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

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Becoming a Leader: A Positive Lesson from Failing CEOs

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

Some CEOs become so focused on profit that they cannot generate it. This fact is of great importance to you because it means you can acquire capacities unavailable to many executives. It means you can lead more effectively than the people above you. It means you can assure yourself of a successful leadership career.

A Sobering Message

Yesterday I received a message from a friend who has spent his life as a consultant. In his message he makes an observation about the behavior of CEOs: Having worked with CEOs from around the world for a long time, and getting to know some of them very well over time, I have found only a small handful whose decisions and behaviors are evidence of purposeful governance and leadership. Many others, yielding to pressure from board and market expectations, work as slaves to the top and bottom line. When getting into conversations about the importance of “noble purpose” in business performance, they talk about getting to “purpose” as soon as the numbers are right.

I see a frightful amount of ego in many, wishing to best others in terms of numbers in the news. Interestingly, many of these work in the financial markets. Then there are always those who inspire the world by mindful and even heroic actions, but I see the scale tipping in the direction of “profit”- minded leaders, in some cases even despite best intentions.

The Economics of Positive Leadership

Anjan Thakor and I recently wrote a paper in which we talk about the process of imbuing an organization with higher purpose. We point out that many organizations perform below their potential. They comprise self-interested people playing zero-sum games, pursuing external rewards, engaging in conflicts, and living in alienated relationships.

Yet it is possible for those same people to willingly pursue the common good, to value intrinsic rewards, live in trust, and experience high collaboration. This transformation occurs when an organization is imbued with a higher purpose. In another paper, Anjan and I provide a mathematical model demonstrating that when a leader introduces higher purpose, the human system is transformed and becomes more productive. We suggest that the mathematical model provides an economic foundation for the practice of positive leadership.

A Surprising Discovery

After building our model, we wondered how the heads of organizations think and behave regarding higher purpose. We conducted 30 interviews, but with an incorrect assumption that all organization leaders would value higher purpose. The majority told us they did not. When they first took over, many did not see the value of higher purpose; some even belittled the notion.

This taught us an interesting lesson. Executives tend to be steeped in the assumptions of microeconomics: They are busy and hunger for task completion. The belief in normal microeconomic assumptions leads to a focus on motivation through the manipulation of external rewards. In that context, creating purpose and meaning may seem like a waste of time.

Pressure may lead to the search for easy tasks with high payoffs, not the grueling task of understanding the deep needs of stakeholders and articulating a vision, believing it, living it, and communicating it over and over. The need for task completion may work against the notion of continually monitoring and revitalizing the meaning “system.”

There is a natural pull for executives, even CEOs, to be managers rather than leaders. They can become so focused on profit that they cannot generate profit because they cannot release the human commitment that lies dormant in the organization. The work force does not flourish or exceed expectations.

The Opportunity

This blindness is your opportunity. In the opening message from my friend, he suggests many CEOs yield to the very real external pressures and become narrowly focused on profit. They become ego-involved and competitive, desiring to be recognized for generating profit. Hence they have no use for higher purpose and the creation of meaning. In the search for profit, they become disconnected a powerful generator of profit, a connected and focused work force.

This dynamic becomes your opportunity as a leader. In any position, at any level, you can focus on your highest responsibility: to provide “purposeful governance and leadership.” If you dedicate yourself to learning how to imbue an organization with purpose, your chances of succeeding at every level go up. You will be able to do what many CEOs cannot.

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…)

“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.

How to Read a Book like Adam Grant’s “Give and Take”

Friday, April 19th, 2013

giveandtake-coverBy Ryan W. Quinn

Our friend and colleague, Adam Grant (whose work we have featured in this blog before), has a new book that is receiving wonderful media attention from outlets as diverse as the New York Times Magazine and the Diane Rehm Show. The title of his book is Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, and it has its own accompanying web page, blog, assessment tool, and opportunity to nominate and highlight givers you know and admire. The book is fun to read and well-grounded in research. As with anything I’ve known Adam to do, it is a high-quality product and worth the investment. Rather than review his book in the typical fashion, however, I would like to take a different approach. I would like to discuss how a person should read a book like this.


Lead from the Positive by Cultivating a Grade-School Classroom’s “Culture of ‘Can’”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

By Amy Lemley

No manager wants to “baby” his or her employees. Who has time? Yet borrowing some ideas from the grade-school classroom can bring positive leadership into play in a way that is meaningful at an adult level—no babying necessary.

A recent post by InformED blogger Julie DeNeen identified 20 tenets schoolteachers can use to create “a culture of ‘can’” for their pupils. Those practices read like a page from the positive leadership playbook:

1. Make It a Safe Place to Fail

2. Encourage Curiosity

3. Give Your Students a Voice

4. Tiered Responsibility—“show me, teach me, let me”

5. Foster Peer Support

6. Use Natural Consequences

7. Confidence Building

8. Model How to Learn

9. Don’t Impose Limitations

10. Use Real-Life Examples of Perseverance

11. Teach Students How To Set Manageable Goals

12. Teach Students How to Overcome Disappointment

13. Reward Attitude, Not Just Aptitude

14. Believe in Their Abilities

15. Accept the “Mess”

16. Offer Reflection after the Project Is Over

17. Give Immediate Feedback

18. Give both Short and Long-Term Assignments

19. Identify Obstacles and Negative Beliefs

20. Let Go of the Idea That a Student’s Success Reflects on You

When we picture a classroom full of children, I think most of us imagine it as a place where these 20 tenets are in play. Boys and girls, young men and young women, engage with each other and with their teachers openly and without fear of ridicule, receive constructive feedback that supports them to try, try again. Their teachers show them how to learn and learn with them. And their self-confidence grows.

