The Big Five

By Terri Bennink On April 4, 2013

A lot has been written about the human side of leadership. This of course includes personal effectiveness with people and with teams; i.e. the ability to influence others to get things done. Some have referred to these as “soft skills”, although most would admit that they are actually harder to implement and carry out given the complexity of characteristics and behaviors it takes to pull off effective leadership. In coaching and developing leaders in organizations and families over the past 25 years, these are the factors that can really make a difference in the quality of relationships that impact effectiveness in getting things done. However, there is another very important tool in leadership that we have found is also essential to effectiveness. This is in the area of what we have referred to as “executive functioning” or “executive management”. This is the ability to see a situation or project and to then skillfully organize others to productively accomplish a task. We have come to call this “The Big Five of Task Leadership” and have seen tremendous results in the teaching and application of this model.

The five steps are:

  1. Define the outcomes/goals/results that you would define as success,
  2. Set the strategy for best achieving the outcome,
  3. Determine the steps of the plan to carry out the strategy to achieve the outcome,
  4. Define roles of participants in the task and what success will look like in their role, and
  5. Set the timelines and methods of critique and measurement as the process moves forward.

While these steps may seem like common sense, they are not automatic, but rather must be intentionally and systematically followed and carried out or it will negatively impact achieving the goal. Each will be discussed here.

  1. Define the outcomes/goals/results that you would define as success.
    To best achieve this, there needs to be a thorough vetting of what success would look like. Often in organizations, executives are taking many initiatives at once and working to carry them out without really thoroughly vetting what success looks like and what it will mean to achieve it. The leaders who seem to be the best at doing this are the ones who are visionary, in that they are able to paint a picture for others about how things could be. They are also open and flexible to hearing the input and ideas from others on the team and can re-assimilate the visions with new, more relevant data.  Facilitating and achieving an agreement about the ideal outcomes is a critical first step in the Big Five.
  2. Set the strategy for best achieving the outcome.   
    In my experience, this is the step that most often gets skipped. It is especially easy to confuse it with the next step of planning. It is very easy to “get seduced by the task”; in other words, to be so focused on getting something accomplished that there is not adequate time invested in how to best tackle it.  I like the example of climbing a mountain. You might have each step articulated in terms of what you are going to do, but if you do not have an overall strategy with how to best deal with the elements, you may be successful in carrying out the plan, but not achieve the overall outcome. This can especially be seen in companies that want to achieve an increase in sales, but do not really understand their markets and how to best access them. When leaders work in and with a team, you will find members that are very good at this if given a voice.  It is, however, critical to define for the team what strategy is, and assist them in developing it before jumping into the planning process.
  3. Determine the steps of the plan to carry out the strategy to achieve the outcome.
    This involves laying out each tactical step in carrying out the strategy.  If your strategy is good, this is fairly easy. In a team planning process, leaders will often find that if they have a solid working group, that they will collectively come up with the steps necessary and not leave out important areas.
  4. Define roles of participants in the task and what success will look like in their role.
    It is critical that each person who is a part of carrying out the strategy understands their role and their part in achieving the overall objective. This also helps them see where they will take the lead and where they will collaborate. This sets up realistic expectations and prevents misunderstanding. A common phenomenon in organizations is that when a participant does not have a clear role, they make one up. This of course creates confusion and barriers to accomplishing the outcome.
  5. Set the timelines and methods of critique and measurement as the process moves forward.
    A CEO I once worked with was fond of saying, “That which is measured gets done”.  It is critical to the success of any project that the leader establishes at the front end what the measurements of success are, so that it is clear when you achieve it. It is also important to plan in critique as part of the process; so that there are points where the participants stop and measure progress against the goals. This is also a good time to look at what is working and what is not and to make adjustments. One of the characteristics of high performance teams is their ability to self-correct. The process of intentional critique at key moments increases the likelihood of attaining the goal.  Along the same lines, timelines need to be established so that everyone is on the same page and managing the time involved and hitting critical deadlines.

The Glass Ceiling of Paternalism:
A Common Style of Leadership in the Family Business

By Terri Bennink On April 4, 2013

Paternalism is a style of leadership that is essential to understand as it impacts many areas of organizational culture and change. I think that one of my favorite lines from the popular television show “The Office”, was when Michael Scott (the boss) said, “I’m friends with everyone in this office. We are all best friends. I love everyone here. But sometimes your best friends start coming into work late and start having dentist appointments that aren’t dentist appointments, and that is when it is nice to let them know that you could beat them up”.

