Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Business of Theater and Theater of Business: Part Three (Revised)

The goal is to find the motivation, whether it be for the character on stage, or the character in the boardroom.  But are we just looking for labels?  Is that just some simplistic mindset to determine the motivations of a character in a story?  Or do we just want a quick assessment of our own motivations and of others around us?

If the results are to be very effective, I doubt the process will be all that simplistic, would it?  But if we take simplistic shortcuts, what might be at risk as far as our conclusions are concerned?  I suppose it depends on how simplistic we go about it.  Sometimes the recipe isn’t always successful by what we put in, as it is a failure because of what we’ve left out.

Since so many social labels tend to be judgmental and prejudicial, focusing on those could be counterproductive.  Instead, we want to look at some different ways of assessing observable behavior characteristics, and identify them with non-judgmental adjectives.  The point of doing that is so that we can make sense out of what a person’s behavior tells you about how they wish to be treated.

Please keep in mind that the utility of it is not just in the information or data being looked at, but why it is important.  It’s about what you can do with it that will make a difference on how you might productively read the behavior of others, and become more aware of how they are reading yours.

In order to do this effectively so that we all might easily recognize the characters, let’s take a look at some fairly familiar literary figures.  For some, this might change forever how you see them, and especially how you might see yourself interacting with them.

Perhaps more important than just about anything else you could do with this kind of information is to understand why their motivation could be so different than yours.  I don’t think I can emphasize the importance of personal and individual motivation too much.

Many of you are likely to be somewhat familiar with Mario Puzo’s literary masterpiece, “The Godfather”.  Perhaps more of you saw the movies than read the book, but either way, I’m sure you’ll recognize the characters representing the four sons of Vito Corleone: Sonny, Fredo, Michael, and the informally adopted, Tom Hagen.  As grown men, each of them had taken on distinctively different styles.

As I’ve said before, in drama, what makes a tragic flaw so tragic, is that the character often doesn’t recognize it as a flaw.  To understand the tragic flaw of each of these men, we have to identify their style.  And not just their overall personality, but the specific style they wore within the culture of the “family”.  Doing so will point out their greatest need they want from the group.

In order to be realistic, even for fictional as well as real characters, we must understand the thing that they feel the greatest threat of losing.  I prefer to focus on positive things, but these four men, just like the rest of us, have some primary fear that influences what they want.  Once we’ve identified that, we’ll better understand what drives them; what is their motivation.

Sonny is the oldest son.  He asserts himself.  He is emotionally responsive.  He lets people know how he feels, and even what he thinks.  His father called him on that kind of behavior, when Sonny, in an emotional outburst, allowed potential enemies to have insight on thoughts that would have been to his advantage to keep private.

(Sonny)  “Whoa, now, you’re telling me that the Tattaglias guarantee our investment without…?”

(Later in private, Vito says:)  “Never let anyone outside the family know what youre thinking.”

  Sonny has a strong need for approval, is oriented futuristically, loves an audience, likes his work to be exciting, he makes fast, intuitive decisions, his first question is “who”, makes a great effort to be involved, willingly accepts leadership roles, prefers not to be isolated, perhaps his greatest strength is his enthusiasm, and his greatest weakness is his impulsiveness.  This weakness, along with his primary fallback behavior being to attack, was his signature.  When his father was shot, Sonny’s anger was almost uncontrollable:

“No, no, no! No more! Not this time, consigliere. No more meetin’s, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give ’em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war; we go to the mattresses.”

Though he probably didn’t recognize that tendency in himself, his observable behavior often made it very clear to his enemies, and that was his downfall.  He operated around a fear of not getting applause, which is a little bit different than needing approval.  Sonny’s greatest need in life was applause.  Everybody wants some approval.

Many have used the MBTI to profile Sonny as ESTP.  That would be equal to a Driver/Driver, thus highly assertive and extremely emotionally controlled.  I can understand how they might use certain parts of the Myers Briggs pattern to arrive at that conclusion, but they would be wrong.  Sonny’s emotions were NOT what I’d call controlled.  Sonny was certainly assertive, but he was not a Driver.

He was an Expressive.  But he was a Driving Expressive.  The MTBI pattern equal to that is ESFP.  Some would call that the “Performer”, a temperament that is far more into a world of feelings than the driver/driver ever would be.  I am not saying is it wrong to be expressive, but it was a tragic flaw for Sonny to not recognize it about himself.  But his enemies could easily see it: that’s what got him killed.

Fredo was a sickly child.  His mother was constantly vigilant about how he felt.  Much of his early childhood revolved around how he was feeling.  To some degree he was pampered, and concessions were made for what was expected of him.  As he got older, he was less and less happy about the way he felt others perceived him.  For a long time, he was quick to give in and go with the flow.  When made tense, his first fallback was to acquiesce, even when being slapped around by Moe Green in Las Vegas:

“Aw, now that, that was nothin’, Mike. Moe didn’t mean nothin’ by that. Yeah, sure he flies off the handle every once in a while, but me and him, we’re good friends, right Moe?”

But as the story develops, we see that Fredo never felt accepted in a way that validated his own self image.

“It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!” 

And so it is for that reason the tension he felt from a lack of “respect”, though not exactly hatred at all, seldom went away as he got older.  Because of that, acquiescence wasn’t working for him, though it was his primary fallback.  So, he tried the fallback behaviors of the other styles, and the tension still didn’t go away.  When he moved to over to the fallback behavior of the Driving Expressive (ESFP),  the “What’s in it for me” he felt no one seemed to care about, drove him to attack, thus betraying his own brother.

This reaction, plus certain flamboyance in social behavior while trying to fit in, caused some critics to assume Fredo was a Driving Expressive, or ESFP.  Yes, Fredo wanted approval, but it wasn’t the fear of not getting him applause that drove him; it was the fear of not being liked, and worse, the fear of being hated.  In the end, just wanting to be liked and be accepted back into his family, he was hanging around to take his nephew fishing.  It was predictable that he would be willing to do that, so it was easy to plan his demise.

