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Culture Rules

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Head due north from Verona, Italy on the A22 Autostrada (think the Italian version of Germany's famous Autobahn) toward the Italian Alps and you'll soon pass through countryside so idyllic you'll think you've been transported to the Sound of Music soundstage. It's all there but Julie Andrews - villages perched on beautiful, green hillsides backed by rugged, snow capped mountains and every house with the ubiquitous flower boxes in every window. You know what else? The infrastructure - roads, bridges, signs - is suddenly pristine also, somehow unlike most of the rest of Italy. Something is different here in South Tyrol. History informs that this region has been fought over since before World War I, and that each subsequent treaty has brought it closer to Italian rule, despite a large predominance of the population that identifies itself with Austria, Italy's neighbor to the north. The last treaty concerning governance was signed over 40 years ago, yet generations of these Italians still don't consider Italian their native language or identity. Roads and bridges look so good here because the Italian government allows this region to keep up to 90% of its tax revenues in an attempt appease the region's inhabitants. Even road signs come in two languages, German and Italian. The lesson for leaders? Culture endures, and trumps almost everything else. Culture is defined as a society's traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to resolve its issues over time. Experience tells us that culture outlives leaders, their pet initiatives, and in this case, even national boundaries. Yet it is seldom effectively addressed through conflict, appeasement, or indifference. Culture is always a factor in leading change, and can only be bridged through respect, understanding and one thing more - clarity to all parties of how a new culture benefits. Leaving culture unaddressed is often a fatal flaw in failed change efforts. Are you building road signs in two languages, or finding ways to bridges differences through understanding?

Head due north from Verona, Italy on the A22 Autostrada (think the Italian version of Germany's famous Autobahn) toward the Italian Alps and you'll soon pass through countryside so idyllic you'll think you've been transported to the Sound of Music soundstage. It's all there but Julie Andrews - villages perched on beautiful, green hillsides backed by rugged, snow capped mountains and every house with the ubiquitous flower boxes in every window. You know what else? The infrastructure - roads, bridges, signs - is suddenly pristine also, somehow unlike most of the rest of Italy. Something is different here in South Tyrol.

History informs that this region has been fought over since before World War I, and that each subsequent treaty has brought it closer to Italian rule, despite a large predominance of the population that identifies itself with Austria, Italy's neighbor to the north. The last treaty concerning governance was signed over 40 years ago, yet generations of these Italians still don't consider Italian their native language or identity. Roads and bridges look so good here because the Italian government allows this region to keep up to 90% of its tax revenues in an attempt appease the region's inhabitants. Even road signs come in two languages, German and Italian.

The lesson for leaders? Culture endures, and trumps almost everything else. Culture is defined as a society's traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to resolve its issues over time. Experience tells us that culture outlives leaders, their pet initiatives, and in this case, even national boundaries. Yet it is seldom effectively addressed through conflict, appeasement, or indifference.

Culture is always a factor in leading change, and can only be bridged through respect, understanding and one thing more - clarity to all parties of how a new culture benefits. Leaving culture unaddressed is often a fatal flaw in failed change efforts.

Are you building road signs in two languages, or finding ways to bridges differences through understanding?

8.12.13 1
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Being a Winning Team Doesn?t Mean Never Losing

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

This Fall, my partner Matt Brubaker and I will be working in earnest on our new book about high performing teams, The Wave. One of the most challenging demands we'll face is to is contradict what most believe it means to be a successful team. You see, we don't agree with the traditional dogma that a winning team can't ever lose. However, we can't logically make that claim without first redefining some key principles. As we'll detail in the new book, one of the frames through which we must look at successful teams is sustainability. Your team should not be able to sustain a high level of performance for one month or one quarter. It should be able to do so for several years...and beyond. With that as a touchstone, the idea that any team must trend upward forever becomes ridiculous. People aren't machines. Markets aren't static. Economies evolve. Innovations disrupt. Seen in this way, a winning team becomes that group that can sustain excellence in all areas-strategy, finance, communication, personal growth, mission and meaning-through the natural, inevitable ups and downs that affect any organization. The reframing that must occur is to understand setbacks are an important part of the normal course of events. That means realizing that no matter how good your team is, you won't always achieve your objective, and not doing so doesn't mean you break up the team and court chaos. It means reframing failures and missed goals as what they really are: lessons, and often, blessings in disguise. What failures in your life have propelled extraordinary growth and excellence? How could you reframe losses to make your team more effective?

