Moving From Me to We Workplaces

The power of an organization is the capacity generated by relationships. Positive or negative organizational energy is determined by the quality of relationships. Those who relate through coercion, or in disregard of others, create negative energy. Those who are open to others and who see others in their fullness create positive energy.”    Margaret Wheatley, Leadership from the New Science

Do you work in a WE or a ME centered workplace?

For most of you the answer will be a ME workplace.

What’s the difference – and why does it matter?

ME or I centered workplaces are still the norm. They are characterized by cultures that are high on fear and low on trust.  People don’t feel or believe they can speak honestly and contribute ideas and opinions freely.  Organizations preach teams but many team members operate as lone wolves.

In ME based workplaces, employees feel they have to protect turf, leaders are perceived as ineffectual or autocratic. Self-protection is the dominant feeling. Anxiety, frustration and resentment are the common emotions found in ME centered workplaces.

WE focused workplaces bring out the best in their employees – at every level.  WE centric leaders are characterized by caring, courage and vision and to use the old expression, walk the talk.  Environments that foster WE centered behaviors encourage diversity of thought and expression of feeling. They encourage risk-taking and tolerate “failure.”  WE cultures support sharing and discourage territoriality. They are dedicated to fairness and the achievement of the full potential within everyone.  Confidence, passion and satisfaction are the common emotions found in a WE centered workplace.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Despite decades of discussions and program implementation of leadership and team building, the consensus is that most workplaces are still not healthy, vibrant relationship building systems. In fact, many are downright toxic.

There are many reasons for this.  The “legacy” of top – down, command and control thinking and management still prevails in most organizations.  Fear is the dominant emotional driver in too many workplaces.  Most organizations still don’t understand and factor in the human equation in terms of policies and practices.  Communication and emotional intelligence are still relegated to the territory of “soft skills” and are often not considered as essential job requirements. In fact, too many business pundits still question their validity in the business environment!

Many organizations are either in the dark about the impact of power dynamics or just don’t care.  Unhealthy competition, gossip and positional power struggles are often the result.

Lack of organizational trust and transparency is growing. Even employees, who like their jobs or their managers, often report they don’t trust their company or its leaders. Economic and social pressures always exacerbate individual, group and organizational systems and often reveal the weaknesses that are concealed during “rosier” times.

FROM US TO THEM

It’s easy to find a list of the cultural forces and organizational factors that contribute to Me based workplaces.  Many people feel trapped within organizations and teams that are completely out of step with their values.  They want more collaboration, trust and partnership in their workplace relationships and aren’t interested in engaging in power plays.

But regardless of the influence of structural norms and hierarchical influences within a workplace, every person has a critically important role to play in creating more WE focused work environments.

What WE bring to the table matters.  Cultures are important but they are merely the aggregate of mindsets.  Creating more WE based cultures, depends on all of us getting far better at two critical competencies of emotional intelligence – self awareness and self-management.  While blame is common in ME centered workplaces, self-responsibility and self – reflection are the cornerstones of WE based cultures.

To be genuinely successful, WE cultures have WE embedded into systemic practices reflected in interpersonal norms. WE focused cultures cannot flourish unless there is accountability at all levels of responsibility.

SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE – THE NEW SCIENCE OF WE

“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day a lab assistant lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.” Social Neuroscience & the Biology of Leadership

What you do matters. What they do matters. There is nothing “woo-woo” about emotional contagion. It’s real. Emotions, whatever they are, spread. Leaders who lead with fear (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) spread fear. Leaders who lead with empathy – spread empathy.  Empathy is the ultimate contributor to building WE based cultures.

The latest neuroscience has powerful implications for the ways in which we organize our workplaces, our schools, our families and our societies.  Our brains work on an organizing principle with two primary tasks – minimize threat and maximize reward.

The need for status (recognition), certainty (safety), autonomy (self-mastery), relatedness (affiliation, love) and fairness are either satisfied or frustrated by WE or ME cultures.

The latest scientific findings clearly show that social needs are as important to WE humans as the need for food and water!  Our brains are wired to work within the social context of community.  

BUILDING THE WE IN ME

Developing the WE factor inside of us takes work. It’s easy to jump into the ME vs. YOU pool. Our entire culture is organized to support that. WE isn’t popular. Oh yes, we teach our kiddies to share their toys and not whack little Jacob with a baseball bat, but as a culture we are still modeling aggression and competition as our primary values.

So building our WE behaviors can take vigilance and practice. Here are some of the basics:

  • Upgraded Belief Systems– we live by our beliefs (some are conscious and most are not) We have dozens that govern the way we relate to our own feelings, those of others, behave in relationships (inside the workplace and outside of it) and treat other people. Unless we make a determined effort to unearth our deepest beliefs, we cannot change our behaviors.
  • Value Your Values – Everyone has values. We refer to them, but often we don’t really know them or live by them. Unless you honor your own values, you can’t possibly understand or respect those of others. WE centric cultures use values as a guiding force.
  • Know Your Needs – Most people can’t really name their needs. We’re not talking about food or water here – but needs that relate to our social interdependence with others.  Identifying your needs is central to understanding your values and beliefs. They are the drivers.
  • Evaluate your Communication Strengths – and Weaknesses.  If you are too aggressive, commit to learning how to express yourself in a more assertive style. There is a huge difference in the eye and ear of the beholder.
  • Get your Assumptions, Judgments and Expectations of Others Under Control. They’ll reflect your beliefs and values – so make the connections. This is important because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors.