So within the framework of the “family”, he was not an Expressive.  In this culture, Fredo was an Amiable, although no doubt, he was a very Expressive Amiable.  It was his need to be seen in the company of physically attractive women that drove him far more than any emotional attachment he might feel for them.

In a scene where men were shooting at his father, Fredo was incapable of taking any positive controlled action to defend him, or even retaliate.  He just cried.  In spite of this ineptitude, his own self image was that he was capable of handling great responsibilities, thus a bit “Idealistic”.  And so, the MBTI that would closet match to his style is INFP.

Tom Hagen was not Vito’s natural son, but as he grew up, he became more and more the one whose “information” could be trusted.  Tom was thorough, a detailed thinker, and oriented to detail.  He was generally never seen as impulsive, and less likely than some to make mistakes, or leave out necessary action steps.  While others are focussed on actions and reactions, Tom does his homework, and focusses on what to consider before taking action:

“I found out about this Captain McCluskey who broke Mike’s jaw…Now he’s definitely on Sollozzo’s payroll, and for big money. McCluskey has agreed to be the Turk’s bodyguard. What you have to understand, Sonny, is that while Sollozzo is being guarded like this, he is invulnerable. Now nobody has ever gunned down a New York police captain — never. It would be disastrous. All the Five Families would come after you, Sonny. The Corleone Family would be outcasts! Even the old man’s political protection would run for cover! So do me a favor — take this into consideration.”

Even though eventually the “family” did act to retaliate by killing McCluskey, they did take what Tom said into consideration.  But it was Michael that went from that to the idea of some benefit to pointing out the Captain’s involvement in corruption, drugs, and organized crime.  And as his father before him would have done, Michael turned to Tom Hagen for confirmation that the family had people in the media that could help make McCluskey look dirty in the public eye.  And of course it would be Tom that would arrange things.

One of the reasons he was often seen as correct in his assessments of things, was that he had an overwhelming desire to not be wrong.  It was this same obsession in another piece of literature that seemed to drive Dr. Watson to distraction when dealing with Sherlock Holmes’ painstaking habits.  Sherlock always seemed to want to put every single piece of evidence under intense scrutiny before making a decision.  Sherlock Holmes took great pride in this, for he believed it to be the way to avoid impulsive, and thus possibly erroneous decisions.  Nothing was more important to him than that.

And so it was that the very likelihood of wanting to not be wrong, and therefore with a tendency to be slower to action, was why Michael (under the advisement of Vito) removed Tom as the Consigliere when faced with an imminent war with the other families.  Since Tom didn’t necessarily see himself in the same way Michael did, he didn’t understand the decision, and it hurt his feelings at first.  But Tom was not a man to dwell in his feelings, at least that others would be able to notice, for very long.

Although he was “out” as far as the war council was concerned, he was placed in another position.  Since his powers of accurate observation and details of accountability would be put to profitable use, Tom was able to fit in well with the assignment without further conflict or controversial behavior about the organizational restructuring.  The justification of this move, perhaps more than anything else revealed in the story, as far as the culture of the family was concerned, establishes that Tom was an Analytic.

But he was a Driving Analytic.  Though perhaps more in a world of his perceptions than needing quick closure, Tom regularly used objective judgement to make decisions.  His logical MBTI would be ISTP.  He was the “Mechanic”; he knew how to fix things.

This brings us to Michael.  Early in the novel he showed signs of wanting to be in control of decisions that effected him.  He enrolled in college to not allow the family business to determine his role in life.  Yet even as the family presumed his student status might protect him from the draft, Michael joined the Marines.  And he did so without consulting his father, or anyone else.  He surprised some of his family when he took a controlling role in avenging the assassination attempt on his father.  He asserted himself that he be the one to do it.

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Later, after being out of the country for some time, his reputation for taking calculated risks instead of impulsive ones like Sonny had, prompted his father to turn more of the business over to him.  Michael tended not to allow others to read his emotions.  When made tense, emotions seemed to show, but it was a part of his fallback to become autocratic whenever “control” might be at risk.

After his father’s death, Michael took the calculated risks he felt were necessary to insure that he was unquestionably in complete control of all of the family business.  It was quick, decisive, and goal oriented.

So though maintaining more emotional control than the others, he was almost, though not quite as assertive as his brother, Sonny.  Remember, Sonny was an Expressive, but Michael Corleone was a Driver.  Specifically, an Analytical Driver.  The MBTI comparable to that would be ENTJ, the “Executive”.

And how about Vito himself?  A tremendous range of experiences and circumstances helped mold his style.  Vito was an intelligent man, and thoughtful.  His thinking and planning abilities helped him to connect with even the most analytical.  That he had a vision of the future, accepted leadership, and could fight when he had to made him understood by expressive people.  And even more so that he understood them.  He built relationships based on respect which was his bond with amiables, and his ability to manage change and be decisive earned him the respect of drivers.

There was a bully in the community.  He was a well connected extortionist, and therefore commanded great fear, as well as being the powerful one who could grant favors.  Don Fanucci was called The Black Hand.  Vito, without waiting for any other authority to approve of it, took care of Fanucci.  He didn’t need to take credit for it, as it was assumed quietly that no one else but Vito could have been that assertive and kept his cool about it.

In the story, a husbandless woman in the neighborhood was being evicted because her little boy had brought home a puppy, an action that would prove to be in conflict with the landlord’s inflexible “no pets” rule.  She shared her fearful frustration of not knowing what to do or where she and her son would live with her friend and neighbor, Mrs. Corleone.  Vito’s wife brought the lady to her husband.  She believed he might be able to at least advise her, if not intercede on her behalf, but it was the intercession which he took on with a controlled determination that was the cornerstone of establishing his image in the community.  Vito would be seen, not just as a replacement for the extortionist “The Black Hand”, Don Fanucci, but in very much so a matter of deep respect, as “The Godfather”.

