Don’t Leave Them Standing in an Empty Room

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By Trudy Triner

As all corporate trainers know, there are very few leadership training activities that have an absolutely predictable outcome. But as I traveled around the world for a large Boston-based training and consulting organization, there was one activity that did. I referred to this activity as a "thrilling" experience as I introduced it to groups in France, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. In truth, it was probably more thrilling for me to watch than for them to participate. But the learning was always profound, if sometimes frustrating and even a tad annoying.

Here's the activity. A class is divided into two groups: one is Management, the other is Staff. They are told that, working together, they must solve a physical challenge. That challenge requires Staff to complete a series of physical moves with their bodies, much like a Chinese checkers game. However, only Management is given complete instructions for the task. The two teams are in separate rooms. Only one person from Management can enter Staff's room at a time. And the activity begins.

Here's what happens time and time again. Management works diligently to solve the problem on paper in their room. They sweat. They try options. They even try moving pieces of paper or sugar packets or pencils to represent the Staff. Meanwhile Staff members wait and wait and wait. They begin to conclude that Management is trying to trick them or make fools of them. As time goes on, they begin to get angry. They disengage. Some start to read the newspaper. Others plot revenge and vow to do nothing Management asks. When a Management person finally appears, they usually have paper and pencil in hand, scribble a few notes, totally focus on the task, ignoring the people, and retreat to share their findings with their Management team as they continue to struggle to solve the problem. And so it goes, most often until the allocated time expires. The problem remains unsolved. Staff is frustrated and sometimes angry. The debrief is rich, but often emotion-laden. "Why did you treat us so badly?" Staff will ask. "We were just busy trying to solve the problem," Management says – truly surprised, and somewhat hurt, that their efforts weren't more appreciated.

The secret to success in this exercise, which is almost never discovered, is for Management simply to explain the problem to the Staff and ask for their help in solving it. Staff members become intrigued. They become engaged. They try alternative moves with their bodies and within a few minutes, they solve the problem. They are proud. Management is impressed and relieved. Everyone wins. And it almost never, ever happens!

I was reminded of this activity and its vivid demonstration of the futility of management trying to solve important problems without engaging staff when our Senior Leadership team asked for a training program that would help managers understand the need to engage employees in solving some of the most important challenges in our health-care organization. They wisely understood that without that engagement, it would be very difficult to meet the challenges in store for health care in the coming years.

We partnered with Richard Axelrod, co-author of You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done, and designed a half-day program for our 650 leaders, managers, and supervisors. We called the program, Engaging Staff to Lead, believing that the ideal was to have staff become so involved, they actually led the improvement effort themselves. And it worked. We saw dramatic improvements in service scores and other important metrics.

After the training effort, the coaching and reinforcement began. During coaching sessions with managers who might be having trouble with staff engagement, I asked them, "How are you learning what's important to your staff?" "How are you supporting them in reaching their goals?" "What do you do to demonstrate your understanding of the world from their point of view?" "How are you demonstrating your appreciation for their efforts?" "Are you providing as much feedback as they feel they deserve?" And, "Are you providing a motivating challenge and empowering them to solve their own problems?"

A light bulb often goes off as managers answer these questions because these are the types of management behaviors that lead to staff engagement. I love those forehead-slapping moments when they realize they've neglected one or more of those elements of engagement. And they love walking away with a plan to engage their staff more fully and avoid all the negative ramifications of leaving staff standing in a room waiting for management to solve all the problems in another room. That is truly a lose-lose situation to be avoided at all cost.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 3). Copyright © 2013 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.


Axelrod, R. H., Axelrod, E. M., Beedon, J., and Jacobs, R. W. 2004. You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishing.
trudy-trinerTrudy Triner is a writer, speaker, and leadership consultant who has helped people be more successful in their work for over 25 years. She is also the author of a popular blog and a soon to be published book, Make Mom Happy By Mail, which encourages us all to connect with our parents in a meaningful way while the fleeting window of opportunity to do so is still open.
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Job 1 for Leaders: Aligning Rhetoric to Reality

By Dr. Albert A. Vicere

Scan typical corporate mission statements and you'll note that most companies aspire to be some combination of innovative, customer-driven, market-leading, employee-focused, performance-oriented, and of course, profitable. Although admirable, most leaders would agree that living up to those traits consistently over time is incredibly demanding and extremely difficult. That is not to challenge corporate aspirations, but simply to make an obvious observation: declaring aspirations is much easier than actually achieving them.

