Active Listening – When Shutting Up Matters

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringThere is a lot that the business world can learn from NGOs in general. And vice versa, I am sure. We all know that. But if there is anything that I have learned just recently that certainly has stroked a chord with me in terms of what would be rather critical and paramount for enterprises (whatever the size) to, finally, understand and embrace in equal terms, is to stop being both rather patronising or paternalistic and, instead, just shut up and listen. After all,  “[…] In economic development, if people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone”. Why? Well, it’s all about respect, really. 

Servant Leadership can take you, and will take you!, very far, if done correctly; that is, when it’s done around the passion of local people (i.e. employees, knowledge workers, citizens and what not), who have got a dream to become a better person. That’s why empowerment, as a concept, in the business world, is just such a fully loaded word and so very broken, as my good friend, John Wenger, wrote, not long ago, over at “Why you can’t empower someone”.

What we can do, instead, is go ahead and help people find the knowledge, so that they are capable of pursuing their own goals and outcomes based on their own passion(s). That’s why enablement trumps empowerment time and time again. After all, it’s pretty simple I suppose, if you look into it. You just can’t empower people per se and get away with it, as if nothing happened. Eventually, and perhaps without realising about it too much, that’s when you become rather patronising and paternalistic altogether showcasing you know way better than everyone else, when that may well not be the case, and therefore you think you can still retain that position of power, status, decision making and entitlement, and, therefore, respect, even if you never had it in the first place, because you never show it for others for that matter. See? There is a lot to learn from NGOs. At least, from some of them

What we can do, essentially, is to enable them (knowledge workers) to empower themselves to be the leaders of change they want to become. And become yourself, in the process, a facilitator, understanding that they won’t succeed alone and that they would need to find partners to be able to strike for the magic. And you are their partner.

Apparently, “planning is the kiss of death for entrepreneurship”, so what you would want to do, instead, is perhaps invest in the community aspect of getting work done together, as partnerships driven by openness, transparency, collaboration, knowledge sharing, respect, passion, common purpose, etc. etc. away from the traditional hierarchical silos, where applicable, and start working together towards that notion that work happens around communities and networks versus the traditional top down (now obsolete) hierarchy and that

“The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people”. 

Again, there is a whole lot the business world (And everyone else, in general, for that matter) can learn from NGOs and earlier on this week I myself had that very same wonderful opportunity while bumping into this particular TEDx Talk by Dr. Ernesto Sirolli (Special thanks to Roxanna Samii for sharing it along!) under a rather evocative and suggestive title (“Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!”), where he comes to present with lots of charisma, humour, wit and plenty of drama, an overall incredibly passionate speech about the advantages of working in small local groups or local communities for maximum impact, through facilitators who help inspire entrepreneurship where it matters, as partnerships with different people who may well have different skills and talents, but with one key aspect in mind: that is, instead of you or me or us doing the talk we just keep quiet, shut up, and listen to those folks who we may need to help, eventually, find the knowledge as well as the resources they need for them to pursue their own passion(s) further along: 

 

There is a whole lot more than I could say and write about regarding this absolutely stunning presentation by Ernesto (roughly about 17 minutes long and very much worth while watching altogether!) with lots more to learn and reflect upon, but there is one thing that has stuck with me big time so far and that I am surely going to embark on from here onwards: you know what they say about doing plenty of research beforehand about your potential clients or new prospects, specially, with the emergence of all of these digital tools, so that you are as well prepared as you should, right? Well, to me, while I continue to do that, I am now also scheduling some time off to watch Ernesto’s presentation to remind myself, over and over again, how there is a great chance for me to help those potential customers succeed big time by just shutting up and listening with intent first to what they would want to do, what business problems to address or what new business opportunities to explore, than just myself doing all the talk, thinking that I know better than them.

The big ah-ha moment for me, after watching this talk, is that I don’t. I am just a helper. An enabler. A people enabler. One of the many out there who can, hopefully, help find the knowledge you may need through relevant networks and communities with a specific single mission and common purpose: to help you change your world with not only the knowledge and resources you may have available, but also through the communities and networks we are all part of. 

