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Leadership Skills Series 3: Handling Difficult People

This is the third in my Leadership Skills series to help Leaders assess where they need to develop their people skills. In my last Post I introduced the research-based model that led to many useful insights into how to create and manage effective meetings. I covered the impact of Filter and Amplifier meetings which were the names the researchers coined to distinguish the different ways in which ideas or proposals were managed. This Post focuses on people who are difficult for many to handle or feel comfortable with, and you may be one of these people under certain circumstances.

Typically, you will work with one of these people who naturally behave this way and, in certain situations you may change the way you behave, often without realizing it.

How do you recognize you are dealing with one of these mysterious people?

Let’s look at one aspect of behavior – Reacting. It’s a group of behaviors you can choose to use; each of which when used repeatedly will have certain effects on the people you interact with, for better or worse. Let’s take the first of the Reacting Group – Supporting someone’s ideas or position – what’s your most likely response?

Supportive, likable…I guess

Yes that’s right.  Secondly, there is Disagreeing with someone’s ideas or position. How are you likely to feel?

Well, I could see them as negative if they are aggressive or defensive…

That’s interesting….funnily enough people don’t see people who are high in disagreeing as necessarily negative, because they are rational, and seen as more objective…if they stick to a person’s proposals or ideas and do NOT focus on the person themselves. If they do  get defensive or aggressive they are not disagreeing, they are Defending/Attacking. No surprise there about how such emotional people are viewed by colleagues and family members, for that matter.

OK, so who’s this mystery person… high “disagreer,” or defend/attacker?

Neither, this person is called the LOW REACTOR; they use lower levels of all three behaviors in both their verbal and non-verbal behavior, they show very little reaction to others

So, they are very quiet individuals..right?

Not necessarily. They may, for example, have high levels of Initiating and/or Clarifying behaviors. The only thing they avoid is Reacting.

Why is this Low Reactor a problem?

They give very little feedback about whether they approve of points you present. This tends to make people feel uneasy and people tend to handle them ineffectively. For example, even experienced sales people find it difficult to make their case convincingly when they are faced with somebody whose lack of response makes it hard to judge. One salesperson summed up the difference between high “disagreers” and low reactors.

“You know where you stand with someone who is prepared to disagree. What makes it hard with the Low Reactor is that he doesn’t’ even disagree!”

Some research to back up this comment was presented in the famous Xerox Research Project in the late 70’s  (Neil Rackham, Simon Bailey & Linda Marsh, Huthwaite Research Group), one element of which looked at this very point. The researchers showed that while high “disagreers” are harder to sell to, the hardest to sell were the Low Reactors.

How much different were sales people’s success rates?

It was quite striking. The researchers looked at calls which advanced to the next stage or a deal was signed. For average reactors, salespeople were successful in about 11 out of 20 sales, where selling to high “disagreers”  only 8 out of 20, and finally, Low Reactors only 3 out of 20 sales.

That’s a big difference…did they find out why selling to Low Reactors was so difficult?

It turns out that there are Five Common Traps people tend to fall into when trying to persuade a LOW REACTOR. Let’s see if you have experienced any of these…

Ok Go ahead… I am sure I have fallen into at least one and not realized it

That’s an excellent point…most people don’t know what’s happening to them … other than this person seems awkward to deal with.

Trap 1  – Losing Control Over Your Speaking Pace

Because people lose confidence in front of Low Reactors they do one of two things, either they talk faster to get to something that will spark interest or they run out of things to say due to the lack of reaction. For example, sellers’ normal speech rate was 119 words per minute (wpm) where it was 138 wpm when selling to Low Reactors and the number of pauses, or “umms” more than doubled. In fact, the number of redundant words significantly increased as well, like “Well, you see…what I meant to say…”

I bet this doesn’t apply just to sales situations?

Quite right, job interviews are another good example of finding Low Reactors – more situational – Interviewers know they are not supposed to support or disagree.

Fascinating, what’s the second trap?

Trap 2: Losing Sequence During Presentations

This was common in any situations where someone needs to make a verbal presentation. If either the decision maker or Leader is a LOW REACTOR or they are evaluating and making a big decision presenters will tend to jump around or lose sequence. In a study of 23 leaders, presenters “back tracking” occurred over 50% more often and “jumping the Gun” occurred 3 times as often.

What’s the Third Trap?

Trap 3: Over-Reacting. (Over-stating to get a reaction)

This is the most common and most dangerous trap to fall into. In a study of twenty-eight trade union officials and their management counterparts researchers actually observed real life labor negotiations and listened for emotionally charged statements.  The differences were stark when the low reactor was on either side of the negotiation table – nearly 50% more emotionally charged statements were made.

In another study of salespeople, selling to LOW REACTORS led to a drop in factual statements and overstatements went up from 4% average to 13% with LOW REACTORS also untruths went to 3% from 1%.

Well it confirms that sellers do lie on occasions..doesn’t it?

Yes, BUT, so does the general population…some of the time.

OK… two more to go,…what’s number 4?


The Five Traps

Trap 4: Asking Fewer Questions Than Usual.