My research, coupled with my years of experience as a consultant, has convinced me that the key to resolving this perplexing challenge is rooted in the ability of leaders to reconcile the rhetoric of corporate aspirations with the reality of corporate operating environments. Organizations need aspirations, and as Jim Collins reminded us in his book Built to Last1, people seek the exuberance of being part of an organization with Big Hairy Audacious Goals. But if the organization's declared purpose and aspirations are out of synch with its operating environment, if people within the organization experience a culture that is very different from its stated purpose and aspirations, the organization is headed for disaster.

That's because, regardless of the strategy statement or CEO speeches, the way an organization's leaders actually behave, coupled with the things they ultimately measure and reward, combine to shape employee thinking and behavior across the organization. In effect, they shape what I call "organizational DNA."

Through careful research and discussions with thousands of leaders and managers worldwide, I have built a framework for organizational DNA, the Direction and Alignment (DNA)® Model [Figure 1]. The model is based on a visual metaphor, the DNA double helix. The biological double helix is comprised of a backbone—the two intertwining strands that frame genetic character. These strands are connected by a four-letter code comprising the instructions for a person's genetic profile. Each letter of the code is comprised of essential chemical elements. Those elements combine into sets of base pairs within which one's genetic code resides.

Figure 1: The Direction and Alignment (DNA)® Model

In the Direction and Alignment (DNA) Model®, the backbone of organizational DNA is comprised of two intertwining strands—an organization's roots or its history and operating capabilities, and its wings or its ability to change and innovate. Those two strands are connected by a three letter code—SLC, the first letters in the words strategyleadership, and culture. Each letter of an organization's genetic code is comprised of three essential elements. Strategy is comprised of perspectives toward innovationtalent, and infrastructure. Leadership is comprised of perspectives toward hindsightinsight, and foresight. Culture is comprised of perspectives toward aspirationaccountability, andinitiative. As indicated in Figure 1, each of these nine essential elements can be defined by a set of "base pairs" or essential viewpoints held by leaders that guide their interpretation of organizational strategy, leadership, and culture.

The DNA Model®, as described above, has been operationalized in a survey instrument, the Strategy, Leadership, Culture Questionnaire (SLCQ)®.Respondents indicate their perceptions of their organization with regard to each set of base pairs. The data generated by the SLCQ® reveal the way members think about strategy, leadership, and culture and the potential impact those perceptions have on member behavior, organizational performance, and strategy execution.

The SLCQ® has been used by a variety of major organizations and in a number of settings over the past six years, resulting in a database of nearly 12,000 respondents representing all levels of organizations, though the vast majority are in middle- through senior-level leadership positions. An analysis of the database paints a compelling picture of the challenge faced by leaders as they attempt to align their organizations with a desired future state.

Despite the fact that the economic environment has had its ups and downs over the period that data have been collected, an analysis of the overall database generated a "typical" or average profile of an organization that has remained consistent over time, despite economic fluctuations and changing business conditions.

In terms of strategy, respondents indicate that their organizations are followers/perfecters slow to develop new ideas or approaches to business, staffed by take-charge people complemented by technical experts, who are trying to work together but feel like they are operating in silos.

In terms of culture, they indicate that their organizations are prospecting for and reacting to opportunities, in order to generate improvements, for the purpose of extracting as much return as possible from their current asset base.

In terms of leadership, they indicate a passion for their organization and feel challenged by their jobs. However, although a majority feel energized by their work situation, over 30 percent indicate that the organization's reward system is not tied to performance and that there is little certainty about pathways for advancement in the organization.

It is worth repeating that this overall profile emerged early and has remained consistent over the years that we have collected data. Individual organizations can vary dramatically from the norm, but the norm itself has remained consistent. Respondents indicate that the "typical" organization is exactly as described above.

