Category Archives: relationships

Three Questions by: Leo Tolstoy

three questions

About the story “Three Questions

“The Three Questions” is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By, and Other Tales. The story takes the form of a parable, and it concerns a king who wants to find the answers to what he considers the three most important questions in life.

He consults wise men, promising a large sum to anyone who could answer those questions, but their answers were too diverse and did not satisfy the king. So, he goes to a hermit in search of his help. The rest of the story revolves around both of them.

The parable

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed
throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone
who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and
who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his
questions differently.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right
time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days,
months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only
thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.

Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be
absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was
going on, and then do what was most needful.

Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not
wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to
decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide
that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only
magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right
time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said,
the people the King most needed were his councilors; others, the
priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the
most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science.  Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them,
and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right
answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely
renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood that he never quitted, and he received
none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before
reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving
his body-guard behind, went on alone.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.
The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into
the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit,
to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the
right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and
to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?
And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?”

The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat
on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work
awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he
sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his
questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out
his hand for the spade and said:

“Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade and continued to dig. One
hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees,
and the King, at last, stuck the spade into the ground and said:

“I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can
give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned around and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit
unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his
stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with
his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King, again and again, removed the
bandage soaked with warm blood and washed and rebandaged the wound.

Three Questions
A 1916 cover illustration by Michael Sevier (Source: Wikipedia)

When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to
him. Meanwhile, the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the
King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut
and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes
and was quiet, but the King was so tired with his walk and with the
work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also
fell asleep–so soundly that he slept all through the short summer
night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could
remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw
that the King was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who
swore to revenge himself on you because you executed his brother
and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the
hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find
you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me and
wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your
most faithful slave and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily,
and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him,
but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend
him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the
porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before. The King approached him and said:

“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching
on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my
weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds, and I was the most important man, and to do me good was your most important business. Afterward, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do him good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

Creating an Observer Culture

Observer
Courtesy Prawney @ Morguefile

Leaders need observersIn a world of information overload, a leader’s ability to be the sole key observer in keeping an organization abreast of trends, innovations, and market changes is diminishing. There is an ever-increasing multiplicity of social, economic, technological, environmental, and political factors impacting business. Leaders depend on the keen observation of others. How can a leader maximize the benefit of what is being observed?

The observer obsession

According to the Oxford Living Dictionary, the verb observe is to notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant. Do what employees deem significant match what management deems to be? Collective opinions matter. To add some perspective, on just one day there are on average 500 million tweets and 95 million pictures and videos shared on Instagram. Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. (Source: The Social Skinny).  What do these mindblowing numbers mean for leaders?

Observer bias

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an observer as a person who watches what happens but has no active part in it. Are observers always able to remain objective and/or independent of what is being observed? Take a brief moment to look at comments on any social media site; division and divisiveness appear to be on the rise. At any level of an organization, including the executive, individuals are both subjective and objective observers. Leaders encouraging objective observation focus on organization-oriented outcomes as opposed to those that are driven by special interest. A leader’s job is to not only be aware of his or her own observer bias but also that of others.

Forget water cooler chat

According to a two-year-old Pew Research poll, 86% of US adults aged 18-29 are social media users. With every new young hire comes a prospective employee who is used to regularly sharing observations on various social platforms.  Employees want to share their observations. And organizations can profit. How can leaders improve the quality of employee observations?

 The idle mind is the devil’s playground

Unfocused observers can go rogue, using information for selfish gain and harming others, creating a toxic gossip-filled work environment. Social networking policies are restrictive and punitive in nature. Their sole use to deter unproductive social media chitchat promotes a secretive and covertly defiant workforce. What is the point of observing if not to share with your followers? Organizations need to address the root of the problem. Is there a better way to reel in the idle mind?

Focus the observer

Give your employees something you want them to observe! This also tests their mindset to see if they are in line with the organization’s mission and purpose. When employee attention is focused observations become more targeted. This is how organizations reap the rewards from an ever-growing observer workforce. Focus the observer’s attention on a specific goal, service, or product. Always have employee attention clearly directed toward developing the organization and enhancing its performance and purpose. Are your employees currently focused on improving desired organizational outcomes? If not then how can you shift their focus?

