TAG Consulting

You Are Part of The Problem…And That’s OK!

May 30, 2016

In our work as consultants we are often called upon to help leaders and their organizations navigate conflict.

In virtually every instance the leader who enlists our help believes that he or she is not the problem. The real problem, those leaders believe, is “that person” or “those people” or “that policy or procedure” or “that department”.

We’ve seen a lot of jaws drop (and a few fists start to clench!) when we tell leaders “The problem is you!”.

Angry man pointing his finger

What we mean by that is that in every conflict, every individual involved has contributed to the impasse in some way or another. This is one of the fundamental rules of organizational life – that every member of the group is part of a system that is not working on some level.

Now, we want our clients to continue to employ us, so we finish the sentence beginning “The problem is you…” with an important clause: “…so know yourself.”

If I am aware of my limitations and failures and propensities to engage in unhealthy behavior at times then I can lead through the conflict with wisdom and skill.

The writer John Eldredge puts it this way: “What gets in the way is your way”. He means that we all have a way of relating, a manner of leading that we rarely question. And when you don’t question yourself you are not conscious of how your patterns of behavior are affecting others, creating resistance, and undermining the very goals you are committed to bringing about. But if you are willing to take an inward look, you can stop being your own worst enemy.

If you can manage yourself – know your heart and mind and understand how and why you can slip into unhealthy conflict – and then choose instead to put your ego aside for a bigger mission – you have the foundation for persevering through conflict and adversity in a way that bring about lasting change and a unified team and organization.

Do you want to take your team to the next level? Here are some of our options for team development and growth.

Ready to take your individual leadership acumen to a higher place? Check out our options for executive and leadership coaching here.

For more on navigating organizational and interpersonal conflict, read our book Red Zone/Blue Zone, which you can find here.

10 Steps To Become A Dramatically Better Listener…Today

May 30, 2016


Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. That’s easy to say, but often hard to do. It’s all too common for us to half-listen while planning what we are going to say next, either to preserve our position and status or to win an argument.

In a climate of half-listening, unhealthy conflict flourishes. Actively listening dramatically reduces the risk of destructive conflict by making sure underlying values and beliefs are on the table and understood and that each party to the conversation feels heard and understood.

The principles of active listening are widely known, but in our work we see them violated over and over again! Let’s remind ourselves of them and, more importantly, remind ourselves to put them into practice!

1. Face the speaker.
2. Maintain eye contact, to the degree that everyone remains comfortable.
3. Minimize external distractions.
4. Respond appropriately to show that you understand.
5. Focus solely on what the speaker is saying.
6. Minimize  internal distractions – quiet your inner monologue.
7. Keep an open mind…and an open heart.
8. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation.
9. Even if the speaker is launching a complaint against you, wait until they finish to defend yourself.
10. Ask questions for clarification – but, once again, wait until the other speaker has finished speaking!

If Your Team Isn’t Taking Risks, You Aren’t Leading!

May 30, 2016


The least engaged workers we have come across often tell us that they feel like they are limited and constricted in their ability to take chances in their work. “Just keep your head down and do your job”, seems to be the implicit message. “It is only the highest levels of leaders who have the freedom to risk. Your job is to be a worker bee.”

But people are not made that way, and this is no way to build a winning culture. The business literature is rife with examples of great leaders who made substantial mistakes early in their careers. Sometimes those mistakes – such as rushing a product to market too early or rushing the wrong product to market – can cause career detours. But in notable examples a young leader had a mentor or leader who acknowledged the mistake but offered a second chance bolstered by hard lessons learned.

When this happens confidence gets built and real innovation can happen.

One of our clients, in a midmanagement position in his late twenties, spearheaded the development and offering of a new service provided by his company. His managers invested capital, time, and attention to make it happen, and he was poised to profit, both professionally and financially.

For a variety of reasons, the service did not gain traction in the marketplace and the company lost both momentum and money.

Our client assumed he would be terminated or, at best, had hit the ceiling in his progress within that company. Quite the contrary.

The company’s president drew him aside, saying “Justin, we believed in what you were putting together and we supported you. Because you were given the reins of the product, your name is attached to its failure and we know that’s tough. But you’re not alone. We still believe in you. Your main task now is to learn why we failed with the new service and  help us put steps into place to insure it won’t happen again.”

