Category Archives: community

VUCA: from a system and problem focus to a person and solution orientation

VUCA

VUCA needs a new meaning and focus

By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID.  Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-oriented VUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?

VUCA people transform VUCA situations

What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?

Virtuousness contains volatility

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.

Understanding reduces uncertainty

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.

Compassion humanizes complexity

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.

Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity

The online Oxford Dictionary defines adaptability as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox.  Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.

VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged

It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Process Facilitator, Youth Advocate, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Effective Leadership – A changing of the guards

Effective Leadership

What is effective leadership anyway?

The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount. 

Essential components of effective leadership

Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?

Effective leadership ensures economic equity 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.

Effective leadership is inclusive

The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.

Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps

In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.

Effective leadership entails environmental stewardship

The Internet of things (IoT) entails everything connected to the internet. So too are we interconnected with all living things (IoLT). When nature is out of balance so are we. We are an integral part of nature. We cannot survive without a healthy and diverse environment. As such, it is our human responsibility to care for our use of it. Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” (source: Wikipedia)

Effective leadership is intergenerational

Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?

Acknowledging a changing of guards

Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Resilience: Overcoming adversity to further one’s development

resilienceResilience: Raspberry plant growing out of isolation and darkness

Resilience in nature

Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.

Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.

We only need the basics

Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.

Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is

Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait.  Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:

“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”

Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.

Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose

Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus,  reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.

Resilience requires looking above to set a goal

Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.

Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again

Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.

A vaccine is needed but insufficient

Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!

About the author

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

COVID-19: The outer and inner leadership test

COVID-19
Image by Vektor Kunst from Pixabay

COVID-19 knows no socio-economic boundaries and is not intimidated by legal action, social media, political antics, economic sanctions, and military force

COVID-19 has no regard for titles or authority as officials, Hollywood actors, and sports stars test positive. You cannot take legal action against it.  Stonewalling will not make COVID-19 disappear. Name-calling will not shame it. Social media smear campaigns only increase its ability to mislead potential victims. Neither bribery, blackmail, nor hush money will make COVID-19 go away. You cannot levy a tax against it or block it by building a wall. So what is left in the bag of tricks of so-called leaders faced with a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions? COVID-19 can not even be eradicated with the combined use of all the world’s military might ($2 Trillion dollars global yearly spending). Imagine how $2,000,000,000,000 could help R&D find a cure. Imagine how this unfathomable amount of money could help SMEs, vulnerable populations, and families all over the world affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the World’s Mid-Life Crisis

It usually takes a significant medical issue or some personal crisis for a person to stop and reflect on life. Your health and well-being is number one as is that of Earth. What price do you put on your health and environmental well-being? COVID-19 is shining a bright spotlight on our collective welfare. It calls into question the equality of current global economic systems. It makes evident the gaps in social welfare systems. COVID-19 makes us ask questions like what is it all for? What is really important in life? Who truly benefits from my time, talents, and energy?

COVID-19 calls into question our human existence

This is a rapidly changing situation requiring millions of people to continuously adapt, refocus, and remain calm, while not forgetting about the simple human kindness and consideration that will help us all get through this. Millions more are sacrificing their safety to ensure others remain healthy. Are we doing all this just to get back to business as usual as we did after the 2008 financial crisis? What did we learn from that economic collapse? Do you remember who was responsible for creating a volatile and fragile system? As you hunker down in your abode with family and loved ones, there is no shortage of time to reflect on what really is important in your life.  What realizations have you since come to recognize? What changes have you already made to your lifestyle that you would like to keep going forward even after the impact of COVID-19 diminishes?

COVID-19 calls upon true leadership

COVID-19’s greatest ally is leadership incompetency. It has an uncanny ability to show a leader’s true ability to lead in a time of crisis. COVID-19 separates leaders who pretend they know how to lead from those who actually can. COVID-19 relentlessly spreads each time a leader fails to transmit the social gravity of isolation for the sake of personal, political, or economic gain. Taiwan has been a beacon of the leadership needed in such a crisis due to an educated vice-president. Those responsibly leading nations, however, do not need to be epidemiologists as is the case with Chen Chien-jen. They do need to consult closely with experts in the field who know how best to respond to such situations. Leaders in times of crisis know how to deliver clear and concise directives. They know how to instinctively inspire people to act calmly, rationally, and collectively.