Focused observers create an open feedback culture

When management seeks clear observations from its employees, deleterious chitchat wanes. Innate pro-social behaviors kick in. Believe it or not, people want to work together. Everyone benefits from a culture that promotes pro-social interactions. A group of focused observers creates a peer culture that derives constructive feedback and not harbor toxic rumors. Safety to verbally contribute increases. Speaking up is now associated with sharing an innovate idea or an improvement of some kind. Making your voice heard now brings the organization forward and not a colleague under. Feedback becomes solution-oriented. Possibilities become the focus and not what is not possible. An open feedback culture with focused observers creates an atmosphere of collaboration and collective wisdom sharing. Which organization doesn’t want that?

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Intergenerational learning ensures viability & innovation

Intergenerational Learning
Intergenerational learning is optimized when all generations are acknowledged and valued for their contributions.

Intergenerational learning is a top priority

Intergenerational learning is needed more now than ever before. Labor markets are struggling to meet rising human resource demands and simultaneously remain innovative. In a blog titled, Leveraging Europe’s Ageing Workforce, the author reports on how a declining pool of potential EU workers in a growing job market is resulting in the frenetic search for qualified and engaged young workers. In the US, the economic situation does not fair better.

A perfect storm is brewing. The combination of a decreasing labor force participation rate, baby boomers retiring, an expanding wage gap between high school and college graduates, and the skyrocketing costs of higher education are well documented. This harsh reality is set against the backdrop of a spiraling national debt that has surpassed $21,000,000,000,000. Let us not forget the ominous and bitter consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis. A corrective course of action is needed to avert a similar or worse fate.

What can we learn from older generations?

Companies need older workers! That is potentially good news for older workers seeking employment, as long as employers see the value in hiring them. By 2024, one in four U.S. workers will be 55 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. How should older workers be regarded in a digital age? How can the labor market incorporate their experience and wisdom? Older employees are typically seen as expensive and replaceable by younger and less expensive counterparts. But is this entirely true? 

Older employees have established networks. They have experience overcoming organizational challenges and achieving lofty goals. Their know-how and connections optimally position them to offer guidance and support. Their trained soft skills can help younger colleagues refine theirs. By sharing their stories and listening to younger generations, senior employees are a source of inspiration. Solely viewing them as a financial burden is not only short-sighted but also detrimental to an organization’s future in today’s market. Regarding them as a vital asset inspires new purpose and fresh meaning in their work-life, boosting their morale and productivity.

What can we learn from younger generations?

“Age shows wisdom, but wisdom shows no age” – Unknown author

As digital natives, young employees today may lack work experience and social competencies, but their ability to navigate in a digital world is unprecedented. In my parenting book What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth, I outline the EPIC Model, a learning framework embodied by those most adept at learning: young people. The Model consists of four components: exploration, play, inspiration, and connection. Using this framework optimizes intergenerational learning.

Regardless of age, we all have the capacity to learn. Young people can help older ones reignite the innate ability to explore, play, inspire, and connect. Subscribing to such a philosophy allows one to remain open to new possibilities. Organizations adopting such a philosophy remain viable and innovative. Creating an open learning culture improves both employee and organizational performance.

Generational labels impede intergenerational learning

Once GenX, GenY, and GenZ are mentioned, a debate ensues to determine the beginning and end years of each. As if a birth year reveals everything you need to know about a person. A heated discussion then follows to agree upon several descriptors applicable to hundreds of millions of people. Anyone who can memorize some random dates and a few adjectives becomes an immediate generation expert. If it were only so simple!

Labeling people usually leads to stereotypes. Stereotypes usually lead to some form of discrimination. Here are some warning signs of age discrimination. How does this domino effect ameliorate an aging and shrinking workforce? It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It perpetuates the current situation. What happens when organizations place more emphasis on reciprocal intergenerational learning?  How would intergenerational learning impact workplace culture, productivity, and creativity in your organization?

Intergenerational learning in action

Intergenerational learning requires commitment and time. Who has time for that? Time taken now to create new possibilities, improve collaboration, and ignite productivity saves time in the long-run. Processes, where information and conversations that matter most can be discussed from all perspectives, are vital. When all stakeholders participate then all members can take ownership and responsibility for the outcome. 

For technical learning, apprenticeship programs and continuous training keep all stakeholders up-to-date with current trends. Mentoring and reverse mentoring also help young employees with onboarding. Storytelling or various circle methods can be extremely helpful in creating space for reciprocal know-how sharing and open feedback.  Excursions and celebrations build social bonds and create a sense of achievement and belonging. A neutral facilitator may also be preferable when starting out or dealing with more serious issues.  There are numerous ways organizations can fully embrace the benefits of intergenerational learning other than simply creating multigenerational teams and hoping for the best.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator, Human Systems Expert, and Youth Specialist. He is the author of “What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth”. Jean-Pierre accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. All stakeholders benefit in a culture that supports exploration, play, inspiration, and connection.

