Monthly Archives: November 2013

Corporate Primatology

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According to Edgar Schein, former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, unspoken rules exist without the conscious knowledge of their existence.  Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and political philosopher Karl Marx agree that people’s behavior is culturally determined without their knowing it.  The best story I’ve heard that illustrates this concept is research conducted on six chimpanzees over the course of seven weeks.

Week 1:  Six chimps are placed in a room.  A banana is placed on the ceiling fan.  The chimps are fed other food elsewhere, but any time one of them would attempt to reach for the banana on the ceiling fan, the researchers would spray all of the chimps with ice-cold water.  It didn’t matter who reached for the banana, all primates got showered.  At the end of the week, not one reached for the banana.

Week 2:  One of the chimps is removed from the experiment and replaced with a new one.  The first thing the on-boarding primate attempts to do is to reach for the freshly replaced banana on the ceiling fan.  He is faced with noticeable intimidation from the other chimps, since they have learned that any attempt to take the banana off the ceiling fan will result in an ice-cold shower for all.  The newcomer modifies his behavior to disinterest in the banana because expressed interest results in actual force or fear of being beaten up by the five original chimps.

Week 3:  Another original chimp is removed and replaced.  The same scenario results, this time with the previous week’s newcomer joining the fray in punishing the newest recruit from attempting to reach for the banana.

Week 4:  Another original chimp is removed and replaced.  At this stage we have 3 original chimps and 3 new recruits.  Same behavior ensues.

Week 5:  Another original chimp is removed and replaced.  Same behavior ensues.

Week 6:  Another original chimp is removed and replaced.  Same behavior ensues.

Week 7:  Now we have none of the original chimpanzees in the room, and here is where it gets interesting.  A brand new chimp is introduced, and the newcomer is aggressively “advised” to not reach for the banana on the ceiling fan.  What’s important to note is that none of the chimps currently in the room ever experienced an ice-cold shower.

So here’s the question: Why don’t they reach for the banana?  Because that’s the way they have always done it.

 

 

The Organizational PlayBook

Those who learn early in life that it is okay to be yourself, express yourself in your own style, and have had that behavior reinforced over a long period of time, are very likely to encounter difficulty conforming to workplace norms.  This is especially challenging for those who enter organizations where values, preferences, behaviors, etc, are professed to be one thing (see Level 2 below), but in reality practice a host of unwritten rules.

Schein’s organizational culture model has three levels that reveal group culture:

Level 1- Verbal, behavioral and physical artifacts.  The surface manifestations of an org culture.

Level 2- Values.  The professed culture of an organization’s members.

Level 3- Tacit Assumptions.  The unseen elements of culture not cognitively identified in daily group interactions.

Further, these “tacit assumptions” are usually taboo topics, things which organizational members dare not discuss.  Those employees/chimps familiar enough with the driving elements of this deepest level of organizational culture usually become acclimatized somewhat unconsciously (arguably, the “true” underlying values).  This reinforces the invisibility of their existence.

Looking at culture this way, one can begin to understand paradoxical organizational behaviors. For example, an organization can encourage its employees to speak, challenge, and inquire freely during an open mic session with the CEO in order to, allegedly, foster respect and cohesion (Level 2), while purposely eliminating anonymously submitted hard-hitting questions to keep the conversation positive and buoy morale (Level 3).  Therefore, employees are rewarded for maintaining appearances with the superficial norms while concurrently practicing other organizational norms.  Once an employee discovers Level 3, it becomes apparent that the organizational values (Level 2) are hogwash.  

Clashes between Levels 2 & 3 explain how a significant portion of the learning curve for an experienced professional to enter an organization requires several months of assimilation (e.g. 18-24 months).  For newcomers to be successful within an organization, it is imperative that s/he be provided with on-gong cultural mentoring.  If this does not occur, the threatening conditions inherent in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships (i.e. office politics) and those social conditions embedded within the organizational culture (e.g. see chimp story above), will render the efforts organizational change agents make to institute any desired change futile. 

Authenticity, Accountability, Respect, Transparency are merely buzzwords &/or leadership rhetoric until you do one thing…

Avoid monkey business.

 

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD (Theta Primate), MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  She was born in the Chinese Year of the Monkey. CorporateLookingGlass.com

 

Resources:

Kelly, Karen; P.S. Nice Companies Finish First.  New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press LLC, 2013.

