. This has to do with the great respect that Asians have for each other.  They always want people to save face (read more about the concept of losing face in Asia), so reaching a win-win situation is a specific goal for them.

It is a matter of respect.  When you are negotiating, both parties should benefit from it, and you have to show respect for your counterpart.  Showing respect is a quality that we all have, but a quality in which Asian and Chinese people excel to such a degree that it becomes important for us to be aware of it.

2.  The collectivity of the decision-making process

Organizing the Olympic games is a very political issue in any organizing country. So we had to deal with political power in China whenever we had negotiations to conduct.  I quickly learned that decisions in China were taken at the highest level: the standing committee composed of nine people. They decided everything.  Our questions would go all the way up to the level of the standing committee.  After a while, not too long, the reply would come.  And then the implementation would be flawless. This is something special, at least for me it was. In China, decision-making can take some time, but implementation is immediate.

3. Time

Time is valued differently in Asia and in China than it is in the West.  We tend to have a linear view of time, and like to map out change processes upfront, using strict deadlines.

It’s not like that in Asia.  In China, time is important, but the past time, what has happened in the past, is equally important and a basis for the future.  They tend to see time as a circle and focus on the continuity of things. You have to take that into account (read more about this difference in time orientation).

Of course when organizing the Olympics in Beijing, taking account of this difference in time valuation was not always easy. The preparation of the games takes seven years, and there are deadlines and goals to achieve.  This means a contract is signed between the host country, the host city, the organizing committee, and the IOC. The milestones and deadlines are spelled out in that roadmap, because we want to be sure that everything is finished on time.

I must say, and I commend the Chinese partners for that: in the end they were ahead of schedule.  It shows the flexibility of the Chinese partners. They finished the venues on time, and not only on time but way ahead of time. When we realized the Chinese were running ahead of schedule, we had to ask them to slow down. This only goes to show: what happens on the ground is not always what the textbooks tell you.

What do you take away from Jacques Rogge’s experience?

·        Do you recognize the 3 aspects he describes?

·        How do you create win-win situations? When you are confronted with another culture, what do you change in your behavior to reach a win-win?

·        How do you deal with a collectivistic decision making process? To what extent do you adjust your role in such a process?

·        How do you reconcile a linear time perspective with a more cyclic time perspective?

What topics from your own experience would you add to the list of Jacques Rogge? Share your comments with us.

 
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___________________

Hanneke is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. One of her fields of expertise is studying leaders and the way they lead change in cross-cultural environments, with a special focus on China and East-West relations. She is also an experienced manager of book projects for companies and organizations. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite us to your organization feel free to contact us here..

Leading Change: 3 Reasons Why Great Leaders Are Reluctant to Compromise

Leading Change, compromise

The other day I watched a political leader proclaim with great pride what a huge success this compromise was. How they had reached it after long and exhausting negotiations. This was truly a great solution that would change the future forever. People would remember this moment for years to come! But would they really?

Some time ago I heard an executive tell his team that he would never settle for any compromise, not while he was in charge. He would never give up his plan; no one could make him change his mind. This was the only way to create change! But is it really? 

I would argue that both perspectives are rather shortsighted. For leaders it is important to understand the value of compromise, as well as to know its limitations!

There is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what compromises actually contribute to reaching true and sustainable change.

When you are leading change you will sometimes find yourself in a situation where you have to deal with compromise. Nothing wrong with that. The point is: we tend to overrate the value of compromise, and by doing so we reduce the chance of achieving successful and lasting change. Change that is really inspiring people and is based on true commitment.  

Lets take a closer look at what the word compromise really means. Oxford Dictionaries gives the following description: 

  1. An agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions;
  2. The expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable.

In other words, when you reach a compromise both parties poor water into their wine. When reaching a compromise you give something up on both sides, you dont create something together! A compromise is by definition leading to a suboptimal solution. 

Mind you, this doesnt mean that a compromise is always a bad thing! There are situations during change processes where a compromise can be a useful solution, for instance:

  1. When it prevents the emergence of an uncontrollable conflict;
  2. When it helps to unblock a completely stalled situation;
  3. When it enables parties to show a desperately needed short-term success, that helps people to increase motivation and mutual trust;
  4. When it allows both parties to temporarily lower their ambitions in order to meet each other at a lower but mutual level, from which they can restart to build together.

