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A blog by Ryan Quinn, Robert Quinn, Shawn Quinn, and Amy Lemley

Archive for the ‘Courage / Empowerment / Initiative’ Category

Engaging Again and Again

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

By Ryan W. Quinn

My common refrain when talking about teaching and working with teachers is “to love the people you teach.” I believe that’s what we, as teachers, should do. And I also believe that expression can be a platitude: It is so true that we ignore it or take it for granted. As a result, we often do not love the people we teach even when we think we do.

A few weeks ago, I was training some public school teachers. One participant raised her hand and said, “Every morning I forgive my students.” I loved this sentence. Someone who hears or reads this sentence out of context may find it off-putting. After all, what have your students done that they need your forgiveness? Maybe the problem is you, not your students!


Discovering What You Love To Do: Overcoming the First Barrier to Success

Friday, July 12th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

During the graduation season, National Public Radio aired a highly provocative broadcast.  It began with short clips from three graduation speeches in which well-known speakers told students the key to their future success was for them to go forward doing what they loved.  Then the narrator pointed out that most students have no idea what they love.  The show then featured a segment in which three economists tried to help a student determine what he might love to do.  The process failed. Being unable to discover what you “love to do” was apparently a barrier to success.

I believe the process failed because the economists did not understand love.  Love does not come from rational analysis.  It comes from the evolution of the self. Here I examine a case in which a woman experienced such an evolution and was then able to design a life doing what she loved.


From Manager to Leader: Accelerating the Process

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

A former executive MBA student came to see me.  He was scheduled to be in another part of Michigan, but said he wanteto make a special trip to Ann Arbor because he had something important to share it with me.

He is an executive in his early forties.  Prior to attending our program, he had worked in one of the Fortune 500’s most aggressive firms.  He entered my class believing he was already a leader, and wondered if there was anything to gain by taking the required course.

One of his assignments was to become a mentor—not a normal mentor, but a transformational mentor, a mentor who radically alters the outlook and capacity of another person.  Like many of his fellow students, this one failed to alter the person he selected for his assignment.

This happens often.  I give this difficult assignment for a reason.  Many EMBAs are accomplished executives who think they understand change leadership.  What they actually understand is change management.  The failure to help another person transform often brings humility and openness to the notions of change leadership—a valuable lesson. (more…)

Solving the Authenticity Puzzle: What Many CEOs Cannot Do

Friday, July 5th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

I met a consultant from another part of the world who works with senior business leaders.  In their country’s culture, he said, there is an extreme emphasis on hierarchy and seniority, with strong norms to defer to.  Because of that, someone such as a CEO may get little honest feedback, and a CEO’s blind spots may become a growing problem in the organization.

On one assignment, my acquaintance spent a very long period preparing a CEO’s direct reports to share key truths with him.  He taught them that they needed to be simultaneously respectful and honest.  The direct reports were fearful but willing to try.  A two-and-a-half-hour meeting was scheduled. For the first hour and a half, the CEO was uncomfortable, and so were the direct reports.

The man who was telling me the story described his own anxiety.  In his country, a man as powerful as the CEO could destroy a consultant’s career.  Performing this sort of “intervention” was a great risk.

Thankfully in the last half-hour there was a major change.  The CEO began to see the value in what was taking place, and he opened up.  The meeting became a positive intervention that led to a lasting change in the communication patterns of the top management team. (more…)

Empathy versus Perspective-Taking and Personal Change

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Ryan W. Quinn

One of the stories that Adam Grant tells in his book, Give and Take, which I have been discussing in recent blog entries, is the story of a businessman from Australia named Peter Audet. Peter had built up his business with the help of his partner, Rich. The two men worked well together early on, but eventually Rich began taking a massive salary without working much. He poisoned the culture, took money for his home out of the company account, and also had a line of credit with the company that no one knew about, all while buying a massive home on the Gold Coast. Because Peter had a close relationship with Rich, for a long time he felt unable to take action against him. He felt like Rich was his older brother. As Adam Grant points out, Peter was a victim of his own empathy.

The Down Side to Empathy

I find the idea that people can be victims of their own empathy a fascinating one. Empathy occurs when one person shares the feelings of another. In Lift, we argue that empathy is the essence of being other-focused, and therefore a central element of positive influence. A person’s influence is unlikely to be positive if they have not felt empathy for those who are stakeholders in a situation. And yet Peter’s empathy for Rich—in particular, his worry about how Rich would feel if Peter took action against him—prevented Peter from doing the right thing in this situation. (more…)

“Make This the Best Day of Your Life”: Robert Quinn Speaks at TEDxUofM

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

By Amy Lemley

“When we tap potential that is untapped, we see things in new ways, and a whole new world of possibility opens up to us,” says Lift blog cofounder Robert E. Quinn.

