One of the mentors I feel very fortunate to have had in my life was the late Richard Neustadt, a founding professor of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and author of the classic book Presidential Power. When I was a student at the Kennedy School in the mid-80’s, I had Dr. Neustadt for a couple of classes, got to work with him on some special projects and was part of a group of students he’d occasionally have over to his house to teach us about the subtleties of scotch whiskey.
There are a lot of insights that Dick Neustadt is remembered for but the one that is probably the most cited is that, in spite of the awesome resources at his (and, someday soon, her) command, the true power of the President of the United States is the power to persuade. To really be effective in accomplishing their agenda, the President must influence different stakeholders and constituencies to work with him or her.
Note the key preposition in that last sentence. It’s with. As an executive I was talking with recently reminded me, great leaders work with people, not through people. You may, at first, think that the dichotomy between with and through is a distinction without a difference. Not so fast, my friend. Let’s dig a little deeper on the difference between these two prepositions, with and through, and the impact they have on effective leadership.
We can start with definitions. The primary definition of with is “accompanied by.” The primary definition of through is “moving in one side and out of the other side of.” Maybe I could end this post right here. If you’re the colleague, the follower or some other stakeholder, would you rather be accompanied by or moved through one side and out the other? My guess is that for most people the answer is self-evident. You’d rather be accompanied. That’s likely at the essence of the power of persuasion that Dr. Neustadt wrote and talked about.
So, what are other markers of a leader who works with people instead of through people?
As the executive I was recently talking with told me, when you’re working with people, you start with respect for your colleagues. Unless proven otherwise, you assume that they, like you, are acting in the similar best interests of the enterprise. You assume that they’re highly motivated and qualified until proven otherwise.
You also have a focus on what they need as much as on what you need. If you only come in with what you need and what you have right and everyone else has wrong, over the long run you lose your effectiveness.
When you don’t have total control, you have to have influence. Influence – the power to persuade – takes root when you work with people rather than through them.
But because someone says truth is relative, does it make it so? No, and you know this.
Look at the grass outside of your office window. What color is it? There’s typically only two answers to this question:
The grass is green.
The grass is brown.
One is a sign of healthy grass. The other is a sign of dead grass. Yet there’s typically only two colors of grass.
Now, if you looked out your window and saw a lawn full of green grass and someone told you the grass was pink, what would you do? You’d probably laugh. I know I would.
You wouldn’t coddle the person and tell them they’re right. After laughing, you’d probably correct them. You’d tell them: Sam, the grass isn’t pink. The grass is green.
The truth is the grass is green. There’s no two ways about it.
You cannot change the fact that the grass in front of you is green. It is what it is. And grass being the color green is the truth.
You can try to twist the truth of the grass’ color as much as you would like. Your twisting of the colors wouldn’t change the truth.
But how often do we try to twist the truth when it comes to our businesses, organizations, or relationships? We try to twist the truth to what suits our desires, needs, or wants.
And still, no twisting of those truths makes our lies in business any less wrong.
There’s a reason truth matters. Truth is a guiding compass for what is right and what is wrong. You can look at the truth and know whether or not what you’re doing is right.
Truth allows you to know true north. It allows you to get to the destination you’re heading. And it helps you accomplish this with integrity.
Be careful of twisting truths to fit your narrative. It’s a dangerous path to go down.
The more you twist the truth, the more you’ll be willing to do the next wrong thing. Then the next. And then another…
But if you stay on the straight and narrow… If you’re willing to stand for truth… If you’re willing to say truth matters…
You’ll have an unshakeable character. You’ll earn the respect of others. And you’ll know you did the right thing.
I hope you’re not living in a state of relative truth. I hope and pray you’re living a life of truth.
As the well-known, dramatic story unfolds, “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.” Coincidentally, this nursery rhyme has me thinking about an important leadership issue.
During this Independence Day season, I’m concerned that our freedom is being threatened. Now is the time for honorable patriots to speak up and do our part on this issue. We must take a stand for civility in our culture, and it’s a basic responsibility as fellow colleagues and citizens.
What is Civility and why is it important?
The word “civil” ties back to the Latin word for citizen, and the core meaning is the idea of people living together as a society under a government. The other well-known and related definition of the word civil is being courteous, respectful and considerate of others. To have and maintain freedom requires a degree of civility and tolerance for each other.
Just over fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King set the standard for civility when debating highly contested issues. Out of that era, our society learned a lot about respectful tolerance for others—it has been a foundational ethos over the past 30 years in the issues of race, gender, and religion, and it’s made us a better nation because of it. We had our differences in the past, but there was a general attitude of civility in debating them.
Today though, the tragic change is tolerance for being intolerant of others who have different ideas and views.
“When people reach a point of hate for each other because they have different perspectives, then you have a serious problem.”
Emotions are Contagious
From my past work in human behavior and performance, I know that emotions are contagious. Positive emotions give positive energy and make it easy to live and work together. Negative emotions bring negative energy and make it difficult to work together. We all know this principle from time spent with our work teams as well as relationships with family and friends. And the same thing applies to our culture.
