Leadership: Why Execution Alone Isn’t Enough

“Being social at work is a waste of time.” When I heard these words from a leader regarding their approach to working with people in the workplace, I instantly recognized it to be a commonly held view, notwithstanding that it’s rarely said with the same degree of bald clarity.

It’s the belief of those who are driven to deliver yet haven’t yet updated their approach from when they were a single contributor. That’s a problem for them and their organizations. Without strong, trusting relationships, success is only temporary and limited to when things are going well. Watch out for when situations become problematic.

I attended the opening of a major exhibition of Brian Jungen’s art, the ingenious visual artist known for eviscerating Nike sneakers to create colourful indigenous masks. When the museum’s CEO took the microphone, he shared that the exhibit was only possible because of the lengthy relationship between the curator and the artist. Museums trade on relationships just as much as they do knowledge and taste. The artist and museum’s interests may be mutually beneficial, but it might surprise you to learn that without longstanding trusting relationships, many exhibits wouldn’t have happened.

Just as in the art world, relationships in any workplace are the grease that makes the wheels turn. It’s the social linkages — not just hard work and a dogged determination — that make it all possible, even in situations of mutual benefit.

So why do so many get stuck making it all about “getting it done” with their heads down and their proverbial sleeves rolled up?

To answer that, you’d need to look at who gets promoted inside of workplaces. I’ve worked with leaders whose careers rose swiftly, principally because of their ability to execute brilliantly. It’s no small feat to build a reputation for getting things reliably done and on time. The trap for emerging leaders is that it’s easy to have a hard focus on delivering and forget the importance of relationship building because results are what many businesses value.

A client of mine in the biotech industry earned a reputation as a formidable producer. Nevertheless, she felt frustrated that the cross-functional teams weren’t working as well together as they could. With the focus on results and the expectation to collaborate too, the missing puzzle piece was the lack of strong interpersonal connections.

What’s more, speed in some cultures is the name of the game, and what gets lost is the need for deliberate trust-building across the silos. When mistakes happen, people get blamed. Rooting out who is at fault is the first priority rather than collaborating for problem-solving. This scientist came to see that she and her peers can have a positive impact on the team climate with greater availability and openness that would reduce persistent misunderstandings. The solution didn’t rely on process clarity alone, but on trust-building too.

Let me tell you a story. A fundraising campaign pitch for a youth leadership summer camp I attended as a young girl found its way to my inbox. I knew I wanted to contribute funds and revive an old community to enroll others to do the same. So I sent an email to three people from the greater community. I’m not a professional fundraiser, so I leaned on what I knew about people, relationships and getting results. Two said yes to the request and showed enthusiasm, a sign of commitment. I didn’t receive a reply from the third person, and he didn’t donate. That’s because trust and rapport had long disappeared with time. Whereas my email requests showed competence with the ask, that was table stakes. Rapport and a relationship were the difference between results and none. Social persuasion depends on a foundation of both to gain commitment that produces results.

Language gives us access to ways of thinking that may be hidden from us. With that in mind, here’s a helpful vocabulary and a list of useful approaches to get work done more effectively. Each is vital to good leadership.

  1. Take on social fluency. Engage and get proficient in interpersonal relationships that are mutually satisfying and that include give-and-take, trust, and the expression of compassion.
  2. Develop an affiliative leadership style. This is the approach to leadership where people come first. You do this by taking an active interest in the whole person, developing connections between you and between others, and doing what you can to create a harmonious climate.
  3. Lean into vulnerability. Admitting when you don’t know (but will find out) is a means of building trust. When I’ve coached leaders who have fudged the answers more than they should, they’ve learned from their multi-rater reports that in fact, others often knew they were pretending to “know” and it eroded their credibility. It’s amazing how winning it can be to show what you don’t know.
  4. Bring joy to it. Most of us have serious jobs, and people rely on us to do well. But being serious at work as a default without play and joy leads to disengagement on the team and a workforce that puts time in without feeling satisfied.
  5. Become more likeable. Yup, this can be learned. The way to grow your likeability is to be friendly, connect over shared interests, be genuine, ask questions of others and show empathy.