After all, you are your (social) networks, and the networks are you, so we better start paying more attention to them, keep quiet and listen both actively and carefully. Remember, “Hierarchies are only as smart as the smartest gatekeepers. Networks are smarter than the sum of their nodes”. 

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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#LeadWithRespect Meme: a Challenge for 21st Century Management

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the SpringI can’t remember the last time that I participated on a blog carnival or meme blog series for that matter. I guess it’s been far too long, so when my good friend Cecil Dijoux launched a meme invitation to a group of us around #LeadWithRespect : a Challenge for 21st Century Management, based on a recent blog post he published upon embarking himself on reading the book “Lead With Respect” by Freddy and Michael Ballé (Already got my Kindle copy, by the way, although I haven’t gotten started with it just yet…), I just couldn’t help diving in and see where it would take us all being part of those conversations. After all, what could possibly go even more wrong with Leadership (and Management, in general) as it is today, perhaps one of the most profound, deeply routed and unprecedented management and leadership crisis in our entire recorded human history. I guess the only way is up, right? 

I asked Cecil through Twitter whether we would, eventually, need to read the book before participating on the meme invitation and he confirmed that was not the case. He’s still reading it himself further along, but just wanted to get some dialogue going and seeing the list of invitees I am sensing it could be quite something! A true privilege for yours truly, for certain, to be sharing my two cents when you see such notable and well-respected names such as these folks:

 

Essentially, the meme invitation is all about providing some specific answers to the various “seminal leadership questions” that the book is trying to answer as well. To name:

“[…] what is it to lead with respect ? What does it mean to show respect to employees ? Are there any related practices that can be applied in different context and yet bringing encouraging results ? Is it necessary for a 21st century leader to respect her employees in order to achieve success ? What are the costs of not respecting employees ? What is the relationship between leading with respect and setting a culture of continuous improvement ?”

So I thought I would get started with the meme by perhaps sharing some quick entry points to each of those questions based on thoughts that have been in my mind for a good while now. I know there will be a lot more to write down and share along on the topic, and I am sure we will all continue to cover this area for a good while with additional blog posts. Both leadership and management are two topics that I have always found really fascinating and which I think are right at the heart of the matter as to why vast majority of today’s knowledge workers are (totally) disengaged at work. You know how it works, if both your managers and leaders are disengaged at work, which they are, and very much so!, so will the employees they manage, even to the point of their own customers. If we are to define the overall client experience around the employee experience we would first need to help identify what the new role of management / leadership should be like, because the current model, and for obvious reasons, cannot be even more broken than what it is at the moment.

By all means, this article does not intend to address nor fix all of the various different problems and business issues with management / leadership overall. This article will just attempt to share some pointers to ideas, thoughts, and experiences that could help re-define that overall role of management and where would it fit in the Social Era of the Connected Company. An Open Business.

What is it to lead with respect?

To me, it’s all about trust. There is a great chance that if you trust someone you would respect someone. And in order to do that you would need to know them, in order to know them you would need to find out what they know, what they share, who they share it with, how they feel about things, what they are truly passionate about and so forth. Eventually, what drives them and motivates them to come to work every day by essentially offering the opportunity to demonstrate their thought leadership day in day out, which is essentially why they were hired for in the first place.

That’s where management and leadership come in. Lead with respect means that we need to leave behind that paternalistic approach from management of not trusting their employees by default, no matter what, therefore not showing much respect, because they know better than those same knowledge workers. After all, remember, they are making all of the decisions for them. They take all the risks for them all the time as well. They set the overall strategy of how the business will be run, right from the trenches to all the way to the top. For those managers, their competitive advantage has always been “knowledge is power” and why they have managed to cling to it all along with no remedy, because that has always been the status quo of how things operate at work. And you just need to keep quiet. 