How IoT reflects IoLT: the interconnectedness of living things

IoT
The symbiotic relationship between a crocodile and plover for the benefit of both species (smallscience.hbcse.tief.res.in)

IoT – What is the internet of things?

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over a network. IoT does not require direct human involvement to function. Chips implanted in devices or machinery combine operational technology (OT) with information systems (IT). Real-time data exchange through IoT allows for interoperability, enhancing efficiency and performance of a device,  product, or service.

IoT in the workplace and beyond

In 2016, the top three industries in IoT spending were manufacturing, transportation, and utilities. Global spending on IoT is projected to reach $1.3 Trillion in 2020 (IDC). According to Statista.com, a leading provider of market and consumer data,  the number of connected devices will increase six-fold from 15 billion devices in 2015 to 75 billion in 2025.

Not only will IoT be the standard in the workplace, but it will also be pervasive in our private lives, from personal belongings to inside our bodies. According to a 2018 article from Business Insider, thousands of Swedes are having microchips implanted in their bodies, no longer requiring them to carry keys or IDs. A simple wave of the hand unlocks the house door or identifies who you are.

IoLT – The interconnectedness of living things

The interconnectedness of living things is the interdependence of all organisms. For millions of years, the animal and plant kingdom has been developing and evolving a complex and intricate system of interdependency that benefits all species. Humans are becoming more cognizant of the need to care for the natural resources that all living organisms, humans included, are dependent upon.

Nature’s interconnectedness is as astonishing and complex of a system as there is. Nonetheless, it works rather effectively and efficiently through the use of six varying symbiotic relationships. Interdependence requires each stakeholder to uphold a degree of responsibility regardless of status or position. A system overcomes challenges and effectively deals with setbacks when all stakeholders fulfill their role. A breakdown at any point impacts the entire system. It is not a coincidence that the IoLT and IoT diagrams share similar patterns. What can we learn from nature as human interconnectedness and complexity increases as a result of IoT?

IoT
The interconnectedness of living things (Science Bob)

IoT
Internet of Things

The importance of IoLT

Just as industry and technology sectors see the value of the internet of things, so too are we becoming more aware of the importance of the interconnectedness of all things living. IoLT has the answers to cope with the potential threats of IoT. It is imperative we look after nature. How we care for nature will reflect how we cope with digitalization. Maintaining the quality of air, soil, and water, and minimizing our ecological footprint is more noticeable with the increase in air pollution, water contamination, deforestation, and global warming. What societal changes are we noticing from digitalization?

Nature not only ensures our survival, but it also helps us solve complex human problems. Studying photosynthesis to improve solar energy. Using snake venom to help find cures for cancer and diabetes. Kingfisher bird anatomy inspiring the design of bullet trains. These are but a few examples of biomimetics or biomimicry. Naturally occurring elements and structures greatly help us in taking the next evolutionary step. We still have more to learn.

Remaining human for the sake of posterity

As IoT results in the continued digitalization of work and home, interactions with technological devices are on the rise. Practicing pro-social skills and maintaining human connectedness will be paramount in adhering to a moral and ethical framework as digitalization becomes more predominant in everyday life. It should come to no surprise that political, economic, and social divisiveness becomes even more hazardous to our overall safety and security in a digitalized world. The use of IoT for ill intention or for the sake of taking advantage of certain stakeholders is a real and existing threat.

Empathy, compassion, listening, and understanding are all vital human traits that require continuous practice. A machine needs only to be programmed once to learn a task. In contrast, humans need to continuously train skills in order to maintain proficiency. If we don’t, we risk losing the ability to remain human in a world that becomes more capable of widespread harm with each passing day.

 Trust and transparency in a digital world

The breadth of challenges posed by IoT seems to span as wide as the potential benefits. What data is being collected? For what purpose is it being collected? Who has access to the data?  What impact does IoT have on security and personal privacy? These are just a few of the crucial and complex moral questions arising from data collection and use arising from the internet of things.

Creative cooperation and information sharing lead to survival and prosperity for all. IoT must be used with the common good of all in mind to reap large-scale rewards and avoid large-scale catastrophe. Similar to the delicate relationship between the plover enjoying a free meal and the crocodile a dental cleaning, trust, intention, collaboration, and transparency are paramount when dealing with complexity.  In a millisecond, a quick snap of the jaws is all that is needed to end the mutual benefits of this symbiotic relationship. The 200 million-year-old wise crocodile knows better. Do we?

