Is Your Workplace Hijacking Your Values?

Today’s guest post is by David Gebler, founder and president of the Skout Group, which fixes ailing organizations and improves corporate productivity, reputation, and success by focusing on value-based ethics and culture risk management. A sought-after speaker and panelist, he is author of The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance (Jossey-Bass, May 2012). You can contact David Gebler at : [email protected].

The majority of managers and employees are good people who believe they are balancing their values — such as honesty and responsibility — with what’s needed to get the job done. But this belief is often far from the truth.

While we would like to think that we control our decisions and actions, social norms and expectations significantly influence our behavior. Research shows that a person’s behavior isn’t a result of personality and character alone — our environment plays a big role, and this includes the workplace.

At work, we shape our reality to feel good about ourselves, even if our actions are less than honest. Most people engage in small dishonesty up to the point when they can no longer delude themselves. For example, we might not steal from the petty cash drawer, but we take some pens home. Managers may claim that a tough (and questionable) action was simply a “business” decision, not an “ethical” one. Or, to reach insurmountable sales goals, managers and employees may come up with the “perfect” solution: raising prices instead of production.

In a toxic corporate environment, your values can be hijacked one of three ways:

1. Self-deception: “I think it’s okay to do this.” Sometimes, we look at the world through rose-colored glasses: we see things as more positive or less risky than they actually are. When this rosy view helps us to avoid a sure loss, it can seem like a win‐win for everyone. In this context, actions and behavior that are less than savory seem okay, even when they truly are not.

2. Rationalization: “I know it’s wrong, but I have a good reason for doing it.” Under the pressure to meet short-term goals, bad decisions may look like great decisions — especially when people feel they don’t have a choice. For example, many people say “family” is their number-one value, and they will do whatever it takes to keep their families financially secure. If this means performing an unethical act, so be it. And if speaking up increases the chance that a person might lose their job, they’ll remain silent.

3. Disengagement: “I know there’s something wrong here, but it’s not my problem.” Disengaged employees can “fly under the radar” for a long time if they’re not involved in outright misconduct or overtly destructive behavior. Instead of taking ownership of problems and situations, they are leaving critical issues unresolved because they no longer care. As one manager once said: “Success and failure feel the same here. Why should I care?”

Do you see such signs of a toxic corporate culture at your company? If so, don’t dismiss them as normal employee behavior. When employee values erode, the results can be catastrophic for your business, ranging from lower productivity and profits, to ethical violations and workplace accidents.




A letter of love and hope to Zoe

One of the joys of my second act of life is watching my ten-year-old granddaughter, Zoe, grow into young womanhood and explore all the richness of life.  Another joy of my second act is helping leaders and women succeed in business. Amy and I call it helping people get their big on:  think big rather than small, be the big person and do what’s right whether or not it’s popular, trade in the tiny dreams for big ones, forego the personal glory and pay it forward for the greater good. All those things we want to see in our young leaders, whether male or female.

Today, International Women’s Day, both of my joys intersect. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is connecting girls, inspiring futures. Hence my letter to Zoe, a confident young girl on her journey to becoming a confident young woman, a powerful leader, and anything else she chooses to be and do.

Dear Zoe,

Today is International Women’s Day. While there won’t be pizza, okra and apple pie to celebrate (perhaps there should be…), it’s a big day for you and other young girls across the globe. Why? Because you’re our future.

You frequently ask us to tell you a story. Today, I’m doing something different. I’m asking you to start living out a story, your story.

Twenty years from now I want to sit down with you and listen to your stories. I want to know where you’ve taken your life and how you found success, fulfillment and love.