As Vito negotiated with the landlord, he did so with some genuine feeling and empathy for the woman’s situation.  And it because his wife had arranged for the lady to ask for a favor, that he additionally felt it would have been dishonorable to refuse to help her.  When the lady’s landlord seemed unbending, abrupt, condescending, and rude, Vito did not lose his temper.  Though he was a man of action, he maintained a very controlled disposition.  He knew how to allow the man to understand who he was:

“Do me this favor. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favor…”

Vito understood the value of reputation.  When others know how you’re known to behave, they will believe what that tells them you are far more that what you might wish to tell them you are.  What we do speaks louder than what we say?  And once he knew the landlord understood it, it was easy for Vito to tell him the woman’s son could keep the little dog, and that the widow’s rent would be reduced.

Vito Corleone was in his comfort zone, and the landlord was not in his.  And all of this is noticed because of the power of clearly defined images drawn from how they acted.  The process is to establish a recognizable pattern from observable behavior characteristics (character analysis: understanding the motivation, and the predictable style of behavior it leads to).

Whether Vito understood the process or not, it was clear that he knew how to handle different people based on the way they showed him how they wanted to be treated.  He knew the value of being seen as, and how to convince others it was to their advantage to also be seen as, “a reasonable man.”  And so it is the measure of those skills, that I call Vito the “versatile manager”; he had the ability to deal with other people who’s styles were different from his own, with very little tension caused by it.

This ability or management skill made it seem he had almost a sixth sense when it came to reading people, and thus showing some respectable empathy for how they must be feeling.  His strategies and tactics showed he understood very well exactly what it took to “motivate” others”:

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Later, after an attempt on his own life and the death of his oldest son, Vito was very effective convincing the heads of the other families by appealing to their thinking and their feeling when he offered concessions and called for a truce, without allowing them to really know what he had on his mind:

“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me? I forgo the vengeance of my son. But my youngest son had to leave this country because of this Sollozzo business. So now I have to make arrangements to bring him back safely cleared of all these false charges. But I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning…then I’m going to blame some of the people in this room…and that, I do not forgive. But, that aside, let say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here today.”

If we have to place him in a home quadrant, I’d say he was a Driver.  When he negotiated, he did so from what was obvious to others as a position of strength.  But he was an Amiable Driver (powerful use of relationships-more than anyone else in the story).  That puts him near center right next to driving amiables, analytical expressives and expressive analytics.  Using the MBTI, Vito was ESTJ.

But in fairness to the Jungians, Vito Corleone was in the story, the definitive “Guardian” of a way of life with its own set of rules, and own set of values based on a concept of respect so profoundly important within the sub-culture he adopted.  And it is his own values of what he senses is important to security and his social order that set him apart from other “guardian’ types.  You see, he wouldn’t likely be eager to join the PTA (unless he could completely take charge of it), because that institution already operates by somebody else’s rules.

I’ve mentioned the The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and also Social Style Profile Patterns.  Which do you feel would be quicker, if not easier to use as a tool for the character analysis of Vito Corleone?

1.) That he was more prone to extroversion over introversion, oriented to sensing more than intuition, more into his thinking than his feeling, and seeking closure over being open-ended?  Or, would it be better to tell you:

2.) His greatest need was to be in control of things, and that when made very tense, when sensing (fearing) his ability to maintain that control was threatened, he’d be likely to become rather autocratic?

I like the second assessment, but is it over-simplistic?  Well, I suppose that would depend on how one arrived at the conclusion.  The process of collecting data to plot someone on graphs for the MBTI is similar to the process of determining their social style.  Behavior has to be observed, particularly when involving decision making.  And values need to be assigned to adjectives that describe them.  Then, the data has to be collected and compared to how it ranks within a bank of information on the behaviors of others within a range of normal psychology.

Further, it’s helpful and practical to have certain elements of style charted out so that what you know generally about them is more clearly defined.  It was that very thing that gave me the defining words I used in description number two above.

Of course you want be able to identify basic need.  But you also want to understand how they make use of time, what is important to them as they relate to others, how they view tasks in general, and what is their orientation to decision making.  In other words, their primary question of what, why, who, or how, are they most likely to put the maximum effort towards, what they are most comfortable accepting or rejecting, what is their greatest strength, and also their greatest weakness.

And it also works backwards.  With a valid summary of style elements, it’s easier to take what we observe and determine the style a person is likely to be more comfortable in.  For example, if I see an individual generally avoiding involvement, tends to be cautious, is more interested in “how” rather than “what”, and is better with planning than execution, given a choice between driving, amiable, expressive or analytical, I’d say they were an analytic.

But using the four graphs used to determine MBTI, the only one I could be fairly certain of is introversion over extroversion; introversion is a part of the signature for all analytics.  But I cannot certain about the other three graphs.

There’s a fifty-fifty chance they could be intuitive or sensing.  All but the Expressive Analytics are more predisposed to be in a world of the their thinking rather than their feeling, and the Driving Analytics lean to perception more than judgment.  Thus the Driving Analytic tends to be more open ended, while all the other analytics have a stronger need to get closure.

Don’t get confused here.  Being unhurried and thoughtful does not tell you they don’t want closure.  It tells you they don’t want to FORCE closure at the risk of error.  It is BECAUSE they have that need, and more than anything, do not want to be wrong, that they as a group tend to be seen as the kind of people that want to postpone or avoid deadlines altogether.

Another reason I like the social style model is that it makes it easy to identify where the character is on a summary of style elements diagram.  I’m sure you could come up with a similar one for the MBTI if you know the weight of the adjectives being tracked by the feedback instrument.

But as it is, I only have to think about four patterns on a grid instead of sixteen in order to identify their primary profile.  Then, I can look at that same four pattern matrix to see their secondary influence.  To go much further than that would be to observe a person under extremely tense and pressured situations where they have a lot of trouble resolving any conflict or controversy.  That’s when a number of alternate fallback behaviors seem to zoom all over the place.  And in situations where the tension never goes away, some people might go insane.  I’m finding that harder to predict rather than just observe after it happens.

Though it might help, you don’t have to be a complete sociopath just to be crazy.  That’s why courts allow for it to sometimes be considered a “temporary” situation.  

But for the purposes of doing a character analysis for the average acting assignment, or understanding the people you work with, “crazy” may not be the profile you’re needing, unless you’re just observing people trying to find their cars at the Atlanta Airport.

