Why Balance Is Bad

balance (noun) a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

One of the most frequently raised concerns in my team building workshops is balance. The concern typically comes either in the form of an observation or question:

  • It appears that we’re pretty well (or not very) balanced.
  • Should we try to be more balanced?

Generally what prompts the observation or question is seeing data about the personality attributes or work styles within the team. And what is being inferred is that a relatively equal amount, i.e. balance of these attributes or styles within the team is better than not being balanced.

This is fundamentally the wrong way to look at balance.

At its core, balance is about power. It’s about making sure that one “side” or another doesn’t gain an advantage such that one set of traits, styles, perspectives, ideologies, etc. will always win out. When there is an imbalance of power, there is always the potential to use domination, threats or coercion to resolve differences. Or the more powerful side can seek input from the minority but still follow the majority path of least resistance, leaving the other side feeling frustrated, minimized and wondering what role they have to play. Again, the presumed goal of balance is to prevent such problems in the team.

On the other hand, rather than set a goal of balance so that nobody can use power over others on the team, a much more desired goal should be to share power with others on the team.

share (verb) have a portion of (something) with another or others; use, occupy, or enjoy  (something) jointly with another or others.

Notice the difference between the two concepts especially as it relates to teamwork. Balance is concerned with equality and proportionality – who has more and who has less power. The image that comes to mind is a scale. The only way to get equality is to add or subtract from one side at the expense of the other. And as it relates to teams, we know that when it comes to power and influence, people rarely accept having less.

As opposed to balance, sharing is concerned with having access to what all the other sides have. It’s about integrating power so that every team member can make a  contribution. This image of a set of gears is a perfect metaphor for the sharing of power. Notice first of all that the gears are not equal in terms of size or in their proximity to each other. But it’s also clear that each gear contributes to the movement of all the gears, irrespective of balance/proportionality. The gears smallest in size and those with the fewest connections still share power with the other larger/more connected gears.

Numerous surveys show that two of the biggest challenges organizations face is lack of sharing information across silos and lack of alignment. Balancing power within and among teams does not solve those problems.

Like the metaphor of each gear sharing power with the other gears, successful teams tend to have a mindset of sharing what they have in terms of their styles, personality traits, perspectives and so on.

As a team or as a leader, is your concern about gaining or maintaining balance, in other words power over others? Of are you more correctly focused on how to share power with others?

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Two Steps to Increased Emotional Intelligence

A simple definition of emotional intelligence (EQ) is the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information. I work with several rich models of EQ that make this concept very practical but I have found that there are two quick and easy practices that will enable anyone to increase their level of emotional intelligence.

  • Whenever something goes well for you, rather than take credit, find someone other than yourself to give some meaningful and specific credit to.
  • Whenever something doesn’t go well, rather than assign blame to someone, find some meaningful and specific ways that you can fault yourself.

Obviously, EQ is much more complex than this. But these two ideas span the cornerstones of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

If you consistently do these two things, I have no doubt that they will increase your EQ as well as your influence with others.

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Rules One, Two and Three

Recently I posted three “rules” on my social media sites that a LinkedIn member asked me to comment more on:

  • Rule #1: allow yourself to learn from smart people.
  • Rule #2: don’t allow yourself to be offended by stupid people.
  • Rule #3: sometimes the smart people are the ones who think very differently than you. They’re usually worth listening to.

These rules have several points of inspiration. One is an ancient proverb that says, “The one who loves a quarrel loves transgression; whoever builds his gate high invites destruction.”

This piece of ancient wisdom suggests a mindset that is useful in all situations when you are presented with points of view that are in opposition to your own. This is especially true amidst the recent onslaught of opinions being put forth on social media. It is actually the continual shouting of people taking sides against each other that was the stimulus for me to create these rules to better manage my own reactions.

The word transgression means an act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct; an offense. One way to think about this ancient axiom is that the person who loves to argue vehemently also loves to offend while demonstrating no concern for how they should conduct themselves. And what the second part of the proverb – whoever builds his gate high invites destruction – says to me is that the people who seek to defend what they believe they already know aren’t protecting themselves at all. In fact, they are inviting their own ruin!

Why? Most obviously, trying to influence someone’s point of view by offending them is hardly a winning strategy. Secondly, if I allow myself to believe my opinions are under attack, my natural inclination is to defend myself. Moreover, to the extent that these attacks are from people whose opinions won’t change – and yes, at those emotionally charged moments I’m thinking they’re being “stupid” – I’m defending myself in a battle of opinion that I cannot win. In this case, it’s better to follow Sun Tzu’s (The Art of War) advice, “If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.” Finally, metaphorically defending myself with the proverb’s “high gate” prevents me from learning anything new. In today’s rapidly changing Information Age, those who refuse to learn get left behind.