Leaders who rely on their expertise alone and make do with transactional relationships lose out on being included in the trust network. By seeking out social linkages, there is an opportunity to become a collaborative leader. These leaders know how to create a climate where people talk openly about mistakes and letting go of silos. Those who show strong managerial ability and foster quality connections create cohesion where there isn’t any and make genuine collaboration possible.

The key to creating a collaborative leadership culture is the shared belief in the mission, the expression of mutual support, and strong connectivity, a requisite for the practice of holding honest conversations. Executing alone doesn’t get you there, but the expressions of genuine relationship-building can.

Image creds go to Patrick Fore. This article was first published at Forbes.com here.


Five Useful Ways Leaders Use Stories

Few would disagree that, for leaders, telling stories is useful — or even necessary. We know that stories appeal to people’s emotions — they can spread easily and change people’s minds. That’s why it’s surprising that leaders use stories far less frequently than they could. Many leaders I talk with feel uncertain about the right time to tell a story in order to advance what they want to accomplish. That is one of the reaons why it comes up as often as it does with the executives and high potential leaders who I coach. With that in mind, here are the five top uses for storytelling along with examples. See if it opens up more ideas for where you can use stories.

  1. To Make Change Happen

A technology leader I coached had reason to think that his division’s initiative was losing stakeholder support. Nevertheless, his team was singularly focused on meeting the delivery date by hook or by crook. So, he planned a half-day off-site session to communicate the urgent message to help his team regroup. They had been running hard, and he worried that they would be distracted by the belief that being productive meant being back at work. He knew, too, that whatever he did at the start of the day would need to get their attention. What he did was interesting: He told a vivid story about a time in the company when a high-profile initiative was completed on schedule — but with costly mistakes and the loss of people’s credibility. Telling the story of this situation landed the way he hoped. With a new mindset, the team began to size up stakeholder support and created a plan about how to win it back.

  1. To Build Trust And Loyalty

Personal stories go a long way toward building rapport, because sharing yourself is a means for others to find what they have in common with you. But not everybody has learned to bring their whole self to work. For example, a CFO was asked to develop her executive presence. She was strong on communicating financials but hadn’t yet learned to inspire anyone with her vision of where sales could go. Feedback from her team consistently showed that they wanted her to be “less remote.” I helped her to appreciate that people needed to be inspired to take on bigger sales goals, and they needed to get to know her better. We talked through her life’s accomplishments, and she chose to tell her story of persevering at school while her dad was ill. Sharing this story not only modelled persistence in the face of difficulty, but it demonstrated her ability to be vulnerable over her need to look good.

  1. For Thought Leadership

A Director of Market Intelligence was asked to speak on a panel about people development. She was unsure of how to maximize the opportunity without just offering tips. We had already identified the value of gaining greater visibility for her thought leadership as a goal that would accelerate her career. Once she talked through her views of what she looked for when hiring talent and what she did to boost her team members’ careers, we found she could easily flesh out her examples into stories. The thought leadership came easily by locating the philosophies that guide her decisions about people development.

  1. To Influence Decision Making

Our stories can move people, particularly to influence them in their decision making. When a bank wanted to grow talent across the enterprise, it began a pilot mentoring program. It envisioned senior executives mentoring more junior talent from a function outside of their own. But how could they get the executives to agree to mentor in spite of their busy schedules? Their strategy was to meet one-on-one and invite each executive to share a story recounting their own early experience of being mentored. Remembering these stories generated desire to give to others what they had received. It triggered generativity, and the numbers of participating executives exceeded expectations.

