March 12, 2012

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What’s the Question?

January 19, 2015

Business meeting.My recent focus on conversations at work was inspired by this statement from Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine, in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote way back in 1993:


… the manager’s job is to create an environment that allows knowledge workers to learn – from their own experience, from each other, and from customers, suppliers, and business partners. The chief management tool that makes that learning happen is conversation.

Organizational leaders at all levels have an incredible opportunity – and an equally incredible responsibility – to generate meaningful conversations. What they do and say on a daily basis affects the lives and the careers of everyone they come in contact with, to say nothing of the impact those conversations have on an organization’s performance and its ultimate success or failure in the marketplace.

I’ve also become convinced that great conversations start with thoughtful questions. A question signals your interest in learning – your openness to new information and new ideas.

In fact, I believe that asking the right kinds of questions is one of the most important leadership skills I can think of. [click to continue…]


Conversations that Create

January 12, 2015

Last week I wrote about “Conversations that Connect” – the importance of designing conversations that enable individuals to experience deep personal connections with others. That, after all, is what makes relationships meaningful and lasting.

Brainstorming Now let’s build on that foundation to explore about how to lead conversations that create. Most work in organizations is focused on solving problems or producing new ideas – product designs, marketing campaigns, new ways of understanding why sales are growing or shrinking, cheaper ways of operating the business.

I sometimes think the biggest barrier to effective brainstorming and problem-solving is the tendency most groups have to close in on a solution too quickly. Unfortunately most people have a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; being aware of a gap between where you are and where you want or need to be can be highly stressful.

Understandably, we want to develop a solution as quickly as possible so we can relieve the stress of uncertainty or the prospect of failure. However, the more widely we search for an answer the more likely we are to discover (or invent) a better solution

In fact, many groups are guilty of what has been called the “streetlight effect.” [click to continue…]

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Conversations That Connect

January 5, 2015

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Early in my business career I was fortunate to work for a wise, experienced senior executive who was masterful at leading conversations that mattered. As a newly-minted MBA graduate I was at the bottom of the totem pole in a family-managed business.

My boss had been hired to upgrade the company’s management practices, employee benefit programs, and overall productivity. He tasked me with building ties to the leaders of several business units and engaging with them in conversations about the company’s future.

I was significantly younger than almost all of those business unit leaders. That was actually a good thing, because I clearly posed no threats to them, and as a newcomer to the industry it was easy to present myself as someone who wanted to learn the business (which was certainly true). [click to continue…]

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Goodbye 2014; On to 2015!

December 29, 2014

Top Ten List


I hope you are enjoying this holiday season. No matter which holiday you celebrate, this is a time to slow down, relish time with family and friends, reflect on the past year, and think ahead to the new year.

In that spirit, I want to share with you my “Top Ten” newsletters/blog posts for 2014, based roughly on which of them you opened most often.

You’ll see quickly that my recent focus on corporate conversations dominates this list, but it also includes several other important observations about the future of work.

So, here goes, from the top down:

1. Mindsets are More Important than Skillsets

There are hundreds of books about how to conduct meetings, yet most corporate meetings are dull, unproductive time wasters. What’s going on? Why don’t leaders do what they know how to do? I suggested here that the attitudes and mindsets of team leaders are far more important than meeting management skillsets. [click to continue…]


Put the Why Before the What

December 22, 2014

animated-wreath-bellsFirst of all, best wishes for this holiday season – and for every day of the rest of your life. December is a time for slowing down, spending time with your family and friends, and appreciating the blessings of being alive in this exciting time.

Please take some time this week to reflect on the year that is ending, and do some serious thinking about the incredible opportunities that lie ahead in 2015.

Here are a few questions that might help with your reflections:

  • Why are you focused on what you are focused on?
  • What are you most proud of that you accomplished this year?
  • What opportunities did you let slip away?
  • What do you want to stop doing next year?
  • What do you want to start doing?
  • Deep down, what do you care about? Why?