But we should not forget they also take their pay, their big fat bonuses, and a certain status and power that, if anything, has got the opposite effect of showing that respect and trustworthy mindset of who you work with. Understanding that if you relinquish all of your knowledge and expertise you are eventually enabling your workforce to excel even more at what they already do a decent job for. But, you see? That’s not going to happen that easily, because that’s just the beginning of the road towards respecting your employee workforce, i.e. to not only help them do their jobs more effectively, and therefore becoming the Chief Obstacle Remover, but also to treat them as what they are: people, human beings, who, after all, are looking to strike both (business) results and (personal business) relationships. That’s the moment when you, as a manager, get to lose control, if you ever had it, because, if anything, control has always been an illusion and will remain so for many decades to come. Time to wake up to reality. 

What does it mean to show respect to employees?

It essentially means that managers and leaders are finally understanding the transformation provoked by these emerging digital tools where we are transitioning from a business world run under the mantra of the scarcity of knowledge stocks into the abundance of knowledge flows (as John Hagel coined back in the day) therefore embracing the motto of “knowledge SHARED is power”, where eventually knowledge workers are now more exposed to timely information, resources AND people to make better decisions without having to go every single time through their management chain in order to do their job. Biggest ah-ha moment about showing that respect to employees is for managers to, at long last, embrace the notion that they are no longer the smartest people in the room. That out there, amongst their own employee workforce, there are bound to be dozens and dozens of really smart, talented, amazing and brilliant people who are doing excellent jobs that they were never credited for.

Once you realise you are no longer the smartest person in the room, you are just on the brink of entering that new model of self-management around social networks that Jon Husband coined back in the day as Wirearchy and that certainly defines the workplace of the future in a direction away from a hierarchical, paternalistic, command and control, micromanaging driven mentality that has caused, if anything, more harm than benefit. Showing respect to employees essentially means you realise you are also one of them. One of the nodes in the network. The challenge then becomes how well connected you may well be in the network based on the trust and respect for others you may have shown over the course of time. The transition is clear. Knowledge and expertise become redundant, if you are no longer connected to the rest of the network. And that’s where respect shines, as you will have to earn the merit from each and everyone of them every single day of every month. Every year. Forever. 

Are there any related practices that can be applied in different context and yet bringing encouraging results?

I am sure there are plenty of them out there. In fact, it’s probably one of the hottest topics at the moment in the field of Management and Leadership in terms of redefining their role in the Knowledge Economy of the 21st century. One of my favourite books on the topic (Although there are certain ideas I still don’t buy just yet) is that one from Frederic Laloux around Reinventing Organisations which is a must-read in terms of helping identify what the future organisation would be like starting off today. 

For a good while though I have been pondering and musing about a particular framework that I think could be applied in different contexts but that would also bring up some excellent and encouraging results in terms of that transformation both leadership and management need to go through. It’s what I call the L.A.F. Framework, which essentially consists of 3 key basic elements that would help management and leadership understand their new role in the Social Era. To name: 

  • Listen: If you would ask me, nowadays we seem to be doing a rather poor job at listening to others, in fact, active listening, or listening with intent, is hard to find at this current time whether in the business world or in our society in general. However, if we would all just shut up and listen plenty more we would all realise how refreshing and liberating hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions could well be in order for us to make better decisions based on the new knowledge we would constantly get exposed to, acquire and put to good use collectively.
     
  • Act: This is where action comes into place, because after having done a few rounds of active listening, gathering input, networking, sharing and collaborating more effectively with our peers while getting work done, managers would have a great opportunity to show they care for their employees by acting upon the input they are receiving from them as a result of those listening activities. 
     
  • Feed Back: And, finally, this is where respect will come through and shine further along, because after having done that listening exercise, after having acted upon accordingly addressing those potential business opportunities or challenges, it’s now a good time to feed back to your networks on what you have done with those other previous activities in order to bring forward those encouraging results.

    This is where the vast majority of management and leadership fail rather drastically today. More than anything else because of that paternalistic sense of not having to report to anyone on what they do, never mind their own employees. After all, who are they, right? Remember, I don’t trust them. I call the shots, I make the decisions, I take the risks. They just execute my orders. Yet, feeding back to them, closing the circle, having a bloody good conversation on what you learn, what you did with it and what the impact may well be, is just probably as good as it gets in terms of leading with respect. Why? Because you are starting to fully understand that notion the L.A.F. framework just makes you an equal to everyone else. You are then part of the trusted network where magic just happens. 

