Beyond influence--creating accountability, integrity, and teamwork
Gary Yeatts, MSW, Clarity Technologies
Leadership is the ability to set direction, inspire, motivate, and influence others to produce results. A world-class leader transforms ordinary individuals into a team, which produces extraordinary results. Sustained performance is from equal portions of business acumen, technical competencies, interpersonal skills, and team dynamics. All are essential to producing results. As a leader, knowing what to do and how to engage others are at the heart of expanding success or diminishing returns. This paper presents a pragmatic approach to understanding how tribal leadership (Logan, King, & Wright, 2011) creates a new context for understanding team behavior and how developing interpersonal competencies establishes a foundation for world-class leadership. Project managers will discover how acquiring the appropriate mindset, creating core values, and using team tools can transform an organization’s reputation and energize a team. An energized team culture thrives on collaboration, integrity, and accountability. Project managers committed to performance transformation can become world-class leaders. By igniting their leadership capabilities, project managers create trust-based relationships and inspire others to flourish.
Building a Foundation
Executives expect a project manager to deliver on-time results, within budget, by balancing his or her technical competence and interpersonal skills. Using Goleman’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) (1998) as a framework, leaders can enhance their personal and social competence to self-manage and build relationships with others. Project managers extend their interpersonal base by mastering the skills associated with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Dominance-Influencer-Steadiness-Compliance (DISC) behavioral-based communications frameworks. When project managers understand their personal styles, pay exquisite attention to others, and demonstrate style flexibility, they build trust-based relationships. Arbinger Institute’s, “Way of Being” can significantly accelerate individual trust by respecting the humanity of others and not engaging in self-betrayal (Arbinger Institute, 2004). NLP skills sharpen sensory acuity with heightened eye access and predicate selection awareness (Dilts & Bonissone, 1993). Refined sensory acuity accelerates the identification of preferred communication styles (Alessandra & O‘Connor, 1996). In Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box (2002), Arbinger states the greatest source of influence is a “Way of Being,” where leaders interact and treat others as people honoring their humanity. For individual leader development and building personal confidence, Goleman’s EQ, NLP, DISC, and the “Way of Being” are the building blocks for establishing trust-based relationships and creating greater influence.
A framework to decode team behavior extends beyond the boundaries of a project manager’s self-knowledge and the knowledge of each individual team member’s behavior. Tuckman (1965) identified the four developmental stages in small groups: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership (1979) combined communication approaches: telling, selling, participating, and delegating with the maturity level, ability, and willingness, to perform a task as a way to influence individual performance. With limited success, leaders have extrapolated the Tuckman and Hersey-Blanchard approaches to explain team behavior. A significant new way to understand team behavior is looking at the five modern tribal stages described by Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright (2011).
“A culture and a person’s sense of self are inseparably locked together. One cannot be understood without the other” (Logan et al, 2011). As described in Tribal Leadership (2010), each stage has a mantra and a productivity level with stage one, the lowest, and stage five delivering the highest productivity. The mantras are, stage one: “Life sucks”; stage two: “My life sucks”; stage three: “I’m great, and you’re not”; stage four: “We’re great”; and, stage five: “Life is great.” 2007, p. 25) and summarized at Exhibit 1‥
Each stage has a specific language and behavior; the project manager can use this knowledge to move a team to the next performance level by design rather than default. The most effective leaders are stable at level four or five, exhibiting communication style flexibility while honoring team member and stakeholder humanity. Level-five leaders influence team members to accelerated performance. Typically, sponsors select the “best performers” for project team membership. Best performers have a tendency to strive for dominance, outperform, and even put one another down creating leadership challenges. Effective world-class leaders easily adjust their communication styles and behaviors to establish rapport with all team members regardless of their stage (Logan et al., 2011). Leading a stage three team to stage four is possible by encouraging a proper mindset, establishing team values, and deploying collaborative tools and techniques.
A level-five leader invites ordinary people to produce extraordinary results. In essence, the ability to influence and inspire others, build a culture of accountability, integrity, and collaboration comes from a level-five leader’s “way of being” directed toward stakeholders and the project team. Leadership by example always has a powerful impact on followers. The “way of being” is how leaders access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them, creating a culture where common people achieve extraordinarily uncommon results Wiseman, Liz (2010). Arbinger’s Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box (2010), systematically helps level-three leaders discover how self-deception limits effectiveness and how to operate out of the boxes of blame and justifications. The level-five leader mindset embraces a “way of being” that seeks the natural genius within others and is responsive to the humanity of others.