These are examples of situations where a compromise can add value. But in my experience the value will often be only temporary. I have witnessed how a compromise can bring a process a step further, but it does hardly ever create change with long-term and sustainable success. It is a means to an end, not a lasting solution.

Great leaders understand this, and are therefore reluctant to compromise. They have 3 fundamental reasons not to accept a compromise too easily:

1.     Leading change means aligning people around a clear vision

Great leaders know that this requires clear and intense communication, exchange of different points of view, and perseverance (read more about how to create a strong vision). They understand that compromise can easily blur the vision, can create confusion, and therefore undermines the motivation of people.

2.     Leading change means reconciling dilemmas

Successful leaders know that the complexity of change is often caused by the dilemmas we encounter (examples: We want to harmonize processes on a global scale, while keeping our culture of local entrepreneurship intact, We need to intensify our cross-country collaboration, while facing a decrease in performance caused by cross-cultural differences). Great leaders understand that in order to successfully reconcile dilemmas you combine the best of both sides. Which sometimes means creating something new. This can take time and requires intelligent decision-making. But they will not settle for a quick mediocre in-between solution. They only allow compromise as an intermediate step in the process. Not as an end solution that doesnt solve the situation structurally (read about how to reconcile dilemmas in cross-cultural environments).          

3.     Leading change means knowing when to lead the way

Great leaders know that leading change sometimes means they will have to fight for their vision and values. They can sometimes face strong resistance and criticism. At these moments they are fully aware that it is about being able to connect, and to convince others why this change is important. This means they invest energy and time in communication, in increasing mutual understanding, and in strengthening alignment. But they will not compromise their values and vision.

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” – Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think? How do you rate the value of compromise? What points would you add to the list above? Please leave a comment below.

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Aad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams globally on three key topics: leading complex change, cross-cultural leadership, and post-merger integration. Find out more about Aad and HRSservices. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here...

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face

Losing Face, Smiley

Business leaders of multinational organizations are often confronted with cross-cultural differences. These differences can cause misunderstandings and awkward situations between people. Especially when people feel they are losing Face. Face – an Eastern concept most likened to the Western concept of respect and dignity. Making people feel they are losing Face occurs more easily than we might expect and can seriously damage relationships.

This cross-cultural aspect of ‘losing Face’ can for instance play a role when you are responsible for leading a complex change project involving people from other cultures.

Brian Cook meets with his Chinese change manager Chan Ling and his team at the Beijing office of a European corporation to discuss last month’s delay in the change deadlines. He questions Chan Ling repeatedly about his team’s underperformance. Brian openly states he believes the team is not pushing hard enough and that there is a lack of commitment. He stresses that Ling is accountable for the results of the team and that he should have informed him about the issues. Ling nods silently and keeps shuffling through the papers lying on the desk in front of him. Then he pulls back his chair, stands up, walks out of the room, and never returns. (Example with fictitious names)

Chan Ling feels he has lost Face. He perceives the directness of Brian’s approach as rude and insulting to him personally. In his culture Face is more important than any other thing. It is almost considered a physical entity, which can be ‘given’, ‘saved’, ‘enjoyed’, ‘considered’, or – and this is every Chinese’s nightmare – ‘lost’. The incident has seriously disturbed the relationship between him and Brian.

Ren yao lian, shu yao pi.

A person needs Face, like a tree needs bark.

(Chinese proverb)

The importance of keeping Face does not just exist in the Chinese culture. You experience it in many cultures around the world. It is related to what is described in literature as the difference between ‘low-context’ (e.g. US, Germany, Scandinavia, Holland) and ‘high-context’ cultures (e.g. China, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Brazil) (read more about low versus high-context cultures). Or as Trompenaars calls ‘specific’ cultures versus ‘diffuse’ cultures. People from low-context or specific cultures can unintentionally create situations, which people from diffuse-oriented cultures perceive as loss of Face. People from diffuse or high-context cultures can unintentionally create situations, which people from specific-oriented cultures perceive as not open or dishonest.