Whether we live and work in ME or WE cultures depends a great deal on US.  Each time we interact with someone in the workplace (and outside of it) we make a deposit or withdrawal into the Bank of WE or ME.  The problem in most workplaces is that the bank is overdrawn. All of the big and little daily interactions have drained the coffers.

So how each of us acts now, will decide the cultures of the future.

Adapted from an earlier article in The Intentional Workplace

A Formula for More Authentic Presence

 

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‘     “I am trying to cultivate a life style that does not require my presence.”

Gary Trudeau

 I was going through a bunch of old notes last week and came across this formula for “Authentic Presence”. I don’t know where I initially discovered it – so my apologies to its author for the missing attribution. 

 Increasingly, I find that one of the most important questions I can ask leaders I work with is – how present are you in your communication with others?  While listening is critical – staying present in the moment carries the weight of what you are trying to communicate.

Their answers are often surprising.  Often there is little understanding of what being fully present means. 

Is asking the right questions enough, they ask? Others don’t want to seem overly emotional. Some don’t feel comfortable with the “intimacy.” And yes, there are some that confide that they just don’t care enough – or feel they just want people to do “what they are expected to do”. 

The roots of this kind of communication stem from the still-pervasive command and control mindset.  I’ve told them what to do. People are paid to do a job. Why should they be coddled? 

 The idea that employees have needs beyond financial compensation is still new for many leaders.  Continue reading

How Emotions Shape Decision-Making

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Many people I work with ask the question, “Don’t emotions interfere with good decision-making?”  This article, generously shared by my partner at the Intentional Workplace, explains the process. 

There is little disagreement that effective decision-making is one of the most important tasks we must master to achieve success in every part of life.

If we were to take a survey in the average workplace to poll what people believed was most needed for effective decision-making, which of these do you think would top the list?

  • Factual information?
  • Risk assessment?
  • Clear thinking?
  • Limited emotional interference?

If you chose the last item, I’d like you to reconsider.

In his book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (first published in 1994)  one of the world’s top neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio, profiled his patient, Elliott, one of his most well-known cases.  Formerly a successful businessman, model father and husband, Elliott suffered from ventromedial frontal lobe damage as a result of a tumor and subsequent surgery for removal.

Following his operation, Elliot dispassionately reported to Damasio that his life was falling apart.  While still in the 97th percentile for IQ, Elliot lacked all motivation. His marriage collapsed as did each new business he started.  Damasio found Elliott an “uninvolved spectator” in his own life, “He was always controlled. Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the protagonist. I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration.”

It was clear to Damasio that as a result of his surgery, Elliot was incapable of making decisions“Elliott emerged as a man with a normal intellect who was unable to decide properly, especially when the decision involved personal or social matters.” Even small decisions were fraught with endless deliberation: making an appointment took 30 minutes, choosing where to eat lunch took all afternoon, even deciding which color pen to use to fill out office forms was a chore.  Turns out Elliott’s lack of emotion paralyzed his decision-making.

In the preface to the 2005 edition of Descartes Error, Damasio wrote, Today this idea [that emotion assists the reasoning process] does not cause any raised eyebrows. However, while this idea may not raise any eyebrows today among neuroscientists, I believe it’s still a surprise to the general public.  We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray.  When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment.  And the most logical and intelligent figures in popular culture are those who exert the greatest control over their emotions–or who seem to feel no emotions at all.”

Although neuroscience has built a strong body of evidence over twenty-five years to demonstrate the inextricable link between reason, emotion and decision-making most of mainstream culture still doesn’t get it.  Continue reading

Changing Your Habitual Responses


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“Freedom is the ability to pause between the stimulus and the response.” Rollo May

Beware of quick fix formulas! On this we can mostly all agree.

The E + R = O (EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME) formula, which we picked up on from Jack Canfield’s – The Success Principles How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, is an effective, practical and not a quick fix tool that can help you to change the way you work – and live.

Why?

Because to use it, you have to change the way you think. Doable – yes! Easy – no!

Here’s how it works. Continue reading

Offer Something Extraordinary at Work – Genuine Listening

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“There’s a big difference between showing interest and really listening.”      Michael P. Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening

Genuine listening in most areas of life is uncommon. In the workplace it’s rare. We’re too busy – so we think. We’re distracted and fragmented.  Sitting down for a non-task oriented conversation feels like just another bit of pressure.  Too often we just engage in conversation (more like just convey information) so that we can tick off another agenda item on our endless to-do list and move on.

Yet in nearly every interaction I have with people in the workplace, listening is identified as the most important skill in building trust and relationships.  Most people I work with say they need to become better listeners and they definitely want to experience better listening from their colleagues.

Often when I ask groups, “When did you last feel like someone really listened to you and showed genuine interest,” most say they can’t recall. Sadly, too many say never.

So why are we such poor listeners? What stops us from really tuning into others? Continue reading