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

Archive for the ‘Leading Change’ 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…)

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…)

The Generosity Family Project: Do Good and Feel Good

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

By Ryan W. Quinn

I posted a review of Adam Grant’s new book, Give and Take, a few weeks ago on this blog. The timing of this book’s release was fortuitous for me on a personal level.

It was good timing. Just when the book came out, my wife approached me to let me know that we needed to help our children become more generous (read: “less self-centered”).

Now, I don’t think that our children are all that different from most children their ages. But generosity is a value I hold in high esteem, so I agreed. We gathered the children for a family meeting to discuss what we could do to learn to be more generous.

It was very nice of Adam to publish a book right at this same time on the very topic we were working on. I’m sure he did it just for us! (more…)

Learn Your Way In: Hunger to Get Better, Persist through Experiences, and Watch Competencies Emerge

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

I recently listened to a talk by Fred Keller, the CEO of Cascade Engineering, a company recognized for its positive approach to business. One of the unusual practices for which Cascade is known is  bringing in people who are on the welfare rolls and turning them into productive employees.

This idea originated in a casual conversation between Keller and another man, who agreed to champion the idea and work on it. They brought in 12 people who were on welfare. In a short time, however, they were all gone. There were many problems that made the idea impractical. The man was ready to give up on it.

But Fred Keller encouraged the man to reconsider. “We needed to discover how people on welfare feel and think,” he recalled. “We needed to understand them and their culture so we could support them effectively.” So the man kept trying. They ended up going into the literature, talking with the people, and working to understand the culture of poverty.  Over time, the company learned how to do what it did not know how to do. (more…)

Access Your Sense of Awe: Finding Meaning in Your Work

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

I remember a heart surgeon once telling me about his work. “Sometimes a person is dying,” he said quietly. “I take their heart into my hands, and when I am finished, they are alive.” He made this simple statement with awe and humility at how meaningful this experience was for him every time. 

It’s a feeling I know. It occurs when I do cultural surgery. I am regularly asked, for example, to help senior management teams. These are brilliant, successful people with years in business. Their salaries are often staggering. So what could they possibly need from me?

The invitation comes because they know they need to make a fundamental change that they don’t know how to make: to turn themselves into a team. They don’t know how to lure conflict to the surface and transform it into creative collaboration. Yet it’s critical to the organization’s health that they do so. Without a cohesive team, there is no synergy,

This condition is a “silent killer” because few organzations are ready to admit they’re not optimizing their potential. When a team is not cohesive, there is no synergy, which can cause a chronic condition that may indeed threaten the life of the organization. (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 4: A Provocative Tool for Discussing Transformation

Sunday, January 27th, 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.

Teaching people how to transform and how to stimulate transformation is very difficult. The life assumptions of normal people are tied to survival assumptions—not to flourishing.

When I teach I have to entice people to explore things that violate what they want to believe. So I am always hungry for conceptual tools that will help people think about transformation in new ways. This week one of my friends sent me the following passage by Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM:

Historically speaking, in most cultures the role of men has been to create, to make new things, to fix broken things, and to defend us from things which could hurt us. All of these are wonderful and necessary roles for the preservation of the human race.

However, most children saw their mother in a different way. She was not a creator, a fixer, or a defender, but rather a transformer. (more…)

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…)

And the Truth Shall Set You Free: Stop Overselling, Increase Transparency, and Boost Engagement

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

By Shawn Quinn

Have you ever oversold a job you were hiring for to try to get your favorite candidate to accept? Have you ever oversold aspects of yourself to try to get a position you were interviewing for?

The normal or natural approach is to do what is good for us in the short run. Not everyone makes these kinds of decisions all the time. But all of us fall into this kind of trap on a regular basis.

Gallup data on employee engagement suggest that only around 40% of people are actively engaged by the end of six months in a new job. The “oversell” is often to blame: The newness wears off. The job turns out to be less appealing than it seemed. The candidate must spend each workday pretending to be someone else.

Transparency—at the beginning of the hiring or application process—could make a difference in both situations. (more…)