Specific versus Diffuse

Now, why is it important to be aware of this cultural difference? Not because there is a good or bad side to it! Not because being direct is wrong and being indirect is by definition right. Not because being precise and transparent should always prevail over being cautious and evasive. Not because being open and blunt is always rude and insulting. Not because being silent is equal to being dishonest.

It is important to be sensitive to this cultural difference because it has a direct impact on the level of trust between each other! Because it can damage the relationship, and the collaboration! I vividly remember this discussion on a conference I attended not so long ago. At a certain moment during a panel discussion about cross-cultural relationships a British participant raised the question: “Do we not over-emphasize trust? Are we not making it too complex for ourselves?” A Chinese stood up and answered: “It depends on the quality of the relationship that you want.”

That is the essence: being direct or not, paying extra attention to the context or not, it all comes down to the quality of the relationship that you want. And this is not a one-way street. Sometimes being direct and assertive can be helpful, even be an example to others, and therefore strengthen the relationship. Sometimes a more listening and receptive attitude is what helps the relationship forward.

How can you improve the quality of cross-cultural relationships and avoid loss of Face in the teams you lead?

Be aware of low versus high-context cultural differences:

Pay extra attention to these differences. Observe carefully what happens during the meeting or conversation. Prepare yourself upfront, remember experiences from past meetings, talk with colleagues, and read about it.

Avoid ‘right versus wrong thinking’:

Focus on understanding what makes the behavior of the other different and why, not on what irritates you about it. Do not criticize, complain or condemn. Show respect for other opinions. Don’t say ‘you are wrong’.  Say something like ‘I may be wrong. I frequently am. Let’s examine the facts.’

Adjust your communication style:

When ‘low-context’ meets ‘high-context’:

  • Listen more than you speak
  • Observe body language carefully
  • Ask questions before you give an opinion
  • Introduce your opinion in a way that adds value to the other
  • Don’t force the other to give an opinion
  • Show respect for hierarchy and age
  • Pay attention to personal and family matters of the other

When ‘high-context’ meets ‘low-context’:

  • Take what the other says at face value
  • Speak up, be to the point
  • Share your opinion when you have one
  • Focus on tasks and facts
  • Show your qualities and expertise to others
  • Respect privacy

Use the difference in cultures as a strength:

Have an open mind and focus on how to reconcile the qualities of openness/transparency with those of patience/indirectness.

Written by Aad Boot and Hanneke Siebelink

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Photo: jetheriot/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Aad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams internationally on three key topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here.

Leading Change: Why Do Many Leaders Struggle to Create a Vision

Vision, glasses

In todays business reality the level of complexity and the increased rate of change cause challenges for many leaders. Motivating people to change direction, building new strategies, transforming business models, and adopting new ways of collaboration. Quite a job! Especially in these times it is crucial for leaders to have a clear vision of the future. And this is not textbook talk. Walk around in organizations, look around and listen carefully to the people. They can quickly point out the leaders who have a vision versus those who have not. Successful organizations with motivated people will talk about their future and the vision they are accomplishing. Organizations in trouble will mention the lack of a vision as one of the key reasons for their stagnation or decline. In fact, in the course of history great leaders have always been praised for being visionary! However, many leaders struggle to create a vision. Is it because the ability to create a vision is only reserved for a small group of exceptional leaders? I dont believe so. Envisioning the future is a universal quality that we all have. We just need to mobilize it and maintain it. And apparently this is not always easy. Why? What can leaders do to improve their capability to develop a vision?

By working intensively with business leaders over the past decades we have witnessed three specific obstacles that can hinder leaders to develop a vision of the future.

  • Habituation

Habituation can grow when people are in the same situation for a period of time. It can even develop to such a level that we believe our situation is as good as it will ever get, and we stop believing that we can change it for the better. We can become complacent. We start to focus our energy on keeping what we have and perceive change as something bad that is trying to take this away from us.