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is an Executive Coach, Youth Expert, Human Systems Facilitator, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Small leader gestures have big follower impact

Leader Gestures – The basics of decency and respect

Within a period of three days, on two of the world’s biggest stages, millions of viewers observed two slights of basic human decency and respect by two of the most influential people towards other prominent world figures. The first faux pas coincidently occurred on Friday, July 13, 2018, at Windsor Palace between Queen Elizabeth II and President Donald Trump. The second occurred on Sunday, July 15, 2018, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow between Presidents Vladimir Putin, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, and Emmanuel Macron. Fortunately for all of us, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia was modeling desperately needed pro-social leader gestures.

The Queen is somewhere around here

leader gesture
President Trump walking ahead of Queen Elizabeth II during his visit to Windsor Castle. Photos by Richard Pohle

The procedure seems straightforward. Walk side-by-side through a column of honor guards. How difficult can it be? Even with what appeared to be instruction from the Queen, Trump either did not listen and/or did not care about the procedure. Leaving the Queen momentarily in his shadow, he gave the impression that the ceremony was only to honor his presence. During the short promenade, Trump not once looked at the Queen.

Put aside for a moment their titles and all the pomp and circumstance. An older man (72) is walking with an even older woman (92). As fit as Queen Elisabeth II is she is elderly and walking on an uneven surface. Wouldn’t it be proper and kind for the man to walk by her side? That is at a minimum. The extra step would be to offer his arm. The picture below offers a striking contrast to what easily could have been. The facial expressions in each picture say it all.

leader gestures
A young man accompanying an elderly woman on a walk Photo credit: Bcbits.com

Raining? Really, I’m hardly wet.

As French and Croatian players in the World Cup finals were awarded their medals and congratulated by FIFA president Gianni Infantoni, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, it began to rain then pour. As weather conditions worsened, the first to receive an umbrella was Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. No, not exactly. The first to receive protection from the elements was the host, Vladimir Putin. As Putin was sheltered by a large umbrella he did not even have to hold, Grabar-Kitarović, Macron, and Infantoni stood in elements jubilantly embracing players and coaches.

leader gestures
Presidents Macron and Grabar-Kitarović congratulate players and coaches in the pouring rain while President Putin takes cover under the first umbrella. Photo by Reuters.

Let us again put aside the titles and the significance of the ceremony. You are hosting three people at your house in your backyard. Suddenly the clouds roll in and it begins to rain then downpour. What do you do? You find an umbrella for yourself. No. This is not an airplane emergency where you are instructed to put your mask on first, then attend to others. You attend to the needs of your guests first.

Trump does not fair better with umbrella courtesy. He also ensured his well-being first under an oversized golf umbrella while Barron and Melanie handled the elements sans parapluie. Maybe the Queen could arrange a lesson in umbrella etiquette for them both.

Leader gestures
Trump making sure he is protected from the elements.
Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik

Leader gestures and their impact on followers

Small gestures say a lot about a leader’s character. A leader is the model of the behavior she wants her followers to emulate. Some followers do in fact imitate what their leader says and does. What messages are Presidents Trump and Putin sending their constituents on how to treat the elderly, family members, countries hosting you, or foreigners visiting your country?

Remember playing Follow-the-leader as a child?  A very empowering feeling for a young person knowing every one must pay attention to her every step and action. These simple leader gestures, however, are not a game and need to be taken seriously.  Followers can become emboldened by a leader’s irresponsible and anti-social gestures or language. Depending on the leader’s influence and intention, he can incite followers to either bring communities together or have them tear apart the social fabric that keeps us treating one another humanely. I explore the dangers of phony leadership in a previous blog.

A responsible leader gesture

On July 1st, when the Round of 16 of the World Cup was underway, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flew economy class to Russia with other Croatian fans to support their national team. What impact did her small gesture have on her constituents and the team? See for yourself.  The Croatian national team deserves full credit for reaching the World Cup Finals. One begs to ask, however, if such pro-social behaviors becoming of a president also contributed to their team’s national and international success?

Leader gestures
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic flying economy with passengers to Russia. Facebook/Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

The mistrust of leadership, the rise of self organization, and the need for facilitation

Facilitation

The mistrust of leadership

In a time of increasing mistrust in leadership, the need to use facilitation is on the rise. Corruption comes in many shapes and colors. Nepotism, deceit, secrecy, abuse of power, finger-pointing, data manipulation, bribery, blackmail, lack of transparency, intimidation, bullying, and all forms of discrimination are many of the behaviors used to artificially control a system. These self-serving tactics cause undo harm and distracts individuals, groups, departments, organizations, or even a country from fulfilling its mission, achieving its goals, and developing. The result is a squandering of valuable resources to plan, implement, monitor, and sustain a culture of chaos and deceit.