I want to hear how:

- You never lost your belief in yourself and how it propelled you into new adventures because you were never afraid to take the leap

- The courage you displayed in fiercely pursuing your brown belt at age 9 never left you, and that you shared it with others to help them find their way because girls can do and be whatever they want to do and be

- Your compassion for saving stray animals and befriending the underdog has made you a beacon of light for family, friends, co-workers and colleagues and maybe even a broader stage

- Your boundless creativity and gift for storytelling have served you well, allowing you to chase innovation, not letting misguided beliefs and stereotypes limit your opportunities and experiences

- Your belief in inclusion never wavered and kept you from falling victim to short-sighted ideologies that shut out people with different viewpoints, and

- You kept being the boss and the ringleader, never doubting for a moment that you would always be liked and be powerful, too.

I know some of these concepts probably don’t make much sense to you today, but they will as you experience more of life. Trust your Mum-mum on this one.

There are days when I wonder if the gender gap will ever be closed. Then an image of your purpose-filled little face appears, and I know your generation of women is in good hands.

With love and hope for the future,





Just Get Up and Lead

Today’s thought-provoking and compassionate guest article is by Deborah Costello. She’s a teacher, Math department chair at Trinity Prep School in Winter Park, FL and a consultant for the College Board. Deb is passionate about human rights, peace, education, leadership, triathlon training, and most importantly family and friends. She believes that in the end all you need is love.

Are you a leader? Maybe you are a manager at work, an usher for your church, or the president of your bridge club. Hopefully you are the leader in your own home. Certainly you lead yourself. Many people struggle with the idea of leadership and conclude they just cannot do it. It’s too difficult or no one will want to follow them. I would suggest that this is not true. In fact there are leaders everywhere we look, people changing lives and making progress. They are neighborhood watch captains and Girl Scout leaders, community treasurers, and PTA presidents. But even if you don’t have a named position or a title, there are ways you can lead in your community that are meaningful and exciting, ways that enrich lives. Let me tell the story of a pair of such leaders.

On Valentine’s Day I showed up in a field outside an art museum with a couple hundred people I didn’t know. I had been invited by two women that I had met a few weeks earlier. The event was called, “The Human Heart: An OUTright Love-In.” Envisioned by Nicki Drumb four years ago, she and her wife, Rachel Gardiner sponsor this yearly Love-In to celebrate the strides that have been made over the past year toward marriage equality.

As I walked toward the field, I was greeted by a friendly stranger handing out red necklaces made of hearts. Another gave me a glow stick to combat the gathering darkness. A third came forward saying, “Your face looks familiar.” As we talked, she walked me down into the crowd. I eventually saw a few people I knew, but mostly it was strangers — men, women, couples, children, families — gathering together to celebrate a simple idea. Love. That’s all it was about. Celebrating the beauty, the wonder, the joy of love.

On the ground there was a giant heart, formed with candles, and we gathered there. A few people spoke, detailing the year’s events, sharing their own stories. Nicki and Rachel’s story helped me understand why people had come. That afternoon they had made their annual pilgrimage to the county clerk’s office. In the past they had tried to apply for a marriage license. This year they were hoping to have their existing license recognized, for they had recently married in New York City. They brought the pastor of their church and stood before the same clerk again this year, but her answer was the same. No. The state of Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages. This year the clerk mentioned that she would retire in five years. Rachel hopes they won’t still be visiting the county clerk in five years. Despite four years of rejection, she is hopeful. You can see it in her eyes.

As we lit the candles, one from another, and stood together forming a heart, I looked at the faces around me. There were no protestors shouting, no anger or frustration at what had not been accomplished. There was only a feeling of gathering strength, of bearing witness to love and knowing that the year to come would bring progress and setbacks, good news and bad. But no matter what, we would withstand it all and there was great cause for hope. These two women had led us all to this place and for a moment we stilled our stress and our sorrow, our too much and not enough. For a few moments we stood together, in love.

Rachel and Nicki are committed to each other and to helping others find the love that they so generously share. So they keep on. Each year the event grows a little bigger and more complicated. This year they included art submissions from local artists on the subject of love. We met afterward to support a local bar and a food truck outside that had provided a delicious feast. It seemed so simple from the outside, but I know there were a thousand details. Maybe this event doesn’t seem all that amazing. If so, then here’s your challenge. See if you can inspire a couple hundred people to show up in a field on Valentine’s Day and listen to you speak.