This Fall, my partner Matt Brubaker and I will be working in earnest on our new book about high performing teams, The Wave. One of the most challenging demands we'll face is to contradict what most believe it means to be a successful team. You see, we don't agree with the traditional dogma that a winning team can't ever lose. However, we can't logically make that claim without first redefining some key principles.

As we'll detail in the new book, one of the frames through which we must look at successful teams is sustainability. Your team should not be able to sustain a high level of performance for one month or one quarter. It should be able to do so for several years...and beyond. With that as a touchstone, the idea that any team must trend upward forever becomes ridiculous. People aren't machines. Markets aren't static. Economies evolve. Innovations disrupt.

Seen in this way, a winning team becomes the group that can sustain excellence in all areas-strategy, finance, communication, personal growth, mission and meaning-through the natural, inevitable ups and downs that affect any organization. The reframing that must occur is to understand setbacks are an important part of the normal course of events. That means realizing that no matter how good your team is, you won't always achieve your objective, and not doing so doesn't mean you break up the team and court chaos. It means reframing failures and missed goals as what they really are: lessons, and often, blessings in disguise.

What failures in your life have propelled extraordinary growth and excellence? How could you reframe losses to make your team more effective?

8.5.13 0
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The Doldrums

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Traditionally, the "doldrums" were regions of high atmospheric pressure in the North and South Atlantic oceans. Because the winds in these areas were weak and unpredictable, sailing ships would often become trapped for weeks while waiting for breezes to carry them to the trade winds. Some, desperate for fresh water and to get to their destinations, would even lighten their loads by driving their cargos of horses overboard to drown, leading to the other name for the areas, the "horse latitudes." But in the modern age, the term doldrums has come to mean a period of being stuck, directionless and uninspired, going nowhere. That's what midsummer tends to feel like, even in a busy organization. The holidays are months away, Q3 seems to be dragging on forever, and it can be difficult to sustain focus and energy for projects. During times like these, drawing energy or inspiration from outside of ourselves is a fool's choice. Rather, leaders must recognize doldrums in themselves or in those they lead and find the right reasons to continue pushing, inventing and stretching their creativity even during those long stretches where it seems that the project is dragging on with no end in sight. Bonuses, incentives-they aren't enough to get us through the doldrums. Our winds need to come from within. What are you doing to be the breeze your people need to sail swiftly?

Traditionally, the "doldrums" were regions of high atmospheric pressure in the North and South Atlantic oceans. Because the winds in these areas were weak and unpredictable, sailing ships would often become trapped for weeks while waiting for breezes to carry them to the trade winds. Some, desperate for fresh water and to get to their destinations, would even lighten their loads by driving their cargos of horses overboard to drown, leading to the other name for the areas, the "horse latitudes."

But in the modern age, the term doldrums has come to mean a period of being stuck, directionless and uninspired, going nowhere. That's what midsummer tends to feel like, even in a busy organization. The holidays are months away, Q3 seems to be dragging on forever, and it can be difficult to sustain focus and energy for projects.

During times like these, drawing energy or inspiration from outside of ourselves is a fool's choice. Rather, leaders must recognize doldrums in themselves or in those they lead and find the right reasons to continue pushing, inventing and stretching their creativity even during those long stretches where it seems that the project is dragging on with no end in sight. Bonuses, incentives-they aren't enough to get us through the doldrums. Our winds need to come from within.

What are you doing to be the breeze your people need to sail swiftly?