A better approach, hence why it’s Rule #1, is to engage with people from whom you can sharpen your thinking by increasing your perspective. The old proverb relates to a more recent one – Steven Covey’s Habit 5 of successful people, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

That can often come from intentionally seeking out the views of those that think differently than you. This is rule #3, which was inspired by an interview with billionaire entrepreneur Sean Parker, the co-creator of the pioneering music-sharing service Napster and ex-president of Facebook (and if these accomplishments aren’t enough, he was played by Justin Timberlake in the movie The Social Network­). When asked, “Who do you bounce ideas off of?” Parker responded, “People I’ve argued with. I think most of the things I’ve done so far were largely considered really unpopular or really fringe when I started doing them.” In other words, one of the most renowned innovators of our time isn’t successful by building “high gates” to protect his point of view. Rather, he influences others by lowering his gate to allow in others that can influence him.

Having others agree with my views on flags, people’s rights, names of sports teams, a new product strategy, or who to hire for a key position is not something I get to choose. But I cannot allow that lack of choice I have in what someone believes to become a distraction to me. What I can choose is to learn and grow in my own understanding by productively seeking intelligent points of view that enhance my perspective.

As Carl Rogers said, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” And according to Einstein, to do that, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

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Wisdom from the C-Suite

It is ironic how often people hear from others (like me) about what great leaders do and how infrequently people hear from great leaders themselves about what they are actually doing! Recently, I did have that opportunity as part of a yearlong leadership development program I am co-facilitating.

Each year’s cohort begins with a dinner followed by a Q&A session with several members of the organization’s C-suite, including the CEO. The firm’s success as measured by its exceptional growth; profitability; high employee engagement and low turnover; and impact on the communities it serves across the country, are all a testament to the wisdom and insight of these leaders.

Here some nuggets I captured from that session:

  • Leaders need to be inquisitive and willing to keep learning. Furthermore, they need to be aggressive about finding new opportunities for learning.
  • It is of utmost importance to keep transmitting the culture as the company grows in size and complexity.
  • The reason “soft skills”, i.e. relationships matter in business is the value of spontaneous human interaction.
  • People when they are encouraged will do great things.
  • You can’t work with the people you want; you have to work with the people you have.
  • I’m not leading if I’m telling.
  • Vision emerges from the relationships that exist.
  • You can’t overvalue situational awareness.

Which one(s) of these speak to you? Which do you need to embrace?

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Making MBTI© Stick

How many times have you participated in an a-ha generating personal development educational session, swore it would change your behavior and fell back into your old ways within days? It happens all the time, but it doesn’t have to. Many organizations are successful at making it stick. How do they do it? At the recent 20th Biennial Association for Psychological Type International Conference in Miami, Karla Edwards – Director of Service Excellence for an 1,800 employee medical center – and I presented how we did it in her organization.

There are three key components to successfully introducing and sustaining a personality tool, specifically the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator© in an organization. In order of importance:

  1. Identify a champion who is passionate about the cause.
  2. Require effective and continuous training for a team of trainers.
  3. Have support from executive leaders.

Identify a champion. The champion is responsible for overseeing all Myers-Briggs© related activities and is preferably at a visible management level. More critically, this champion is also the person who will go to bat for the cause – over and over again. Yes, over and over because most likely there will be skeptics and pockets of resistance, or people who just don’t understand its value. A knowledgeable and passionate champion must be in place to constantly “sell” the organization on the MBTI’s© benefits.

Effectively and continuously train a team of facilitators. Here, the goal is two-fold:

  • Create great trainers who will deliver great training. When people go to great training, they talk about it, and when they talk about it, it makes others want to get in on the action.
  • Develop type experts who have the expertise to apply the MBTI to a wide range of individual and team issues. When the MBTI is used to address real, day-to-day organizational issues such as communication, change, problem solving and decision-making, and project management, it becomes seen as a valuable and necessary tool.

Have support from the executive leadership team. They set the tone for what is important in the organization. If they are using the language, attending learning opportunities and visibly support the use of Myers Briggs, others in the organization will get the message that this is a useful, helpful and important tool. And nothing demonstrates leadership support more than the staff seeing that leaders are changing their behavior as a result of what they are learning about type.

