How to unlock human potential   

100 years.

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of my grandfather founding our predecessor firm. 

What can we do to build and sustain an organization for the long haul?

Focus on workplace culture, Fred Kofman writes in his brilliant book Conscious Business.

It begins with leadership. Fred tells us the strongest determinant of an effective, healthy culture is conscious leadership. The most efficient way for an organization to improve is to develop consciousness in its top managers.

Conscious leaders create conditions where associates can realize their potential and blossom as professionals and as human beings: “Nothing is more vital for exceptional performance than conscious management,” writes Fred.

What happens when conscious managers fully commit their energy to the organization’s goals?

Magic.

This energy creates an environment where associates are encouraged to “investigate the world with rigorous scientific reasoning and to reflect on their role in it with equally rigorous moral reasoning,” Fred writes. “They are invited to contemplate their own selves, finding what it means to live with virtue, meaning and happiness. 

“They are also asked to think of their colleagues as human beings, rather than ‘human resources.’ 

“Finally, they are required to understand their customers, offering them products and services that support their growth and well-being.” 

Being conscious means we take responsibility for their lives, Fred explains.  We don’t compromise human values for material success.  We speak truthfully and listen to others with honesty and respect.  We follow through on our commitments and seek creative solutions when disagreements occur.  We are in touch with our emotions and express them productively.

Unconscious associates do the opposite.  They claim to always be right, blame others when challenges arise, and seek immediate gratification regardless of ethics. 

“Conscious employees are an organization’s most important asset,” writes Fred. “Unconscious employees are its most dangerous liability.”

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Reflection: Reflect on the overall level of workplace engagement at my organization.  Where are the biggest areas of opportunity?

Action:  Journal my answer to the question above.

What’s wrong with wanting to be right?

I currently have the privilege of participating in the Stagen Leadership Academy’s Advanced Leadership Program.  The name of the program is “The Dragon’s Gap” which refers to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.  Each of us in the program is encouraged to embark on our own hero’s journey.  The first step is “the call to adventure.”

In the Stagen program, we are assigned a coach who we meet with once a month to talk about our progress.  I had shared with my coach one of my goals for the year is to be more intentional about savoring life.  He asked: “What gets in the way?”  I shared with him my natural tendency is toward achievement.  I like to set goals and achieve them.  Then, it’s on to the next goal.  So, I explained I’m focusing on slowing down and appreciating each moment.  

“What else,” he asked.

Another thought appeared: “My desire to be right.”  

Ouch.   

Slowing down and “smelling the roses” was my default response.  This insight cut deeper.

It struck me in many situations, I show up already knowing the answer.  My unstated goal is to “win the conversation.”  To persuade others I’m right.  Worse, because of my title (CEO), I can get my way.  Whether my path is the best option, or not.

I think I “disguise” this desire to be right fairly well.  Or, maybe not.  Either way, it struck me I was on to something.  

So, one of my goals for next year is to change my default setting from “persuade others I am right” to “seek to understand.”  

The timing is good.  First, I’m getting married tonight!  Being a loving husband is one of my highest aims in life.  Being curious about what Carey is thinking and feeling sounds like fun.  

I’m also dad to three daughters, ages 24, 13, and 12.  As my youngest girls enter their teenage years, seeking to understand their perspective as opposed to demanding my way sounds like an effective parenting strategy.  

In my professional world, we are experiencing tremendous growth.  Creating more space for others to share their ideas and views is a smart move on many levels.  It certainly creates an environment where people are encouraged to “unlock human potential,” one of our five core values at PCI.

In his book Conscious Business, Fred Kofman observes he’s been in many business meetings where the sole purpose is to obscure the truth.  There are rewards for those who go along.  Not so much for those who “rock the boat.”   

“The problem is not that someone thinks differently,” writes Fred.  “The problem is that somebody thinks that he is right and anybody who doesn’t think like him must be wrong.  Thus the ‘different ones’ become enemies to eliminate.  Instead of seeing the alternative view as a valuable perspective that can be integrated, power-hungry individuals take it to be a stumbling block.  Not surprisingly, they don’t want to waste their time engaging with it in dialogue.  They simply want to get rid of it by any means and move on.”

When this type of thinking really takes hold, the consequences are dire.  

“Without a commitment to the truth, individuals and groups are prone to degenerating into manic delusions,” writes Fred. “Everyone receives tranquilizing information while leaders trumpet the importance of ‘positive thinking’ and ‘being a team player.’  This makes it seem as if ‘we are winning’ until the last possible moment, when it is announced that the project has failed, the division will be sold off, the company is going under.” 

We have a choice to make, Jordan Peterson has observed.  We can make friends with “the things we know” or “the things we don’t know.”  

We are inclined to choose the first path.  

But the rewards of traveling the second path are immense.  Not only are there many more things we don’t know, but what we don’t know is the origin of all our new knowledge.  When we travel on this road, we are on a quest, always looking for new information on the chance that someone who doesn’t agree with us will tell us something we could not have figured out on our own.  