Prolonged and unchecked abusive behaviors are destructive in many ways. First, they erode trust in the leader. Second, people begin to lose faith in systems and institutions afflicted with leaders who act with apparent impunity. Third, unethical tactics used to perpetuate an unjust system are usually illegal and/or violate human rights. Fourth, a culture of abuse becomes the norm. Finally, on-going dysfunction takes an enormous physical, emotional, financial, and psychological toll on human resources.

Look at the news headlines. Be it in the financial, government, industry, or social sector, the unmasking of criminal and scandalous behaviors at high levels of organization is rising as is the mistrust of leaders promising to champion constituent interests. In today’s world of technology and visibility, it is easier to manipulate information and take advantage of others. It is also easier to be revealed as a fraud or perpetrator. Leaders are being called to show their authenticity, be transparent about their intention, and be accountable to the collective. And so it should be.

The rise of self-organization

As faith in leadership diminishes, self-organization is taking hold of management structures. Although processes and tools of flat and decentralized forms of management are useful, they are not the panacea to all management and leadership woes. Hierarchy alone is not inherently unhealthy. Incompetence and abuse in hierarchical structures are.

Human interactions and processes determine outcomes. Abandoning structures without examining root causes of its failure and adopting self-organization can lead to similar problems. Self-organization naturally results even in hierarchical settings when trust, clear intention, and transparency are apparent and space is given for people to be authentic. Although self-organization can be triggered by poor leadership, it is not the only reason.

People use their profession to fully realize their potential. More popularly referred to as self-actualization, I refer to this need as power or feeling worthwhile to self and others. Authenticity, purpose, and posterity are becoming more important with each subsequent generation.  Collectively we are realizing there is more to life than working to survive and counting down the days to retirement. People are actively taking steps to fulfill the need for power in professional settings and proper facilitation in self-organized structures is a sustainable means to that end. 

The need for facilitation

Human systems include both hierarchical and flat structures. Both usually occur simultaneously and both include the human element. We are social animals. Our first introduction to human systems and the most influential is our family of origin. We are literally born into it, no voting, no interview, no choice. Your relationship with your parents and elders is one of hierarchy. Your relationship with your siblings and cousins is flat. Another important system in the formative years is the educational system. There too exists the dual organizational structures. A student’s relationship with her teachers and administration is hierarchical and that to her peers is flat.

Self-organization is what should occur under true leadership. True leaders create environments of exchange and learning where departments and teams can make decisions and act interdependently with other counterparts. Facilitation is successful when individuals feel safe and can share their ideas. Facilitators create a culture where disagreements are not seen as personal attacks and feedback is not taken as negative criticism.

Facilitation is more than creating an agenda and keeping time. Group facilitation requires an advanced set of social skills. True facilitation lies in the facilitator’s ability to ensure the group’s psychological well-being. They create space for all to participate and feel appreciated. Facilitators can mediate differences and help the group find common ground to move forward. Facilitators have the ability to listen to the real message. They assess group dynamics, knowing when to check-in, slow down, suggest a break, or move the conversation along. Learn more about facilitation in a recent blog by Susan M. Heathfield.

One person doesn’t need to have all the answers. There are plenty of well educated and experienced people looking to join others in fulfilling their shared need for power. There needs, however, to be at least one person who can hold the space for intention, authenticity, and the collective to manifest. Facilitation skills are workplace competencies of the future. Organizations emphasizing process facilitation are wise as they will naturally produce highly functioning and innovative self-organized teams.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

The dangers of phony leaders and why authentic leaders are desperately needed

Quotes from leaders
Source: www.leanleader.org

Phony leadership and its consequences

Phony leadership arises when those feeling neglected are used for the sake of the leader’s need to be in a position of power for self-serving reasons. Phony leaders play on fears and focus their attention on emotionally charging their fanbase. This creates a level of fanaticism, jeopardizing the cohesiveness of all compatriots. Authentic leaders play down fears and focus their attention on emotionally discharging all stakeholders. This creates a level of security and fosters cohesiveness.

Authentic leadership seeks common ground amid differences. They view differences as opportunities for creation and innovation. For the authentic leader, new possibilities abound. Phony leadership, in contrast, views diversity as something to contend with, a threat to be defeated. A phony leader uses divisive tactics that create an “us versus them” mentality. Primitive methods using conflict and chaos are used to rule, not to serve.