How different this is from how this Chinese man perceived his situation:

Zhang Xin, a young man whose parents where wheat farmers in a poor agricultural province in central China, and who used to live with his family in a one-room house next to the fields. He had graduated from Tsinghua University (China’s MIT) and found himself a job as software engineer at Huawei in the city. His success, as Zhang once told a Time magazine reporter, had changed his family forever. None of his descendants would ever work in the wheat fields again. Not my children. Not their children. That life is over.’ Zhang built a vision of a better life. Not only for himself but also for his family. He believed that a better future was possible and he started to chase it.

The belief that a better future is possible, not just for themselves but also for others, is a crucial driver for successful leaders to create a vision. They believe in a better future, even if no one else does.

  • Impatience, wanting only quick success

I witness more than once how the hectic business environment of today drags leaders into a mindset of ‘go with the motions’. They are tempted to apply a short-term focus to keep up with the speed. After a while they even start to believe that this short-term focus is the only way to stay successful as a leader. They grow impatient and are only interested in actions that create quick results. They are even willing to lower the bar for themselves and others to be able to reach these short-term successes. At that point they are no longer aware of the fact that this lack of vision might jeopardize the future success of the company.

A powerful vision starts from within. Successful leaders take time to listen to their ‘inner voice’ on a regular basis. They schedule time to take a step back from the daily rush, to reflect about accomplishments, ambitions, aspirations, and about what they would like to change. They have learned over time to recognize the type of environment and setting that works best for them to do this. They look for circumstances to stimulate their brain with new experiences, to trigger their creativity. They have created this discipline because they know that these moments are essential for developing a clearer vision of the future. (Read this article ‘How Da Vinci-Like Thinking Helps You Imagine Future Success’)

  • Letting go of the vision after experiencing setbacks

Some leaders do have a clear vision of the future, but have difficulty with dealing with the uncertainty that goes with it. They make detailed action plans with rigid and very specific expectations of the results that each step should bring. But as soon as they are confronted with disappointing results they lose confidence, start to doubt, and let go of their vision. These leaders forget that a vision is a strong desire, but without guarantees! It is a clear picture of the desired future, but very often without all the details. In fact, the journey towards it is often full of uncertainties.

Successful leaders understand the importance of an action plan to make the vision become stronger and clearer step by step, but they also know it requires willpower, flexibility, resilience and persistence along the way. (Watch this interesting speech about uncertainty and willpower by Jim Yong Kim – President at the World Bank)

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 “I believe life is a series of near misses. A lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It’s seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It’s seeing what other people don’t see. And pursuing that vision.”  Howard Schultz, Businessman, Entrepreneur.

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Photo: Brendan C/Flickr (Creative Commons)

___________________

Aad is a global leadership advisor, change leader, senior leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams internationally on three key topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here.

Leading Change: How Focus Creates Sustainable Change

Leading Change, Camera Lens, Focus

You hear and read about it everywhere: if you want to create successful and sustained change in your company, it is important to be focused and to transfer that focus to your people and teams. In the turbulence of the daily business reality where situations change rapidly, in which you are easily swamped by different and changing demands, objectives, and challenges, it is not easy to create focus. Leaders who are able to create and maintain a good and shared focus are far more successful than those who aren’t! But what is a good focus?

There is a lot of misinterpretation about what ‘being focused’ actually means:

Focus is not about accomplishing your tasks; it is about accomplishing your vision!

A few weeks back I was asked by a CEO to facilitate his executive team meeting. He explained to me what he believed was the main challenge for his organization: “We have been very successful the past decades as a company especially because we knew our strong points. Our whole way of working was aimed at maximizing our strong points without letting ourselves be distracted by other stuff. By doing this we created two kinds of people: the ‘managers’ who managed our products; and the ‘sales entrepreneurs’ who managed our customers. Now we are faced with a changing market, and we are not capable of responding quickly enough to these changes. Our managers and sales entrepreneurs are both screaming for more focus from the top. But they actually mean: ‘do not disturb us with your change initiatives and let us focus on what we’re good at: making our products and selling these to our customers’. Apparently they do not see that this kind of focus is no longer helping us forward at all. In fact, we need to change our focus, instead of sticking to what we always did. And for this we do not only need management and entrepreneurship, but also leadership. Not only in the top, but on all levels in the organization. Leaders who are able to create a shared focus on a new way forward; who are able to align their people around this new focus; who are people, team, collaboration oriented, as much as product, efficiency, customer oriented.” 