But please don’t fall into the trap of making overly ambitious new year’s resolutions; if they are difficult to achieve, or presume a sudden change of habits, or require new skills that you haven’t mastered yet, the chances are you won’t accomplish your goals, and you’ll end up beating up on yourself.

Focus less on the What and more on the Why. [click to continue…]


Orchestrating a Meeting

December 15, 2014


(c) Derek Brad photography

Perhaps the ultimate example of a collaborative performance is a symphony orchestra.

Picture this: It is opening night for the local philharmonic orchestra. You enter the concert hall and find your seat. The stage is covered with chairs, instruments, and music stands but it’s otherwise empty.

You exchange pleasantries with the people sitting on either side of you, take your seat, and begin reviewing the evening program. It tells you what music you will be hearing tonight, who the conductor is, and who the guest performers are.

A few minutes after you’ve settled in you look up to see the musicians walking onto the stage. They find their seats, put their copies of the evening’s score on the music stands, and begin to warm up and test their instruments.

At first the musicians play individually; perhaps the violinists are running through a section from the third movement, while the horns are working on their key part in the first movement. Gradually the noise level rises, and of course it’s a cacophony; there is no harmony, no meaning, no collaboration.

The Conductor comes on stage and taps the baton on his music stand to get everyone’s attention. The entire concert hall falls quiet; then at the Conductor’s signal the first violinist plays an extended middle C; after a moment all the other musicians play the same note on their individual instruments. They adjust their instruments as needed to ensure that everyone is “in tune.”

Now there is a sense of unity, of harmony. And the Conductor initiates the first performance of the evening by raising his baton, looking over the entire orchestra, and focusing his attention on the Concert Master, or first violinist. The first note sounds and suddenly there are no individual musicians; there is only the orchestra and the sounds of the symphony.

You are now witnessing one of the finest examples of collaboration I can think of. [click to continue…]


Monarch Caterpillar eating milkweed Those of us who study and write about the difficulty of leading organizational change often use the image of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as a metaphor for dramatic transformation.

But wanting to become a butterfly doesn’t make you one. You have to want to become a butterfly so badly that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

That’s a fancy way of saying that having even a compelling vision of the future isn’t enough; to get there you have to give up the past and walk away from the present.

But there is another component of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that most of us don’t think about and certainly don’t understand very well. [click to continue…]


Report Card ClipartStanford Professor Carol Dweck tells a marvelous story about a Chicago high school I wish I’d attended. When a student receives a report card on a course he or she has not successfully completed, the grade shows as “Not Yet.”

It doesn’t say “Failed,” but rather “Not Yet.”

Think about that for a moment. For me, and clearly for Professor Dweck, that choice of wording is incredibly powerful.

What does “Not Yet” say to that student? It does not say, “You are stupid, you are a loser, you can’t do it.” Instead it says “You didn’t pass this time.” It presumes there will be another time, and it also tells the student “You might pass the course the next time you try.”

Professor Dweck has been studying achievement, learning, and happiness for a long time. She’s written a book called Mindset (Ballantine Books, 2007) in which she identifies two very different ways of experiencing life. And while most of her research has focused on young children and adolescents, her insights are equally important for adults in the workplace.

She describes two distinctively different attitudes, or mindsets, about success and failure (or rather, success and “Not Yet”) [click to continue…]


InternetYesterday I wanted to understand a definition of leadership that I’d heard about at a recent conference. I typed the first four words of the definition into my browser search engine, hit Return, and in 0.42 seconds I had a list of over 58,000,000 relevant links. 58 million links! In 0.42 seconds!

Many of us don’t really understand how fortunate we are to be alive in 2014. Each of us has access to practically all the world’s recorded knowledge, whenever we want it, no matter where we are, in almost no time at all, and at practically no cost.

Not only that, but each of us can also communicate with almost every other human being, no matter where that person is, almost instantaneously, and again at almost no cost.

And every one of us can publish our ideas and our opinions on a global basis. In the last week alone my website has been visited by people from countries as far away from my home base as South Africa, Namibia, Russia, Iran, India, China, Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, and Nigeria (among many others).

I’m not bragging; I am simply astounded. [click to continue…]