Asking more questions is usually a good thing to do with LOW REACTORS to find out where you are if nothing else! Especially; “How do you feel about this point?” Unfortunately 80% of people say they should ask more questions yet only 30% actually do. In one sample of 196 sellers questions fell by one-third to one half.

What’s the fifth trap?

Trap 5: Giving Too Much Information

For example, in selection interviews, law courts and other places where low reaction is normal, people often come away having given a great deal more information than they wanted to. In one study, sales people gave 50% more feature statements to LOW REACTORS.

Do we all fall into these traps?

No. Some people are more susceptible than others.

The 5 Traps: Your likelihood to fall into them

1 Pace 10-15%

2 Sequence 25-30%

3 Over Reacting/Stating 55-60%

4 Fewer Questions – 75%-80%

5 Blah,blah, blah (Talk too much)  75%-80%

What proportion of the population are LOW REACTORS?

That’s difficult to say considering factors like ethnicity and cultural differences – e.g. Scandinavians vs. Italians. What the researchers indicated is that the bigger the decision someone makes the more likely that their reaction levels will be lower. For example, in selling larger sized machines researchers found that LOW REACTOR levels rose from 18% to 46% and when people were making a decision for someone else Low Reacting goes from 16% to 47%.

How do you define Low Reactors?

Typically researchers found that Reacting Behaviors less than 10% of all behaviors identified a LOW REACTOR.But it’s clouded by reaction levels being higher in one-to-one situations, so for groups the number is 7%, and the other problem is with those people who just don’t say much at all.

What is the significance for Leaders?

Let’s look at how leaders could actually set up their people to fail (placing these traps in their way unintentionally). If you are not aware of how your reaction levels drop, and under what circumstances they drop, you can set up your people for progressive confidence loss. Are you a natural LOW REACTOR anyway? It is natural for many leaders, as they rise up the corporate ladder, to learn that reacting either in support or disagreement too quickly can create risks. So, many senior leaders exhibit the “keeping your cards close to your chest” behavior.

Your Low Reacting behavior can deplete your peoples’ confidence and create risk avoidance in their behavior. This can result in lower levels of informal communication, especially from junior staff members. The point is that Leaders may not want to lower their reactions with their people too often. For example:

Can you imagine leaders lowering their reaction levels during big presentations? Given the above traps, less experienced people might suffer a confidence loss and start to think you are disagreeing with them, when in fact you are thinking things through.

How are you going to set and manage team expectations to avoid – or at least manage – falling into one of the above traps?

Think about your expectations when people are preparing next year’s first round budget presentation. How apprehensive were they last time? How did this detract from an effective process and the team’s engagement?

How can you set expectations to improve this process?

For example, you might say:

“I expect that you will give me feedback on the impact of my behavior when making big decisions.” (How are you setting yourself up for unintended Low Reacting?)

“At the end of this meeting we will agree to expectations that I have of you and what you expect from me.”

“Before we start budget planning I expect people to come to a review meeting to assess how effectively the process and people’s preparation helped or hindered during that first round?”

Given that Low Reaction levels will occur, how can you help your people feel more comfortable?

Brief your people when you know your reaction levels are likely to fall. If several subordinates are presenting, it can be helpful to ensure certain reactions are planned. For example, say something like:

“I expect team members to give feedback directed at the expectations we set in the Review meeting…”

“I expect that all feedback will focus on the evidence presented and not how it was presented.”

“I expect that all proposals put forward during presentations are not rejected or accepted immediately.” (We owe it to the presenter to seek to understand and try to help their ideas come to fruition.”)

What Conclusion Can We Draw?

Low reacting levels are normal and often more situational, rather than an indicator of a person’s preferred behavioral style. As a leader, it is within your control to set expectations to avoid and/or manage the negative impact of such behavior.

Low reacting can be turned to advantage, forcing ideas to be fully explored before people react. It also facilitates a sense of team by encouraging Building rather than Reacting Behavior.

What can you do about this situation?

Madness can be defined as “doing what you have always done, yet expecting different results.” So, what expectations do you now have for yourself in terms of managing your reaction levels?

Doing different things is about “purposeful practice” and then getting feedback from others, What mechanisms or structures do you have in place to do this?  How are you going to restructure major interactions with your staff to lower their chance of falling into traps?

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

E-mail I Web I Linkedin

© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leadership Skills Series 2: Developing Profitable Ideas

Now That’s Viable!

This the second in my series to help leaders assess their interactive skills. In my last blog I introduced the research based model that led to many useful insights into what the more effective communicators do in different settings and focused on what happens when meetings become imbalanced by getting stuck in too much Initiating, Reacting or Clarifying.

In this blog I want to get readers thinking about getting more productive meetings i.e. generating more commercially viable ideas to compete and improve.

What type of research was involved to develop these models?

I want to focus on two key Initiating Behaviors and their relationship to meeting success, namely

  • Proposing – putting forward ideas, suggestions courses of action
  • Building – sounds like a proposal, which extends or develops another person’s proposal

The difference between them is the Proposing is an independent idea and Building must be dependent on another person’s idea.

What I want readers to think about is the proportion of these two behaviors in their meetings  at work, church etc. and how it influences meeting outcome.