The longer an unfit leader remains in power, the more likely respect for the position itself diminishes. Worse is the loss of faith in the institution for which the position is responsible. A group of people losing faith in a person is sad. A group of people losing faith in an institution vital to their livelihood is tragic and catastrophic. Therein lies the true danger of phony leadership.

When egos lead, phony leaders follow

Phony leadership is cowardly leadership disguised as brave leadership mainly to protect the leader’s fragile ego. Poor leadership is visible to all, except usually to the phony leader. The ostensible reason one assumes a position of leadership is for the sake of serving others. It quickly becomes evident that the phony leader is in the role to sustain his ego and self-interest.

As long as phony leaders maintain a loyal and demonstrative fanbase–even if through falsehoods and rhetoric, a cult-like following results. A phony leader creates a self-centered culture by making only a certain group believe someone is listening to just them. It is the equivalent of a parent showing extreme favoritism to one child while completely neglecting the others.

Such manipulative tactics create a “me first” mentality, mirroring the ego-driven persona of the phony leader. This dynamic creates a classic codependent relationship between the phony leader and his followers. All the while the neglected rest become disenchanted. This is the paradox of phony leadership. A phony leader rises to power by taking advantage of the unmet needs of those who feel neglected, only to use them again once in power to sustain his control of power.

The courage to step down

When transparency and truth reveal a leader’s incompetence, it is not time to denounce, deflect, and counterattack. It is time to face the truth and step down. Leaders serve all, not just their most loyal fanbase. If stepping down is how to best serve everyone, then that is the decision to make. Not doing so only confirms how unfit the person truly is to unite all. Those being led will appreciate the leader’s respect for the position’s duties, the title itself, and the institution he represents.

An ineffective leader who steps down shows moral intention. The leader wanted to lead a group and not let her ego lead her. It didn’t work out. Yes, this can happen to leaders too.

Authentic leaders understand the importance of having the right person in the job. Fake it until you become it may have its place in the world, however, not in positions of leadership where the livelihoods of a community, organization, or nation are at stake. In a world that operates and responds in real-time, fabrication of information, impulsive reactions, and emotional instability (just to name a few) can have a significant impact, up to and including global implications. It is in everyone’s best interest that a leader not fit for the position step down rather than continue and put others at risk.

Authentic leadership in action

Authentic leadership is without pretense. Their role is to invite, not exclude. Given the multitude of information transmitted each minute from various sources around the globe, it becomes even more critical for leaders to be able to hold the space for all truths. Authentic leaders are not only containers but also colanders. Taking in information is just the first step. Sifting through it all to find common ground amidst the multiple voices is the second step.

Finally, it is the leader’s role to create a culture where the themes that matter most can be addressed by those affected. This is once again holding space for differing opinions and conversations to safely take place. It is like hosting a party whereby all guests feel welcomed, are focused on a purpose, and can speak openly and listen carefully.

With a focus on the prestige of being a leader and the benefits associated with it, many are interested in playing the part. How many are actually fit to fully embrace the role? Authentic leaders take pride in their title, but this is not why they assume leadership roles. Serving others and responsibly fulfilling their duties keeps the authentic leader’s ego in check. Phony leaders create a platform for themselves to be the top performer. Authentic leaders create platforms for others to be top performers.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

North Korea Solution – Step back and demilitarize

North Korea

In the shoes of North Korea

In June 2009, I participated in a Negotiation training at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC. North Korea had just pulled out of the Six-party Talks two months prior and one of our exercises was to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table. Sound familiar?

One by one participants volunteered to represent the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. When it came to North Korea the room went silent. At this point in my career, I was managing a group home for youth in conflict with the law and had been in the counseling psychology field for over a decade. I sat for a moment and thought about it. North Korea now had an eager representative.

I do not remember the exact details of the negotiation process, other than it ended quickly and without an agreement. The frustration in the room was palpable. I was in control because there was nothing to negotiate. They wanted something from me (at least a few did), but I didn’t need anything from them. I said what I wanted and no one could do anything about it. My sense of perceived power was immense. The greater their frustration, the more emboldened I became. Sound familiar?

How the US could deal with North Korea – A Case Study

Fast forward several years later. I was still the director of the group home and in came a referral from Boston. “Jerry” was short and stocky in stature and was as tough as they come. He was heavily gang-involved and had recently survived multiple gunshot wounds. His gang allegiance was so strong, that he’d rather return to be with his crew and possibly get killed than stay in the program. He didn’t care. He wanted out and started behaving accordingly.