How do we tap that potential? Bob answers that question in a 13-minute talk at a conference modeled after the famed TED Events, which are designed to promote “ideas worth sharing.”

View the talk here, and, in Bob’s words, “make this the best day of your life.”

About TED Talks and TEDxUofM

The nonprofit TED invites the world’s most interesting thinkers and “doers” to “give the talk of their lives” in 18 minutes. TED then makes these “TED Talks” available free online at TED.com.  Past speakers include Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Sir Richard Branson, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende. The group also holds two U.S. TED Events each year and one in the UK.

TED established the TEDx program to support locally produced events of similar ilk, prompting a group at the University of Michigan to create its own independent TED event. This year’s theme was “Untapped,” a fitting one for an expert on seeking purpose and prompting deep change.

How to Transform the Collective Mindset: Cultural Change and Moral Power

Friday, May 17th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

Sometimes I will ask a group, “Did you know that organizations are political?”  This always brings a knowing laugh.  The laugh suggests a question, Why would I ever ask about something so obvious?  The laugh also demonstrates a fact.  People have a natural understanding of hierarchy and political power in organizations.  They know that people have self-interests, and they use expertise, position, and authority to pursue those self-interests.  One has to understand this to survive.

Moral Power

I spend much of my time teaching executives and MBAs about something they find difficult to accomplish.  If they want to move from survival to flourishing, that is, if they want to make positive change, they must change the culture, and cultural change requires a kind of power that seems foreign to normal organizational assumptions.  Cultural change requires leadership based on moral power. 

So I delight when I find a grounded observation I can use to help them understand my strange notion.  I went to a movie called 42.  It is about the life of Jackie Robinson.  The movie is the story of a baseball player, it is also a story about the transformation of culture in America.  At the heart of the movie is the exercise of moral power.

(Note: Spoiler alert! This discussion describes several pivotal scenes in detail. If you prefer, go and see the movie, then return to this blog entry for a transformational perspective.”)

In 42, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruits Jackie Robinson as the first black player.  In one of the opening scenes, Rickey lays out the abusive behavior that Robinson will face and wants to know if Robinson will be able to handle it.  Robinson asks if Rickey wants a man with enough courage to fight, and Rickey says he wants a man with enough courage not to fight. 

It is clear that Rickey has a deep understanding of the moral power that will be necessary.  Moral means good, ethical, and principled.  Power means capacity.  Moral power is the capacity that comes when we chose to live by a higher ethical principle.

When we are offended, nature seems to provide two choices: fight or flight.  Yet there is a third option.  A person can choose to be purpose driven.  Such a person can choose to move forward without reacting to an injustice.  Such a person is seen as different.  This difference attracts attention and requires people to think and to make choices of their own.  In the process of observing, thinking, and choosing, some people change.  The change can become contagious, and it may spread in a viral manner.

Two Illustrations

Transformational change is usually a function of transformational leadership or moral power.  In the movie there are many scenes in which people are transformed.  I recount just two.

Initially the Dodgers players are, like most everyone else, against Robinson.  But over time they watch him absorb brutal abuse.  At one point an opposing manager stands outside the dugout and pours continuous hateful statements on Robinson.  As this continues the Dodger players seem to change.  One player who was not particularly welcoming to Robinson finally stands up, walks across the field, and threatens to attack the manager if he says another word.

Later Branch Rickey wisely notes that the opposing manager was actually helping the cause.  He explained that when someone is abusive like the opposing manager and the recipient does not respond, people feel sympathy for that person.  He says sympathy means “to suffer with.”  The opposing manager caused the Dodger players to feel for and suffer with Jackie Robinson.  In this suffering (or love) the assumptions and then the behavior of Robinson’s fellow players began to change.  Moral power brought a transformation.

In another scene the Dodgers are about to play in Cincinnati.  Pee Wee Reece, the Dodgers star shortstop, is from nearby Kentucky.  Reece enters the office of Branch Rickey with a sense of indignation.  He shows Rickey a letter.  Someone in Kentucky has called Reece a carpet bagger and offers a threat.  Reece is incensed.  Rickey pulls out three thick files of hate mail sent to Robinson.   The letters are filled with vicious threats.  Reece is stunned by what he reads.