Like Michael Scott, paternalists are benevolent, but sometimes intrusive. The paternalist believes that they are acting with the best interest of the company first, and that they know best for others as well. A paternalist uses his or her power to control, protect, punish, and reward in return for obedience and loyalty from his or her employees, followers, or subordinates. This style is very commonly found in family businesses, especially in the founder. Understanding the essential characteristics of this style and how it impacts others and can impact the family and the organization is essential for understanding some of the key barriers in an effective succession effort.

The characteristics of paternalism overlap those of entrepreneurs and founders. They are charming, driven, visionary, inspirational, tenacious and bright. Their natural charisma and ability to articulate a vision generates followership and loyalty. They tend to come across as self-confident with a strong belief in their own capability and drive to achieve. They can also be benevolent and generous and stern and demanding. They believe that the way to get people to produce is through reward and punishment.

Paternalists are not usually born that way. In fact, most paternalists usually had a strong model that they looked up to and have either consciously or unconsciously patterned their leadership style after this person. This makes sense, as the very essence of paternalism is to expect loyalty and emulation.

This style is not inherently bad. In fact, most leaders have at one time or another acted in paternalistic ways—making decisions on behalf of followers that work out well as they have the information and expertise to make the best decision. The difficulty is not with the occasional use of this style; it is with the ongoing consistent use of it, and the consequence of resistance to self-awareness and change that often accompanies it.

There are several areas of concern or risk. First, it is difficult and almost impossible to get true collaboration with this style. While there is usually vision and charm present in the process, the paternalist seeks agreement with their vision, rather than an open, direct debate of the merit of the issues.

Further, as loyalty is rewarded, it is often those that have gone along with the paternalist, rather than those that have helped the team or family find the best solutions that are promoted. This also often creates hard feelings and a sense of favoritism, as well as weakening cultural effectiveness.

In addition, many paternalists do not make adequate plans for succession. Sometimes this is because of an underlying feeling of invincibility or immortality, or due to a style of micromanaging that rarely delegates or develops others.  As a result, those in key positions in leadership are left in limbo waiting to see what will happen. In family businesses, this can play out in ways with very devastating consequences to both the health of the family and the health of the business.

Ironically, the paternalist often expects the next generation to work collaboratively together as part of the succession of the business but has provided no real opportunities to learn these skills.

As the family descendants in the business become more mature and want to advocate ideas and initiatives of their own, this often creates considerable conflict. In fact, it seems that either potential successors leave or they learn to compromise and accept that they will not really have a voice in key decisions that impact them.

They are given responsibility without any real power to change anything. Adjusting to these dynamics creates dysfunction in the family business and organizational system that builds up and then creates many other problems and stressors of resentment and additional political maneuvers.

The very qualities that assisted in building the success of the business then turn and create a barrier to progress if the paternalist is unable to adjust and recognize the need for change. When an organization is small, the decisions can effectively go through one person; the larger the organization becomes, the more essential it is to be able to delegate authority and make collaborative
decisions. To the extent that the paternalist is unable to share power, the organization has a limit to its growth and health, and the same thing can be seen in the family system and dynamics.

The best hope for any change in these patterns is if the paternalist can gain some self-awareness of the weakening of the culture due to the loss of creativity and innovation, and see a vision for change that will create a legacy consistent with their overall hopes for the company and family. If they can see this vision and their part in achieving this, and subsequently are able to learn to share power strategically and work in a truly collaborative way, there is hope of positive change.

In most cases, there is usually a crisis or precipitating event that propels the family or organizational system to seek outside help. Paternalists rarely are able to effect any kind of significant change without seeking the assistant of a seasoned family business consultant who has experience with creating the necessary changes in the leadership and culture.

Why is Trust so Fundamental and So Fundamentally Important?

By Terri Bennink On July 17, 2012

“Trust men & they will be true to you; treat them greatly, & they will show themselves great.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The word “trust “ has become tossed around so much in the literature of organizations and family business. It is analogous to the word “love” in that it is seen as important, even essential, but has become so overused that it is difficult to ascertain its exact meaning and its exact best place in terms of utility.

A colleague of mine once defined trust as “the confidence I have that you will act in my best interest in my absence”.  I appreciate both the profoundness and the simplicity of this definition. Certainly, any valid definition of the concept would include both a positive predictability and confidence of “having one’s back”.