  1. To Unify Across Differences

The Canadian national team of a multinational hospitality company had a new senior leadership team, and employees began to feel they were on shaky ground. Legacy employees feared their hard work would be overlooked, and newer employees worried they weren’t getting the respect they deserved from their colleagues. The company’s leadership wanted to bridge the divide, and I was invited to work with them to make it happen. On the day, everyone participated in mapping a timeline of the company’s presence in Canada through their stories. Newer employees found empathy and compassion listening to war stories about how others managed without must-have resources. The legacy employees listened to stories of why newer hires chose to work at the company. Each group was surprised by what they heard, and it broadened everyone’s perspective.

Leaders can often use little nudges. Stories are undoubtedly ubiquitous, and that’s part of the challenge. Sometimes we need to remind leaders that stories can be a tool used to accomplish many different goals.

A version of this post first appeared on Forbes.com.

Photo credit: Joel Filipe

Five Ways For Leaders To Pitch Persuasively

I watched 10 women semi-finalists, all leaders of early-stage companies, present their innovations to a stellar jury at the Women in Cleantech Challenge, a pitching competition in Toronto with roots in San Francisco. Women are underrepresented in the energy field and in cleantech in particular. That was the reason for a targeted accelerator program and the opportunity to earn a jackpot of $1 million down the road. Though these leaders were pitching to win entry to an incubator, what we learn from them can apply equally to any change you are promoting in your organization.

One of the most important leadership skills you can develop is influence, and we can learn a lot about influence from savvy entrepreneurs who deliver pitch presentations. These presentations often take place under high stakes and with little time to sway the outcome. Entrepreneurs pitch to get money from investors, secure partners of all types and land customers who ask for orders. Particularly in the early stages of developing their business idea, they revise and hone their presentations frequently, well before they reach the stage of commercialization.

Here are the five keys to a persuasive pitch:

Start Strong

Many people start with the urgency of a problem followed by an invitation to imagine the impact if the problem was solved. Or they start with something about themselves and their background that earns them credibility right off the bat. Both can be powerful but the key is to grab attention quickly. However you start, begin bold and strong, and consider doing the unorthodox.

One entrepreneur worked against predictability by introducing herself and then surprising us by sharing her age, 22, which elicited a hush of momentary disbelief from the several hundred onlookers. She proceeded to describe the challenge and her business idea to create a sustainable method of cleaning up oil spills with science and business solutions, delivering it with passion and succeeding in winning people over. By then no one could judge her as too young or without credibility, she had proven herself and inspired awe in the audience.

Prepare Yet Improve

Most people will tell you to prepare but there’s a caveat here that’s often overlooked. You can over prepare in ways that aren’t helpful. We all feel the need to memorize our content when there’s a lot at stake. I admit that this is something that I’ve done with mixed results because I went too far to ‘get it right’. The best presentations happen when you are solid in knowing your content but you leave yourself the freedom to improvise. A robotic presentation delivery, pacing the stage getting through your lines, and working hard to remember your script means you are reciting. Make sure you resist over-rehearsing so that your presentations aren’t stale. Not surprisingly, my clients often raise the question about when is ‘too much’. I tell them that when you are bored of giving your presentation in rehearsing it is when you’ll know. Then it’s time to breath new life into it.

Make It Personal

When entrepreneur Amanda Hall presented an innovative means of resource extraction to create a sustainable source of green lithium for batteries used in electric cars, she showed a cheeky glam portrait of herself leaning against a Tesla near the finish. Her message had been that electric cars are coming, and that’s positive, but we don’t want to risk depending on dirty lithium mining and extraction without a green solution. When she flashed the photo she was signaling that we can feel good about electric cars when we solve the lithium challenge. She then let us know that the car wasn’t hers, it was her landlord’s “who’s clearly charging me too much in rent”. Keeping it light and making yourself relatable worked for her as it will work for you.