Jerry immediately began threatening and posturing towards staff. I went to have a look. It did not go well. My presence escalated the situation. Jerry felt more threatened and as a result, he started threatening me. I had to keep my ego in check and depersonalize the situation. Had I taken a similar threatening approach, having over 600 pounds of combined staff weight near me, it would have ended in an ugly and potentially dangerous physical restraint. The risk of injury to either Jerry or my staff was extremely high. No one wanted that.

I could sense Jerry’s rational state was deteriorating and his desperation was increasing. This young man had everything to fight for and nothing to lose. A physical intervention would have only condoned an old pattern of using threats and violence as a method to fulfill needs. Such a response would have been at a physical and psychological cost, as well as a potential financial and legal cost. Furthermore, how as role models could we help Jerry if we behave exactly as he does? Sound familiar?

Jerry needed to feel safe and assured that we were doing our best to de-escalate the situation. So what did I do? I left. As the director, my responsibility was to ensure everyone’s safety and doing so required me to step back and withdraw. My job was to build trust and model the behavior I was asking of Jerry. Before leaving, I told Jerry that we would do our best to work with him and that his cooperation would be appreciated. Jerry left the next day to another program which he ended up completing. Win-win.

Although a different situation, there are some similarities and key takeaways for how the US could choose to deal with North Korea. As this is a multi-party affair, let’s look briefly at the five other countries to better understand their perspective and consider alternative peaceful solutions.

North Korea

What does North Korea really want? Ostensibly to become a nuclear power equal to the US and not be threatened by potential US military action. Why does North Korea feel so threatened by the US? First, the United States and South Korea have had a military alliance since 1953. Second, nearly 30,000 US troops are in South Korea, regularly conducting extensive military drills on North Korea’s doorstep. Third, Japan, which is only 600 miles away, hosts the largest number of US military in a foreign country–nearly 40,000 troops–and hosts the Seventh Fleet, the largest of US navy’s sea forces. Lastly, is the island of Guam, which hosts a US military base of about 4,000 personnel and is about 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.

Whether real or imagined, North Korea most likely interprets this robust military presence–which could easily attempt to invade a small country–as an imminent existential threat. This fear needs to be acknowledged and seen as a trigger for North Korea. Former US President Jimmy Carter said it best, “Until we’re willing to talk to them and treat them with respect as human beings, which they are, then I don’t think we’ll make any progress.”

Japan and South Korea

From the North Korean perspective, Japan and South Korea are most likely viewed as extensions of the US military arm and threat. One can assume that both Japan and South Korea want peace and security in the region. Kudos to Japan for keeping its cool and not responding in a rash way or with retaliatory comments in light of the two recent missile launches over its country. There is something to learn from their outward show of calmness in an otherwise tense situation. Japan and South Korea are wisely looking for a peaceful global response, and not solely relying on American muscle.

Russia and China

From the outside, both Russia and China hardly appear to be encouraging North Korea to stop their nuclear development and testing. According to a Chinese spokeswoman, “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive.” Is it really? It only appears complicated for the US, South Korea, and Japan. China and Russia are barely batting an eye, although they both have a better relationship with North Korea and can be most influential in bringing peace to the region. As for North Korea, their nuclear capabilities are only improving.

Both Russia and China are most likely also not pleased with America’s extensive presence in the area. It could be advantageous for Russia and China for North Korea to have nuclear capabilities. For the two superpowers, North Korea is a check and balance on the peninsula and a thorn in the side of the US.

Recommendations to De-escalate tensions with North Korea

De-militarize the area and step back

The United States must lessen its perceived threat to North Korea by stepping back from discussions and reducing its military presence in the area. Lowering fear and anxiety increases the level of safety in a crisis situation and makes the possibility of dialogue more likely. Russia and China would likely approve of such measures as well and the US could no longer be blamed for raising tensions and escalating fears.

China and Russia need to take a more active role with North Korea

US Secretary of State Tillerson aptly responded after a missile launch over Japan in 2017 when he said, “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.” Russia has been relatively quiet stating that more sanctions are not the answer. China only states that “all parties should exercise restraint”, however, North Korea seems to be exempt from this plea. One begins to wonder what they both truly want as an outcome.

As long as the US, South Korea, and Japan continue responding in kind with threats and displays of military might, China and Russia can continue watching a game that has been playing since 2003 when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The second benefit of the US stepping back and demilitarizing the peninsula and area is that China and Russia will be put in a position to act and not just make comments about what others need to do. The international community would then soon see whether both China and Russia want peace and stability in the area or not.

