Does Your Tribe Own You or Support You?
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
– Freidrich Nietzsche
We take people through journies that lead them to define their ideal relationship towards work. During that journey, they develop an understanding of how their tribes have influenced their decisions, how they solve problems, as well as their willingness to change. All too often, we underestimate the power of a tribe. Because tribes have rigid rituals and expectations. When we break those rituals or expectations, most tribes respond with various versions of, “You’re Crazy.”
A very successful insurance executive came through one of our programs. By the end of the first day, she had designed a compelling new career which included launching her first business. She found the new venture especially meaningful because it could solve a big problem in healthcare. When she told her husband, he immediately questioned her letting go of a job well into six figures. She expected that and in speaking to his needs, they worked it out. Today, she has a business with offices throughout the United States. There is nothing unusual about a tribe insisting that we navigate away from the safest route through life. But, for most of us, full living requires taking ownership of our careers. Until we take that step, to varying degrees, we are living someone else’s life.
The way tribes perform in the workplace is especially important when taking a new job. This is why a CEO or business owner must take charge of his or her culture. When leaders don’t take the time and initiative to define their tribe, we get chaos. We learned this while designing our first leadership program with one of the most iconic brands in the entertainment industry.
Previously, the company had deep pockets for solving problems. But, after that terrible event, consumer spending had plummeted. We were asked to customize our program to inspire a business revolution throughout the company. In other words, rather than waiting for the resources to return, executives would have to orchestrate and inspire their people to innovate, practice resiliency and to become more persistent than ever before. They were asking team members, many of them already distressed, to move from a historic model of paying for change versus earning and requiring change with every employee.
How many gathered by the water cooler to plan that leader’s demise?
When we meet the resistance of a tribe, how do we increase the probability of their support?
Let’s begin with how human brains are wired. Our minds are capable of thinking about something other than ourselves for a maximum of 15-seconds. We are constantly referring back to ourselves with questions like, “I’m I interested?” “What was on that grocery list?” “Could his suggestions hurt me?”
This is why using righteousness or threats don’t work. Once again, we increase our probability of success by speaking in terms of their needs and expectations, not ours.
Years ago, we were delivering one of our public programs. After the first lunch break, a group of men was laughing as they made their way into the room. Thanksgiving was a week away. A few of them had already made decisions to make significant career changes and they were envisioning how their families would respond to the news. They had come up with the “Jewish Mother’s Hierarchy of Acceptable Career Choices.”
All of the choices were based on how one mother responded to the other when she disclosed what her son did for a living. A minor rise of the eyebrows was reserved for CPAs. An attorney pushed those brows to the middle of their foreheads. A doctor produced a natural facelift.
One of the gentlemen had been an attorney for six years and actually loathed the practice of law. One of his clients was selling a florist shop. During those two days with us, he made a decision to buy the business. The following week, he would tell his family what he was about to do. His parents had paid for law school and drummed into him the importance of developing security through education and a good job. His conversation began with how much they had commented on his unhappiness with work.
“I’ve made a decision to change careers and one of my biggest motivators is to stop bringing negativity into our family. All of you know what I am referring to.”
He told them of the purchase and some of them went crazy. So, he pointed out that he could go back to the practice of law. Give him a year, he requested. He broke down the shock into manageable bites. A decade later, that business has grown into a spectacular success. He later told me that his success would never have happened without his great education. The big difference is that he applied his knowledge to something he loved. His parents continue to receive a weekly delivery of beautiful flowers.
Ethical selling practices are not focused on pitches and orders. Getting people to engage and support us hinges on our skills to speak to their expectations. In the workplace ordering our people to do more is insulting when they are already frenzied. Usually, that kind of transaction is simply greeted with deeper disengagement.
In today’s frenzied workplace, leaders are often stuck in a trance. The mere notion of adding another activity to their plate is met with, “I don’t have the time to do this.” But, the leader’s role is to gain as much support as possible from every stakeholder. This can only happen if the leader is connected to what his or her people want and need. Some direct reports will pour themselves into the work if they are rewarded with tangible progress in their careers. Others will be motivated by greater income. Many will be motivated by directly experiencing they are a vital part of a clearly articulated mission.