In the end, that’s all leadership really is, a little idea, a little commitment, a little hard work, a little time. There are so many ways that we could lead in our communities, our neighborhoods, our businesses. Everyday people do amazing things. Every day we all could do amazing things. And yet we don’t. Too busy. Too tired. Just too.

So if you are in that “too” camp and just can’t imagine a way to lead, start thinking. A good leader is a combination of three simple things; ability, integrity, and compassion. In some areas of our lives, each of us is all of these things. I’m asking you to dig into your heart, where your love lies, where your passions lie, and ask some simple questions.

What can I do? Can you share your ability and make a difference for someone else? Do you see a problem in your community that you could help solve? Are there needs in your neighborhood that are not being met? I find it impossible to believe that you do not see these things in the world.

Do I believe in my idea with all my heart? Can you support it and stand by it with honor? Do you know that by leading in this way you are making a difference? Can you stand up for what you believe and stick with it even in tough times? Are you true to your word? There’s your integrity.

Am I making things better? Will other people’s lives get better? Will you improve your community, raise awareness, offer opportunity, bring people together, or promote understanding? By leading with compassion, others will want to join you. We all long for a better place.

Nicki and Rachel have this incredible capacity to love and by sharing it in this way, have led others to a better day, a positive place where they can peacefully share a moment of compassion and love. Their community leadership inspired others to join them on Valentine’s Day. They were able to support local artists and businesses. Their event inspired me to tell their story. Perhaps it will inspire you to do a little leading for the Girl Scouts, to share your abilities with the neighborhood watch, to offer your compassion at the PTA meeting, to show your integrity as the community treasurer.

In the end, we are all surrounded by leadership. The best leaders have the ability to turn a difficult any day into an amazing every day. Just get up and lead.



Can leaders be kind and show love?

I recently asked a male colleague for his thoughts on why so few women are included in the multitude of leadership guru/expert lists.*

Our fascinating exchange…

“Most women don’t write solely about leadership. They throw in other stuff that keeps them off those lists or doesn’t make them top of mind.”

So where do they go wrong in your view?

“I’m going to use you as an example. When you write about leadership, you throw in that phrase about using your heart to lead. That’s getting outside the parameters of leadership.” 

How so?

“Leaders — and remember, Jane, this is just my opinion — set direction and define the vision. They create alignment. They play the devil’s advocate and identify problems. Leaders manage change. They motivate people and develop other leaders.”

Nothing there I disagree with. Wouldn’t using one’s heart come into play with most or all of those items?

“Not really.”

It seems to me there’s lots of room for caring, and dare I say, love, in executing those responsibilities.

“That’s where you and most of the other women, and even some men, go wrong when you write and consult about leadership. You have to leave love out of it. I know you’re not talking about romantic love, but you are talking about affection and fondness. Leadership is about business, about economics, about getting the job done. People who focus on those things are the ones who get included in the lists you asked about.”

That’s an interesting perspective. So what about kindness and compassion. Is there room for that in leadership in your view?

“You know I don’t advocate or support abusing people or being mean to them. No good leader stands for that happening.”

Of course.

“I’m just saying that no one’s performance gets evaluated on kindness or compassion.”

True, but don’t you think it’s time for some of that to change?

“Jane, I’m just telling you the way it is, which I know isn’t the way you want it to be. Enough said?”

Enough said.

Wow! Today is Valentine’s Day, so I’m inviting all leaders — especially those with big job titles and formal organizational chart power — to bring a little kindness and compassion (and dare I say love) into your interactions today (and tomorrow). Focusing on both task and relationship, rather than focusing on one over the other, pays big dividends in lots of ways both large and small.