The next scene is in the ball park in Cincinnati.  A father and young son are talking.  The son is a Reece fan and says he hopes Reece performs well.  The father responds tenderly and tells a story of when he was a boy and watched his favorite player do well.  At that moment the Dodgers take the field, and the tender father suddenly yells vicious statements at Robinson.  The boy watches with curiosity and then does the same. 

Here there are two jolting moments.  First, we discover that a man capable of being a tender father can also be a racist.  Second, we watch a relatively innocent boy observe the father he loves and then adopt his hateful behavior.  It is one small illustration of the mix of nobility and frailty in all of us, and of the fact that we are all shaped by the cultures we live in. 

As the scene continues, the entire stadium vilifies Robinson.  Pee Wee Reece observes this, and then dose something shocking.  He stops what he is doing, runs over to Robinson, and puts his arm around him.  Robinson is asks Reece what he is doing.  Reece says, “I want these people to see who I really am.”

The crowd grows quieter.  A few begin to clap.  The small boy watches.  Then he slowly begins to clap.

The once-incensed Reece makes a choice, behaves in a new way.  The new behavior draws attention and requires a choice by others.  New behaviors emerge.  We witness another illustration of transformational influence.

Cultural change occurs when people make new assumptions and then willing engage in new behaviors.  The new behaviors spread, not in a linear fashion but in a viral fashion.  The contagious new way eventually results in a new culture.  Transformational leaders use moral power to change assumptions and behavior.  Since we assume organizations are political systems, it is difficult to see that they are also moral systems.   The moral system is in constant need of attention.

Becoming a Master of Influence

Friday, March 29th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

I was invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine to discuss the topic of becoming a change agent. I started with two questions. First, I asked them each to define the term. “A leader,” they responded. “Someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.”

Next, I asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. This was difficult, but one person finally gave an answer I found striking. He said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that that can effectively lead any organization or group.

Two people came to mind. The first was Gandhi and the second was a public school teacher. (more…)

Work-Life Enrichment and Being Willing to Die for the Organization That Would Kill You for Caring

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

By Ryan W. Quinn

There is a phrase used in Bob Quinn’s book Deep Change that is intentionally provocative—perhaps a little too provocative: “being willing to die for the organization that would kill you for caring.” I once had a discussion with someone about this phrase, and her reaction was immediate and visceral: “I can’t see why anyone would die for their organization. I wouldn’t.”

I can understand why she felt that way. In a world where there seems to be a new biggest scandal every year from corporations, governments, religions, and other organizations, many of our organizations inspire more mistrust than they inspire commitment, and certainly not sufficient commitment to fall on the sword for them. And, frankly, if I am going to feel that level of commitment for anything, it would be more likely that I would feel it for my family or other loved ones, not my organization.

The lack of commitment we feel toward our organizations, however, may say more about our particular view of our organizations than it does about who does and does not deserve our commitment. In fact, sometimes, our lack of commitment to our organizations may, in fact, hurt our families or loved ones (and, conversely, our lack of commitment to our families and loved ones may hurt our organizations). (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 1: The Digestion of Experience

Monday, January 21st, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

This six-part series, “Teaching and Leading Positively,” explores the goals of teaching positive leadership: not merely to serve as an  instructor conveying the theories or practices drawn for positive organizational scholarship, but to prompt lasting transformation in the way our students work and live. Serving as this kind of catalyst requires full engagement on our part. We must live from the positive leadership framework, allowing our students to learn by our example, each other’s, and their own.

When I teach, my objective is not to transfer information to my students. It is to transform their identities. My history as a teacher tells me that if I can accomplish this objective, they will experience a huge jump in their capacity to influence their own lives and the lives of others. To accomplish my objective, I must have them do something unusual.

My wife was telling one of her friends about my writing frequent journal entries and sharing them. The woman later approached me about it. She asked several questions, including how much time it took to write a typical entry. I told her 15 minutes to an hour.

That is a serious time commitment, she responded. I explained that I see the journal writing as a form of meditation that has become like a positive addiction. She understood the benefit, but wondered whether a modern professional who leaves for work very early, puts in 12 hours, and comes home exhausted could accomplish such a thing?

I acknowledged that it would be hard for someone like that, and the conversation went on to other topics. But my heart stayed there for a time. Of course, I recognized the demands of modern life, yet I felt a deep sense of sadness about how we let the world act upon us. (more…)