 Is it necessary for a 21st century leader to respect her employees in order to achieve success ? What are the costs of not respecting employees?

I think these two questions are very much related and in a way I have already hinted what my answers would be like for both of them. A leader who doesn’t respect their employees should not, and cannot!, expect to have their employees respect them in any way possible. That may well have been the situation for a good number of decades, but it does no longer work anymore in today’s business environment. If anything, I am more and more convinced by the day that every single organisation should feel privileged to have the honour and great pleasure of employing the amazing talent they have hired in the first place. If you look into it, businesses are just renting out knowledge workers’ free time to do their work, to let their passion and motivation shine through. To delight their customers, so the least they should do is respect them and trust they would do a good job, because I can guarantee you they will. Otherwise they wouldn’t be working with you. 

I have been saying this for a very very long time. If you keep treating your people as sheep, I can vouch they would eventually behave as sheep. Now, when was the last time that a sheep respected or trusted you again? However, if you treat your employees as what you hired them for in the first place, i.e. hard working professionals truly committed and motivated for excelling at a job they are passionate about, I can guarantee you they would behave as such, they would respect you and they would honour the treat of working together with you as equals, as nodes of the same network, doing what they know best: delighting your (AND their!) clients

The reality though is that is not the case, as can be seen from recent research studies, like Gallup’s, around employee engagement, where, currently, around 13% of today’s global employee workforce is engaged at work, while the other 87% isn’t. That, put into plain English, essentially means that today’s business world, and perhaps also our society, is currently being supported by 1/10 of the total employee / citizen population and if that is not a huge, massive, business / societal problem, I don’t what is.

[I know, I know, I am a broken record on this one, and have been for a while and will continue to be for many moons to come!, but, seriously, anyone who still doesn’t see a correlation of today’s totally disengaged employee workforce with the ill-practices from management and leadership should probably have a deeper look into it, before it’s just too late]

What is the relationship between leading with respect and setting a culture of continuous improvement?

Frankly, that’s a very simple one. It always has been. Wirearchy. Again. To quote: 

A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology

Or expressed in other words, coined as well by Jon Husband: 

is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status

If you ask me, that’s where I see both management and leadership thrive in the 21st century. Not necessarily in the traditional hierarchical, top down, command and control, paternalistic mentality of “I think, you execute, no questions allowed”, but more in the wirearchical model of (social) networks, where merit, recognition, democratic decision making, open knowledge sharing, transparency, collaboration, engagement, honesty, authenticity, autonomy, empathy, trust, respect, caring, responsibility, accountability, purpose and true meaning become the norm, more than an exception, in wanting to make a dent in this universe, beyond just merely getting your work done.

Yes, indeed, you, as the new connected, respected and trusted leader(s). Thriving, as always, through networks. Your networks! 

Forget about everything else. It’s no longer worth the effort, the energy, nor the attention it’s had in the last few decades.

It’s now probably a good time to do something more meaningful and everlasting: humanise work, once and for all. 

 

Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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Challenges of Social Business in the Workplace

A couple of weeks ago the smart and talented folks from Bloomfire approached me through Twitter to ask me whether I would be willing to participate on an interview around Social Business and be featured on the series of bloggers and influencers they have got going on for a little while now. Of course, I couldn’t deny it such a generous offer, but even more so when the whole entire conversation and the follow-up interview happened through social tools (Twitter and Google Plus) and not a single email was exchanged throughout the entire process! That’s right! Here is a vendor that truly believes on walking the talk, leading by example, utilising other social networking tools than their own, that may be available out there, just to continue to add value into the overall discussion around open knowledge sharing, collaboration and getting work done more effectively. Who knew, right? Why aren’t more Enterprise 2.0 / Social Business vendors doing the same thing? 