Show Don’t Only Tell

You’ve heard the maxim ‘show don’t tell’ for writers, right? It’s equally true for storytellers. We believe it more when we see it with our own eyes. That was the effect when Julia Angus played a video clip of a prototype of her solar-POWERED ocean monitoring boat navigating the waters, and when Luna Yu reached into her pocket and held up a high-quality biodegradable plastic that she invented to show proof of concept. Again, showing something makes an impression when you are selling your vision.

Frame the New With What We Already Know

When Luna told us the origin story of how she used the family rice cooker for early experiments converting organic waste to energy when she couldn’t afford expensive bioreactors, and then scaled up her DIY operation in her garage, it rang a familiar bell. Many know of the personal computer revolution starting in several wiz kids’ garages in Palo Alto in the 1960’s and the 1980’s. Pointing to something familiar when facing a high-risk opportunity is reassuring and it inspires. See what tropes, anecdotes, stories, processes, services or products are similar enough to the thing you want to see happen and refer to it. It will lessen the perceived risk in people’s minds.

Whether or not your strength is presenting, it’s vital to communicate persuasively. Looking at how these entrepreneurs are tackling the world’s toughest environmental challenges there’s a lot to master to present well, and like anything you want to excel at, it takes doing a lot of that thing. And here’s some good news. All the contenders referred to in this article were among the finalists. They were persuasive. Congratulations to them and lucky us.

Photo credit: Thank you to Lane Jackman

A version of this article appeared at Forbes.com on October 15, 2018




You say you want open debate and disagreement

Creating a climate where people speak out even when there is agreement is something many leaders say they want. A measure of group and team effectiveness is how it approaches diverse points of view. I find it surprising that I haven’t yet seen a team assessment or a leadership competency model that includes the courage to disagree in the face of agreement as a measure of team productivity. It’s sorely missing. The closest we come to it in organizations is the measure of valuing diverse views, but that isn’t quite the same thing. And it isn’t about generating buy-in either: that is easily achieved by complying. So how do you support an environment that is open to dissent? Consider telling a story.

Just today I coached an executive who was looking to create a vulnerable climate in a group so that no one holds back their ideas or disagreements. My client said he knew plenty of classic b-school stories but he acknowledged that these stories were well known and that re-telling them wouldn’t likely move the dial. Greater rapport building was among his chief development goals so we dove in to search and shape a story of his own that would produce the results he wanted for his team, the business and ultimately, the culture. A story in the recent past where he contradicted agreement in the room provided an example of the positive result that was the consequence of his contribution.

Reversing the train by speaking up

One of my current favourite stories of disagreement comes from the political world during a recent US primary election campaign that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waged in the district that covers the Bronx and parts of Queens NY. You don’t have to follow politics or live in the US to enjoy the story. There was a lot at stake. With the present decline of democracy in the US, the strong distrust in government institutions, persistent polarization and many disenfranchised people who don’t vote or vote contrary to their interests, another victory for her long-seated Congressional opponent would have meant no change and would have generated greater cynicism about politics. This candidate’s platform was different and what she needed were ways to transmit her non-traditional message. Alexandria faced a formidable opponent in her own party, is only 28, unknown, and this was her first political campaign.

When the design studio began the work on creating her visual identity (campaign signs, logo, etc.) they went back in time to research civil rights movements to learn about how others successfully communicated a candidate promoting great change. Just a few days before their finished design was going to press, someone spoke out that what they had created had to be scrapped. It just didn’t resonate in a powerful way. So they started over and their brand new design went to press. The result, like Obama’s hope poster in 2008 by the artist Shepard Fairey, did the job and helped Alexandria win the primary by bringing out the vote even from those who had traditionally stopped voting. Speaking up to nix the design and recommend starting again seemed crazy so close to the print date. But that’s what was needed and that’s what worked.

One way leaders can support the groups and teams we work with to contribute is by coaching people on the skills of dissent. There are people around us who may want to disagree, but who don’t know how and fear embarrassment, uncertain how their view will be received. At the other end of the spectrum, I once asked someone I worked with how she tempers her persistent tendency to question with a concern about being perceived as too negative and it turned out that she wasn’t aware that it was a risk and hadn’t noticed the impact on others.