*This list certainly isn’t scientific nor representative of scads of exhaustive research! It’s what popped out in a quick Google search. 1 out of 25 on World’s Top 25 Leadership Gurus. 4 out of 50 on October 2011 Top 50 Leadership Experts to Follow on Twitter. 18 out of 100 on NeverMind Awards 2011 – Top 100.  5 out of 12 pickers in selecting the top leader of 2011 on the Washington Post.




3 tips for handling public criticism (from someone who wishes she’d done it better)

We’re guest posting over at the Lead Change blog today (where you’ll regularly find lots of good insights)!

In my leadership book of fair play, one of the basic rules is to praise in public and criticize in private. I firmly believe that making people look — and feel — stupid (regardless how egregious, or not, their offense may be) in front of others serves no one well. Continue reading…




3 Crucial Leadership Connections

Does your life and work schedule resemble the landing strip at O’Hare or LaGuardia airports - so much incoming activity that there’s no time for anything else? No time to think or reflect or connect. (Sometimes, in my first act of life, there was hardly time to go to the bathroom!)

In today’s crazy busy world we connect with technology frequently, spending lots of time interacting with a device (Crackberry, anyone?). Yet it’s connecting with real people that brings genuine success and satisfaction to our personal and professional lives. And making those people connections requires that we be thoughtful in seeing, and seizing, the opportunities to “only connect” as E.M. Forester says.

You’re 1/12 into a new year. Are you as connected with others as you’d like to be?

If not, use this three-pronged approach as your guide to making the other 11/12 of the year rich with quality connections.

Connect with you

If your personal reservoir is empty, there isn’t much to share with others. Re-engage with what’s important to you. Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s work with emotional intelligence is a helpful place to start:

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.

Getting in touch with what we fail to notice – about ourselves and others – is a crucial first step to establishing powerful connections.

  • What’s my personal and professional north, and am I still on track?
  • What worthwhile things have I done today that I will continue doing?
  • Whose life did I touch today and help make it better?
  • What one thing, big or small, did I do today to renew my energy and increase my knowledge and/or skills?

Connect with colleagues, co-workers, the barista who makes your daily latte

Make the time - or schedule it if that works for you - so you’re spending five quality minutes with a direct report, colleague, client, vendor, assistant and on and on. Establishing relationships with those around you at work – at every level within the organization and externally as well – is a make-or-break element for career success.

  • Ask “how are you doing today?” Then really listen to the answer and ask follow-up questions.
  • Say thank you. Throw in a smile for good measure.
  • Celebrate an accomplishment. Chocolate is one of the four food groups!
  • Ask them about sports, their kids, a favorite TV show, etc. Explore, discover and share interests to build a bond.

Connect with your boss

Some bosses are the scourge of the earth, others just delightful. Either way, engage him or her in a meaningful exchange. Your boss can propel your career to new heights or hold you back behind your back. Aim for the propelling part.

  • Ask  if there’s some way you can help out.
  • Ask him about his family or favorite book so you can establish some common ground and shared interests.
  • Ask her where she sees her career going and what will help her succeed.

Make making meaningful connections a goal, a habit, a way of life!



3 Ways to Defuse the Slow Burn

There’s one in nearly every work group – that certain someone whose words and/or demeanor gets you all fired up…or puts you into a slow burn everytime you have to interact with them.

Perhaps their opinions and values are worlds apart from yours.  Maybe they’re openly hostile to you or your personalities clash. Yet whatever the reason for the conflict, you can’t avoid or ignore them because your job requires you to interact with them.

So what’s a savvy leader to do? The high road to personal success requires you to take control of the one thing you do control – yourself. While the temptation to fire off a snarky retort is alluring, it isn’t a politically astute move on your part.

1) Manage your attitude. Think first, don’t immediately react when provoked. Move away from your sense of rightness to avoid a confrontation which serves no one well. This is the time for calm self-control.

Even in your rightness about a subject, when you try to push your rightness toward another who disagrees, no matter how right you are, it causes more pushing against. In other words, it isn’t until you stop pushing that any real allowing of what you want can take place. ~Abraham Hicks

Don’t immediately react when provoked. Give yourself time to think. Move away from your sense of rightness to avoid a confrontation which serves no one well. This is the time for calm self-control.