This is a completely different (and exciting) way of living our lives.  

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Reflection: What is the level of dialog within my team?  Do people feel comfortable challenging ideas?

Action:  Lead a discussion at an upcoming team meeting about the importance of sharing different opinions and perspectives.

How does a great leader earn the trust and respect of their team?

In his book Conscious Business, Fred Kofman explains there are two requirements to answer the question above:

1: Demonstrate the necessary cognitive and technical competence.  To clarify, earning trust is not about leaders showing we can do the jobs of those on our teams.  Rather, we must show we can do our job – i.e. managerial functions such as selecting the right people, assigning tasks appropriately, and providing the context for how our work fits together in pursuit of our goals.

2: Holds everyone accountable for holding everyone else accountable.  Including us as managers.  

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Reflection:  Am I satisfied with the level of trust and respect on my team?

Action:  Discuss Fred Kofman’s ideas about the nature of trust and accountability at an upcoming team meeting. 

It starts with our front line managers

“I love molecules,” explains Marcus.  “You apply a certain amount of heat and a certain amount of pressure and you know exactly what is going to happen.  At the start of my career I did great with molecules.  But now I work with people.  People are unpredictable.  You apply a certain amount of heat and a certain amount of pressure, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Yesterday, we began our exploration of Fred Kofman‘s book Conscious Business.  Fred tells us that front line management is the single greatest leverage point to creating better, more engaged organizations.

Senior leadership can provide an inspiring vision and solid strategy but it is front-line managers who determine the everyday world of our team members. Only conscious managers can elicit associate engagement.

As their careers evolve and they take on more responsibility, managers like Marcus stumble and fall.  

Why?  

Success in business requires working with human beings.  Many managers fail to make the transition from the operational requirements of the lower rungs of the corporate ladder to the leadership requirements of the higher ones.  

Fred’s book outlines the basic principles and skills needed to help us work with people while honoring their conscious nature. These concepts are valuable for anyone, but especially so for those of us who manage and lead others.

“Talented employees need great managers,” write Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in First, Break All the Rules, which was based on more than 80,000 manager interviews by the Gallup Organization.  “The talented employee may join a company because of it charismatic leaders, its generous benefits and its world class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with this immediate supervisor.”

Mindset matters.

“If management views workers not as valuable, unique individuals but as tools to be discarded when no longer needed,” writes Fred quoting Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “then employees will also regard the firm as nothing more than a machine for issuing paychecks, with no other value or meaning.  Under such conditions it is difficult to do a good job, let alone to enjoy one’s work.” 

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Reflection: What is the level of engagement of my team?  

Action:  Read Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business.

Unlocking the Black Box of Level 5 Leadership

In Jim Collins‘ classic book Good to Great he identifies a group of average companies that make a quantum leap and become extraordinary.  

These eleven companies demonstrated spectacular results, beating the overall stock market by 6.9 times for a minimum of 15 years.  Walgreens, for example, had bumped along as a very average company, tracking the general market for forty years.  Then, in 1975, Walgreens started increasing in value.  From 1975 until 2000, every $1 invested in Walgreens beat $1 invested in tech superstar Intel by nearly two times, Coca-Cola by eight times, and the general stock market by over fifteen times.

One crucial component of all eleven of the “good-to-great” companies was they were led by what Jim calls “Level 5 leaders.”  These leaders channeled their ambition away from themselves toward a larger goal of building a great organization, demonstrating a paradoxical blend of humility and professional will.

“All of the companies in the study that went from good to great had Level 5 leadership in key positions, including the CEO, at the pivotal time of transition,” Jim writes.  

Jim does not, however, outline a formula or framework for becoming a Level 5 leader.  Instead, he refers to the process mysteriously as a “black box.”  

In Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values Fred Kofman takes on the challenge of unlocking the “black box” of great leadership.  To become a “Level 5 leader” he identifies a set of seven skills and attitudes which he refers to as “Conscious Business,” including unconditional responsibility vs. unconditional blame, essential integrity vs. essential selfishness, and emotional mastery vs. emotional incompetence.

“Consciousness is the ability to experience reality, to be aware of our inner and outer worlds,” writes Fred.  “To live consciously is to be open to perceiving the world around and within us, to understand circumstances, and to decide how to respond to them in ways that honor our needs, values, and goals.”

Fred quotes Nathaniel Branden: “Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive.  It is the ability to look at the world through fresh eyes…  Living consciously is seeking to be aware of everything that bears on our interests, actions, values, purposes, and goals.”  

When we are more conscious, we better perceive our surroundings, remember what’s important to us, and envision more possibilities.

Fred contrasts this mindset with being unconscious, asleep, or mindless: “To live unconsciously means to be driven by instincts and habitual patterns.”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection: What is my highest ambition professionally?  Who or what has influenced this desire?  Am I dreaming big enough?  

Action:  Journal about my answers to these questions.