Now we’re seeing intolerant and rude conversation on a mass scale. Some media outlets and politicians ignore the boundaries of civility, aggressively promoting disrespectful personal attacks on others who don’t share their views on politics or social issues. And social media has provided a layer of protection, allowing individuals to lash out in vicious ways at people they don’t even know. These actions aren’t illegal, but they are certainly anti-social and attack the civility needed to maintain a free society where we can live and work together.
Another Civil War?
A recent Rasmussen Poll showed that “thirty-one percent (31%) of U.S. voters say it’s ‘Likely’ that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years, with 11 percent saying it’s ‘Very Likely.’[i]” This poll seems to confirm what I’m feeling—that we’re crashing over the boundaries needed in a civil society.
Underneath this breakdown in civility is the subtle mindset that “the ends justify the means”.
This is the bone-chilling Communist manifesto that we experienced in the POW camps, so I’m highly sensitive to this type of attack on freedom and independence. This abandonment of truth and civility can happen in our American culture, a business boardroom, a dysfunctional family relationship, or a dispute with a neighbor. No one can escape it, but we have an opportunity to do our part in arresting it.
What can we do?
If you’re agreeing with this article, then you’re part of the tribe that has decided to live and lead with honor! Regardless of your personal and professional perspectives or your allegiance to your like-minded group of people, you know that the true essence of influence and courage is taking a stand in a civil way regardless if that civility is returned in kind. For more on this challenge, see my coaching video this month and hear my personal story.
Here are four things that we can do –
If Humpty Dumpty takes a fall, it will be very difficult to put him back together again. Take a stand for our freedom and independence, stand and advocate for civility…in a civil way.
Good leadership advice is meant to be shared. Here eight healthcare leaders — including CEOs, CFOs and chief strategy officers — offer the No. 1 piece of advice they would give other leaders in their field.
1. Rob Bloom, CFO of Carthage (N.Y.) Area Hospital. “The best advice I have is to find the courage to change what must be changed and accept those things that cannot be changed in the short term. Regardless of whether a hospital is profitable or struggling, there will be challenges. The difficult task is to determine where to focus resources while accepting criticism for problems that will not change the short-term viability of the organization. You have to learn to trust your judgment and resist pressures from others that might tempt you to alter your course based on their lack of understanding. It is very much a triage process: Stop the bleeding first, then worry about infection later.”
2. Mona Chadha, chief strategy officer of San Francisco-based Dignity Health’s Bay Area. “One of the key strengths of being a good leader is really listening and leading people by example. That to me is one of the successes. Then, do some thinking outside of the box. That’s been my mantra of success in the past.”
3. JoAnn Kunkel, CFO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health. “The very first CFO I worked for in 1990 always said, ‘you’re only as good as your team. … I’d never be able to be successful without having you and the team working with me.’ [That CFO] was a very thoughtful and inclusive leader. He gave me opportunities to be part of the team and think strategically and develop into a leader. So since then, it’s always been my belief that we have a very strong team that should always participate. If we have someone that needs help, we have multiple individuals ready to step up. And working together makes us all better. My advice would be: It’s important to remember you are only as good as your team. Sometimes I think when you get into these leadership roles you can forget that. You always want to be inclusive, give credit to the work and the team and the efforts that help make you successful in your role.”
4. Michael McAnder, CFO of Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare. “I think what I’d say is try and look for the long-term play. You can’t manage this business on a day-to-day basis. You have to have a clear direction and stick with it. I think that’s probably the thing our CEO Kevin Brown has done really well. I have never worked at an organization with a one-page strategic plan before. Every meeting starts with it, and we use it at every presentation. That consistency has brought clarity. It’s also why we’ve gone from five hospitals to 11 in the three years I’ve been here. That resonates with other organizations when we talk about our plan. It’s really important. In addition, obviously, you have to act with integrity and character. If you’re in a position where you can’t do that, you have to make a different decision about whether you can keep working for someone.”
5. Alan B. Miller, CEO of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services. “I often give a few pieces of advice to other CEOs and leaders, including:
6. David Parsons, MD, CMO of Portland-based Northwest Permanente. “Listen to the people you lead and be honest about which problems you can solve and which ones you can’t. People usually don’t mind being told no as long as you are direct and honest about the reasons why. People detest ambivalence.”
7. Mike Pykosz, CEO and founder of Chicago-based Oak Street Health. “Be persistent and be motivated by your mission. One thing we found really early was everything is a lot harder and takes a lot longer than you think it will. Things that make a lot of sense to you and are super logical will always take a little longer. [Success] requires breaking down a lot of little barriers, including a lot of inefficiencies, a lot of complexities and mindshare. But whatever it is, be persistent and have faith that if you’re trying to do the right thing, and if you stay at it, you’ll be able to break down those barriers and accomplish these things.”
8. Michael Wallace, president and CEO of Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based Fort HealthCare. “I’d say visualize the outcome you want and then go get it. I also like the phrase ‘try hard, fail fast, move on, start over.’ You’re one step closer to a solution if the last one didn’t work. But don’t let perfect get in the way of good. I like to be 8 for 10 rather than 3 for 3. Failure is the byproduct of trying to move an organization forward. If I get 8 of 10 things right, I am going to end up further along, closer to my vision than if I wait to be sure about everything to get that perfect 3 for 3.”