So, I am assuming that you would need to consider both the quantity and quality of ideas put forward?

That’s an excellent point. The research looked at the sort of Initiating going on and could it be more effective.

The research was based on 23 working teams to see if there was a connection between effective performance and Initiating Behavior. The teams were mostly research and project teams. We established their levels of effectiveness against three criteria:

  1. The number of ideas brought to management’s attention
  2. The number of ideas accepted for implementation
  3. The estimated commercial payoff

The results clearly showed that these three criteria were significantly related to the ratio of proposing and building behavior. The more building, the better the performance

Sounds like “Building is a good thing!”

Unfortunately, like so many simple conclusions it is only partly true.Studies of other groups that were efficient and effective used no building at all.

Why should it prove to be a strong predictor in some situations and not others?

It puzzled us until we started to look at how a group deals with ideas. Groups seemed to take two very different approaches by either focusing on Proposing or Building.

We first looked at groups that were very much higher in Proposing Behavior and used little if any Building. Here’s a typical sequence

  1. First person puts forward the first idea (P1)
  2. Others don’t like it and it gets rejected (DS)
  3. On the next agenda item another idea is put forward and then countered by another person.(P2/P3)
  4. The second and third ideas are considered and the group likes the third idea.(P3 +SP)
  5. A change of topic and another idea is not fully accepted e.g. buy five machines gets reduced to 3 machines.(P4> p4)

So, What’s happening to how this group handles ideas?

It sounds like ideas would not be fully considered before being either accepted or rejected?

That could be true if the ideas were complex and impactful. But your description is accurate, this group either filters or reduces the number of proposals – FILTER MEETING

Because of the low level of building, proposals are not develop by others. They are either accepted, rejected or reduced.

Too many people think that all meetings should focus on building on each others’ ideas. However, Filter meetings can be incredibly efficient and effective where management has too many ideas already and needs to pare down and get focus on doing something.

So, how do you judge when a filter meeting is not the right way to go in handling ideas?

Essentially it comes down to four negative impacts:

1.  Ownership and the Win-Lose Problem
Defensive – clinging to own ideas and not listening
with politicking occurring before, during and after the meeting.

2.  Lack of Integration

3.  Lack of Commitment and Motivation

4.  Problem of Self-Reinforcement – filtering gets ingrained into regular meetings.

In fact, in one case study a group was observed over six meetings. In meeting 1, there were 24 Proposals (PR’s) to 20 Building (BU’s) but by meeting 6, Proposals were up to 39 with no Building!

It illustrated for us why there are so many Filter meetings in commercial life and so few meetings with High Building Behaviors. Such meetings which are high on Building and low on Proposing deal with Initiating very differently. The Key is that several people contributed to the final idea by Building on one another’s proposal – so an idea was AMPLIFIED – Thus we use the term Amplifier Meeting

I think I would rather be in that sort of meeting, what did participants say differently from those in the Filter Meetings?

Well, the impact on participants is very different.

1.  There’s a sense of excitement. In Filter meeting the range of possibilities is known before the meeting and the outcome if often predictable. Whereas in an Amplifier Meeting outcome are frequently unexpected and ideas are developed dynamically.

2.  There is increased commitment to action. “It’s our idea!”

3.  There is increased quality as ideas are more full bodied and thought through as they harness all the group’s resources.

How did they judge quality of ideas?

There was a panel of independent judge’s assessed the commercial viability of ideas. They found that in Amplifier Groups  there were over twice as many high quality ideas as in the Filter Group.

Of course Amplifier meeting do take more time and a lack of structure

How do you get out of the Filter Rut and get an Amplifier Meeting going?

Well, what I do, which seems to work most of the time:

1.  Choose an issue where nobody has fixed preconceptions

2.  Give no advanced warning or agenda of the issue

3.  Stop the Meeting after the first proposal

4.  Encourage Building

5.  Dealing with Criticism

6.  Not moving on too soon

How do you know when you have a Filter vs. Amplifier Meeting?

It turns out that comes down to ratios of Proposing to Building Behaviors. When you find there are two proposals for each Build(2:1+ PR:BU) it identifies an Amplifier Meeting. Whereas when Proposals to Building Ratio is (4+:1 PR:BU) you have a Filter Meeting

In their research how frequently do the different meetings occur?

Out of 312 meetings observed:

  • 78% Filter
  • 4% Amplifier
  • 18% Neither one or the other

Overall, we questioned the need for more Amplifier meetings. At a perceptual level, post meeting questionnaires revealed that:

Filter meetings were perceived as:

  • Efficient
  • Competitive
  • Organized

Amplifier Meetings were perceived as:

  • Creative
  • Exciting
  • Participative
  • Useful
  • Committed to meeting outcome
  • Better Quality of Decisions

So, How do you decide when to have a Filter or Amplifier Meeting?