Schein, Edgar H. (November 1996). Career anchors revisited: Implications for career development in the 21st century. The Academy of Management Executive.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

 

5 Stages towards a Global Mindset

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Behavioral Science tools and Organization Development interventions are considered part of the “soft sciences,” so having a tool where metrics can be used to gauge progress and to measure interrelated efficacy steers Fortune 100 companies to implement those tools and processes which are proved rigorously sound and statistically validated.

One such tool is the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), developed by Mitchell Hammer, Ph.D. This tool measures where you are and where you see yourself to be on a continuum ranging from a monocultural mindset of Denial to an intercultural mindset of Adaptation.

5 Stages

1.  Denial.  This first stage is where an individual, or an organization, may take the stance that there is no need to learn about workstyle preferences because there is no bias or predisposition for or against others, whether they are employees, candidates, or applicants.  The “cream rises to the top,” so to speak.  They may even attest that they hire “Black, White, and polka-dotted people,” regardless of gender or any other form of diversity.  (Ever heard of the TV show, The Voice, where the three judges deliberately have their backs turned on the contestant because the premise is that appearance can shape bias?)

Philosopher Jacques Derrida claimed that modern Western culture is ruled by “phallocentrism” (i.e. a patriarchal agenda).  Therefore, those organizations that hold an all-white male C-Suite are most probably in the Denial stage about their talent.  It could be conscious cronyism or unconscious self-validation of hiring those who are reflective of the hiring manager.

2. Polarization.  This second stage is, like the term suggests, divided into two extremes:  Defense and Reversal.  When confronted with a workstyle difference, both extremes share the mentality that one style is superior to the other.  No consideration, or wiggle room, is given to the other approach having any merit.

  • Defense – This stance is the “My way or the highway!” approach. There is an inherent (explicit &/or implicit) demand to do things the dominant’s way.
  • Reversal – This stance is the “Going Native” approach.  It is an acquiescence or abandonment that accommodates the others’ preference.

L’écriture féminine (i.e. feminine writing) is a term coined by Hélène Cixous who questioned the adequacy of the “either/or logics” of Western philosophy predicated on binary oppositions.  She argued that there is a grey area worth exploring between the extremes.  Naturally, if one is stuck in Polarization, then the view is very black & white (i.e. good or bad).  She observed the tendency of feminine communication to be non-linear, cyclical, fluid, and that it “goes off in all directions” whereas masculine communication tends to be linear, ordered, and “logical.”  Those who insist on the dominant masculine communication style as being the professional/executive communication style are in Defense/Reversal, depending on gender.

3.  Minimization – This third stage is acknowledgement of cultural differences, and while there may be acceptance of some differences, frustration mounts at other differences too foreign from one’s own practice(s).  Despite being aware of the diversity present, the idea is, “We can muddle through the differences to accomplish our goal(s), because we’re pretty much all the same.”  It is the mindset of, “Let’s agree to disagree,” and “Can’t we all just get along?”

Eighteenth-Century Swiss Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau expressed views that people lose touch with their feelings due to their need to fit in with society (Sound PC? – Politically Correct?).  In other words, people disguise their feelings and desires to be accepted.  Employees conceal their emotions/thoughts at work in order to be liked by the boss (Who wants their boss to think they sport a “bad” attitude?).  Rousseau argued that what is beneficial for the society/organization as a whole is when people FREELY choose to align themselves with the direction espoused.  Transparency, openness, authenticity, and acceptance (the next stage) honor “individual freedom” and will create the “collective good” — which makes organizations profitable.

4.  Acceptance – This fourth stage is accepting the differences not as better or worse; just different.  There is recognition of another work style present and it is viewed neutrally, or as a potential asset; not as a deficit.  The action taken here is not integrative; it is mostly cognitive.  Those in Acceptance understand that there is “more than one way to skin a cat.”

Typically, this understanding comes from experience.   English philosopher John Locke wrote in his famous work An Essay Concerning the Human Understanding, that the senses and the mind work together to turn experience into understanding.  Everything in our mind is an idea; and, Locke lists four sorts of relations between ideas that would count as knowledge (identity/diversity, relation, coexistence, actual existence).

5.  Adaptation – This fifth stage entails leveraging someone’s stylistic difference at the right time and situation.  This is an action stage that practices and leverages inclusiveness.  Particular people are utilized for their skillsets, experiences, thought processes, or other abilities and preferences.