The famed developmental theorist and psychologist, Erik Erikson postulated that the development of the capacity for trust begins very early with an infant forming the basis for trusting relationships if their caregivers are consistent with food, nurturing, and responsiveness to their needs. If the caregivers are unable to meet these needs with positive consistency, the child carries deficits in building trust into their adulthood.

The concept and phenomenon of trust is so fundamental to the health of relationships, organizational and family systems as it is the basic building block of communication. In essence, trust is the variable that enables us to more accurately hear what a person is actually trying to convey to us. When we trust someone, we are more likely to fill in the blank positively about what they haven’t said or if they accidently misspeak. We will assume good intent, and actually hear what they say more congruently with what their actual intent is.

Many years ago, another colleague friend of mine worked with the Peace Corps on a project where he would interview potential candidates for selection.  He and his fellow interviewers became interested in whether you could actually trust what the candidates were saying in the interview. They decided to do an experiment with two groups, one of which they assumed that the interviewees were telling the truth, and the other where they assumed that the interviewees were lying. They then recorded their impressions and had an independent group work to verify the truthfulness of the responses independently. They concluded that when they believed that the candidates were telling the truth they made significantly fewer mistakes in their perceptions and assumptions about what is was they were saying. In other words, they were more accurate in their assessment when they assumed good intent and truthfulness.

When mistrust (or “the suspicion of ulterior motives) is present, the assumptions move in reverse; if the person misspeaks, or is not clear, it is likely that the receiver of the information will use the absence of information to confirm what it was that they already negatively suspected. This is often how rifts in communication and trust deepen, even though there have not been specific profound events that would cause them. It also appears that when there is an absence of information, our tendency is to project something negative onto that situation or associated person.

How Do You Maintain Trust?

It is interesting to note that it is not just being positive and consistent that maintains a trusting relationship. There is evidence to suggest that it must be maintained in a far more deliberate manner. Years ago a seminal study was conducted at the University of Oregon on this topic. The researcher was interested in whether you could predict a trusting relationship, and if you could what factors would predict it. He found that there were four factors that when consistently present would predict trust. These were:

  1. Time spent together. The parties must log some time together in order for there to be trust;
  2. Shared relevant information. The parties need to share information about how they perceive situations, how they approach things, etc.
  3. An absence of unchecked negative assumptions. In trusting relationships, people check negative assumptions fairly quickly to ensure that they do not harbor negative feelings or become distrustful; and
  4. An absence of built up resentments. Obviously, if two people are consistently doing the first three, resentments and bitterness do not build up.

In addition, careful and skillful listening also is essential for maintaining a trusting relationship. It is the ability to really focus on what the person is saying and intending to communicate, and convey to the person that you really hear and are seeking to understand that is at the heart of building a trusting relationship. There is also a certain amount of interpersonal risk that also comes into play when building a trusting relationship. Sharing personal information, particularly feelings, is an important part of the establishment of the positive predictability needed to build trust. It is interesting to note the synergistic relationship between trust and interpersonal risk; as trust builds, the more likely it is for interpersonal risk taking, such as self disclosure, to occur, and as this occurs, trust builds.

Two major obstacles to the development of trust are defensiveness and the perception of personal agendas that are self oriented.  The ability to listen deeply and focus on what another person is communicating is greatly impaired by the other party’s defensiveness, or essentially their focus on their perception and unwillingness to hear another point of view. In addition, if  it is perceived that the person is not open to listening, it may not even feel safe enough to share in the first place.

In addition, the leader sets the tone for the overall culture and for the development of norms of trust. It is the person who is the greatest position of power who has the responsibility to create the environment for the open sharing and listening necessary to build trust. As such, it is essential that they model effective listening and assume good intent of those that they have carefully entrusted with roles of authority. Similarly, when trust has broken down, it is the leader’s responsibility to take the initiative to address and resolve the issues in order to reestablish the relationship and set the norms for trust. It is rare that a subordinate, or family member without significant authority is able to lead such an effort on their own.

Pain, Change, and the Role of Canaries

By Terri Bennink On April 4, 2012

I was reflecting on the various families and organizations that I have worked with over the years and thinking through what had been the catalyst for getting them into doing organizational development/systems work, and if they had made significant change. In every case, there had been one or more individuals who had spoken up about some area of discontent and the need for change. These individuals had often taken great risk to their job, position, or how they might be perceived to step forward and candidly voice concern of what they perceived to be a risk or threat to the organization and/or family system if their concerns were not addressed. In fact, I could not think of a single incidence where a potential client had called me because they thought that things were going great and they just wanted me to come in and have a look around.