Filter is on

A Filter Meeting is needed when you:

1.  Need to reduce the many choices for action available

2.  Have to work to tight time constraints

3.  Do not need individual commitment for successful implementation

An Amplifier Meeting is needed when you:

1.  Need to create solutions where no predetermined alternatives exist

2.  Need individual Commitment for success

3.  Need high quality solutions

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

E-mail I Web I Linkedin

© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leadership Skills Series: 1. Developing Profitable Ideas in Meetings

Getting People on the Same Page

During the last 6 months I have been coaching different professionals in how to reduce project costs and delays. This got me thinking about the last few blogs. The theme has been Aligning People for Change – coping with the economic turbulence we live in today. So, I got to thinking about practical tools that most leaders can use to “Talk Their Talk”. When there is a lot of uncertainty and turbulence leaders need to “up their game by communicating better and more effectively.

This is the start of a series on developing leaders behavioral Skills. It is based on my 11 years with Huthwaite Research Group where we used research based models to develop groups and leaders effective communication skills including:

  • Developing effective solutions
  • Negotiating
  • Selling
  • Facilitating

In this Blog, I want to start with a core leadership skill – Developing Commercially Viable Ideas in Meetings

What type of research was involved to develop these models?

All these models and subsequent research projects are based on a large scale research project in the late 60’s

(Warr, P. B., Bird, M. and Rackham, N., The Evaluation of Management Training, Gower, 1970, Rackham, N. and Morgan, T., Behaviour Analysis in Training, McGraw-Hill, 1977. Rackham, N. et al., Developing Interactive Skills, Wellens, 1971.) to develop a truly descriptive and useful system for classifying

behavior. This long and tedious process considered many potential categories. The researchers finally concluded that a practical list of categories could be produced if the selected behaviors met 5 basics criteria. They were:

1. Measured accurately

2. Easy to understand

3. Distinct from other categories

4. Change how often it is used

5. Related to effective performance

What sort of things did they come up with?


Initiating behaviors are proposals or suggestions to the group that call for action. After all, a discussion has got to start somewhere. New proposals and an addition to a proposal are both examples of initiating. There are two initiating behaviors: Proposing and Building.

Proposing brings forth a new suggestion, proposal, or course of action (e.g. “I suggest that we organize the project into five modules.”.

Building takes the form of a proposal, but actually extends or further develops a proposal made by another person (e.g. “…and your plan would be even better if we added a scroll bar at the edge of the window.”)

Since initial proposals are often not the final solution, building is effective in producing an alternative or revised plan.


The Blame Game

Reacting behaviors involve the affirmation of or objection to a person, his/her opinions, or an issue. There are three reacting behaviors: Supporting, Disagreeing, and Defending/Attacking.

Supporting is a behavior that makes a conscious and direct declaration of agreement with or supports for another person, or his/her concepts and opinions (e.g. “I like Sandra’s idea bestor “This sounds good”). Generally, this behavior builds cohesion and momentum.

Disagreeing is the direct objection to another person’s opinions or ideas. Disagreeing is an issue-oriented behavior (e.g. “Your third point is counter to regulation 10.3.3…” or “What you’re suggesting just won’t work as the impeller will overheat). This behavior is normal in a discussion and needed to use the full resources of the group to get to an effective idea.

.Defending/Attacking entails attacking a person directly or by acting defensively. This behavior is people-oriented, and involves value judgments and emotional overtones (i.e. “That’s stupid!” or “Don’t blame me; it’s not my fault. It’s John’s responsibility.”). Defending and Attacking will only bring unhappiness and plenty of tension to the group. There are better ways of handling a discussion. If you are being verbally attacked, try not to play into the instigator’s hands by shouting back. Instead try to speak rationally and direct the discussion to the issue at hand rather than playing the Blame Game”.


Clarifying behaviors attempt to clarify an individual’s or group’s understanding of the issues. Exchanging information  and summarizing are involved in clarification. There are four behaviors;

  • Testing Understanding,
  • Summarizing,
  • Seeking Information,
  • Giving Information.

Testing Understanding seeks to establish whether or not an earlier contribution has been understood by the individual. It differs from seeking information in that it is an attempt to ensure agreement or consensus of some kind, and refers to a prior question or issue (i.e. “Can I take it that we all now agree on our tasks assignments for this week?”). This behavior is similar to Summarizing, but takes the form of a question.

Summarizing restates the content of previous discussions or events in a compact form. This behavior can be useful to ensure that the entire group is up to date with events that have transpired (e.g. “So far we have agreed that John will finish module A, while Maria and I begin module B.”). This will insure that you and the rest of the group have a clear understanding…

Seeking Information seeks facts, opinions, or clarification from another person pertaining to a proposal (i.e. “Can anyone tell me which page this is on?” and “What test routine will you use?”). This behavior ensures that you are up to date with the topic of discussion. If you have questions, ask them as soon as possible (i.e. don’t leave questions until the night before the project is due).

Giving Information offers facts, opinions or clarification to a proposal (e.g. “The new system is easier to operate.” and “I’m worried about missing the deadline.”). Feedback is always appreciated even if it is not always positive.

Process Behaviors

Process behaviors entail the obstruction of or opening up of the discussion process to group members. Bringing In and Shutting Out are the two behaviors that constitute Process Behaviors.

Bringing In invites views or opinions from a member of the group who is not actively participating in the discussion (i.e. “Lee, what is your opinion on the layout of the User’s Manual?”). This behavior may introduce some refreshing new ideas from a shy or reserved team member.