What we really want to do is learn something from what we observe about the behavior of ourselves, and the other people on that same stage with us.  We want to find a way that points to all kinds of answers about how they operate, especially primary need (want, desire), and primary and secondary fallback behaviors likely to occur when those needs are not met.  It tells us what they are afraid of.  So, with knowing what they want and what they fear, we can understand what their motivation is likely to be.  In other words, what is the offer they can’t refuse?  More than just a way to interpret the character, it tells us how to deal with them, or, as an actor, how to BE them.  

It isn’t really so simple after all, is it?  It requires access to not just input data, but the proper use of the tools to tell you what the data means.  And you have to learn how to use the tools, too, don’t you?  Their are many such tools and models out there, many of them supported by research.

But regardless of the model you use, make sure the information you’re gathering is from people who are honest, and knowledgeable about the person being profiled. Even if you’re certain the instrument being used is capable of giving a clear picture, validity is going to depend on the accuracy of the input data.

There are obvious benefits to understanding people.  For one thing, if we don’t, we might have trouble getting others to understand us the way we’d want them to.  And if we understand each other, we will have the tools to decide how to cooperate effectively.

Cooperation is primary if we want to be able to adapt to change.  And being able to adapt to change, according to Charles Darwin, is far more important to survival than competition, though competition is certainly a part of it.  Only the strong survive?  Well, where is Tyrannosaurus Rex?  I guess he couldn’t adapt fast enough.

So, we learn by understanding how we can cooperate better.  That moves us closer to commitments rather than mere appearance of compliance, doesn’t it?  But most of all, for those of us who are expected to be leaders, and have the will to lead, we can establish the equity in the process, so others will want to help us reach our goals.  And while doing so, at the same time, reaching theirs.  And when that happens, integrity has a chance of becoming the “trump” card again.


“The Godfather” by Mario Puzo was originally published in 1969 by G. P. Putnam’s and Sons.  All the quotations above are from characters in the movies based on that novel as produced by Paramount Pictures, and therefore are not in any way a part of the property of this article, or this article’s author.

Failing Even When You Are Sure You’re Right

People often believe they are right, even when they’re not.  Believing something does not make it true any more than disbelieving it makes it false.  But the more strongly one is convinced of their own correctness, the less likely they will be open to criticism to the contrary.  We’ve all experienced having to deal with dogmatic opinions of others in situations where we felt the other person might be misinformed, and in some cases where we feel they are just flat-out wrong.  And even in lesser matters, the differences about the ways people think and feel often give rise to tensions, if not outright conflict, controversy, and confrontation.

When people are working together in an office or job site, they interact with each other.  Each brings to the table certain services as well as currencies used to exchange for the services of others.  So in effect, they’re buying and selling all the time, aren’t they?  We forget that sometimes, and when we do, the “give and take” seems to diminish to just “take”.  And, it can have a negative effect on morale.  As I’m sure you know, when attitude diminishes, so does positive activity, thus reducing the potential for positive results.  The quality of performance can suffer for it.  Ineffective or poor performance is a fairly clear sign that failure has occurred, or is going to, isn’t it?

But don’t we all already know that?  Isn’t it something we would believe to be common sense?  So why is it then, if we know quality performance comes from positive interactions and efforts, do people experience failures so often?  For a few, it might be said that they do not play well with others, but for the most part, people do try to get along with each other, don’t they?  Perhaps it isn’t from a lack of wanting to do a good job, or even to get along with others as much as it is from something they don’t know.  Consider this:

What if your team believes the “what’s in it for them” is right up there with the “what’s in it for you”?  What if they don’t believe it?  What is it that you do that might cause them to buy into what you want, or be cautious or even resentful of it?  Is it from what they think might be a disparity or unfairness in compensation, or is it something else?  In other words, what is their motivation?  And what are they thinking is yours?

In the theater, one of the critical moments necessary to bring things to the level of good performance is when both the director and the actor know the motivation: to understand what’s behind why they are doing what they do.  Each incidental activity on the stage by a performer is called “business”.  It has to make sense to the audience that the character would be motivated to do that piece of business when perhaps other characters would not.  If the actors and the director fail to understand what motivates characters to conduct a piece of “busy-ness”, then you can expect the performance quality to be low, and the “business” could become meaningless.  So, motivation is the business of theater.

The actions and interactions between people in business intertwined with the comedies, tragedies, and melodramas of everyday life also produce a kind of theater.  And in that world, motivation would also be behind the theater of business.  Oh, it is.  I has to be, whether people recognize it, or not.

Business needs to understand what motivates people to create, design, build, and sell their products and other services.  It is also critical that they understand what motivates people to buy them.  And that motivation, what people want as well as what they specifically don’t want, will vary from person to person according to their temperament and style, and often due to information about their culture that can be noticed in their behavior.

It is certainly critical in sales.  Buyers will tell you a lot about what they want by how they act. Pay attention to it, and honor what the customer is showing you by their actions and behavior that points out to what they want to have happen.  And with the same tools of observation, you can also determine what the buyer fears might happen.  What motivates them may not be the same thing that motivates you. When they buy, no matter how rational you think you’ve been, their decision will have been an emotional one.  Learn to read their emotional signals.

While you’re observing them, be mindful of how you are behaving accordingly.  Don’t pull too tightly back into your egocentric self.  If you do, the signal you broadcast will be that what you want is more important than what they want.  People, even when doing so subconsciously, will get a “feeling” about you not only from the words you use, but how you deliver them.

Not just in sales, but whenever we’re talking, we’re making a speech, even if it’s only a sentence. There are three kinds of speeches: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. In sales, you may at times use all three. But there’s another kind frequently attempted called: “The speech to impress.” It never works. Better still, learn to get beyond simple rhetoric which may present your position argumentatively, by moving to dialogue.  Talk with them, and not at them.  That’s where resolution takes place. Without it, the attempt to close is an attempt to bully.