7.29.13 0
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Negative Capability

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Wisdom Leading

What was it that made William Shakespeare the greatest writer of all time? According to the great poet John Keats, it was what Keats called "negative capability." That's the capacity to hold yourself in balance between the two poles of a situation without imposing your will in order to force a resolution. Doing so allows ambiguities to fully play out and opens everyone up to new levels of understanding. Keats described this quality as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." I devote much of my time and effort helping leaders build capabilities, yet this one is really tough. In our culture, we're not good at negative capability. We rush to judgment, facts be damned, and are eager to find solutions even if no good ones exist. Humans don't tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty well, yet it's the tension between uncertainty and resolution that makes our greatest drama, fiction and music. In organizations, negative capability empowers leaders to approach problems and conflicts without rushing to one side or the other. It lets them "slow down the game" and allow all factors in a situation to become apparent before a solution is even contemplated. Negative capability is the purview of wise, calm, and controlled. It's a quality we could all do with more of. How might building "negative capability" improve how you lead your team and yourself?

What was it that made William Shakespeare the greatest writer of all time? According to the great poet John Keats, it was what Keats called "negative capability." That's the capacity to hold yourself in balance between the two poles of a situation without imposing your will in order to force a resolution. Doing so allows ambiguities to fully play out and opens everyone up to new levels of understanding. Keats described this quality as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

I devote much of my time and effort helping leaders build capabilities, yet this one is really tough. In our culture, we're not good at negative capability. We rush to judgment, facts be damned, and are eager to find solutions even if no good ones exist. Humans don't tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty well, yet it's the tension between uncertainty and resolution that makes our greatest drama, fiction and music.

In organizations, negative capability empowers leaders to approach problems and conflicts without rushing to one side or the other. It lets them "slow down the game" and allow all factors in a situation to become apparent before a solution is even contemplated. Negative capability is the purview of wise, calm, and controlled. It's a quality we could all do with more of.

How might building "negative capability" improve how you lead your team and yourself?

6.17.13 2
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Charles Ramsey and The Will to Get Involved

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Less than two weeks ago America got a new hero: Charles Ramsey, a man from Cleveland, Ohio, who interrupted his enjoyment of a Big Mac to respond to the panicked pleas of a young woman in a neighboring house. As a result, three women who had been abducted and presumed dead for a decade were rescued. Millions of Americans were charmed by Ramsey's self-effacing speech, but I was more taken with the fact he did something that so many of us are reluctant to do anymore: step across the barrier of our own self-containment and reach into someone else's life. We tend to deceive ourselves that our technology-Facebook, Twitter, texting-means that we're connected to other people. It's an illusion, because it allows us to be connected at our convenience. Real relationships mean getting involved when things are messy, chaotic, uncertain-and real. In our organizations, we sometimes pursue a sanitized version of involvement with our people. We send memos and communicate via calendars. Leading is a full-contact sport - that means being hands-on, asking questions and caring about the answers, and reaching out to learn who the people we're working with truly are and what they truly need. Are you sending communications or involved with your people?

Less than two weeks ago America got a new hero: Charles Ramsey, a man from Cleveland, Ohio, who interrupted his enjoyment of a Big Mac to respond to the panicked pleas of a young woman in a neighboring house. As a result, three women who had been abducted and presumed dead for a decade were rescued.

Millions of Americans were charmed by Ramsey's self-effacing speech, but I was more taken with the fact he did something that so many of us are reluctant to do anymore: step across the barrier of our own self-containment and reach into someone else's life. We tend to deceive ourselves that our technology-Facebook, Twitter, texting-means that we're connected to other people. It's an illusion, because it allows us to be connected at our convenience. Real relationships mean getting involved when things are messy, chaotic, uncertain-and real.

In our organizations, we sometimes pursue a sanitized version of involvement with our people. We send memos and communicate via calendars. Leading is a full-contact sport - that means being hands-on, asking questions and caring about the answers, and reaching out to learn who the people we're working with truly are and what they truly need.

Are you sending communications or involved with your people?

5.20.13 0
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Are there times to rethink our definition of "winning"?