Leaders will never understand this if they don’t ask their stakeholders the right questions and listen with deep respect. There is often a strange belief that leaders don’t have the time to engage with their own people. In the leadership development industry, it is routine to send out costly consultants to manage 360 interviews with stakeholders. Others use processes that provide confidentiality so employees can give candid input.
What a lost opportunity!
During our intake process, we study the most important relationships between the business leader and key stakeholders. We design unique interview questions that inspire the stakeholder to give leaders the most important and tangible truth. Then, we give a package of interviews for each executive participant. Then, we hand those interviews with the executives and instruct them to go interview their people. Initially, our internal partners developed anxiety around having leadership development participants conducting interviews without go-betweens or filters. My response was, “Why on earth would you want an executive who is incapable of developing the kind of transparency where stakeholders can share their truth?”
We didn’t sugarcoat the questions. For example, one of my favorites is, “What is it about me that either inspires or lowers your willingness to contribute?” Where there was a history of conflict between the participant and a stakeholder, we directed the questions towards tangible resolution. Where there were problems around skill deficits, we designed questions that would lead to an active learning commitment from the employee.
Of course, it takes a bit of courage to do this. But, we build safety nets so these initial conversations are the beginning of a new form of transparency between the leaders and their stakeholders.
I remember a business leader who arrived for a two-day event that occurs directly after these interviews. He had a reputation for being very aggressive and disrespectful. His technical capacity was profound but his management style led to ongoing casualties. Not long after we began, he raised his hand and stood up. People were stunned to see tears in his eyes. He told us that his perception of success had been centered on climbing the corporate ladder as quickly as humanly possible. If there were casualties, that was the cost of growing. This notion had been instilled in him by previous role models.
The interviews had led to a new outlook. He was stunned with what people had told him and realized he wasn’t getting their support because their actions were primarily motivated by fear. He told us that from this point forward, he was going to practice a new brand of success based on helping each member of his team grow and reach their own ambitions.
After giving us a variety of examples in how he would make a change, I said, “This is going to take a bit of courage. But, who in the room has had a sense of “you’re crazy” when hearing his message?”About half a dozen hands came up.
I continued, “If you are open to helping him make a long-term behavioral change, please raise your hands.”
Three hands went up and they became his new mentors.
Today, his business unit has a reputation as a platform for launching transformative careers. Top tier talent stands in line to get in because of the organization’s track record of meeting the highest standards and rewarding talent with accelerated career growth.
As we step into a world where accelerating change impacts us every day, we simply must build the very skills that help people stay relevant and competitive. We need leaders who fluidly zero in on what people want and need. We need leaders who listen and act. Most importantly, we need leaders who fulfill their commitments.
Many of us don’t get what we want out of life because we believe the right people will not help us. But, once we define what we want, our success is almost purely based on the quality of the support systems we build to launch, grow, and sustain our vision.
It is vital to understand that as change speeds up, the skills to connect fluidly and graciously become more important. Consider that if this is true, then most failure occurs because of isolation.
Sustainable support is not a one-way street. Ethical tribal behavior isn’t an act of convenience. Those of us who ask for support and don’t help others will burn out and have to replace support systems. Those of us who support others but cannot ask for help will burn out period.
Engaging the tribe and building effective support is learnable and doable. If we don’t learn this, most tribes will own us and will contribute to our failure.
Building support is a critical need for any successful individual or organization.
Much of what we have learned to suggest has come out of working with thousands of individuals and organizations. In so many cases, what we propose is nothing more than good manners. So much organization development investments are focused on being more aware of our differences. Witness all the time and money that is poured into diversity and generational differences. The core needs are more simple. Most everyone wants to be heard, respected, seen, appreciated and asked to become part of a team, a mission, or a vision.
Of course, we can discard all that is suggested here because attitude is a choice.
That’s it. I have 32 tribes that need my attention.
For the last time, Happy New Year!
Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.
Schedule 15-Minutes to Discuss Your Workplace or Career with David (Here)
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