What about your business?  What about the characters in your production?  In your community of clients?  Are they all supposed to be motivated to want all the same things, and for all the same reasons?  If  you want them to be, you may find it quite difficult to put together such a team as that.  If fact, it is much more likely that your cast of players is made up of all kinds of people who might see things differently than you do more than you might think.  Of course it’s good to stay focused on your objectives, but that may require more of an open mind than some realize.  Without it, you run the risk of overlooking their objectives.

There is a strength to be found in diversity.  That strength becomes effective when you recognize the individuals for what they are, and take the time to know what they want.  If it’s your customer, you’d better find out what benefit they really want, and don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just price.  I hope you understand that something besides “cheap” will be needed if you intend to keep them happy.

If your employees and you think it’s just the paycheck, or just to not get fired, you can look forward to the kind of low quality performance levels that require supervised compliance instead of enthusiastic commitment.  And do not make the mistake of thinking you can enforce commitment.  That is a myth.  Unfortunately, the mythology of an enforced commitment drives almost every institution – corporate, government or otherwise, on the planet.

Everybody that goes to school learns one thing in common.  And it doesn’t matter how far you go.  If you drop out in the eighth grade, finish high school, college, get a masters or even a PhD, there is one thing you’re all pretty sure about.  And that is:

If you’re standing in line and the person with the authority, the ability, and the will to punish you is looking, you have to behave yourself.  

But if it’s that substitute teacher that never does anything other than say: “Now you boys behave,” you can jump in and out of line and say: “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!”

Don’t believe me?  Go to the nearest interstate highway.  Watch people driving.  When you are coming around a curve and see brake lights coming on, there’s either a wreck, or a highway patrol.  And not just that theres a patrol present; he’s parked, has his door open and is pointing his radar gun.  What he’s doing, ladies and gentlemen, is taking names, and sending people to the principal’s office!

“All the world’s a stage,  and all the men and women merely players…” – Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was talking about the parts we play as being the ages of our lives.  But who you are right now at your current age is the character you need to be aware of.  And not just what you think of yourself, but what other people see in your behavior, and react to.  There are tools available to get that information.  As you learn to use them, and begin to see yourself through the eyes of others, you’re on your way to being able to understand the same kinds of things about your team members.

If Shakespeare is right; if all the world’s a stage, who is your character, and what performance level do you expect out of the role you are playing on that stage – this theater?  Are you being yourself?  It’s certainly okay for you to be you, but it’s not okay to expect everybody else to do it.  People who relentlessly demand that their way of doing things is the only right way, tend to alienate more people than they win over.  Keep an open mind when dealing with others.  There is a difference between judging people and understanding them.

And as with all learning outside of trauma, it is a process.  Be mindful that all along the way, you will be forming opinions.  A caution to be aware of is, that just as soon as you’re sure you know what must be absolute, whatever you may need to question will become increasingly harder to see.

Doing What It Takes: A Story

When you look up and see your own child at some distance away, standing at the very edge of a high place over a drop off that falls into deep water, your heart starts pounding in your ears, and you feel the adrenalin rush.  Almost every parent, for one reason or another, understands that anxious feeling!

Well, he was fine.  He was okay.  As it turned out it was no real danger at all; it was just a swim meet.  But my heart was pounding just the same – parents get excited about that sort of thing, don’t we?  We get excited because we actually watch our children face challenges,  and see first hand how winning or losing effects their attitude.

We had talked a lot at home with our children about setting goals, and some of the necessary action steps we need to take in order to meet them.  But that day when I arrived to watch a county swim meet, I was completely unaware that I was about to learn how the combination of attitude, activity and results are so cleverly intertwined, and inter-dependent.

Remember when we fell behind in school, our teachers would remind us we needed to “bring up our average”?  But so many of us really didn’t understand what exactly was required to do it.  My son showed me what was required.  He showed me by doing something I’d told him to do, without ever making it a habit to do so myself.  That was over twenty years ago, but because what I learned was so clear, I think about it all the time as if it were yesterday.

Among other sports, organizations and activities, all three of my sons were on the swim team in junior high and high school.  They only swam for the school during swim season, and not involved in any year-round swim program.  But some others were, and one boy in particular was a pre-Olympic qualifier.  His name was Bobby.  During my oldest son, David’s senior year, Bobby swam for David’s team’s chief rival.

On that day in the free style relay, I saw them lined up on the block right next to each other.  Leading off for his school, was poised my son David, one of the better swimmers in the county.  And right beside him leading off for his top rival was Bobby, one of the better swimmers in the western hemisphere.

Everybody, and I mean everybody there including me, knew my son David was not going to out-swim Bobby in that event.  Oh, there was a good chance that my son’s relay team would come in second, but we all were certain that Bobby’s team would place first.

At the signal, seven swimmers representing seven schools hit the water.  My son swam well, and I was proud of him, but exactly as predicted, he was second to Bobby in the first leg of the heat, and though it was close, David’s team came in second overall.

My wife and I sat there watching him across the room.  He was talking with his coach.  Then David looked up directly at us, and started heading over towards us in the bleachers.  When he got right in front of me, he just stood there for a moment with a towel around him, and I could tell he was thinking about something; thinking what to say.  I thought I already knew what he was going to say.  I was preparing to hear all the regular excuses, such as:

“I got a bad start off the block.  I messed up my stroke.  I missed my breathing rhythm and took in some water.  I made a bad flip-turn.  I misgauged my distance coming to the touchpad.”

But David didn’t say any of those things.  What he said to me was:

“Hey Dad, I got my time.  I more than beat my average time – I beat my best!  And I’m only nineteen one hundredths of a second away from making the cut for the state swim meet!  And I’ll beat that easy by the finals!”

You should have seen the smile on his face.  And, on mine, realizing that this teenage boy knew something very well that had taken me over four decades to figure out.  It didn’t make the six O’clock news, but it was the best thing that happened to my son that day, and to me.  You see, both of us were validated by the realization of a goal.

Sometimes you say something, and someone you care about listens, then acts on what you said.  And when it works…how powerful is that?  Yet as powerful as the moment was for me, and feeling very impacted by it, the faint question in the back of my mind was:

Will he remember the blueprint he used that day to continue to build those kinds of precious moments for the rest of his life?