In recent weeks, Lift Blog cofounder Bob Quinn wrote a six-part series for educators and managers about teaching positive leadership. Last week, Ryan Quinn looked at two ways issuing “positive tickets” when young people were doing something right had made a quantifiable difference in their behavior.

As I read Julie DeNeen’s article, it occurred to me that, whether we are four or forty, we respond best to a positive leadership framework. It’s only natural. We look to our leaders—parents and teachers when we’re young, supervisors and senior executives when we’re adults—to, in Bob Quinn’s words, “create the space” in which we can succeed. When we enter that space, whether as employees or students and as leaders, our potential expands, and so do our achievements.

Positive Leadership in Action: Prudential’s Jim Mallozzi Shows How It Works

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

By Amy Lemley

How would you unify more than 50,000 employees worldwide? Ask Jim Mallozzi, chairman and CEO of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services.

The answer? Positive organizational scholarship (POS). As a senior VP in Prudential’s retirement division, Mallozzi became acquainted with the field eight years ago. That’s when he met Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship cofounders Kim Cameron and Bob Quinn (also a partner in Lift Consulting and my fellow Lift blogger). A colleague who was a University of Michigan Ross business school grad, introduced them, and Mallozzi was hooked.

In 2009, Mallozzi ascended to chairman and CEO of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services. Positive leadership principles seemed like a natural place to turn for corporate transformation.

In 2011—at the height of a difficult time in the relocation sector—Brookfield Residential Property Services acquired his company. This move creating a change management opportunity in which positive leadership was equally relevant.

Kim Cameron and Emily Plews (MBA/SA ’10) interviewed Mallozzi for the April 2012 issue of Organizational Dynamics. In the article, Mallozzi talks about how he and his employees have implemented some of its core concepts. He listed three examples of initiatives that made a difference:

  • -The reflected best-self feedback process, which we became really good at.
  •  -The use of the competing values framework, which is how we demonstrated respect for each other in terms of what unique attributes each person brought to the table.
  •  -The development of an Everest goal, or what we aspired to be and what we stood for.

POS posted a video of an extraordinary Positive Links presentation in which Mallozzi quite candidly discusses where things stood at Prudential and how positive leadership came to permeate its culture.

The February 2012 session—which Mallozzi calls “a great adventure and a great honor”—is entitled “Saving Private Ryan: Hard-Fought Lessons in Creating a Positively Deviant Organization.” It’s an hour and 20 minutes long and well worth your time. Click play, sit back, and enjoy.

Transcending “Normal”: Learning to Access the Power of Positive Organizing

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

By Robert E. Quinn

Highly functioning organizations are different from other organizations. They engage in a process called positive organizing. Positive organizing transcends normal assumptions. To understand it, internalize it, and practice it, people need someone who can elevate their feelings, thoughts, and actions so that they can collaborate in new ways. Here is a story that illustrates what positive organizing is, how it is facilitated, and how it can be taught.

The Transformative Process

Last week, Ryan Quinn and I were doing a session for a large group of organizational development practitioners. Ryan put up a slide that presented a mini case study:

Kurt Wright was a consultant for a company working on a $100 million, 60-month software development project for the government. There were 400 engineers working on the project. Thirty-eight months had already passed, and the project was 18 months behind schedule. A clause in the contract stated that if the project were 18 months behind at the 48-month milestone, the company would suffer a $30 million penalty. Managers and employees were frightened about losing $30 million because of the impact it would have on their company, their unit, and their jobs. Stress was beginning to escalate. (This story is paraphrased from Kurt Wright’s Breaking the Rules: Removing the Obstacles to Effortless High Performance (Boise, ID: CPM Publishing, 1998).

Ryan asked our group to suggest strategies on how to change this situation. The participants made many suggestions. Ryan then shared what Wright actually did. (more…)

From Emotional Labor to Emotional Opportunity: How Personal Investment in Work Pays Off

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

By Ryan W. Quinn

I walked into a restaurant a few weeks ago and was impressed with the person behind the counter. He was a fiftyish man named Jim, and he was smiling and laughing and appeared genuinely happy to be there.

He called people by nicknames, made them laugh, and engaged them about their orders. Everyone who ordered walked away from the counter smiling. If I lived in that community and wanted to get a bite to eat, I would be more likely to choose that restaurant just because that man was working there.

Emotional Labor

Since that day, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues about a concept known as emotional labor. Simply explained, the key idea behind emotional labor is that when people’s work settings require them to display emotions they do not feel, it has a negative impact on their physical and psychological health and can sometimes negatively affect social relationships later on. These are real costs, and they should be taken seriously.

Was the jovial restaurant worker just going through the motions because his work required it? Or was his good cheer authentic? I think it was real. And just as there are costs to emotional labor, there are benefits to feeling and displaying positive emotions on the job. (more…)