Way of Being
How a project manager communicates and interacts with others is an important aspect of project life. Arbinger, in Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, states that a leader’s actions and behaviors, a way of “doing,” achieves results in a variety of ways and “There is something deeper than behavior that [ultimately] determines influence” (Arbinger, 2002, p, 48). Level-five leaders interact and treat others in two ways. One way, a “way of being,” recognizes people as people and the other way is to see people as objects; specifically as obstacles, vehicles, or irrelevancies. “This ‘way of being’ [ultimately] determines influence.” (Arbinger, 1998, p. 10) Understanding the distinction between behaviors, the doing, and our “way of being” is essential (Exhibit 2).
Leaders who see people as objects may become resentful or frustrated when the schedule slips or impatient when a team member is slow to make adjustments. By treating people as objects, project managers form a “box” around themselves, creating relationship barriers. Level-three leaders, being resistant to the needs of others, are operating from within a box and betray their deepest sense about the right way to treat people (Arbinger, 2002). This self-betrayal produces justifications, placing blame on others when something goes wrong. Self-betrayal radically degrades working relationships. Level-three leaders find reason to blame others and unknowingly provoke team members into unproductive behaviors. Collusion, a detrimental blame-response cycle, escalates and divisiveness begins to expand as a level-three leader and team members enlist allies to support their respective viewpoint (Arbinger, 2002).
A level-five leader sees others as people and suspends judgment, inviting the team to take collaborative action. A level-five leader encourages the team to develop a solution by asking thought-provoking questions and removing any barriers, which hinder performance. Project managers who respect the humanity of others “are” different, by the way they listen, learn, teach, and while helping things go right. A level-five leader allocates more time keeping others informed, finding and using the genius of others, and helping colleagues grow professionally while clarifying performance expectations. Level-five leaders significantly improve project results and trust by seeing people as people as shown in Exhibit 3.
To accelerate a pervasive “way of being,” a project manager can use the five-multiplier distinctions to establish behavioral interaction expectations. As a talent magnet (Wiseman, 2010), level-five leaders attract the best and brightest talent, maximizing individual contribution by finding each person’s native genius. Skilled leaders create an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work. As a result, people offer their best and boldest thinking, giving their best effort. Successful project managers replace the “know-it-all” attitude by reframing problems as opportunities, challenging the team to ask the hard questions and co-creating action plans. Asking tough questions creates a safe environment for vigorous and passionate best thinking. Micro managers, level-three leaders, exhibit the most debilitating actions through their personal intervention in all project aspects. This level-three behavior exhibits the micro manager’s belief that his or her involvement is critical to project success because others lack the experience or knowledge to produce the proper results. However, a wise leader gives other people the ownership for results and invests in his or her success.
Team values are the core ingredients for success. Organizational values can shape teams daily to inspire higher customer service levels, enhance operational effectiveness, better team collaboration, and deliver quality. This greater ability to fulfill the stated mission provides high personal satisfaction and thus creates a more motivated team. Motivation is indeed a necessary component to achieving success in any fully functioning organization. Quite often the values of an organization are present but not clarified and defined. Stephen Kiesling (2000) quotes Richard Barrett,
“Organizations are living entities that share needs and motivations similar to those of individual people. The critical question is whether these corporate values are conscious, shared, and lived or unconscious and undiscussed. When corporate values remain unconscious and undiscussed, they tend to reflect the values of the leader, not the employees. The likely result: The creative potential of the employees is either crushed or they take it home to their hobbies and charities” (Kiesling, 2000, p. 37).
Duncan (2005) cites a Gallup study showing that “actively disengaged” employees cost the economy approximately US$355 billion dollars per year, and that almost 25 million U.S. workers are actively disengaged, resulting in roughly 86 million days of absence from work (n.p.). Kiesling continues, “What’s the bottom line performance difference between companies with fulfilled and unfulfilled employees? Citing a number of specific studies, Barrett has a number, 39%” (p. 37). Dearlove and Coomber (1999) reference Fredrick Reichfield, who estimates that the “disloyalty factor” from stakeholders, employers, shareholders, staff, and customers can cut performance and productivity by 50% (p. 10).
David Pendleton and Jennifer King define values as guiding principles for individuals and organizations (Pendleton & King, 2002). Charles Kerns proposes that the leader’s values contribute to attitudes resulting in behaviors (Kerns, 2004). Dave Logan and John King identify core values as “principles without which life wouldn’t be worth living” (Logan, King, & Wright, 2011, p. 181). According to Thomas Ambler, organizations that have identified three to six core values are more successful than those organizations who have not taken this action (Ambler, n.d). Studies of hundreds of companies have shown that higher functioning organizations build a high producing culture based on aligning values with day-to-day operations (Logan et al., 2011).