Here’s what to keep in mind

This list of tips is as useful for the hesitant and cautious as it is for the outspoken:

  • Get out of your way. It’s not about you. Keep your higher objective in mind and let that fuel your courage to disagree and guide you in thetiming of when to do it.
  • Ask a question rather than be oppositional. Become skilled at influencing and negotiating gently and firmly without raising the heat.
  • State what you agree on. And then present your concerns.
  • Call out the ‘sunken cost’ principle when it’s at play so that the group can review it and change direction.  (sunken cost: continuing down the road even though there is evidence that you need to pivot)
  • Build on what’s being said. Show you are listening and taking other’s views into consideration.
  • An effective way of influencing is to tell compelling stories.

The reason you as a leader invited others to the meeting is because of the contributions they can make and the value they can add. Don’t just tell people you want them to speak up and disagree, coach them on the skills to do it and acknowledge them when they do.

Receiving praise: we often shut it out

Leaders aren’t perfect. One common challenge is accepting acknowledgements and praise. I discovered early on that from time to time I had a cynical view about people’s motives when they offered words of appreciation. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I recognized that I had many experiences where I viewed praise as a disingenuous tactic meant to get something from someone else. Perhaps you can relate to that, or maybe you feel undeserving, or you have a belief that you don’t ‘need’ recognition to do a good job, or that you don’t see the reason to praise others because the duty of performing work should be satisfaction enough.

There hasn’t been a leadership program I’ve been a part of that hasn’t addressed recognition as a leadership imperative when working with people. Yet we haven’t moved our point of view to learn what we can about how we receive appreciation from others, and from what I’ve observed, most of us aren’t great at it. Accepting praise so that it ‘goes to work on us’ in positive ways is important because it gets to the heart of people development and creates a culture of learning. We are modelling an attitude one way or another. Appreciating that giving praise is central to causing leadership in others may be more or less widespread if not underutilized, but accepting it when it’s offered is an undervalued art. Let’s start with the 2 types of recognition.

Appreciation as a connective and transformative tissue

By appreciating with praise, we connect by letting someone know that what they did mattered and how. Leaders do this to inspire and develop others by lifting them as they climb. Acknowledging is different. It can be a tool for transformation because you are recognizing not what they’ve done but who they are and that is what makes it far more powerful. It creates a new future for someone to live into. By way of example, when I was a consultant in a Big 4 firm, long before I was a coach who started a business of my own, I was surprised to be told by my manager that I was a talented presenter and seller with potential. Although I enjoyed doing both, I was unaware that this is how I was seen. That moment was big for me. From then on I saw myself as a presenter and a business developer and it was the start of defining myself in new ways that had a positive impact on the long view of my career.

So if the rewards are clear, what gets in the way of taking recognition in? In my many years of coaching leaders, one of the reasons I’ve found is that we can spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others instead of to ourselves and so we feel undeserving against a high yardstick. Misunderstanding humility is also a reason. Leaders who are humble don’t think less of themselves, they concern themselves with others and take care of themselves. And if we apply a gender lens, women can come up short with our own high standards, reluctant to take credit or embarrassed to be seen as potentially self-promoting.

My Turnaround Story

I learned a lot about accepting appreciation from a watershed experience some years ago when my plan to offer well deserved praise to someone special didn’t go at all the way I expected. When I was 12 my parents were in a terrible car accident and my favourite teacher took me in to live with her family while my parents were convalescing. Decades later, I was moved to search her out and thank her for her extraordinary kindness. I adored her as my favourite teacher before this act of generosity, and I regretted not having the opportunity to show my appreciation. It took many unsuccessful phone calls until I found her. She answered on the 2nd ring, I identified myself and quickly confirmed that she was my former teacher from the 6th grade. She told me that she had only taught at my school for one year, something I didn’t know and it made her generous act feel even more special that I had received it. I sensed her nervousness, and I also felt my own as I explained the reason for my call. I thanked her for taking me in, which was met with silence from her. We moved on. I waited until the right moment and thanked her a 2nd time and she met my appreciation with a deflection. This time I knew for certain that the change of topic was deliberate. It was on the 3rd try when she listened to my offering and accepted it. The call turned out to be a crucible moment for me for reasons I didn’t expect.