The vast majority of respondents to the SLCQ® are from large, established companies. As those companies have grown and become successful, their culture, as defined by focus, metrics, and rewards, has evolved from the creation of new products, services, and business models to a focus on maintaining share and margins and driving profits. The typical organization is profiled as having limited openness to new ideas and making limited effort to divine new opportunities for growth and development.

If that's the case, how likely is it that a new strategy statement, even one rolled out with town meetings, speeches, and training programs, is really going to make an impact on the way respondents think and behave on their job? It's a safe bet that respondents will keep working as they always have until leaders not only generate the rhetoric of a change in focus and emphasis, but also take steps to align that rhetoric with the reality of the operating environment by changing the mental models of organizational members. And they do that by changing metrics, adjusting rewards, modeling new behaviors, and demonstrating that the organization actually means what it is saying.

Like many key elements of leadership and strategy, it may seem like common sense that to achieve organizational performance and longevity, leaders must align the rhetoric of an organization to the reality of its operating environment. Yet, my research and experience suggest that for most organizations, this connection is fleeting at best. Data from an SLCQ® analysis make rhetoric-reality gaps clear, and therefore addressable.

1 Collins, J. and Porras, J. (2004). Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: HarperBusiness.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 3). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

What the World Needs Now… (Part 4 of 4) by Wendy Johnson

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Clearly the top two issues in business today are globalization and the rapid advancement of technology. In the first three articles of this series, in which I suggest that more than ever, what the world needs now is business coaching, I highlighted these issues and the impact they have had on the changing climate of business. In my last and final article on this subject, I am focusing on the impact of this changing climate on the future of business coaching.

The true opportunity in the future of business coaching is not what it does to make businesses more successful, but the influence it has on a "Bigger Life" picture. As business coaching becomes more prevalent in global organizations, coaches will challenge and support individuals within those organizations to stay true to their personal values, ethics, and morals. The opportunity then for a "Bigger Life," or a worldwide influence, begins to gain momentum as more and more individuals are inspired to act upon their guiding principles.

What does this mean for the future of business coaching? It means:

  • More focus on ethics - Global organizations are operating at a speed of change that exceeds the speed of regulation. This gap creates an environment of self-regulation that often challenges ethical and moral boundaries. In the second article, I highlighted "e-waste," or the disposal of hazardous technology by-products such as computers and mobile phones, as one of those challenges. While regulation in developed countries prohibits such disposal, similar laws have not yet been enacted in less developed countries. Therefore, the decision to dump hazardous materials at the risk of human life is left in the hands of organizational leaders. Business coaches in the future can expect clients to struggle with even more ethical and moral decisions.
  • More focus on spirituality - A recent Newsweek article cited spirituality as the fastest growing social movement in the world. Spiritual globalization has increased interest in non-traditional religious studies as well as emerging or "New Age" beliefs that are not related to any particular religious base. The quest is for the discovery of purpose. As people are finding themselves more globally connected, even in non-business settings such as the world relief efforts during the recent tsunami, they are beginning to ask themselves "Bigger Life" questions. Business coaches in the future can expect clients to seek spiritual exploration.
  • More focus on balance - Technology will continue to make virtual operations easier and more flexible. However, global business requires communication over a variety of time zones. Psychologists and family therapists cite wireless technology and being "constantly connected to the office" as leading causes of marriage and family distress. Business coaches in the future can expect clients to search for more personal and professional balance while operating in a 24/7 world.

Business coaching in the future will not only support individuals who will in turn build up their businesses, but also support individuals who will in turn build up the world...creating a "Bigger Life" and worldwide influence.



Wendy Johnson, MA, CEC, CMC is the full-time president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC). Johnson's vision is a business coach working with every business, organization and government. Learn more about WABC at http://www.wabccoaches.com. Wendy may be reached by email at presceo@wabccoaches.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Coaching in the Land of Gurus and Soothsayers, By Gopal Shrikanth

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Take the highest per-capita ratio of gurus and soothsayers; add a liberal dose of retired corporate honchos who love to give free advice; spice it up with availability of cutting-edge gizmos for professionals; stir it up with families that determine financial priorities and you are very brave to call yourself a coach in a society where "coaching" is normally prescribed for drop-outs!