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

That's a question I ask in my upcoming new book, "The Wave." Most corporate cultures define a winning team not only as one that achieves its objective every time but as one that constantly clears an ever-rising bar of expectations. No resting on laurels or congratulating ourselves for a well-fought campaign, folks; if we're not already finding new ways to exceed our performance from last quarter, we're losing. Not only is that approach not sustainable, it doesn't reflect how people live, perform, and recover. The creative director who's a dynamo of ideas in Q1 might be running a bit dry in Q2. That doesn't mean she's incapable. It means she needs to recharge. People aren't machines. To increase the wisdom of our organizations, it's important to appreciate that winning teams are those that combine consistent goal attainment with a culture that respects the natural ebb and flow of individual performance. I believe it is not the point to have one stellar quarter, but rather, to grow steadily over ten or twenty years. That long-term growth and performance only happens when we recognize that winning encompasses not just making the sale but making our people better, flaws and all. How might you redefine "winning" in your organization?

That's a question I ask in my upcoming new book, "The Wave." Most corporate cultures define a winning team not only as one that achieves its objective every time but as one that constantly clears an ever-rising bar of expectations. No resting on laurels or congratulating ourselves for a well-fought campaign, folks; if we're not already finding new ways to exceed our performance from last quarter, we're losing.

Not only is that approach not sustainable, it doesn't reflect how people live, perform, and recover. The creative director who's a dynamo of ideas in Q1 might be running a bit dry in Q2. That doesn't mean she's incapable. It means she needs to recharge. People aren't machines.

To increase the wisdom of our organizations, it's important to appreciate that winning teams are those that combine consistent goal attainment with a culture that respects the natural ebb and flow of individual performance. I believe it is not the point to have one stellar quarter, but rather, to grow steadily over ten or twenty years. That long-term growth and performance only happens when we recognize that winning encompasses not just making the sale but making our people better, flaws and all.

How might you redefine "winning" in your organization?

5.13.13 0
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Fish Story

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Not long ago, my partner Matt Brubaker was running on the beach in La Jolla, California. He spotted a young seal on the beach waving its flippers and bobbing its head to get attention from passersby, hoping they would give it food. This struck Matt as funny, because the seal had its back to an ocean full of fish. All it had to do was turn around and dive! In our organizations, it's easy to become so caught up in the pursuit of one objective that we completely overlook the abundance that's all around us. For example, while corporations like Microsoft and Apple spend billions to develop the Next Big Thing, tiny software app companies like Uber and BabelVerse have been tapping into the vast untapped resources of the mobile economy. Uber leverages limo drivers' considerable downtime by letting customers call for high-class rides from their smart phones, while BabelVerse turns foreign language speakers around the world into an army of on-demand interpreters, also accessible via a smart phone app. That's brilliant. As we try to infuse our organizations with wisdom, it's important to step back from time to time, lift our noses from the grindstone and look around. We might see new opportunities, new customers, new markets and new ways of doing things. Are you choosing from abundance or sitting with your back to the ocean?

Not long ago, my partner Matt Brubaker was running on the beach in La Jolla, California. He spotted a young seal on the beach waving its flippers and bobbing its head to get attention from passersby, hoping they would give it food. This struck Matt as funny, because the seal had its back to an ocean full of fish. All it had to do was turn around and dive!

In our organizations, it's easy to become so caught up in the pursuit of one objective that we completely overlook the abundance that's all around us. For example, while corporations like Microsoft and Apple spend billions to develop the Next Big Thing, tiny software app companies like Uber and BabelVerse have been tapping into the vast untapped resources of the mobile economy. Uber leverages limo drivers' considerable downtime by letting customers call for high-class rides from their smart phones, while BabelVerse turns foreign language speakers around the world into an army of on-demand interpreters, also accessible via a smart phone app. That's brilliant.

As we try to infuse our organizations with wisdom, it's important to step back from time to time, lift our noses from the grindstone and look around. We might see new opportunities, new customers, new markets and new ways of doing things.