The sting of feeling my acknowledgement pushed aside, no matter what the reason, was a powerful lesson about the importance of refining how I received appreciation from others. Since then, I’ve been able to respond to acknowledgements by receiving the message given to me more fully, although I’m not perfect. I learned much later that success on our goals holds for a time until the goal post moves, and the goal post continues to move! Then there’s simply more growth possible. It’s not a burden, just part of a life worth living. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but receiving – or taking if you prefer, is a generous act in its own right. Think about it for yourself. Are you receiving praise and acknowledgement in a way that respects the offering and promotes your own self growth and models it for others?


Differentiation: Retail Lux

I’m a flaneur, a florid word that describes an urban explorer who enjoys walking long distances. On my urban pedestrian travels for some time now I’ve noted the number of empty stores in my home city of Toronto that remain without a tenant for long periods. Recently, an IT executive told me just how impressed he was with Amazon Prime’s home delivery service on a Saturday morning after ordering a large portable hard drive for his home use online just the afternoon before. With this sort of convenience becoming commonplace, it’s no wonder that there are fewer stores in our cities so the question becomes what’s coming next?

Water with your book?

With online shopping gaining more popularity I’ve been noticing what stores are doing to compete. The expansion taking place at the commercial real estate intersection of Bloor & Bay signals a trend. The Manulife building is undergoing a $100M renovation. In this challenging retail climate, the owners are delivering more luxury as their solution to how to get people to leave their homes. Some are out to deliver an experience that will draw us in to shop and the bar for novelty is getting higher. Take the Indigo bookstore at the same location, for example. Sitting here on a Saturday morning, the place is busy despite the fact that half of the store is closed for renovations and they are a successful online retailer. I’m curious if people are here for the extra loyalty points that in-person shopping affords from time to time? The piano player certainly adds to the atmosphere. The vanquish of independent retail bookshops is hardly news, but for the large-scale victor here in Canada, Indigo Books, sustaining their lead is what matters now. As with any industry, the colossal disruptor isn’t immune to disruption itself. What we are learning is that when a company stops being the disruptor it gets disrupted.

What’s the concern with retail? Some point to the emergence of the internet and others argue that it’s because of an oversupplied marketplace. Regardless of your view, the pressure is fierce to meet and exceed customer expectations. What’s planned for this bookstore is extraordinary. An ample kitchen for cookbook authors to perform demos, a water bar, early morning access to the Starbucks located in the store, a harvest table for book clubs, book engravings and adult gift wrapping. Wait. A water bar?! Keen to learn more, I enquired with the young woman at the counter about the changes and I was told “It’s because you are a fancy person.” I bristled a little. Ok, I thought to myself, I am? I guess so. Clearly the shopper profile of Indigo at Manulife is fancy folk enjoying fancy digs and unique services. And they want to fancy it up more. Make no mistake, this store isn’t going down this posh road alone. Toronto was ranked in the top 10 cities in the world last year for luxury store openings. The plan is to have the bookstore fit in with the building’s new image as an urban hotspot with lots more new retail shops. (More retail stores!)