Shutting Out excludes another person or reduces their opportunity to contribute. Interruption is the most common form of shutting out (e.g.  “David, what do you think?” Eric replies: “I think…” — Eric has interrupted David and shut him out of the conversation). This behavior may seem harmless, but if it occurs too much it can be felt as disrespectful and can deny others the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

How was this research used to in finding better ways to run meetings?

It turns out effective meetings showed that all three main behavior groups were present in a balanced way. They found that once a group became locked into using one or two of these major classes the results they produced were impaired. Here are some Case Studies

Meeting Case Studies

Here are some groups and their meetings that were either high or low in Initiating, Reacting or Clarifying?

High on Initiating

  • Too many ideas and ideas to handle
  • Lack of attention to detail – “up in the clouds” feeling

Group Case Research team in Chemical Industry

Problem – On surface seemed very creative, innumerable ideas. Management asked for reducing severe dust problems in one of their plants. First meeting came up with 14 viable methods. As this was urgent they reported – Production Director said “OK,which one?” After 5 subsequent meetings they had not reached a decision and generated 6 new ideas!!!

High on Reacting

  • Becomes emotional
  • Misunderstandings become more frequent
  • People take sides – entrenched

Group Case: Shop Stewards in Manufacturing

Problem – Coping with changes in the economic climate. Management started taking a more consultative approach by letting people in advance of potential change. Previously they reacted to Management proposals e.g. wages, benefits etc. They couldn’t get out their traditional mold. They left Initiating to management and were low in clarifying which led to more misunderstandings and became more emotional.

High on Clarifying

  • Very time consuming
  • Obsession with minor details
  • Feels like “swimming in syrup”

Group Case – British Civil Servants

Problem – They became bogged down in the meaning of the meaning. Consequently, 90% behavior was clarifying. Their Initiating Behaviors was

so low that they became stuck in minor detail. This was

Booged Down

compounded by low levels of reacting behavior so no one knew who supported or disagreed with other group members.

That’s the high side of the problem, what happens when you get groups that are low on these three areas?

Low on Initiating

  • Backward looking
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Undue attention to detailed analysis

Group Case: Production Control Committee in the Engineering Industry.

Problem: Representatives from Production, QC, Maintenance, Industrial Engineering and Production Planning had jobs which overlapped so that when problems came up there were disputes as to who was blame.

“We seem to be very good at dissecting situations and finding who is to blame. Perhaps we should be spending some time finding ways to prevent things occurring in the first place”

Low on Reacting

  • Tendency for Repetition
  • People withhold important information
  • Awkward and forced

Group Case: Systems Analysts presenting proposals to a group of staff members

Problem: The Systems Analysts came up with lots of proposals for change i.e. High Initiating. As a result Staff became nervous about these proposals and heightened by their use of technical jargon. So they were high in Clarifying and did not make any commitments. The Analysts Reacting already low levels dropped and gave more detail i.e. they were classic Low Reactors so the confusion continued. This is typical of specialists meeting decision makers and most know the discomfort of presenting to decision makers

Low Clarifying

  • Meeting becomes disorganized
  • Hasty decisions are made
  • People cannot agree afterwards on what has been decided

Group: New York Advertising Agency

Problem: This active & dynamic group responded to a client brief with everyone talking at once. There were loads of ideas, plenty of excitement and enthusiasm i.e. extremely high Initiating Behaviors. Also, they were high in Reacting Behaviors with a chorus of approval or disapproval and consequently very low Clarifying Behaviors. So confusion reigned. At the end they were asked to write what had been agreed. There were no two versions that were the same. Later further research showed people leaving a meeting could have an average of 5 misunderstandings per person.

What can we learn from these case studies in terms of where we are in this recession?

Leaders know that meetings are inherently expensive and today there isn’t time to tolerate the sort of problems illustrated. Leaders need to hold themselves accountable to managing meetings so that;

1.  Initiating, Reacting and Clarifying Behaviors must be present and balanced if meetings are to be successful.

2.  They are alert to the impact of High or Low Reacting seriously impairs productivity

3.  They recognize that different meetings have very different needs, so what works for problem diagnosis will not work for evaluating a production plan

4.  Some Meetings need to be high on one of the three – although you need to be cautious of High Clarifying. Leaders have to question if a meeting is the most productive use of meeting where there is High – Information Exchange

In the rest of the series we will cover specific skills that help leaders achieve these goals

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

E-mail I Web I Linkedin

© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Leadership Challenges in Turbulent Times

Leadership Turbulence

It’s a statement of the obvious ….. We live in turbulent times… I got to thinking what are the challenges of leadership in the times we are living in. Some years ago I noted this quote:

Business is now so complex and difficult, the survival of the firm is so hazardous, in an environment increasingly unpredictable, competitive and fraught with danger, that their continued existence depends on the day-to-day mobilization of everyone’s intelligence” (Konosuke Matushita, founder of Matsushita Electric)

It struck a chord…to mobilize everyone’s intelligence… for regular readers you will recognize a theme in our work at PDS…releasing and focusing people is still a crucial ingredient to survival and sustained sucess

So, my focus this month is the Leadership Challenges in Turbulent Times

What’s the core to these challenges that leaders face….it’s Bravery…

Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.
(Omar N Bradley)

The first step “walk and talk – – – the same talk” constantlyAlignment between attitude, philosophy and actions is key!  Such consistency is hard to find, particularly since producing a payoff in change is often more about emotion and intuition than it is about analysis and logic.  Where’s the bravery you ask? Try making emotional and intuitive decisions which may or may not be born out by analysis and logic!