Immediately after, Justin was given another significant assignment, and over the next decade he rose within the company. He points to both his failure and his leader’s response to it as key components in a career that twenty years later has been characterized by appropriate risks that have paid off more often than not.

What about your team?
Or, first, what about you? Are you taking appropriate risks in your life and career?
Do your team members feel that they have the freedom to take risks?
If not, what could you change in your leadership style to foster a climate of adventure?

Balancing Trust And Cynicism

May 26, 2016


It takes time to build trust in an organization…but cynicism spreads like crabgrass!

Cynicism can be a destructive, corrosive force, stalking your office corridors and internal comms channels, completely altering the environment of your organization.

But, let’s face it – cynicism can’t be completely eliminated. As a matter of fact, when it is tamed and leveraged cynicism can play a positive role in the life of your organization.

How can you balance cynicism and trust in your organization?

When you are driving down the road and see a car approaching you in the opposite lane you have to make the decision to trust that it is going to remain in its late as opposed to crashing head-first into you. Hundreds of times each day, we make similar decisions to trust. There’s no other way to function in life. In a very real sense, trust is as necessary to our daily survival as food and water.

But, as counterintuitive as it sounds, we need cynicism as well.

Let’s say we are driving late at night in hazardous conditions. A car is approaching in the opposite lane, going too fast and weaving across the road. A healthy degree of cynicism would lead us to assume that the driver is intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated and to take defensive measures. In that case, I am right not to trust.

Same thing in our organizations. Trust is healthy – indeed it is the most important predictive factor in the success of an organization. But there is also such a thing as a healthy dose of cynicism.

You can’t do the things that build trust unless you’ve done the things that manage cynicism.

For instance, it is appropriate to be a little cynical when onboarding a new hire. They are not going to be as competent as a veteran in their first days on the job. They need to be supervised and mentored in the culture and processes of your organization, no matter how sparkling their resume and credentials.

This is healthy organizational cynicism. It’s not personal distrust. As a matter of fact, we put systems of accountability in place to remove the need for personal distrust.

People have strengths and weaknesses and we have to manage those as leaders. Healthy leaders aren’t shy about putting mechanisms in place to support both employees and the organization as a whole.

The art is in balancing trust and cynicism – distinguishing between cynicism that is healthy and that which is unhealthy.

Unhealthy cynicism never allows trust to grow. Healthy cynicism fosters a safe, controlled environment in which trust is the ultimate goal. Monitoring processes are in place but those processes are fair and flexible, not rigid and domineering. They create a climate of equity and ownership where employees can say “This is MY organization; I can trust and I feel trusted because I know our shared values and commitments will be honored by everyone”.

A trusted advisor taking a supportive, outside look at your organization can help you make sure that you are balancing trust and cynicism in your leadership. You can find out more here!

Is Your Organization A Safe Place?

May 24, 2016

In modern-day organizational life, people expect many things from their leaders but dependability is not a word high on the list.

People expect power plays, unreasonable expectations, skillful politics, and my-career-first sorts of attitudes. But not dependability.

And that is precisely why dependability is so important.

Bottom line, when a leader is dependable, it creates a sense of safety in her followers. And safety is something that is in short supply these days – in our workplaces and in our culture at large.

This is not a ‘soft’ skill. People who feel unsafe act in self-protecting ways, which shuts down collaboration. Often, they are dishonest. And that makes sense; when you feel your security is on the line you are going to be tempted to protect yourself above all else.

But when people feel safe, they are free to give and free to risk and free to innovate.

One of our client companies is committed to safety for its people. Not just workplace safety, but emotional safety.

Over the last few years, a number of its employees have endured personal hardship. In some other companies, in several cases, these employees might have been candidates for dismissal.

But this company values people to such a degree that it is willing to come alongside and support them during difficult times, offering reduced workloads for temporary periods, counseling support, and patience. This benefits the employees involved greatly but other, non-affected employees as well. The message: you can depend on us.

This is not to say that there is an endless reserve of patience and that production and the bottom line do not matter. But the organization is more than a machine – it is a community.

Dependability involves leaders coming through on their commitments, honoring the values the organization claims, treating people with  both individuality and equity, and genuinely caring for employees as people who have families, lives, interests, and needs that are outside the scope of the organization.

When people feel safe they can venture beyond themselves. This is what allows them to belong, contribute, and to make a real and lasting difference.

Four Practices To Make Conflict Your Friend

May 23, 2016


Over and over again we say “Resistance is your ally, not your enemy – conflict can be a path to growth”.