Other important components to put into place:

  • Choose a facilitation team through an application process that clearly identifies an applicant’s commitment; is approved by their supervisor; and includes a presentation audition that demonstrates their passion and knowledge of type, as well as presentation skills.
  • Design classes to be presented in a consistent manner by each facilitator on the team.
  • Make Myers Briggs visible, e.g. lapel pins and stickers for ID badges, table tents announcing the person’s 4-letter preference, MBTI stationary, and any other creative ways that suggests “MBTI spoken here.”
  • Build a comprehensive library and encourage employees to check out books.
  • Create an organizational database that identifies all employees’ preferences (with their permission) and is available to all employees in an easily sorted program.

Using MBTI in your organization doesn’t have to be a fun and then forgotten event. With the right planning, commitment and support, it can be an integral part of your organizational culture that drives business results.

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My Aha Moments from APTi 2013

I’m just returning from Miami and the 20th Biennial Association for Psychological Type International Conference. I used to serve on the Association’s Board of Directors with Jane Kise, the conference’s Co-Chair and a very good friend. Jane challenged attendees to blog on their aha moments from the conference. Here are mine.

  • The Power of One Big Idea – Most conferences are full of experts talking to other experts on a wide variety of exotic topics. In the meantime, the person reaching massive numbers of lay people interested in personality is Susan Cain, the best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Rather than impart a wide range of brilliant ideas, Susan has attracted a worldwide following while talking about one basic thing.
    Although the nature of my work necessitates the sharing of many ideas, the power of one big idea that connects with someone’s experience of themselves has a more memorable impact and greater immediate applicability. Therefore, I will be constantly evaluating my work to find opportunities to summarize it into a single powerful, memorable and applicable idea.
  • The inverse of the power of one big idea is The Curse of Knowledge. The curse occurs when an expert finds it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The result is that expert teachers can overwhelm a new learner with too much complex information such that the new learner gains no new knowledge. It was great hearing this idea from several presenters, as I am particularly susceptible to the curse. The antidote lies in The Power of the One Big Idea described above, and my third aha moment, below.
  • Stickiness – My biggest aha moment of the conference was seeing a theme of people who are being very creative in tackling a significant issue with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator© even for the best professionals: the amount and complexity of just the basic information in its ubiquitous 4-letter code makes it hard to remember; and so much misinformation gets generated from what is remembered. In other words, the MBTI© intrinsically suffers from The Curse of Knowledge.
    There appears to be a sea change in the type community to cure this curse. Influenced by the book Made to Stick (Chip and Dan Heath), some very creative practitioners are attempting to make type concepts sticky by replacing wordy jargon and abstract concepts with more everyday language, visuals that tell immediately apparent stories and symbols that are close to everyday experience. These will enable learners to discover on their own what is most useful for them.
    Since the learners are the most informed about their own situations, this makes the teacher the lesser-informed person and avoids The Curse of Knowledge altogether. Rather than the teacher creating a long and laborious process to ensure that a lot of complex information is being transmitted accurately, finding ways to make the information sticky will make the MBTI relevant. In today’s information-age culture, immediate relevancy is valued more than accuracy and I’m very happy to see that there are those within the type community who recognize and are responding to this trend.

Jane had a big idea in her blog: to avoid forgetting and never using the exciting ideas you learn at a conference, instead take your conference aha moments and turn them into an acronym. OK, mine is PICKS: Power of one Idea; Curse of Knowledge; Stickiness.

Thanks, Jane, and thank you to everybody involved in a fun and fascinating APTi 2013 Conference!

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Four Easy Steps to Blowing Up Your Career

In the May 23 issue of Rolling Stone, comedian Marc Maron was asked how he sabotaged a once promising career with his own self-inflicted failures. These four points excerpted from that article contain some excellent advice on how to lose a great career. They are easy ways to blow up any other relationships, too.

Be Really, Really Unpleasant. Bitterness is a surefire way to ruin your career. Bitterness is really just amplified self-pity. And no one wants to be around that.

Burn Every Bridge. Just assume that whomever you’re working with doesn’t talk to anybody else who might hire you.

Double Down On Trouble. If a relationship is going bad, let it destroy every other part of your life, too. If your job’s going bad, let it destroy your relationships. If you’re going to do it, do it across the board.

Hit Rock Bottom. To salvage your career, you have to blow it completely. Out of that humility will come your truest self. Instead of being cocky and angry, you’ll come back with a little beat up, raw and “just trying to do my best here” attitude.