Yet I like, Peter Senge’s viewpoint:

“high levels of mastery….leaders cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, any more than they would choose to walk on one leg and see with one eye”

It’s that outward calm of seeing a swan glide across the water, yet below the water line…furious paddling..

It’s about not losing your head while those around you are running around like chickens with their heads cut off…..what are we going to d!….what are we going to do!

The bravery comes to challenge how your company operates, its implicit beliefs and philosophies (e.g., The unspoken creed…once in automotive always in automotive).  Your culture can create its own distractions which interfere with what seems right, intuitive and obvious.   Many times, discussing this tension is repressed so that “we don’t take our eye off-the-ball,” or so we don’t offend others.  Consequently, leaders often focus on the seemingly “urgent” and let the critical issues slide.   They take refuge in “safe” financial performance targets that can’t be easily disputed.  These targets rarely support desired behaviors or intuitive outcomes.

Yet there are automotive dependent manufacturers in West Michigan that are wondering how to “keep it shiny side up!”

So in this fog of war, where do leaders look to  survival?

If you look at successful companies, they have varied strategies, structures and systems.  However, their leaders do have something in common.  They share surprisingly consistent philosophies.

These successful leaders have moved away from over reliance on very formal ways of running their organizations (like articulating strategies, building structures and developing systems).  They have moved toward using more organic ways of managing (like engaging people in defining a purpose, implementing through necessary and defined processes and developing people).

So what does this point out?  It goes to the root of why so many change initiatives fail (60% +) even after overdosing on business re-engineering and other scientific management techniques.  Many Leaders manage what is easy to manage (like managing numbers and not people).  They’ve been trained in the scientific disciplines.  They forget they are managing an “organism.”  They dismiss the small and gradual steps associated with real change for grandiose strategies

So, let’s put this into perspective.  Successful leaders recognize that an organization’s purpose is more important than short-term outcomes.  Why?  Outcomes change – their purpose does not!  Their focus is on how they can create committed members of a purposeful organization.  Putting purpose above outcomes, allowing new improved outcomes to take precedence and promoting different things to be done takes bravery.

Why is bravery so important?

It takes bravery for leaders and executives to address seven critical challenges.  Without question, addressing them is about not acquiescing to “legacy tendencies” but about incorporating “what now works” into the development of “tomorrow’s legacies”!  Bravery is about doing “different things,” not about making excuses as to why you can’t do different things.

Getting above the white noise of excuses is not for the faint hearted….getting up with clamor of resistances and fear

Where do we start with these challenges? Is there a sequence or are they inter-related?

They are interelated but a logical place to start is:

1. Embedding Purpose

Is your purpose Ill-defined or Conceptual Clear, well articulated & translated?

So, you’ve written and articulated the corporate purpose!  But, do the troops actually understand what this means to their everyday behavior and actions?  So often the organization states its purpose without regard as to whether or not it has created any ownership in that purpose.

Essential Questions:

  • How will you gain widespread organizational support for your purpose?
  • How will you ensure new activities, actions and behaviors invigorate your purpose?
  • How will you ensure your expectations are aligned with what people assume is expected of them?

2:  Removing Distractions

Are your distractions unidentified or well identified and managed?

There are always distractions that deflect an organization from its “appointed” tasks.  If these distractions go unidentified, they grow stronger. Distractions don’t just miraculously disappear. The longer they last the more they clog corporate arteries. Executives need to lead the “charge” in identifying and eliminating distractions.

Essential Questions:

  • How will you convince people to dismiss actions, operations and processes which stimulate doing old things?
  • How can you eliminate duplicate processes and reports that slow the organization down?
  • Who will oversee the distraction-elimination process; and, what authority will they have?

I can see how that would help but does this really get over the fog of war that we face today?

Not unless you integrate it with the next challenge…

3:  Aligning Organizational Expectations

Are you expectations unstated or defused or well focused & aligned?

Over and over again, employees say, “I wish someone had told me exactly what was expected.” Have you ever considered that others’ assumptions of “what is expected” might be counter productive to your purpose or outcomes? Are people doing what you expect or what they think you expect?

Essential Questions:

  • What are the key components that reveal your organization’s direction and success?
  • How will you translate these words into actions, competencies and behaviors that can be managed?
  • How will you measure the degree of alignment with your purpose, and what evidence of alignment are you looking for?

Doesn’t this demand more from a leader than just stating the facts?