As in ancient Greece, Rome and China, India had its share of historical "royal coaches" like Krishna and Chanakya, whose wisdom is enshrined in the Gita and Arthashastra. These ancient "case studies" are still analyzed by MBAs and corporate leaders at business schools and research institutes.1

The ancient system of higher education across all trades was a form of apprenticeship known as the "Guru-Sishya" model. The philosophy behind this concept was that "nuances and finesse" were learned by patience, listening, observation and practice. There has been a systematic exchange of ideas between East and West on psychology, sociology and related topics at least from the 19th century. My grandfather, who graduated from Oxford in the 1920s, left behind a library of Western literature on such topics.

I'm not sure whether there is widespread awareness in the West that India has made such rapid strides over the last two decades in adopting and propagating Western management practices. Developed over the course of its quest to cater to global clients, India now boasts some of the world's highest concentrations of International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Capability Maturity Model (CMM), People Capability Maturity Model (PCMM), Six Sigma, Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) and Project Management Professional (PMP) certified trainers and professionals. Global organizations such as Franklin Covey, the Goldratt Institute, and the de Bono Group have a significant presence, offering certifications and training at local prices.

Executive Coaching in India

Let's now move on to the current status of executive coaching across different groups in India.

For decades, multinationals have leveraged their global learning programs, delivering from regional hubs such as Australia and the UK to develop local leaders. Development programs for teams were led by line- and human-resource managers who had attended a train-the-trainer program. In the recent past, the trend was to send high-performing executives to open-enrollment executive education programs at business schools in the US or to custom programs at business schools in India. In-house programs by Covey, de Bono and Bullet Proof Manager were organized for mid-level executives. Interestingly, multinational corporations (MNCs) currently rely on their global coaching partners to roll out executive coaching in India, who in turn engage Indian coaches! I would therefore encourage international coaches to leverage their contacts in India to explore local cost-effective solutions.

On the other hand, founder CEOs of family-owned corporations have for decades leveraged their alumnus links with global management gurus of Indian origin, such as Ram Charan, C.K. Prahalad and Vijay Govindarajan, while leveraging annual visits to India by gurus such as Marshall Goldsmith. Having gained from such interactions, most of these founders have sent their children to Ivy League business schools in the US to earn MBAs. Such companies will probably largely leverage professors from both US and Indian business schools for cost-effective and just-in-time solutions. Executive coaching assignments for direct reports (or even the next level) to CEO are likely to be won by established local experts with a business track record. Given that there are very few local coaches who are credentialed, this presents a huge opportunity for global English-speaking coaches who are willing to travel to India for short durations for organization-wide rollouts. Needless to say, the compensation for mid-level coaches is likely to be on par with US rates!

Entrepreneurs, supported by private equity and/or venture capital, often realize the need for trusted advisors (to serve as sounding boards) and an executive coach (to help them handle day-to-day challenges in finance, marketing and human resources, and to regain control of their start-ups as they grow rapidly). Although this appears to be a clear case for local experts, there is a significant opportunity for global coaches as these start-ups expand into other geographies. For instance, web/tele-calls and face-to-face meetings in the US and Europe are likely to become the norm in the near future.

As for self-driven high-potential executives, they are likely to seek out specialized coaches to help them fill gaps, and may be most open to web/tele-coaching. Given the time difference between the US, UK, Australia and India, global coaches may be able to supplement their income from the comfort of their own homes. It is not uncommon to find such executives often missing company-sponsored group sessions deliberately.

Executive coaching seems set to boom in India over the next few years. The million dollar question: Are you getting ready for it?

Disclaimer: These are solely the personal views of the author and are not the findings of any scientific study.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide ( 2009, Volume 5, Issue 1). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

1 See the Vedanta Cultural Foundation, page 3, Section Corporate Guru.

Gopal "GD" Shrikanth is Columbia University's first "Advanced Coach" from India and was initiated by Marshall Goldsmith. An alumnus of Wharton and IIM-B, Gopal has a leadership track record across IT, financial and manufacturing multinational corporations. Find more about Gopal in the WABC membership directory and www.gopalshrikanth.com. Contact Gopal.
If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.