As for me, if the featured changes in the bookstore are appealing, I’ll go back to shop. Maybe I’ll stay for a cooking demo or participate in a book club discussion and meet other readers. I won’t forfeit going to my local funky book reseller either, or my local neighbourhood library renovated in the shape of a single family dwelling house (the library’s own response to disruption). And I’ll shop online when I want to. Convenience is important, but not always. I admit that I enjoy it all. I, like the younger demographics after me, mostly like to spend money on experiences I value over products I want to own. That too is part of the presenting challenge for retailers. It won’t be long into the future until we learn if people will enjoy getting excited about interacting with human-sized robots introduced in stores as sales associates and product recommenders to get us out of the house and into the store.


Networks: How to cross boundaries

It’s likely that you, just like pretty much all of us, have a story of working on a time intensive initiative only to learn that it was already done by another division or group long ago. That “D’oh” moment could have been avoided if someone from your group consulted with other people across divisions. There is no shortage of boundaries in organizational life. Think function, expertise, level, geography, demographics, and sectors. Conversations with others across one or more of those divides would likely have brought to light what the people in your silo didn’t know. What’s more, research tells us what my own experience working with leaders in multiple industries over the length of a career has borne out. That a great majority of leaders at every level recognize that it’s critical to manage across groups and teams, although very few view themselves as effective in this way. Managing across means generating commitment for direction and securing alignment across relevant boundaries. There are also other reasons to promote connectivity with individuals across in and outside of your organization. Insular networks can miss innovation opportunities. They lose out on fresh ideas and the detection of early signs of trends, and risk overextending into areas where they know little. Closed groups are also deaf to how they are perceived by others. So it begs the question – since we stand to gain when boundaries are crossed, what’s in the way of bridging across divisions?

On being closed.

First we need to recognize that there are, not surprisingly, reasons for closed groups. Individuals enjoy high trust where they converge about their interests and shared views. In the walled gardens I know, engagement among members is high and the safety among them enables people to speak plainly with one another and push to realize greater outcomes. Specialization too plays a role in keeping closed networks persistent. There are many sectors that have a history of isolated clusters shaped by professional specialization. Each area has its own jargon, customs and behaviours, developing under its own historic forces. Many individuals work very hard to overcome the challenges that surface in interprofessional work. And then there are the challenges that organizational structures present that keep closed groups intact, not least of which is the hierarchical design where the traditional focus is to manage up and down, with less attention from leaders to manage across.

So what can you do?

Here are a few strategies for you to consider to span boundaries that address a gap.

Face your own competency traps.

Herminia Ibarra, professor of Leadership and Learning at INSEAD, calls competency traps those things we enjoy doing because we are so good at them, but that keep us from learning new things because we perceive it as too costly. We have a choice of either resisting or selecting to move from the fast well-trodden lane of competence to the slower learning lane where we have more room to grow. Staying comfortable with the people we know and trust won’t bring us differentiated strategic solutions or the benefits of unity that coordination can bring, only moving between lanes will.

Examine your group from the inside and out.

As a group member, look at it from the outside in and ask if your group’s defined boundaries of work responsibilities are clear to others outside making it easy to be invited to be consulted or collaborate? Further, are there ways in which your group can make learning about other groups routine? Viewing your own groups in this way may reveal opportunities for greater group definition and differentiation that make connecting across divisions far more attractive and easy.

Look further beyond your operational network.            

Organizational players pay attention to getting the job done. Heads down and sleeves up, they are busy managing daily pressures. Without a mindset to carve out time to build relationships with others beyond the day to day operations, leaders miss out on peripheral informational flow and the insights of emerging trends that are available from a broader network. It’s not possible to create a viable strategic plan that looks out to the future without drawing information from social connections outside the organization.

Take action and find common ground.

If you are looking to cross any of the divisions of functional lines, expertise, level, geography or whatever the boundary, first identify the decision makers, key opinion leaders and those in the periphery that might have been hidden from your view. Get curious. Introduce yourself. Offer to meet. Forge a common ground by which to begin to build your relationship. Value from those with a different area of specialization or a different industry or sector can come fast or it may arrive more slowly needing your patience.