Some of you might be waiting to hear how David came back in the finals to beat Bobby by a split-second.  Some Horatio Alger or Tortoise and the Hare story?   Attainable?  Yes.  Realistic?  No.  There was already a huge divide between their habits of practice, and a huge divide between what they both had already taught themselves to believe.

That day at the pool, however, my son David did have a goal.  He was reaching for a higher mark than he had ever reached or even tried to reach before.  And it was something he believed he could get.  Not to win the swim meet, or even beat Bobby, but instead, the goal was to qualify for state.  And by the way, he made the cut.

I believe you should set high goals for yourself, to push yourself, and go after your dreams.  But don’t set goals you don’t believe you have a chance of reaching, because if you think you can’t, you aren’t even likely to try.  You won’t shoot for the stars if you don’t believe you can get off the ground.

As a boy, I remember helping Granddaddy paint the outside of his house.  As I started up the ladder to the top of the second story, Granddaddy asked:

“Are you gonna be able to make it all the way up there?”

I answered:  “I’ll go as far as I can.”

Granddaddy came back with:

“You’ll go as far as you think you can.”

Years later, I heard my friend Chuck Russell speaking to a group, and he said:

“Nobody climbs up a ladder even one rung higher than they think they can go without falling.”

That’s what Granddaddy was talking about.  Now, I call that the freezing point.  And when you thaw out, if you thaw out, you’ll slowly start coming down to a place where you’re comfortable, and feel safe.

It’s the believing what you can do, or what you cannot do that makes all the difference in the world about what you’ll even try.  And by that, you will never get past that freezing point until you believe you can.  Believing is very powerful.

In a 1941 animated film produced by Walt Disney, Dumbo the Elephant could fly.  But he would never try until he believed.  For a long time, he believed in the magic feather which was just a trick played on his mind by a group of crows and a hapless mouse.  The feather never did have a bit of magic in it.  The magic was in the believing.

Eventually, Dumbo lost his grip on the feather, which was very frightening at first.  Up ’til then, he’d believed solely in the feather, even though there was no real power in it.  But with the feather gone, he now had to believe in something else, something real that was a part of himself.  He did, and that’s what saved him.

By the way, for those of you who will remember, what Dumbo believed became obvious by the course of actions he took, and not by anything he said he’d do, or even by anything he said he believed.  As a matter of fact, at no time in the story did he ever say a single word…out loud.  Elephants can’t talk, that’s impossible!

Impossible is a concept.  It cannot exist in you as an idea unless you believe something to be impossible.  While it may be impossibility in fact, it will not be the fact, but the thinking it is that will keep you from trying.

That’s the real point of the story about my son, David, at the swim meet.  Sure, there was something he thought was impossible.  But there was also something he believed he could get, and wanted bad enough to do what it takes to get it.  He knew it was not going to be good enough to just keep doing what he had been doing, because his average wasn’t good enough. Neither was his best.  So, not just to do the best he can, but to simply do what it takes.

And what it took was to make it a habit and a practice to every single day, work on incrementally improving his average to get well within reach of his best, and beat it.

I’m sure most of you remember hearing something Sir Winston Churchill once said:

“Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

But do you know why he said it?  Because up ‘til then, the best they had done had not been good enough to stop the advancing Army of the Third Reich.

How many of you before this month is over, will say to someone almost out of habit:

“That’s okay, you did the best you could, and that’s all anyone can expect of you.”

Well, quit saying that!  It’s not true.

Look at it this way: If you’re alone in a rowboat that sinks in the middle of a lake, and you drown trying to swim to shore, no one will doubt that you tried hard, and with great empathy might believe you did the best you could.  But nobody, not one person that really cared about you will even for a minute think those efforts were good enough.

Earlier I told you a story about a boy who beat his best, but he didn’t win the swim meet.  He beat his best, but didn’t get first place.  So, he didn’t win.  Didn’t he?

Some years later while still in graduate school, David accepted a teaching assignment in Special Education.  In so many cases, he was teaching children that everybody, including the parents, had given up on.  He was told the children on his list were not likely to learn very much, and that as a group, little was to be expected of them.  It was as if he should just supervise their behavior so that they wouldn’t hurt themselves.

But David saw the challenge differently.  As he got to know the children, be began to believe in some of them.  And because he did when nobody ever had before, they started believing in him, too.  Since David was just starting out, and not yet even a certified teacher, he was given a provisional certificate.

With such credentials as that, added to a burning passion in his gut to want to do the right thing for those children, averages started to improve; someone was raising the bar.  It was noted, and his principal and peers named him as the: “Teacher of the Year”!

After hearing this, his youngest brother said:

“That’s pretty cool!  My brother got teacher of the year on a learner’s permit!”

Now all of a sudden I’m remembering back.  What kept ringing in my head were words like:

“Hey Dad, I beat my average, and I beat my best, and my goal is so close I can taste it!”

He remembered.  He learned.  It was his attitude.  It drove his actions.  His activity generated his results.  His results kept driving his attitude higher, and higher and higher!

Only those who believe they can, will bother to make a habit of incrementally beating their average. And it stands to reason, if they do, sooner or later they’ll beat their best.  You see, it raises the bar automatically every time you bump that average up.  And it’s always within your believable reach, never frozen in the fear of the unreachable.

I won’t take the time here to tell you about David’s two brothers.  But I’ll close this segment by saying I’m very proud that all three of my sons are the kind of men who’ve had some notable experiences with beating their average and even beating their best.   And by recognizing what is required to do it, they all have some clear understanding of what it takes to…

 Reach For Their Dreams.


art & graphic design by

© Talent Management, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Recognizing Resistance

There are clues in the behavior of others when they seem reluctant to buy into whatever it is you are trying to communicate.  If you ignore the warning signals, you risk communication to shut down just as would the engine of your car if you take no responsibility when warning indicators light up.

Instead of looking into the reasons why resistance is coming from the other person, some of us often simply seek an explanation.  Before man had any knowledge of yeasts, bacteria and other microbes, a theory of spontaneous generation seemed like a good explanation for things like infections, and fermentation.  It just wasn’t true.