I have come to call these individuals “canaries” after the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”. Before the advent of hand held gas sensors, miners would take a caged canary down into the shaft as they were particularly adept at sensing even a small concentration of gas and alert the minors to the risk. This term has come now to describe harbingers of the future, or those that are able to give the first warning of a larger problem developing.

It is interesting to note the qualities and characteristics of these individuals. They tend to be intuitive and expressive; they both sense things and will be likely to say what is on their mind. They are usually feeling a sense of pain that is at a crisis point, and there is often a threat of leaving, threat of a lawsuit, or some other threat to the organization or the family system that is perceived as negative or unpalatable. They usually do not have the position of power or authority to make the changes needed; In fact, the individuals in the positions of power rarely are the ones that initiate this type of change. Usually the rest of the system and its members are going through denial, rationalization, anger, or may agree with what the canary’s concerns are, but are fearful or reluctant to voice them. There is also usually a critical incident or “tipping point” that has occurred that has created more urgency for intervention.

How the canary is perceived and responded to by those in a decision making position is usually the determinate of whether there will be constructive change. If the canary is perceived as a complainer, the concern is often explained away. If the canary is respected, or if the risk they are voicing is perceived as a real threat, there is a greater likelihood for help and constructive change. In every case that I could think of, the concerns of the canary about the risk was not only accurate, but if not addressed would lead to even greater consequences.  For example, if the next generation family employee sees the founder making decisions without input from key stakeholders and is concerned about the ramifications of these decisions having risk to the family or business, this creates an inner tension that will need to be addressed. The concern or crisis point may be around one issue, but there are usually larger, more serious issues of failure to share power appropriately, failure to properly delegate decision making authority, poor listening, or a dismissiveness or lack of empathy in the family or team system.

CS Lewis said, “Pain removes the veil, it plants the flag of truth with the fortress of a rebel soul”. Pain actually can help us see things more clearly. Its form can range from annoyance to a full blown crisis or catastrophe. It is often characterized by feelings of helplessness or hopelessness that there is anything that can be done to change. Ironically in actuality, crisis actually does tip the hand of the status quo, providing an urgency to make a decision that may change the direction and improve the way things have been done. A system is actually at greater risk if the members do not speak up or have a forum to voice their concerns. A norm of apathy or discouragement creates tremendous risk.

According to the Leadership Grid Model, originally developed by Blake and Mouton, there are three types of change that are observed in systems: evolutionary, revolutionary, and strategic. Evolutionary is the most passive; it is change that happens as things evolve and happen around you. These changes do impact the business and the people in them. Revolutionary, is when individuals and groups within a system became dissatisfied and create a disruption or disturbance in hopes of bringing about the necessary changes to relieve the tension in the system. Strategic change is change that is deliberate and based on both what change is needed and clear goals as to the outcome.  Strategic change is proactive and is most effective when developed with a clear understanding of what the needs of the business and the culture are. This involves careful and empathetic listening to the stakeholders that both provides the data for a more effective decision, and builds the buy-in necessary to carry it out. In my experience, it is often the revolutionary change that if responded to appropriately (usually with intervention) then leads to addressing change in a more strategic manner. Systems and organizations are usually combinations of all three. But the more that these systems can create processes that promote strategic change as a norm, the better they will be able to manage risk to the organization.

What is the catalyst for change in your family or organization? Does change typically occur in an evolutionary, revolutionary, or strategic manner? Who in your group is a canary and how are they responded to? Are your leaders able to hear and utilize the key data in the culture that will help them mitigate risk and maximize return?  How does your culture view and respond to those that voice concern? It is an interesting phenomenon in life and in business that it is not what happens to us that is important; it is how we respond to it. While this is true in all organizational systems, it is probably more poignant in the family business, where both business decisions and family relationships are being built, and are at risk. Rollo May probably said it best when he said, “It is highly significant, and indeed almost a rule, that moral courage has its source in identification through one’s own sensitivity with the suffering of one’s fellow human beings”. In my experience there are members of family and of organizations that are particularly good at this, and individuals who may play this role at different times. It is important for those who work with them, and particularly those in positions of power to ask themselves if they are listening and responding.