In either case, the role of the boundary spanner is critical and is valued by organizations. Linking across boundaries is the start of informative exchanges that will build trust and dividends over time. It’s useful too for your own learning, for decision-making, and for personal growth to get support from people not directly involved in your work. It’s a good idea to start by defining your network goals and setting a plan to broaden your social network before you think you need to because like many things in life, its value grows over time when you give it attention.

Why Some Resist Collaborating Across Silos (it’s not what you think)

We’ve had a love-hate relationship with silos. How else can we explain their persistence? Silos can be nasty. Unchecked, they promote narrow thinking, duplication, and poor coordination. They can be interminably slow, and frequently contribute to poor alignment and accountability challenges.

One of the reasons for their endurance is that they benefit people. They add an appearance of control and certainty in a world of ambiguity. And they also add closeness and trust in our working lives. Silos fulfill our desire for a sense of belonging because we share a good deal with others who are with us in our silo, and if things are working as they should, high trust relationships develop. To make silos work far better, we know that collaborating across boundaries to coordinate efforts, solve problems and build networks is vital for higher quality integrated solutions and alignment. The overall benefits are that the organization adapts, performs and innovates. Yet for some, reaching out to others they do not know is a risk.

The Unpersuadables

There is something at work that is more visible today than even a year ago in this disruptive global political landscape. It’s about a particular mindset. It comes down to whether or not we feel that we can influence others. Not everyone is open to being influenced, and this can create a logjam. It stands to reason (and borne out by research) that those who have a fixed view about the non-persuadability of others are themselves unwilling to change their minds, and so likely to engage less in discussion and debate. Think about that for a moment. Those who hold this mindset are motivated to initiate engagement only if they feel it’s an opportunity to advance their views by standing up for them, but they don’t seek out opportunities to engage if they expect that others will try to change their mind.

It’s indisputable that influencing is a leadership competency. You can’t lead if you don’t have the tools to persuade others to come along. Yet people who believe that they and others have fixed attitudes and ideas that can’t be influenced are naturally more likely to be pessimistic about collaborating. All leaders want to persuade and influence. What’s surprising is that there are some who are unaware that they are perceived as un-persuadable by those who work with them. They are motivated to have others hear their view and strengthen and protect it. Clearly this is problematic for individuals, teams and organizations.

Merging Lanes

As a refreshing alternative to this problem of positionality, Give & Get for enterprise, a unique reciprocity circle, is a means of bringing people together across silos for mutual gain. In it we engage people by asking for their input and we circumvent the snag that positionality presents. There isn’t the opportunity to defend or push a viewpoint because it’s not the design or the intention. We also make it easy to cooperate with others by curating an independent group of participants instead of hoping people will seek others out with a view that is different than their own. And we connect and inspire by exposing participants to reciprocation where they get immediate evidence of how everyone benefits when people share. Reciprocity is among the oldest of human needs and it’s difficult to resist.

Working with those for whom ideas are entrenched is difficult because they see the world in terms of right and wrong. And they themselves miss out by forfeiting opportunities to influence others and truly lead. It’s a lose-lose game for everyone. Give & Get enables those with this mindset to join others and experience mutual interest as an approach in action. At the heart of it, one positive contribution is met in kind with another and this pulls everyone in without leaving anyone out. Reciprocity makes it possible for collaborative relationships to happen as a natural follow up of a person’s initial actions of generous giving. Further, it offers the opportunity to influence far more than one’s own initiatives and to be part of something bigger.

We have a lot at stake in this age of disruption where there’s an urgent need for innovation fuelling our interest in interdependencies over compliance, collaboration over autonomy, diversity of thought over siloed thinking, experimentation over perfection, and agility over predictability. We can increase the appetite for collaboration if we curate Give & Gets with the right individuals across the organization to promote inclusion and make it convenient, enjoyable and effective to influence and be influenced. It’s how we connect silos. The kind between groups and the mental kinds of our own making based on our beliefs about belief itself.