COVID-19 ultimately demands inner leadership

COVID-19 is a top priority for all country, state, and local leaders. The real leader, however, in combating the spread of COVID-19 is you! COVID-19 is a serious example of why competent inner leadership is as crucial in such times as outer leadership. It is the epitome of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). The #staythefuckhome movement is a prime example for the emphatic call to lead from within. We all have the wherewithal to choose our part in either spreading or containing the virus. A simple individual decision like self-isolating and reducing social contact taken by masses of people helps reduce the risk of furthering the spread of this contagious and life-threatening virus. As the world becomes more complex individual decisions and actions–inner leadership–will become more necessary in overcoming global challenges to achieve shared human goals that impact us all.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, Youth Expert, 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 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.

For more information on how companies can better cope with VUCA by encouraging employee empowerment read my blog on Human Edge Cultures

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.

 

The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development

Digital Paradox
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

The Digital Paradox

A group of teens is huddled behind their smartphones instead of engaging with one another. An emotional email rant is sent to a colleague instead of a face-to-face discussion. The more technology ostensibly appears to disconnect us from one other the more it beckons us to confront our own humanity.  This is the digital paradox. I briefly identify digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.

Emerging Technology   Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR) = Individual Perception
Mixed Reality (MR) = Diversity of Perceptions
Blockchain = Trust / Transparency
Big Data = Collective Consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI) = Emotional Intelligence (Sensing)
Internet of Things (IoT) = The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT)
Bots and Algorithms = Ethical Intention / Posterity

Human Augmented Reality Makes Us Unique

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. We augment reality daily using our own biological computer–the brain–to enhance sensory-based experiences based upon our programmed perceptions. Are we at risk of losing our sense of self-perception in a predetermined digitally enhanced augmented reality? What impact does sharing the same augmented sensory experience have on our human development? This leads us to the next emerging technology and its human-related counterpart.

Managing Mixed Reality Requires Leadership

Digital mixed reality refers to any real-time combination between reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality.  In human terms, mixed reality is the intricate interplay of “augmented realities” of over 7.5 billion people. Globalization is the unstoppable convergence of human beings. Nevertheless, the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance shows a struggle to accept this natural process. Why? Managing diversity requires leaders who can hold the space for multiple mixed realities. Managing conformity only requires dictators. Leading diversity is achieved on a more horizontal plane by fostering knowledge sharing to promote common human interests. Dictating uniformity is achieved on a more vertical axis by restricting information sharing to satisfy self-interest based on hierarchy. What does this struggle to integrate mixed realities say about the quality and intention of current global leadership? This leads us to the next emerging technology.

Blockchain is About Trust and Transparency

According to a World Economic Forum report, corruption costs the global economy $3.6 Billion each year.  Blockchain in its basic form is an electronic ledger (chain) of individual data transactions (blocks). In comparison to current financial transaction methods, Blockchain is more secure and unalterable, fostering trust and transparency in a VUCA world. Data is the new oil in the digital era. The importance of trust and transparency will increase as the importance and scope of information expand. The era of “Fake News” is hardly a surprise as financial scandals surface. To remain in power, those who profit from deceit slander and discredit the sources revealing the deception. Blockchain mitigates this issue by allowing one to transparently “follow the money” and brings us to the next tech buzzwords.

Big Data & Artifical Intelligence = Collective Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence

In an emerging digital age tech gurus are advising us to focus more on what humans do best. Computers are best at collecting raw data (Big Data) and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze this surplus of data as desired. This relationship between Big Data and AI humanly translates to our collective consciousness and emotional intelligence respectively. Trust and transparency awaken our collective conscious and stimulate our emotional intelligence. Like computers, humans gather exorbitant amounts of data through augmented and mixed human realities. Being in tune with our emotional state and those of others leads us to be more aware and compassionate. This is being human. Collective consciousness and emotional intelligence make us whole and connected with nature. This is what computers cannot do and leads us to the next tech wonder.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Represents the Interconnectedness of Living Things (IoLT)

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over an integrated network. As our collective consciousness grows and emotional intelligence develops, we will better understand the interconnectedness of all living things (IoLT). Please click the subtitle to read more about how IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events is starting to sound like the famous British nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built! This children’s story is not about Jack’s house per se. Rather it is about the stories of people and animals in his house. The same is true of digitalization. Technology ultimately comes full circle back to our human development and its impact on the 8.7 million species inhabiting Earth. And so we have to be clear about our intention. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.