It is good to have empathy, and wish to look inside yourself for why you might be cautious in the same situation where another person is expressing some concern.  But beware of the risk of presuming the other person is driven by the same wants, and therefore the same fears that account for your own behavior.  In fact, the other person may not be like you at all in some ways you might otherwise think they are, and therefore take for granted something that just isn’t true at all.

By “explaining”, I refer to the rationale of using presuppositions already accepted as if they are the same as fact rather than looking for the facts that could support a thesis or argument.  Here’s an example of what I mean:

John is telling Bill about his proposal for a departmental realignment, which includes the merger with another department: Bill’s.

John is known for his enthusiasm, and always puts out a maximum effort to get involvement from other team members.  John sees the project resulting in a high level of both corporate and customer approval.  John’s approach to Bill is on the assumption that Bill is driven to want the same things.  John thinks everybody should want the same things he does.  No matter how much John would want it to be that way, it just isn’t true.

Bill is known for his thorough planning.  He is cautious of change until he has had a chance to study all the ramifications of it.  That process is important to him, because to take action without understanding the variables is wrong.  Bill, more than anything else, hates to be wrong.

Here is what is likely to happen:

Bill, in an attempt to gather more information, especially data forewarning of risks and hazards that could come from the realignment and merger, is going to avoid any deadline, and he is also likely to avoid John.  The more John shows his enthusiasm for the project, the more Bill will see him as impulsive.  John will continue to call team meetings, which Bill sees as a waste of time because Bill feels he can produce more accurate information if allowed to work alone.

Bill’s reluctance to be a “team player” makes John tense, and the tension shows.  He tries to assert himself by cornering Bill, and telling him he is just being too analytical.  While there may be some truth to that, Bill will see it as an attack.  Bill is analytical, but for John to call him that in such a manner generates no more benefit than if he’d just called him “Obstinate”.  Unless the conflict between John’s need for applause, and Bill’s need to not be wrong can be resolved, the project could be in trouble.  Because of failing to make it work, John and Bill could be in trouble, too.

It’s good to understand some things about your own style of behavior, but also the styles of the others around you.  More than that, you need to see how others view your style in the workplace.  You can tell a lot by simply paying attention to how they act around you.  Find good adjectives to describe the observable behavior of others.  Make a list of them, but make sure you only keep the non-judgmental ones.  The risk of being judgmental could undermine any validity in your findings.  Take the time to see how these words modify something positive you notice about others.

A positive comment about how a co-worker went about a task, and especially because it was uniquely associated with the talents that person brings to the team, will go a long way towards understanding, cooperation, and mutual commitments to help each other get what you both want.  Don’t over-do it!  Flattery is not the same thing as a compliment, and can often be seen as little more than pandering.

Who are John and Bill?  Though they are models from a real life scenario I observed in the late 1980’s, on some days, they are both a significant, and often quite noticeable…part of me.

Trust and Respect? The Validity of Cooperation

Competition is everything?  No, it isn’t.  A misconception about “survival of the fittest” caused the Social Darwinists to overlook one very vital part of survival that is important to all cultures: cooperation.  Bees have to work together, or the hive will not live.  Further, the flowering plants where the bees gather nectar are necessary to the bees, but they in turn depend on the bees as well.  So the cooperation goes beyond the swarm, the tribe, or even the species.

Interconnections for sustainability are everywhere.  In fact, human beings would not exist as they do today were it not for the mitochondrial DNA passed down to every daughter from their mother.  That part of the DNA is the result of a symbiosis with bacteria.  Without it, your mother would have never existed, and neither would you.

Human beings have an advantage over some other species, since man has the ability to step beyond instinct, and think about things.  There are, however, liabilities as well as assets to thinking.  Because of emotions, feelings, and concepts of what is ideal, people are capable of making decisions that are not always in their own best interests, or in the best interests of those around them.  Of course, they have to compete, but they also have to cooperate if they expect to survive in any social structure.  While some consider themselves individuals, man is a social animal whether he wishes to admit it, or not.

Because of this, matters of trust, and gaining commitments from others are extremely important.  The constant threat is that even symbiotic relationships have to find ways to minimize conflict.  When ideas clash, and conflict is not resolved, trust goes out the window.  Without trust, respect becomes illusive at best, and often downright impossible.

Furthermore, when people sense they are not being respected, or losing respect, it is natural for them to become tense, and run the risk of becoming at least to some degree, irrational.  Frustration, anger, and especially fear cause people to shift from positive and productive activity in order to posture for defense (or attack).

It is normal for them to feel a need to protect something important to them.  What that something often turns out to be is not always their own physical safety, or even their livelihood.  Sometimes what they are clamoring to keep “safe” is some ideology: something they believe that when put at risk undermines their entire concept of safety.  This is exactly what causes the breakdown in empathy during political arguments between people who could otherwise get along.  Strangely, some people operate on the belief disorder that everybody not only shares their own opinions, but that it is substantially wise to do so.  And with that profoundly naive outlook, it is regular that they overlook the following points almost entirely:

* Employers who are not sincerely grateful for their employees’ efforts will seldom if ever show honest signs of gratitude towards them.
* Employers who do not know the dynamics of the culture within their own company seldom know how to motivate the individuals that make up that culture.
* If I treat you, not in the way you’d wish to be treated, but in a way that clearly shows I misunderstand you, I should not be disappointed when you seem less than motivated by it.
* Cheap token gifts are often seen as condescension, especially when the work done to earn it feels so under-rewarded.  A private conversation including some thanks, honest feedback, and encouragement means so much more to some people than getting to use the (not coveted) “employee of the month” parking space.  A lady once told me her boss didn’t even realize she rode the bus to work.
* If you don’t even know who I am, how might I be convinced you think I’m of any value, much less important?  Overlooking the subtleties about an individual that identify how they wish to be treated can be seen as disrespect.

Disrespect manifests itself in different ways, but always results in distrust.  It is a team-breaker.  When it raises its ugly head, commitment often dissolves into a mere appearance of compliance (and it won’t even be that).  When that happens, “sabotage” can occur whether folks realize it, or not.  If a group of people are not working together, they may well be working against each other.  There is no such thing as a team without cooperation.