Adaptation is a strategic plan that maximizes utility.  This is known as Utilitarianism, and the most important utilitarian philosopher is 19th Century Englishman John Stuart MillHe argued that legal subjugation of talent (i.e. women and racial minorities – slaves) was wrong.  His premise was that optimizing intellectual capital and performance would benefit the collective good.  This concept is demonstrated in modern-day practice through academic scholarships by merit; in the workplace, however, it is a growth opportunity area that has found some ground in the form of Employee Research Groups (ERGs) – which target specific markets, usually geographically-, culturally-, and diversity-based.

A global leader is an inclusive leader.  Diverse viewpoints and those reflective of the client base are critical to success.  This is why we must determine in which stage we practice our business and determine how we can move forward strategically.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is certified in the IDI.  She is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com. 

Resources:

Cixous, Hélène. “Le Rire de la Meduse” (The Laugh of the Medusa). New French Feminisms. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. New York: Schocken, 1981. 253.

Irigaray, Luce.  This Sex Which is Not One. New York: Cornell University Press.  1985.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

Buddhism and Mindful Leadership

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An examination of how philosophy impacts leadership would be incomplete without introducing the philosophy of Buddhism.  Many people confuse Buddhism with religion.  This confusion is easy to understand since there is a central figure; however, much like the great European philosophers, Siddharta Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha) was simply another systemic thinker who presented concepts from a holistic perspective.  Therefore, unlike in religion(s), Buddha is not a deity who is worshipped; and, unlike in philosophy, there are innumerable statues of his image.

Buddha is also frequently mistaken for being Chinese.  While his teachings are widely accepted across China, and much of Asia, Gautama (circa 566-480 BC) was the son of an Indian warrior-king.  He was a prince who grew up living a sheltered life of luxury.  Like many change agents, he appears to have been somewhat counter-dependent, since he decided to shockingly renounce his high-caste title and become a monk.  This act alone rendered him a lot of influence.  His breakthrough concepts on how to live life earned him the sobriquet “Buddha,” which means “awakened one,” or, the “enlightened one.”

The Four Noble Truths

Among Buddha’s teachings, he taught four basic tenets on life, which he called the Four Noble Truths.  These are the following:

  1. The truth of suffering.  Simply put, we all have it.  No one can escape it; so just face it.  It’s a part of life.   (This is reminiscent of Stoicism).
  2. The truth of the cause of sufferingDesire and the refusal to acknowledge suffering are the root cause of suffering.  As humans, we can never be satisfied with enough pleasure and possessions.  Consequently, these desires bring suffering.  Those caught in the so-called “rat race” of life may not recognize their suffering.  Ignorance comes from this inability to see the world in its actuality, which, in turn, invites the vices of hatred, greed, and envy…”Keeping up with the Joneses.”  (Notice how similar the message is to the Judeo-Christian messages of “Love thy neighbor” and “Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s.”)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering.  Once you stop desiring and ignoring suffering, you’re either dead or spiritually awakened.  Period.  Who can deny this pragmatic perspective?
  4. The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.  This is essentially Buddha’s Personal/Professional Development Plan.  He calls the action steps towards ending suffering, the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which is divided into three themes:

1) Moral Conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech);

2) Meditation and Mental Development (Action, Livelihood, Effort); and,

3) Wisdom/Insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).

Buddhist rituals, such as chanting and meditation, are intended to help people focus their minds.  It is not to demonstrate faith.  However, the rituals are comparatively similar to these “great three religions” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which share the same deity (namely, Yahweh, God, Allah, respectively) in that the believers of the “Great Three” may rock, close their eyes, say memorized verses, and kneel or prostrate themselves in prayer in order to concentrate and focus their attention to feel a more powerful communication to their deity.  Buddhists often meditate by closing their eyes and focusing on their breathing.  If the Great Three believe the breath of life to be a gift from the Supreme Being, then meditation could be considered a practice acceptable to atheists and believers of the Great Three alike.

Corporate Application: Mindful Leadership

Standing in the land of the Delta Blues at the intersection of Christianity and Buddhism is Elmo Shade of Mindful Foundations.  An Organization Development Practitioner by trade, Elmo specializes in coaching executive leadership to optimize their energy management skills and increase their ability to aim and sustain their attention.  Ultimately, this practice results in improved present-moment awareness, clarity, and focus – which, together, lends itself towards purposeful decision-making.