Yes. It’s about lt’s making clearer emotional connections. It’s alarming how one individual can undermine a change simply by being out of touch with intuition and empathy.  One of the most overlooked yet common ways leaders fail, albeit unintentionally, is not to express appropriately, candidly and consistently what we feel as well as what we think. This is known as unintentionally ambiguous behavior. It gives mixed messages and next to aggressive behavior, ambiguous behavior can cause the most tension between leaders and others. (Adapted from Robert Cooper’s book, Executive EQ).

What is the context for well focused & aligned exepectations?

4  Creating Differentiation

How vulnerable are you to being seen as “same-o,same-o” or clearly differentiated from your competition?

If you feel like you’re the same in the marketplace, odds are that’s how the customer sees you.  As a leader, you are responsible for creating a climate of differentiation.

Essential Questions:

  • How will you ensure that customer contact people and others connect with one another to develop differentiable approaches?
  • How will you measure the degree and profitability of differentiation?
  • How will you leverage differentiation to lead your market place?

I can see how these first four create a platform for success…but how do leaders get this to stick and not just be another “flash in the pan”

5:  Coaching

How would you describe the coaching process in your organization…Isolated  or Cascaded

We know, we know …. your people coach!  The real question is, do your people coach with the right intensity and frequency to replicate successful behaviors? Or, is coaching infrequent, informal and isolated?

Essential Questions:

  • What will you do as a leader to establish your coaching cascade?
  • What is the right intensity and frequency of coaching needed under present competitive conditions?
  • How will you know that coaching is effective?

6:  Replicating Success

How reliant are you on using Lagging Indicators as opposed to Leading Indicators?

The words, “best practice” seems to have permeated the corporate world.  Your people undoubtedly have their own practices of choice, honed by years of personal experience.   Often corporate rewards go to these people rather than to those who demonstrate the “best practices” that everyone can adopt and benefit from.

Essential Questions:

  • What will your real best practices look like?
  • How will you tie best practices to behaviors which can be evidenced and replicated without alienating the productive “lone rangers?”
  • How will you use your “language of leaders” to make managing easier and more measurable?

7:  Rewarding Change

To waht extent does your reward system reflect what worked in the past rather then being liagned with your current direction?

If the recognition and reward systems of your company run on the “legacies of past success” it will only encourage doing things differently, not “doing different things!”   To change, you need to consistently reward the new behaviors, not the “reward legacies” of the past.

It’s like traning people to use the longbow,used in the Middle Ages as a weapon of war.A trained army archer could shoot upwards of ten to twelve arrows in one minute, making him the world’s first “machine gun” in some ways. Today how ever, the fastest rate of fire a 36 barrell Prototype mini gun, and can shoot 1,000,000 rounds per minute

Essential Questions:

  • What proportion of people’s compensation should be tied to adopting the new behaviors?
  • How will you measure and reward those who support your purpose?
  • How will you “raise the bar” so that over time people demonstrate excellence in the new behaviors?

Where do you go from here?

Ensure that your “walk and talk” are consistent.  This relates to your language, how you reward excellence, how you coach and how you react when things go wrong!  Bravery means displaying an attitude of distinction.

Create a cascade of conversation and coaching that gets above the “white noise” of legacy…..that’s doing different things!

Align the expectations of the organization. Bravery is found in exposing misalignments and distractions for immediate correction.

Tip of the Blog

Look at your team/colleagues…whose up for a fight

“He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words”

(St. Crispen’s Day Speech William Shakespeare, 1599)

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

E-mail I Web I Linkedin

© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Have you got your Change Shoes on? –

Now, that’s a change shoe!

Sustainable change is based on leaders having a radical vision and building a pathway to that vision one step at a time.

Just as you wear a pair of shoes, this change walk has the left shoe – radical, right shoe gradual –  Radical Gradualism

That got me to pose this question:

“What is the glue that holds an organization together while it goes through change?”

Relationships – the golden triangle of your people, your customers and your partners.So, that’s the pathway today – creating and holding on to that human glue that produces success

“Where’s the evidence to support your track this month?”The answer seems obvious…but…why is this facet of business becoming more important?

Traditional rationalization and cost cutting strategies fail too often – too many business turnaround failures. These traditional approaches, which are predicated upon cost efficiencies, have left companies demoralized, distracted and less productive.

If you look at the data – pure light

Successful leaders transform their organizations doing several things, like:

  • Building closer relationships with customers while harnessing human talent to deliver greater customer satisfaction: HP’s competitive strategy vs. IBM Mini Computers
  • Leveraging internal resident talent and expertise to resolve business problems and capitalize on opportunities: 3M Post-It Note
  • Fostering a climate that results in personal ownership for doing what’s needed:  HSBC’s Customer First Change Process in the UK
  • Devolving responsibility to groups and teams create a project based organization: Volvo pioneered work cells – one team-one car
  • Raising the importance of individual and organizational learning, ensuring learning and working are integrated: KPMG link learning to career progression
  • Secure changes in attitudes and behavior: Fred Smith, FedEx “Anywhere,Overnight, Guaranteed”

“In the military, leadership means getting a group of people to subordinate their individual desires and ambitions for the achievement of organizational goals. And good leadership has very measurable effects on a company’s bottom line.”

My call to action: Challenge your attitudes, values and your behavior. They are the sole of your change shoes, rather than just focusing on your technology, products and services – all of which can be copied.