With a hugely popular podcast, new cable TV show, and best-selling book, Attempting Normal, it seems Marc is rising after hitting rock bottom. Not that many people do. Too often, people are unaware of their own “success” in destroying their careers/relationships and are left wondering how they could have been mistreated so badly.

Maron’s wisdom is that forcing others to share our pain pushes them away and doesn’t make the pain go away, either. Instead, we need to seek out people or situations that shift our attention and emotions to something positive even if it can only be for brief periods. We need to take responsibility for our emotions and likewise take responsibility for the emotions we bring to others.

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Are You Leading?

The simplest definition of the word “leader” is “one who leads”. But what does it mean, then, to “lead”? The word “lead” is derived from an Old English word laedan meaning “cause to go with”.  Based on this early meaning, we can classify two types of leaders.

The first type is one who falsely thinks they are leading but in reality they have no followers, i.e. the leader hasn’t caused anybody to go with them. When I do leadership workshops, I like to say, “If you’re having difficulty getting people to follow you, then you’re not leading.”

The second type of leader is one who is actually leading, i.e. they have caused people to go with them. This type of leader falls into one of myriad categories each defined by their own distinctive style of causing people to go with them. These numerous styles are the subject of countless observations, analyses, writings and teachings about what it takes to be an effective leader. But regardless how sound any of this wisdom may be, it is all but footnotes to what Lao-Tzu wrote nearly 2500 years ago in Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching about the various ways and degrees of effectiveness there are in causing people to go with you:

“The best of all leaders is the one who helps people so that, eventually, they don’t need him.

Then comes the one they love and admire.

Then comes the one they fear.

The worst is the one who lets people push him around.

Where there is no trust, people will act in bad faith.[1]

The best leader doesn’t say much, but what he says carries weight.

When he is finished with his work, the people say, “It happened naturally.”

In what ways do you cause people to go with you?

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[1] Interesting comment. Lao-Tzu seems to indicate that the more you trust people, the more trustworthy they become.

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A Job to Love

Which was your favorite job?

A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me which of the two jobs from my younger days I liked more: selling audio equipment at an electronics store or cooking at a Howard Johnsons. After reflecting on the question for a bit I finally decided I couldn’t decide. I loved them both.

Why did I love them both? Because both jobs provided three of the most important reasons why you, me or anybody else would love their job:

  1. I was using my strengths, i.e. doings things I do best.
  2. I was appreciated and validated for my strengths.
  3. I was working with people I liked, not just at work but socially, too.

Why does using your strengths matter? People working in their area of strengths feel they are being authentic to who they already are rather than who their role requires them to be. Using your strengths means you will feel more expert in what you are doing, and more engaged and energized when you are doing it.

The strengths-based engagement is more than just about making people happy. It also means they get more work done. A Gallup survey[1] found that employees using their strengths were more productive, stayed in jobs longer, and produced greater customer satisfaction.

This leads to my second point. Because I was highly productive and I created satisfied customers, I got constant positive feedback. Research has consistently shown that people “flourish” – function at their best – in environments and relationships where positive comments of support, encouragement, appreciation are heard three times more often than negative comments (disapproval, sarcasm, cynicism). And in a study of 60 business units, the highest performing teams were those where positive comments were experienced five times more often than negative ones.[2]

Finally, because I was working with people I liked, I worked with great emotional safety and freedom in communication. That meant constructive feedback could be received knowing it was for my improvement. It also meant people expressed interest in each other. Research by Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy showed that the highest performing teams talked about themselves (individually or their group) less and advocated for other peoples’ or groups’ positions more frequently than their own.

What my daughter’s question proved to me – and I think should prove to you – is that our job satisfaction and performance isn’t based on what we are doing, or even how much we are paid to do it. It’s all about doing things we’re best at, receiving more support than criticism, and being around people who have your back.

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[1] Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton

[2] The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model, Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy. American Behavioral Scientist 2004; 47; 740

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The Five Bottom Line Truths About Work

  1. Every human being is majestically and wonderfully made and therefore has untold worth, dignity and potential.
  2. You are most satisfied when you place yourself in environments and associate with people that allow you to be the person you were made to be.
  3. What people want from work is to respect themselves and the job that they do, and to earn the respect of others.
  4. It is possible and desirable to clearly define what about our work gives us self-respect, and it is possible and desirable to find this out about others.
  5. When people are working at their best, they have greater pride and ownership in their work, and better communication and teamwork, resulting in better performance, productivity and profitability.
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