What if your team believes the “what’s in it for them” is right up there with the “what’s in it for you”?  What if they don’t believe it?  Do you think that was part of Frank Lorenzo’s problem with Eastern Airlines?  Do you think it was part of the employees’ problem with Frank?

Teams are supposed to be heading towards some common win, some common goal, or other benefit, or there is no reason to be in harness together.  And, those in harness need to all pull in the same direction; they must all seek to gain the same result.  While I agree that focus has to be on results, I cannot discount individual personal (or departmental) expectations altogether if I would really expect commitment from individual members.

But besides the common goal or desired results, they all need to find something about the success of the project that helps them gain something they want.  But what they want as individuals may not be that obvious to the team leader or other members, unless they invest the time to pay attention. The presumption that everybody wants and needs the same thing, can be a mistake.

The team leader needs to be aware of what the various team members want. That is the crux of the equity in any leadership role. It is helpful if everyone in the group understand that, but critical that the captain knows it.  In other words, how can you, as the project leader, get other people to commit to helping you reach your goal?

You can, if you take the time to make sure they see how it will help them reach theirs.  And just as you will intend to hold them individually accountable for their part, rest assured they will hold you accountable for the commitment you’ve made to them. As simple as all this sounds, the failure to take these action steps delays, and often derails more projects than some would think.

I’ve heard managers proudly say things like:  “My people know that I treat everybody around here the same as I do anybody else.  Everybody is equal, and we don’t show partiality to anyone.”  While I do appreciate fairness, I also know that people like to be recognized for who they are, and that their contributions are valuable not just because they did the work, but because of who they are, and how they went about getting it done.

The golden rule says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The core of this is empathy.  Without it, a person is steeped in narcism.  But does everybody wish to be treated the same as you in all situations?  If they do not, can the golden rule get misinterpreted?  Yes.  Absolutely!  If I am overcome with a desire to treat you exactly as I wish to be treated, how do you think I feel when you don’t seem to appreciate it?

The fallback for people in some cases (especially in politics) is to demand that everybody want and value the same things they do.  As it is always emotional, respect will not be given to those who don’t choose to go along with the demands.  That kind of rationale is behind what has driven every war throughout the history of mankind.  Though hostilities may subside under duress, or powerful totalitarian social control, it never results in any genuine commitment for peacefulness.  Eventually fear, anger, distrust and disrespect resurface.  It destroys families, companies, and even nations.

Does this mean I’m asking you to abandon the golden rule?  No, but I’m asking you consider taking it to a higher level.  Since everybody doesn’t want all of the same things you do all the time, why not treat others the way they are showing you they wish to be treated?  Would that be so hard?  What is required is that we learn how to pay attention.  Does it work?  Pick just one person to observe, and try it for awhile.  Sound easy?  It actually is, but for some reason, it seems that only a small percent of the people on this planet do it regularly.  I suppose we could say we’ve been taught to do otherwise, but is that a valid excuse?  Excuses only appear to be valid, and only when you believe they are.

So what validates cooperation?  The only thing that makes it valid is if it works; if you accomplished what you set out to do.  Trust and respect might be helpful, and in some cases, might be necessary if the need for commitment is required.  But the bottom line is whether or not you reached your goal, isn’t it?  You have to decide if there is a valuable corollary between cooperation and the end result.  There is definitely a correlation between getting cooperation, and having the respect and trust of those who are asked to help you.

If you see it as a benefit, then that should be enough to motivate you.  If you intend to take the golden rule to a higher level, you need to start with the intent of the rule: willfully choose not to hurt others by action or words, with some understanding of why you would not wish to have that happen to you.  Additionally, treat others in a way that lets them know you understand how they wish to be treated.  It honors them, and it honors you.  If you commit to help those around you get what they want, you might be surprised to find that they will in turn be willing to commit to help you get what you want, as well.

Another point will have to be to look deeper at your own motivation.  Is the importance of having influence caused by a fear of losing control over others?  Do you just want them to be happy slaves?  There is a difference between being dominant, and being a dominator.  Most dominators are not self sustaining, and are therefore not really dominant.  In fact, they are usually phobics, just like those they wish to control.

For some, it becomes an obsession, and a way of life.  An obsession to dominate over others can be evidence of cowardice, and a lack of the ability to be dominant over one’s own affairs.  A dead giveaway is when the behavior of those around you leads you to feel others think you really do not respect them, personally.  And that will always be a stumbling block when trying to gain their trust.  Insincerity can be detected more easily by some than others.

So, it is a caution to make sure you are sincere about wanting to honor other people, and be sincere about wanting to help them (or work with them) to reach their goals.  If it isn’t true, you’re likely to have folks see right through you.  When that happens, you will not gain their trust, or their respect.  Then you’ll be right back to getting no real commitment, but only the pretense of compliance.  And often you won’t even get that unless someone is looking.

To diagnose that the problem exists is not difficult.  The extent of it varies from group to group.  Ignoring it will not make it go away, and neither will setting up a compliance regimen to deal with it.  There’s plenty of historical evidence showing the failures of gaining wide commitment through prohibitions.  And because of human nature, there will be more.

In theater, in order to attain a higher level of performance, it is required that the character analysis so as to properly understand motivation be taken seriously.  The critical business of theater is the motivation.  And for those who feel quality performance is something they want, the motivation is also the true theater of business.

I have access to very valid feedback instruments, and I know how to use them.  It helps to find out not only what individuals want personally, but also what they don’t want.  It is the patterns of fallback behaviors that are likely to become the cancer that destroys the life of companies.

Just changing mottos and slogans won’t fix the problem.  It will take a little bit of time, and a little bit of money.  But isn’t that usually true for most of the things you find are worth doing?  Perhaps the most passionate part of acting and directing for me has been involved with the moments when those lightbulbs turn on.  When trust and respect becomes a reality or is restored, other processes, both strategic and tactical, become more attainable.

For those who would wish to be recognized as a leader, consider how you are seen by those you wish to lead.  Do they see you as willing to march against the gates of Hell with them, or do they see you as simply pointing out the way?