Project teams generally reflect the values of the creating organization; when the behaviors of the members of the project team align with organizational values, a successful project outcome increases (Ambler, n.d). Team members build credibility with customers when behavior is consistent with stated values (Kerns, 2004). Unfortunately, some organizations have stated values, yet have not implemented them in ongoing operations (Kaufman, 2005). A value failing to guide behavior reduces organizational productivity and adversely affects team culture (Kaufman, 2005). In 15 years of research, Kouzes and Posner (1995) link values to individual and team behaviors, such as ethical behavior, expectation clarity, solution innovation, and team collaboration. With core values in place, the project manager’s mindset inspires others to find the genius in others and honor their humanity.
Kuczmarski and Kuczmarski (1995) say that in order to define organizational values, management should actively involve the employee perspective. Every employee’s personal values contribute to the creation of the values of the organization. Exhibit 5 displays an effective values definition process.
With values woven into the culture, the effective leader can begin to shape working relationships by sharpening team focus on results and setting expectations for teammates. Specifically, the effective leader shifts the team relationship structure, creating triad work teams to produce results (Logan et al., 2011) using simple tools to sustain core-value awareness, plan interim deliverables, solve problems, and engage others in passionate debate.
“Leadership is not about changing ideas or gaining knowledge; it is about changing language and relationships” (Logan et al., 2011). Triad teams connect three stakeholders by common values and complementary skills, experiences, and opportunities where collaboration will produce a significant result. Self-sustaining triads will generate excitement and naturally attract the genius within others. World-class project managers form triads because they are matchmakers. Triad project conversations are always with at least two people, with the project manager primarily listening and deepening the relationship between the other two. Woven into the discussion are the values and gifts that make each person great. In short, level-five leaders create trusted relationships between people linked by mutual core values and beneficial abilities.
“Genuine success does not come from proclaiming our core values, but from consistently putting them into daily action” (Blanchard & O‘Connor, 2003). Using the six-step value definition process, project managers engage team member participation. Identifying a core value is an essential start; the dialogue creating action clarity is valuable. Specifically, listing bulleted points that clarify behaviors, in essence paraphrasing what that value is and is not. A team discussion about value boundaries facilitates understanding integrating values into daily action. For each value, identifying, and documenting a team story makes the value memorable and enriches team culture. The table in Exhibit 6 assists in creating value clarity.
Project managers know the planning cycle is continuous. During the project life cycle, quick planning and thorough planning appear at odds. Logan and King have created a “champagne glass” planning format, which helps leaders and teams rapidly develop plans for interim deliverables. This tool liberates a teams’ best thinking. Stating the desired outcome, identifying the deliverable, and any constraining resources such as dates, funds, or personnel begin the discussion. The next gate validates the outcome clarity. With outcome clarity, a team triad brainstorms available assets for projects. The next questions are the hurdles for the second gate, “Are the listed assets needed for producing the desired outcome,” and “Are these assets available?” With a YES answer, the next step is to determine the milestones and activities needed to achieving the outcome. This simple tool uses the power of team triads to align outcomes, assets, and actions.
World-class project managers liberate triads to use their best and most innovative thinking by creating a safe space for idea exchange, encouraging collaborative team solutions. A safe environment allows the project manager to set work quality expectations instead of personally dictating every solution. Equally important, the project manager invites team members to admit, share, and learn from mistakes. This blame-free “way of being” makes rapid learning cycles a team habit.
“Creative problem solving is a form of innovative learning.” (Bennis, 2009, p. 71) World-class project managers know how to create a culture where the passionate exchange of ideas is a standard procedure. Wiseman, (2010) states that defining the question and selecting the appropriate triad to assemble the data, sets the proper decision-making framework. Most important, level-five leaders spark debate by creating safety for incisive thinking while demanding rigorous thought processes. The cumulative effect, each team member is accountable for sound decision making and communicating the decision rationale. The seven-step problem-solving- process shown in Exhibit 8 helps keep the team focused and synchronized. During problem solving, a project manager’s responsibility is to ask the hard questions, verify the data are correct, and ignite a triad debate.
Kouzes & Posner (1995) wrote that leadership was not about a functional position of authority, but “…about having the courage and spirit to move from whatever place you’re in to make a significant difference…it’s about leadership and how ordinary people exercise it” (p. XX-XXI). World-class leaders commit to performance transformation. Transformation requires innovation. The key to innovation is for leaders to unleash the genius within ordinary people to produce extraordinary results. Level-five leaders engage with a mindset, which honors the humanity of others, avoids limiting assumptions, masters advanced skills, and creates a culture beyond “What’s in it for ME.” By embracing leadership beyond “me,” the world-class leader inspires others so the organization can flourish.