Some would say that other things like the right “goto” market strategy with the right distribution channels etc. So, have we got a chicken and egg situation like what comes first

People or Process or Structure?

Good point, but consider this: the days of ready, aim, fire have long gone, it’s been ready, fire, aim for some time. Few startups succeed – e.g. new restaurants close before their first anniversary. The change paradox is this “hurry slowly” – radical gradualism is a simple concept rigorously implemented

Let’s put it another way: At least three separate disciplines drew essentially the same conclusions about change and project management:

WYSIWYG-( What you see is what you get) is no longer reality. It’s IWKIWISI (I’ll Know it When I see It!) that reflects our world today

Like a lot of what you say seems common sense…why don’t more companies take this approach…?

Many factors….one telling fact  is that average age of senior executives while falling is between 46-50 yo.So, they graduated between 1978 – 1982….Who had a laptop let alone a cell phone? At that time business schools still held on to a Fortune 500 view of the world and seeing the world through the lens of the Harvard Business Review. Let me ask you – What percentage of businesses is of this size in West Michigan? – Not many. So, the enculturation of managers was still “ready, aim, fire”

Bosses are turning still turn a deaf ear…Bosses are ignoring a wealth of creative ideas from
their employees

  • 1:4 people believe that they are never listened to by superiors
  • Among older people the proportion rises to nearly 1:2!
  • 1:4 never been asked by their bosses for their opinion or actively encouraged to offer up ideas, no matter their length of service.
  • 1:2 Canadians surveyed believe that their companies use half or less of their brain power
  • Surveys – NOP Survey 1000 (London & South East) & “Report on Business” Magazine Dec 1998)

Do you see this trend getting worse?


Employees want bosses to listen better

In the Leadership Digest, in 2006 – While employees gave their bosses “high marks” in a recent study of worker satisfaction, staff still suggested areas for improvement:

  • 43% want bosses to use their employees’ skills and abilities better.
  • More than 35 % want the boss to step in more often to resolve conflicts.
  • Just over 25 % wish bosses would ask for their ideas and listen more readily.

So, it depends on how business leaders react. Let me explain, based on James Brian Quinn, Philip Anderson, Sydney Finkelstein,with rare exceptions, productivity lies more in intellectual and systems capabilities than say raw materials, land, plant, and equipment. Intellectual and information processes create most of the value-added for firms in the large service industries–like software, medical care, communications, and education–which provide 79 percent of all jobs and 76 percent of all U.S. GNP.

In manufacturing as well, intellectual activities–like R&D, process design, product design, logistics, marketing, marketing research, systems management, or technological innovation–generate the real value-add. McKinsey & Co. estimates that by the year 2010, 85 percent of all jobs in America and 80 percent of those in Europe will be knowledge-based. Yet few managers have systematically attacked the issues of developing, leveraging, and measuring the intellectual capabilities of their organizations.

What are the other pitfalls in creating this service based economy and how does it relate to relationship development?

The more knowledge workers, the flatter the organization which impacts the style of leadership and how wealth transitions from one generation to the other or to new owners. This economy is and will become more dynamic.

Can you explain what you mean wealth transition?

Dynamic = more transitions – buying and selling, merging acquiring. But, What gets missed? Capital is no longer about bricks and mortar – it’s Human Capital

So, what challenges does this present? What can you do to build value in these circumstances?

The greater reliance on human capital for valuing an organization the more PE firms, M & A need to look at tools to assess the real value. This means doing the obvious things of doing inventories of the people, their skills, competence and certifications, where needed to redress findings like:

  • Only 1  in 10 can consistently achieve their Strategy’s  full potential
  • Non-Financial Factors valued most by investors
    • Strategy Execution
    • Management Credibility
    • Innovativeness

What are the main things executives have to do better?

Fulfills others: Take risks, trust each other, take  proactive approach that we will work together on solving problems, share considerable confidence in their own and others abilities, have enthusiasm for their jobs.

Providing effective feedback is one of a manager’s most important tasks; it’s also one of the most difficult. Here’s a six-step model, proposed by Jack Stahl, current CEO of Revlon and former president of Coca-Cola, to facilitate feedback and make it more effective.

  1. Value the individual. Begin by affirming what the employee contributes to your organization. Be sincere and thorough. This step is critical because it frames the conversation.
  2. Ask the person to identify his/her biggest challenges. Ask the employee to assess his/her performance, including both strengths and challenges. This will help you pinpoint areas for targeted coaching.
  3. Provide targeted feedback. Give specific examples of behaviors to change.
  4. Agree on areas to develop for the future. The objective here is to focus the individual’s development and encourage him/her to practice specific new skills. You could also point him/her to training opportunities.
  5. Agree on the benefits of improving and the consequences of not improving. This step is designed to fuel the employee’s motivation to improve or change.
  6. Commit your support and reaffirm the person’s value. “When people feel valued, they can hear difficult feedback without being demoralized by it.”

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

E-mail I Web I Linkedin

© Copyright All Rights Reserved, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds, [2010-2012]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage and Walk the Talk – A Blog for Agile Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.