It’s hard to hear at first but over time people will give us the benefit of the doubt as we explain the nature and source of conflict and how we can choose to live in either the healthy Blue Zone or the dismal Red Zone.

But we’re often asked “Exactly HOW can I live and lead in such a way that I see resistance as my ally?”.

Here are four practical principles that will help you see resistance as your friend, not your enemy.

1. Maintain clear focus. Keep an eye on the moment and the resistance and conflict you are facing, to be sure. But always keep your other eye focused on the big picture – the mission you are trying to achieve , the purposes you are committed to, the real issues at hand, the value of the people involved.

2. Embrace resistance. Move toward, not away from, the sources of resistance. This is hard, because our tendency is to defeat, run around, or deny resistance. It is a learned behavior, so be patient with yourself! Resistance is your ally because it shows you that your current strategies are not fully working and it give you more options to move ahead.

3. Respect those who resist, by monitoring your emotions, avoiding the Red Zone, and always telling the truth.

4. Join with the resistance. Look for common themes,, values, and patterns, looking together for ways the situation needs to change.

Make a habit of studying and, more importantly, practicing these principles and you will find yourself less frustrated and dismayed by and more challenged and energized by healthy conflict!

Butting Heads Doesn’t Have To Give You A Headache

May 16, 2016

PictureCall it what you will – resistance, pushback, challenge, opposition – it’s basically an opposing force that slows or stops movement. Anyone in leadership, be it parenting, teaching, directing government agencies or multinational organizations, should come to expect resistance.

It’s vital to NOT be surprised when resistance emerges. In fact, it is an element in the process that should be welcomed. Welcome it, then learn to handle it correctly.

All of us from time to time, resist. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from real or perceived danger, most notably when change is unfolding. In and of itself, resistance is not a bad thing. It’s merely energy. If we can effectively redirect that energy, we can move the resistance in the direction of change.

The first signal resistance sends to our mind is “I don’t like this change. In fact, I don’t like ANY change.” The second thing resistance signals “OK, I can tolerate some change but now you’re going too fast!”

When you get the resistance-caused signal, it’s up to you to figure out what the signal means. The same principle applies when your smoke detector goes off in your house late at night. You can say to yourself ‘darn smoke detector!’ while you  rip it off the wall and destroy it. Or you can try to figure out what the detector is signaling to you. If there’s a fire you surely want to know about it.

Resistance tends to signal that issues lurk under the surface and are tapping into our most deeply held values (what we call ‘transformational’ issues). That’s one of the great benefits of resistance – it signals deeper issues. But it’s easy to miss the benefit; we find that may people choose surface-level ‘tactical’ approaches to solving transformational challenges. When we do this, the resistance continues and the “solution” becomes the problem.

Most of us don’t recognize and adapt to a transformational challenge. We end up butting our heads against the resistance instead of listening to the signal, intuiting what it is saying, and deciding what to do next.

Your job as a leader is to find themes and possibilities, to stay in the Blue Zone and realize “It’s not about me, it’s about the mission”.

Once you adopt that perspective you’ll be able to respect those who resist and use the energy resistance generates to insure your success.

Pay Attention To Who’s Not In The Room

May 16, 2016


We’re preoccupied with leading change, which means that we are preoccupied with our teams.

We’re paying attention to their roles, their desires, their hopes, their strengths, their anxieties. We’re doing everything we can to help each of them understand the change that’s coming and their role in that change, showing them where they will win and where they might experience loss.

We’re doing everything we can to help them thrive, with the end result being that they will be more engaged than ever and that the organization as a whole will go from strength to strength.

That’s a lot to handle!

But it’s not everything we need to handle.

Consider one of the most overlooked keys to change leadership:
The people IN the room have people OUTSIDE the room about whom they care and to whom they are accountable and we have to pay attention to them too.

These ‘outside the room’ people may be direct reports, customers, clients, vendors, even family members. But they will be affected in some way by the change happening to the person in the room.

One very simple yet extraordinarily powerful discipline of change leadership is for you as the leader to consider the constituencies of each person in the room and help them think through how to involve those people in the questions, struggles, deliberations, and solutions of the change process.

In doing this, you are serving your team members, pacing them as they deal with the rate of change, and demonstrating that you honor them and have their best interests at heart.

Put that together and you are increasing your odds for successful change leadership and an engaged, energized team.