The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention

Technology is created by humans. We determine its use and intention. Bots are programs created to automate repetitive tasks. There are Good Bots and Bad Bots.  Good bots can improve your website’s SEO and bad bots can steal content from your website. An algorithm is a set of steps to accomplish a task. Algorithms, like bots, are not free of corruptive influence and human prejudices. Algorithm bias already exists. Like all technology, bots and algorithms are a means to an end. The collective use of bots and algorithms shows our overall human intention and future direction. Digitalization is a reflection of our human development. Is it to serve the interests of the few or benefit the common good of all? What is needed to ensure that posterity supersedes the lucrative lure of special interest to exploit advancements in digitalization?

The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace

The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. This is not only the best outcome; it is achievable. The digital paradox casts a bright light onto what is needed for us to further develop as the top species responsible for this planet and all other species inhabiting it. Advancements in deep learning bring algorithms and computers closer to mimicking human thought and behavior. At this stage of our human development is the objective of making machines in the image of humans advisable? We routinely and sadly witness the enduring physical and emotional harm a group of people or even a single human being with malicious intent can have on a community. Imagine what devastation a global network of ill-intentioned algorithms could do? What is needed to minimize this risk?

The Digital Paradox Demands Ethical Dialog

We must proceed with mindful ethical oversight. Ethical dialog about technology and its use and intention require as much attention and resources as that which go into R&D itself. However, careful and serious attention is needed when assembling ethics committees. A recent Guardian article highlighted the risks of having biased and nondiverse members on ethics committees in charge of ensuring that algorithms are not biased and prejudiced. Lo and behold another paradox! Humans stand at the center of all technology. No matter which reality lens you use, the digital paradox becomes clearly evident the more digital processes mirror the likeness of their human creators. Even in a technologically advanced world, all roads still lead to Rome.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, and Youth Specialist. 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.

VUCA: How companies can reap the rewards

VUCA

Rediscovering VUCA

VUCA is an acronym that most in the business world have become familiar with. It is the result of an ever-increasing flow of data and information in conjunction with increasing distrust of data and information.  This duality not only impacts economies and politics. It fundamentally affects how we interact and treat each other. I recently learned of the VUCA acronym at a presentation by Google’s Country Manager Adriatic Region, Joško Mrndže.  Here is the irony. The acronym was unfamiliar to me, however, as Mrndže continued talking about VUCA, the hairs on my arms straightened. As he spoke I was transported back to the almost two decades I had dedicated transforming extreme manifestations of VUCA.

Clarifying VUCA

vuca
(source: knowledgehut.com)

Volatility – the quality or state of being like to change suddenly, especially by becoming worse.

Uncertainty – a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known or certain.

Complexity – the state of having many parts and being difficult to understand or find an answer to.

Ambiguity – the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

What the VUCA is going on

Left unchecked VUCA can wreak havoc on any community, organization, team, or individual. For most of my years in social work, I was responsible for managing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in the lives of hundreds of young men in conflict with the law. Our job was to transform VUCA into positive energy and outcomes. We were tasked with ensuring that its devastating impact did not harm anyone, overrun the program’s culture, or spill into the neighboring community. One can imagine how the life of a young person coming from a home of domestic violence, abuse, and/or neglect can result in VUCA. Add to that any of the following pre-existing conditions: trauma, alcohol/drug addiction, gangs, learning disabilities, truancy, emotional dysregulation, poverty, and psychiatric illness.

Psychological safety transforms VUCA

The importance of psychological safety in companies is a coping mechanism for VUCA. This is a top priority for leaders.  Work environments are psychologically safe when:

A code of conduct exists and is practiced
Physical/Environmental safety is assured
Employees are entrusted to do their job
Systems and procedures  promote fair treatment
A mentoring culture exists
Employees are supported in times of need
Good work is recognized
An open feedback culture exists
Personal and professional development is encouraged
Employees feel a sense of belonging

As the director of a group home, I could not control what was happening outside the walls of my program. My energy went to influencing the staff and residents inside by fostering a trusting and caring environment. A safe haven in a sea of uncertainty allows people to harness VUCA’s creative and innovative potential.

Living la Vida VUCA

Vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are not always unwanted conditions. Moreover, they can never be fully eradicated, nor should they be. When a safe haven to deal with such incalculable conditions exists, VUCA promotes creativity and innovation. Some of the most out of the box thinkers I have met were the young men under my care.  Living a VUCA life creates an agile mind. People comfortable with instability are flexible and adaptable. As VUCA increases in a digital world so does the need for societies and organizations to create conditions for humans to effectively and efficiently deal with it. Ensuring psychological safety permits people to have the peace of mind to learn and grow from incalculable and unknown variables.

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.

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.