While I let you all ponder around that particular question, I thought I would take a few minutes today to share over here some tidbits of the content of the interview itself we did go through that I think plenty of you folks may find rather interesting and perhaps a bit thought-provoking, too. More than anything else because in one of the questions put together we talked about what are some of the main challenges behind Social Business in the workplace today, June 2014, and somehow the answers that came through were not the usual suspects that you see coming up time and time again. 

So, what were the questions you may be wondering, right? Well, you could find them all at the interview itself under the heading “Meet Luis Suarez”, or check the list below: 

  • Tell me about your career 
  • What are some of your hobbies
  • What do you find interesting about the social space? 
  • Where are some of the challenges you have identified in the social space? 
  • What advice (or insight) can you share about utilising social tools to leverage workplace learning?
  • What are your top 3 favourite blogs to follow?

Yes, I know this may well surprised some of you and bring up a good giggle or two, but I do still read blogs. Daily. At a time where vast majority of the conversations seem to be happening through social networking tools, there I was suggesting what were my top 3 favourite blogs at the moment. Oh, don’t worry, won’t tell you about them over here, you would need to go and read the interview itself to find out. Yes, I know! I am just such a tease, aren’t I? :)

Talking about teasing you all about the content of the interview, I think I’m going to take the liberty now and include one or two of the questions and their answers over here, so you folks can take a look and see what you would expect from it and what we talked about. And since the title of this blog entry is around current challenges of Social Business in the workplace, what a better start than sharing the response to “What are some of the challenges you have identified in the social space?”: 

At one point in time I thought that one of the main challenges was technology itself where in itself it became a barrier of entry, specially, for those people who may have been a bit apprehensive of what it could do for them. But, over time, as you get more and more experienced in the field through lots of hands-on, walking the talk, leading by example, you realise that the main challenge we currently have at this moment is management, specially, senior leadership.

We are constantly witnessing how, time and time again, the traditional top-down hierarchy (and not just within the business world, but in a societal level as well!) feels very much threatened by this new way of interacting and participating called social networks where information is on longer power, and where we are transitioning from knowledge stocks into knowledge flows (cf. John Hagel).

That democratisation of knowledge where knowledge shared is power is becoming increasingly more of a challenge for management and senior leaders, more than anything else because they are finding it a bit of a challenge to transition from that command and control mindset into one of leading the pack through merit, participation and overall knowledge sharing as they are just one more of the nodes of the social networks they are part of already. The challenge for them is to transition from the traditional vision of management into one of leadership. Open Leadership.

From there onwards, and perhaps now thinking in more practical terms of how to get started with it all I also ventured into answering this other one question: “What advice (or insight) can you share about utilising social tools to leverage workplace learning?” as follows: 

To start using them TODAY! Don’t wait to be told it’s ok to make use of them to do your work. Don’t wait for your peers to dive into social networking tools, just because you don’t want to be the first one; or for your direct manager, or middle manager or senior leaders to tell you it’s ok to make use of them. Don’t wait for them. Just dive into social networks and start building your digital footprint, your digital brand helping people get better at what they do by sharing your knowledge out in the open, transparently, and collaborating much more effectively with those who may need of your help, skills and expertise.

Over time, you would start to understand how we are moving, rather fast!, into a world where we constantly have to keep demonstrating our thought leadership, expertise and what we really passionate about, so that it gives us a chance to meet up other people, connect with them, learn with them and eventually rather cooperate or collaborate with them to become better at what we do. So, again, don’t wait, start making use of social tools today, whether it’s a blog or any of the major networking tools out there and jump into the bandwagon. Leave that fear behind, the “what would they say if I start using …”, the “I don’t have time for this”, the “I don’t know what to share or talk about”, the “I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of others, never mind total strangers”, etc. etc. Just pick up that one or two topics that you are really truly passionate about and starting sharing with the world that passion for the next few years to come!

Thus, there you have it. The challenge AND the opportunity while embarking on the so-called Social Business Transformation journey. It’s now down to us all to make a choice and decide where we would want to go and what would we doing to help spark those social interactions. Yes, it’s a choice. And a personal one, for that matter.

So, what’s yours then? Keep hiding away or jump into the bandwagon of the Social Era with both feet?


Written by Luis Suarez

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide and a well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.

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