World-class leaders know that influence comes from their “way of being” while inviting integrity, accountability, and collaboration to become the team’s foundation. Staying out of “the box,” avoids self-betrayal and increases time spent on making work go right instead of constantly making corrections (Exhibit 9).
Limiting Assumptions Challenge
Project managers know the project difficulties caused by no authority and limited resources. Getting more out of assigned resources is an ongoing challenge. Project managers can construct world-class leadership mindset by changing thoughts and actions from a “ME-centric” orientation to an others-orientation. Wiseman’s (2010) multiplier thinking, summarized in Exhibit 10, accelerates team performance as project managers attract talent, encourage out of the box thinking, and promote passionate discussion.
Getting to Level-Five
Shifting from a project taskmaster to world-class leader is a continual improvement journey, which starts with an assessment of the brutal facts. After project managers complete the assessment, they build an action plan using enhanced soft skills as the foundation for growth. Project managers achieve equilibrium between technical and interpersonal skills by developing communication flexibility and a responsive “way of being.” Personal mindset stability is the springboard for advancing to levels four and five. As project managers spend more time helping things go right, compared with constantly making corrections, they can refine and simplify essential technical skills to teach and help others to learn.
Unfortunately, many project managers place a higher value on tasks, productivity, and outcomes than on relationships. This work only orientation lacks empathy, creates barriers, and invites defensiveness. The recommended reading list in Exhibit 11 explores the essential aspects for achieving interpersonal skill stability, a launching pad into a level-five leadership style. Goldsmith’s (2007) no-holds-barred review of the 20 transactional flaws performed against others provides an excellent departure point. Mersino (2007) clarifies the dangers of a low emotional quotient (EQ), whereas Losier’s Law of Connection (2007) helps understand how to improve sensory acuity to build rapport. The Platinum Rule puts into motion “Do unto others as they’d like done unto them” (Alessandra, 2008, p. 2). Goldsmith, Mersino, Losier, and Alessandra do the heavy prep work for building trust-based relationships by starting to shift a project manager’s orientation from the “ME-centric” viewpoint. Leadership and Self-Deception, (Arbinger, 2010) help a project manager to see how most communication failures and conflicts perpetuate self-deception, leading to breakdowns in trust, accountability, and collaboration. Most significantly, Arbinger provides practical strategies for getting and staying out of the box. Tribal Leadership (Logan et al., 2011) details the how to identify the stage of tribal development and some strategies to help a team evolve into higher levels of productivity as trust-based relationships create a more cohesive culture.
Warrior-leaders studying the martial arts often hear their Shensi admonish, “Go slow to go fast.” This saying is also true when establishing the mindset and interpersonal skill-base for level-five leadership. Incrementally mastering the mindset, interpersonal, and team skills layers adds depth and breadth to the project manager’s technical competency base, creating balance with leadership competencies. Each layer adds competencies to a project manager’s leadership capacity; to sustain personal performance continuous improvement becomes a life practice. Wiseman (2011) suggests an effective skill refinement strategy. World-class leaders periodically assess their mindset, interpersonal, and team skills; improve the lowest and take their highest to the next level. Exhibit 12, summarizes the steps identifies the suggested authors for consideration.
Call to Action
Executives passionately debate if leadership is learned or innate. Dr. Bruce Avolio, Director, Center for Leadership Studies posits in Psychology Today (Sep/Oct 1999; 32, 5; p.18),
After 50 years of collecting data on the topic, most psychologists believe that leadership qualities are innate or genetic and thus impossible to learn. Yet, my colleagues and I presented over a decade of research showing that leadership skills can be developed and mastered.
According to Bradberry & Greaves (2009), improving your EQ has a profound effect on your leadership skills, and Mersino (2007, Kindle Edition, Kindle Locations 152-153) states,
The good news about emotional intelligence is that no matter where you are now, most experts agree that you can improve your level of emotional intelligence. In fact, experts agree that you can continue to improve your level over the course of your life.
Building skills layer by layer creates synergy as project managers develop a world-class leader mindset, build core values, and use team tools to transform their competencies to accelerate organizational performance. The transformational journey beyond a “Me-centeredness” takes time—stay with it for a year. By forming a triad with other project managers, learning will deepen, resolve will strengthen, and team performance will accelerate.
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© 2010, Phil Bristol and Gary Yeatts
Originally published as a part of the 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas, TX