Positively encourage North Korea to denuclearize

There is a third benefit of the United States taking a back seat and de-militarizing the peninsula and area. North Korea would have a difficult time justifying its reason to continue its nuclear weapons program. This increases the chances of them reducing weapons testing and manufacturing. It also increases the chances of them coming back to the discussion table. If North Korea still continues on its current path, then international consensus could put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

US and Russia need to take action on Pillar 2 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The United States and Russia need to show the world, not just North Korea, that they are serious about global denuclearization. Why should a country disarm when the ones telling them to do so do not do it themselves? Why should some countries be allowed to have nuclear arms and others not?

The Second Pillar of NPT is Disarmament. It states “all Parties undertake to pursue good-faith negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general and complete disarmament.” The second and third points of this pillar must be the focus for all nine nations in possession of nuclear weapons, especially the United States and Russia who each have a nuclear arsenal of around 7,000 capable weapons. Of these, each has around 1,800 that are operational. Next, come China and France with about 300 nuclear weapons apiece.

The North Korean nuclear weapons crisis can happen anywhere, therefore, the threat of nuclear weapons needs to be broadened beyond North Korea. Let North Korea be a reminder of what is at stake if all nations, especially those with nuclear capabilities, do not take the mandates of NPT seriously. Let North Korea be a reminder of how nuclear armament threatens regional as well as global peace and development.

Progress begins when the US does exactly what it is asking of North Korea–denuclearize. The United States, Russia and China must lead by example and fully comply with the NPT mandates. This is active leadership. This is being a leader in a nuclear world.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the youth inspired EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

A warning about the use of labels on people

labeling
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Product labels have their place

Product labels have become increasingly important the more conscious we become about what we consume and purchase. A healthier lifestyle, environmental concerns, and social responsibility are a few reasons we search for and read labels. One ingredient, one raw material, or even a product’s origin is enough for a consumer to disregard an otherwise appealing product. This use of labeling is for both the benefit of the individual and the community. This is, however, where the benefits of labels stop.

Labeling allows us to discern information, however…

In an age of overwhelming access to information, the desire to share knowledge increases, as does skepticism around accuracy and its source. Everyone can’t be right, so who is telling the truth? There is some truth on all sides when we listen without judgment to find common ground and seek understanding.

Humans instinctually discern the goodness and value of the information we gather from our senses. From an evolutionary standpoint, a slip in judgment could have been a matter of life or death. The problem is, too often we make rash one-sided judgments of people and therein lies the danger of labels.

Labeling people leads to dehumanization

labelsOpposing views, as displayed in the political arena, are usually not resolved through inquisitive processes to further understand the other(s). Rather, people with differing viewpoints are labeled in dismissive and demeaning ways. The goal is to diminish their worth and tarnish their reputation. Dialogue under these conditions cannot take place.

Name-calling is unpresidential

Small leadership gestures have a big follower impact. On a larger scale, leadership under an umbrella of fear, threats, and verbal aggression slips into dictatorship. Such a manner of conduct breeds animosity and divisiveness. The contentiousness that results has the propensity to lead to violent behavior and clashes.

Believe it or not, Wikipedia has a “nickname” page for Donald Trump. The list is surprisingly (or not) extensive. This a dangerous political method of dealing with opposition. Labeling systemically condones an “us versus them” mentality, allowing it to become the accepted way of dealing with differences. We are witnessing the damage this divisive behavior brings to our diverse communities.

Labeling places people at risk

Once labeled, a person is reduced to several unflattering stereotypes. Once dehumanized that person is perceived as less than human. Their needs, voice, and value are diminished. Susceptibility to discrimination, mockery, oppression, neglect, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional) increases.

In extreme cases, significant harm and even death can result. One needs not to look too far in the distant past to see how hateful and dehumanizing language can lead to an act of genocide. The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 is a stark reminder of how the Tutsi minority for decades prior was verbally degraded and labeled as cockroaches and snakes. What does one do with cockroaches and snakes?

Read product labels, stop labeling people

Continue reading labels on products on shelves and on racks. They hopefully make you a more informed consumer.  A label on a bag of organic apples grown from a local farm helps the consumer determine the value and worthiness of the purchase.

Degrading labels on people are not accurate and only decrease a person’s value. This can become a slippery slope leading to oppression and the likelihood of injustice to arise. Use great caution before consuming a demeaning and dehumanizing label placed on a person. Rather than labeling people seek to understand and find common ground. Take the time to look into what is not on the label.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.