Aside from his mellifluous Southern, Memphis accent, Elmo is unique, compared to Jon Kabat-Zinn, in that his sessions on Mindfulness and Leadership Effectiveness stem from his experience of living in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and his travels to the hinterlands of China.  Elmo welcomes skeptics to participate in a trial session to experience first-hand his approach to performance improvement.  He is a modern-day philosopher who walks among us.  You can find him at MindfulFoundations.com.

Breathe.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com.

Note: The author is Christian, resides in the Bible Belt, has read the Old and New Testaments 3x over,  attended religiously-affiliated schools for 16 years, and is thoroughly amused by the movie Life of Pi.

Resources:

Holy Bible, Galatians 5:14; Exodus 20:17

Shade, Elmo.  MindfulFoundations.com

Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D.  Philosophy.  Penguin Group. 2014.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

Renaissance and Organizations

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Three of the most important Renaissance thinkers were Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), and French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592).  Their teachings continue to live on in the form of organizational cultures.  The intent here is to examine how each philosophy surfaces and manifests itself in the form of actions within the organization that solidify its culture, which creates “the way we do things around here” – the catchphrase popular in defining organizational culture.

 

Erasmus

Aside from being a Catholic priest, Erasmus was known as a social critic and humanist.  We could compare him to a Corporate Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Officer.  He was respectful to the authority of the Pope (corporate comparison: CEO), and, he acknowledged that some leaders can be abusive.  He advocated that we must think for ourselves and not merely be foot-soldiers; yet, withhold opinion (Dale Carnegie’s “Do not Condemn, Complain, or Criticize), so as to not make waves.  He was determined to be an internal change agent, and remained a life-long, faithful “employee.”

Erasmus’ strategy was to take a middle-road approach (i.e. mild on Confrontation/Harmony; not extreme/very strong, on the continuum of preferences) in his actions and words.  His best known work, The Praise of Folly (a.k.a. Morias Encomium), was a story indirectly criticizing Senior Management (i.e. the Church’s practices and its political allies).  His intervention caused people to think critically and thereby proved to be instrumental in the Protestant Reformation.

 

Machiavelli

Perhaps the most notoriously popular philosopher of this period is Machiavelli, who authored The Prince.  Although, he died before it was published for public consumption.  His book was infamous for recommending that Senior Leaders (i.e. Rulers) resort to extreme measures in (Corporate) Governance.   These measures include the use of force, the use of manipulation through lying, and playing on people’s beliefs and their ideals of goodness (e.g. comparable to placing a positive spin on irrefutable data, such as lowered financial guidance). 

Machiavelli’s doctrines were in direct conflict against the doctrines of politics and ethics of the time. 

MACHIAVELLIAN EXAMPLES:

  • How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.  (In other words, get real and figure out when to break the rules to come out ahead).
  • The ends justify the means.  (Unethical practices are okay as long as you’re a corporate survivor).
  • It’s better to be feared than followed.  (Corporate Bully).
  • Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear. (Corporate Bully).
  • The offenses one does to a man should be such that one does not fear revenge for it. (Undermine your peers, et al, in a way where you can gain power without fear of any repercussion).

 

Montaigne

Montaigne was the first person who referred to his writing as essays.  Essay in French means “try” or “attempt.”  His approach was intended to explain, rather than prove a position.  As a deep Thinker, Montaigne was revolutionary about the world, people, and social constructs, but he didn’t try to bring attention to himself.  He was considered honest and a modern skeptic.  He revitalized Socrates with his comment, “Que sais-je?” (What do I know?).  He was a masterful story-teller that, combined with his vast intellectual knowledge, had great public appeal and bore influence on several of the greatest philosophers, psychologists, and other thought leaders from René Descartes to Friedrich Nietzsche and onward.

 

SUMMARY

All three of these men practiced critical thinking.  They became highly influential leaders through independent thinking.  It takes courage to voice your thoughts when it goes against Senior Management.  Many leaders have been glorified and crucified for their words, yet even when the person is gone, their impact is still felt.   

Know your purpose.

Thank you.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com. 

Note:  This author does not endorse Machiavellianism.  She believes power is a social construct that is a manifestation of a character flaw known as an insecurity and/or fear of weakness. 

 

Resources:

Carnegie, Dale.  How to Win Friends and Influence People. Ebury Publishing. 2010.

Deal T. E. and Kennedy, A. A. Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1982

Stevenson, Jay, Ph.D.  Philosophy.  Penguin Group. 2014.

 

©Rossina Gil, 2013