The story of this CEO shows his interpretation of the required focus: the pressure to change and adapt demands a new focus. It demands a new focus based on looking forward, on knowing what we want to create together, on why this is important, and on the benefits we see. Focusing on the things we want to change, to create the company we want to become.

And yet, quite often when confronted with the need for change we see leaders proclaiming a focus, which is far removed from the focus described above. They describe a focus that is task oriented, short term oriented, focused on strengthening what we do today. Often a focus with a strong cost saving orientation, and less orientation on creating new value. A focus that is rather risk averse, not exploring possibilities for learning and growth.

In some business situations creating a focus aimed at ‘keeping and strengthening what we have got’ can be justified. However, most situations require leaders who create a different focus, one that aimes at creating successful and sustainable change.

Not easy! Most people seem to be able to live with a company focus that is keeping them inside known territory. If for instance we need to do more of the same in less time, raise the quality level of our product or service, or produce at lower cost; we seem to be able to deal with this. People will maybe not like the pressure that this company focus is putting on them, but they will go along with it. Up to the level that all energy and ideas are used and nothing is left. At that moment people reach the limit of what they believe is possible, feel numb and start acting unmotivated and uninspired. At that moment the company probably realizes that it needs to change more fundamentally, and that it will take a substantial amount of energy to do that. Energy that most people don’t have anymore at that moment!

Successful leaders create organizations that focus differently. In their organizations the focus is always aimed at the future, at how we see our desired future, at what we need to do differently to get there, at what we collectively gain when reaching it. At first they will encounter resistance and hesitation within the organization. Not so strange, because people are asked to get outside their comfort zones. The desired future is new and there is maybe uncertainty and a lack of confidence, so people will not easily follow. Nevertheless, successful leaders succeed in aligning their people around this focus. And by doing that they create energy instead of draining it! How do they do this? What specific traits do these leaders show? I observe the following recurring traits:

·       Their focus is aimed at the longer term, not short term

They have a longer term focus based on their vision of their company’s desired future. They link the company focus to this desired future. They share their vision actively and discuss it openly with the organization. They do not lose energy in focusing on short-term temporary improvements; they focus on creating sustainable results.

·       Their focus reveals a high level of personal alignment

They know their own qualities and weak points very well, as well as what they stand for. They act based on clear personal values and include these in their vision. Because of their high level of personal alignment, they explore different opinions with an open mind and feel no need to focus on themselves.  Their focus is always on creating the best company results, in line with these key values. Read more about Personal Alignment here.

·       Their focus arouses an eagerness among people

They pay special attention to the process of building a shared focus throughout the organization. For them focus is not just setting out tasks and actions. It is about creating a shared energy that drives us towards a common end result. They invite people to take part in defining the focus that is needed to create the desired future, and this builds motivation and commitment. 

·       Their focus is releasing smart energy

They are only interested in decisions and actions that will bring us closer to our destination. Even more, they are continuously challenging people to focus on the levers for change that will boost us forward, and not to focus on trivial things. They are allergic to ‘jumping to conclusions’ without knowing how it will bring us closer to our goal. But they are also allergic to procrastination and risk aversion when the way forward is to ‘experiment – learn – adjust’.

·       They are persistent in their focus 

They stick to the focus, even if results are not forthcoming at first sight. They show confidence and stay focused. This does not mean they will never change course, and will always rigidly keep following the initial plan. When they see that the vision will not be reached by maintaining the current focus, they are the first to shift focus. But as long as the focus is directing us towards the vision, they will keep this focus.

“The hardest thing when you think about focusing. You think focusing is about saying ‘Yes’. No. Focusing is about saying ‘No’.” – Steve Jobs

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Photo: Giovanna Faustini/Flickr (Creative Commons)

___________________

Aad is an international leadership advisor, change leader, senior leadership team facilitator, executive coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with executives and leadership teams internationally on three key topics: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad and HRS’ services. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization feel free to contact him here.

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