2)  Understand and master your own intentions.

Are you operating from the “I win, you lose” position or from a “win-win” standpoint? Astute business people operate from the perspective of seeking win-win outcomes. Always seek to understand the motivation of the other party, e.g. is their intention that you lose so they can win. Susan Lankton-Rivas, a consultant with Insight Performance, Inc., reminds us to “Try to understand the other person’s point of view and how he or she arrived it at.” Understanding why this person annoys you helps you manage your reaction.”

3) When it’s time to deal with the situation, control your communication style and message so there’s total alignment between what you say and how you say it.

The National Network for Women’s Employment reminds to us to “keep in mind it’s not just what you say that matters. It’s also how you say it, how you act and your body language.”

Advising a colleague in a sharp tone of voice that there’s a problem you want to discuss – and doing so with your arms tightly folded across your chest – sets off his or her internal alarms and doesn’t set a good foundation for the two of you to productively resolve the issue.

The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself. ~Garth Brooks

Learning to master your own attitude, intentions and communication style forms the bedrock for knowing how to effectively manage conflict!




Use Your Gifts

This inspiring guest post is from Heather Stubbs who puts her work and life experience as a stage and concert performer to good use today as a speaker and presentation skills trainer. Here Heather describes some recent work she has done with disabled young women…what a joyful story of hope and helping!

Most people perform everyday tasks with barely a second thought. For people living with an intellectual disability, tasks such as cleaning, shopping, cooking and using a public transportation system are serious challenges. Community Living is an organization that teaches people with intellectual disabilities to meet these challenges, helping them integrate into the larger community and achieve a level of independence.

The Peterborough, Ontario, branch of Community Living plans to raise its profile and educate the public about its work. Knowing that good speaking skills are vital for getting a message across, the administrators engaged me to help prepare their “Ambassadors” for the upcoming presentations. I will spend an hour and a half with each of two very different groups over four Thursdays. The speakers will include not only the members of Community Living Peterborough’s Ambassadors (staff and Members), but also the self-advocate leaders of the “Young Women’s Group.” These are women, mostly in their twenties, with varying degrees and types of intellectual disabilities. I fell in love with them from the first moment!

Several outstanding qualities showed immediately in everyone in the group. Without exception, every woman was utterly herself. Some are shy, some are outgoing, but, unlike people with greater intellectual capacity, who sometimes try to project an image of how they want to be seen, these women are not trying to be anything but who they genuinely are. How refreshing to know that the person you are talking to is the one who’s really there! It’s lovely to watch how consistently good natured and supportive of one another these special women are. They know they all face the same challenges, and they understand the value of encouragement. Would that we all had such understanding!

Our first session centred on standing with good posture and looking people in the eye. Making direct eye contact is noticeably difficult for most people with intellectual disabilities. We worked in two groups of four, and each participant met eyes with one other member of her group and said, “Hello, my name is So-and-so.” With no input from me, the women expanded their statements to include telling something they liked. Graduating from the small groups to the full group, we did some pretending. “What would your face and body look like if you felt really sure of yourself speaking to the group? Would you smile?” Most of the women discovered they could stand tall in front of the group, smile and say their name and something they liked.

This was new territory for these people. Even though they had never done anything like this before, they were willing to expand their vision of what they were capable of. Most of them were able to gather their courage and explore the new skill of speaking to a group. Please bear in mind that some of these women have difficulty forming words at all!

For me, focusing on giving enjoyment to the audience instead of getting their approval was a huge factor in eliminating the fear of being onstage. For my second session with the Women’s Group, I wanted to go further in building their self-confidence, so I got them doing role play. The idea of giving to an audience was a bit too abstract at first, so they worked in pairs, pretending to give each other an actual gift. I emphasized that when they speak to an audience what they give is their friendliness.

