Archives For organizational insight

As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! This past spring I had the opportunity to return to Turkey for pleasure instead of business… Here is what I was thinking about:

I returned to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I was observing the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I began to think (once again) about how there are unique leadership lessons in every environment.  It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that Turkey is a beautiful country with beautiful people and there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and deploy. In the western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings that are focused solely on getting know one another better, I am always reminded how the Turkish people, in general, only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I made a visit to the world famous Spice Bazaar, I was reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stopped to chat with a shopkeeper and was invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chatted for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchanged contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

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I have frequently done business in Japan throughout my career. It is interesting how the country and the culture have changed over time, but beneath its surface lies an extremely productive and effective society.


To the outsider – or gaijin, as we are known to the locals – Japanese business customs appear to be so deeply entrenched in culture and tradition that they couldn’t possibly be applicable to the rest of the world. But don’t be too quick to write off the value that Japanese business practices offer the rest of the world… Continue Reading…

Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in a knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at or by visiting our website Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

Some confrontation at work is expected, however if there are individuals in your organization with Chronic Confrontationitis, it’s up to you, as a leader, to protect your organization. Those afflicted by the disease separate people from general information, social situations, peers, tools to do their job, affection and admiration, as well as hard earned acknowledgement and praise.  They actively create a culture where people feel “less than”, causing both emotional and physical stress. Without the acquisition of effective strategies to combat Chronic Confrontationitis, competent employees may damage their careers or become so uncomfortable with the conflict in the environment that they opt out all together.

If you, or individuals within your organization, are impacted by someone with Chronic Confrontationitis, there are several things you may want to consider:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Avoid becoming self-critical or becoming isolated. Cronic Confrontationitis is about the bully, not the target. There is nothing you could have done to deserve this behavior.
  2. Understand the circumstances. Even if you know historically that the individual is afflicted with Chronic Confrontationitis, give the initial benefit of the doubt. Ask the individual to clarify the intention of their confrontational approach.
  3. Don’t ignore the confrontation. Call it out. Point out what the afflicted individual is doing that is offensive and notify this person that you will not put up with it in the future.  By calling the conduct into question, you’re putting the person on notice. Maintain your position and by the second or third attempt, the diseased individual will tire of spinning his wheels and move on to another target.
  4. Confront the offender in a professional manner. Don’t sink to their level. Stay as calm as possible. Chronic Confrontationalists are looking for a reaction and it will encourage them to come back for more.
  5. Listen to what the infected individual has to say – especially when they become aggressive, intimidating or hostile. Get their attention by starting your sentence with their first name, and keep direct eye contact. If they cannot control their behavior, give them time to cool off and suggest another meeting time.
  6. Respond appropriately. Sometimes the offense cannot be smoothed over with a clever tactic. You must respond to the individual in an assertive manner. Bullies don’t expect direct comebacks, which is why they take more liberties in what they say to those they expect compliance from. Most people avoid the toxic individuals or soften their response so as not to offend the offender — which weakens their credibility. Keep the response brief and pointed, in a tone that is authoritative and controlled.
  7. Remember you have choices. Many excellent employees leave organizations which allow Chronic Confrontationitis to run rampant. You don’t have to tolerate a hostile work environment. Knowing you have choices and investigating your options will give you strength. Remember, Chronic Confrontationitis is not about you. It’s about the afflicted person and his personality problems.

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Leadership Laceration is a common disorder found when people complain about the leadership that has been placed over them. This is not only harmful to the leader, but it can be fatal for the group. The symptoms can be difficult to detect and are often mistaken for benign interactions. Those without a strong immune system can easily become victims, often unable to differentiate antagonism from healthy criticism. This condition is highly contagious and anyone found to have the symptoms should be quarantined right away…

All kidding aside, those individuals who choose to verbally lacerate leadership can be a serious threat to organizational alignment and morale.  Because neither employees nor organizations are immune to employees with the propensity to lacerate leadership, you will need to be aware of the signs, symptoms and impact of leadership laceration.

It is your job, as an organizational leader, to create an environment where brilliant people of all backgrounds, personality types, and work styles thrive. Companies where smart people with diverse backgrounds and work-styles can succeed have significant advantages over those that don’t. However, sometimes really smart employees develop agendas other than doing what is in the best interest of the company. Rather than identifying weaknesses, so they can be overcome, these employees look for faults in leadership to build their case. The smarter the employee, the more destructive this type of behavior can be. Don’t underestimate the fact that it takes a really smart person to seriously lacerate leadership – otherwise, nobody listens.

It can be very difficult to amend the behavior of these smart, but destructive, employees. Once an individual takes a public stance, the social pressure to be consistent is enormous. If he tells his closest colleagues that the CEO is an incompetent, reversing that position will cost him a great amount of credibility the next time he slashes away at the leadership team. Most people are not willing to take the credibility hit.

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Last week we looked at some common myths surrounding change management that have the potential to derail the change effort. Organizational change often reminds me of the movie Jumanji that involves a supernatural boardgame that brings its jungle world to life and puts the actual players in jeopardy of being maimed, or perhaps worse yet, caught in the drama forever. Sound familiar? It’s a jungle out there, and if you want to avoid drama that could maim your change effort, not only do you need to dispel myths (last weeks post), but you also need to put solid game rules in place that will keep everyone on the same game board. Here are some suggestions to foster effective change:

1. Acknowledge The 300 Pound Gorilla In The Room

Don’t try and institute change covertly
- silence, denial and mislabeling always make the situation worse.  Call the gorilla, well… a gorilla – let your people know that there are uncomfortable changes taking place. Demonstrate your commitment by asking your opinion leaders for their ideas as to how to go about the change… and actually implement the best contributions. If you want your people to embrace change, they must have a chance to voice concerns and offer input. Effective change management includes listening carefully to concerns and fears – perceived, imagined, or legitimate – that could become barriers. Open communication provides valuable insight, letting you lay the foundations for effective change.

2. Provide Clear, Concise Communications

Even the most dedicated employees want to know how change will affect them personally. It is critical to provide clear and accurate information to the furthest extent possible. Whether they say it or not, people will naturally question:

  • How the change will affect them
  • What they will need to do differently
  • If they will need additional skills to be successful… if so, how will they learn them?
  • How they will know if the change is good for them
  • If the change will affect their position. Will they be moved or eliminated?

Communicate openly. People can more easily accept change if they know what to expect. Managing expectations is tricky, but it’s vital to success.  Make the case for change –  provide a clear and convincing rationale for the change and support it with sound evidence. Let those affected know about the proposed change in advance. Advise everyone of the honest implications for individuals, teams, functions, and organizations.

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