The women have a tremendous sense of fun, and there was a good deal of laughing and horsing around during this session. The fun worked its magic, though. In the first session, two women were so shy they could not say their name in front of the whole group, although these were all friends they knew well. Even with encouragement, they simply would not do it. This time, one of them stood up, said her name, and said that she spoke for Community Living and the Status of Women Canada, and that Community Living helped her meet everyday challenges. The other needed the support of a friend standing beside her, but she did speak to the whole group. Not only that, but both of them enjoyed the experience so much, they each did it two more times, faces beaming, and speaking more firmly and clearly each time.

Truly, these are miracles! I feel honoured to have been present for them. We have two more sessions to go. I’m enjoying working with both groups, but it’s the members of the “Women’s Group” who fill me with joy. How thrilling it is to see their willingness to stretch themselves and explore new experiences! Their courage and openness stand as inspiration to those of us blessed with full capacities. Let us, like them, use fully whatever gifts we have been given.



This Week’s Leadership Favs

Our Friday leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engages our interest. Some items are recent, others aren’t. Some are mainstream, others are off the beaten path. Enjoy! Be inspired!

What it will take to lead 20 years from now (John Baldoni, The Purposeful Leader)

The BIG team looks forward to the day when command-and-control leadership sits alongside corporate fear of social media in junkyard of abandoned practices. John shares his insights about what leaders will be doing and saying a generation from now…and we like it!

Trust Me…Trust Me Not (Frank Sonnenberg on Susan Mazza’s Random Acts of Leadership)

Trust is both the foundation on which leadership is built and the glue which holds relationships together. We love Frank’s comment that “if businesses are to thrive in the global marketplace, trust must be more than something that is talked about; it must be at the core of everything that is done.”

5 Tips Leaders Can Use Today (Steve Roesler, All Things Workplace)

If you’re a procrastinating leader in search of a new year’s resolution, Steve has five good ones for you to target in 2012.

Don’t be a lazy leader: 3 bad habits to avoid (David Witt, Blanchard Leader Chat)

Society, academia, and business have conditioned us to use primarily an either/or approach to thinking and rewards us for doing so. Either/or problem-solving skills belong in every leader’s toolkit. Yet either/or thinking is only one component of the broad and inclusive mindset necessary for achieving both goal accomplishment and creating an atmosphere of trust and goodwill.

Top International Leadership Blogs (Mike Morrison, RapidBI)

What a great resource! A list of the top 50 leadership blogs, complete with links…enjoy!

Reflect on this over a cup of coffee or tea: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” ~Thomas Merton

The BIG team sends BIG thanks to Wally Bock for highlighting our Leadership Friday Favs in his post To Curate or Not to Curate on “Wally Bock’s Zero Draft” site.

Here’s to using your head to manage and your heart to lead!

The BIG team is passionate about expanding the spectrum of leadership practices to include, value and reward both take charge attributes (things like decision-making and influence) and take care competencies (behaviors such as collaborating, engaging, recognizing and developing). We’ve taken a bold leap in proposing how to change leadership in this post on Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange. We would love for you to add your voice to the discussion about what we propose.



7 Leadership Gifts

To fulfill the promise of using your head to manage and your heart to lead, may your holiday stocking bulge at the seams with these seven gifts!

Connection. Connect with your purpose and passions, then work them into your daily living in doses large or small. Take and make the time to connect with others.

Communicate. Engage in two-way dialogue, share freely what you know and actively listen with your head and heart to what others have to say.

Capability. Dare yourself to stretch the limits of your potential and to inspire those around you to do the same.

Celebrate. Smile, laugh, have fun – it feels good and is good for you and those around you!

Courage. Take a stand for what’s good and what’s right, even if doing so is unpopular.

Character. Choose to be a person of integrity, never afraid to be found out. Show care and compassion for all.

Commitment. Dedicate yourself to finding connection, communicating, reaching for your potential, celebrating, and being courageous, sincere, caring and authentic!