Are you choosing from abundance or sitting with your back to the ocean?

4.29.13 2
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We have met our ally, and he is us

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, History, Wisdom Leading

The famous line from the Pogo comic strip goes, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." The above variation seems apt only a few days after the terrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. This awful event has left many people shaken and angered. But where they see fear, I see cause for hope. Terrorism is unique among the tactics of war in that it doesn't seek to destroy the enemy directly. Instead, it seeks to sow fear, panic, paranoia and hysteria in its victims and make them destroy themselves. In a terrorist's mind, a perfect attack would lead to riots, arrests of suspicious individuals, economic collapse and the breakdown of civil society. That's not what happened after Boston. If you watch the footage, dozens of people ran toward the explosion-toward harm-to help those caught in the blast. Runners who had just run 26 miles ran two more to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. All over the city, people rushed to get back to their lives even as they sent leads to authorities and showed support for the victims. That's the opposite of panic and hysterical violence. That's courage, reason, restraint and love at work. Part of wisdom lies in knowing that we have the capacity to be both our own worst enemies and best allies-and to be aware of the times when we're on the verge of letting fear take over. In our organizations as well as our communities, we can react to adverse events either with panic and rage or with calm and compassion. Which we choose determines much about whether we succeed or fail. Is your organization more prone to panic or positive action?

The famous line from the Pogo comic strip goes, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." The above variation seems apt only a few days after the terrible bombing at the Boston Marathon. This awful event has left many people shaken and angered. But where they see fear, I see cause for hope.

Terrorism is unique among the tactics of war in that it doesn't seek to destroy the enemy directly. Instead, it seeks to sow fear, panic, paranoia and hysteria in its victims and make them destroy themselves. In a terrorist's mind, a perfect attack would lead to riots, arrests of suspicious individuals, economic collapse and the breakdown of civil society.

That's not what happened after Boston. If you watch the footage, dozens of people ran toward the explosion-toward harm-to help those caught in the blast. Runners who had just run 26 miles ran two more to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood. All over the city, people rushed to get back to their lives even as they sent leads to authorities and showed support for the victims. That's the opposite of panic and hysterical violence. That's courage, reason, restraint and love at work.

Part of wisdom lies in knowing that we have the capacity to be both our own worst enemies and best allies-and to be aware of the times when we're on the verge of letting fear take over. In our organizations as well as our communities, we can react to adverse events either with panic and rage or with calm and compassion. Which we choose determines much about whether we succeed or fail.

Is your organization more prone to panic or positive action?

4.22.13 0
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"Whatever is Happening..."

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

The headline quote by Susan Sontag (full quote is "Whatever is happening, something else is always going on."), remains one of the more illuminating bits of wisdom I have ever read. It means that whatever we may feel we know about a situation on the surface, there are hidden layers that we know nothing about. Keeping this truth in mind can change how we relate to and understand the people with whom we work. Take the example of a web developer that my writing partner, Tim, told me about. This gentleman, who had previously been as reliable as the tide, was driving his employer to distraction with his erratic performance on a project. He missed deadlines, did substandard work and seemed lost. Rather than come down on him, his supervisor asked him if there was anything wrong that he needed to talk about. It turned out that in recent weeks the developer had not only been dealing with his father having a painful and risky surgery, but had been undergoing tests for a possibly deadly form of cancer. By keeping in mind the "something else is always going on" rule, his boss avoided disciplining a valued team member who really needed support. An increased understanding gave this leader greater options for leading in a personally challenging time. Every person has a backstory, and no leader-no matter how perceptive-can claim to have read every word of it. Better we should keep Ms. Sontag's wise words close at hand. How would greater awareness and sensitivity to those around you change how you lead?

The headline quote by Susan Sontag (full quote is "Whatever is happening, something else is always going on."), remains one of the more illuminating bits of wisdom I have ever read. It means that whatever we may feel we know about a situation on the surface, there are hidden layers that we know nothing about.

Keeping this truth in mind can change how we relate to and understand the people with whom we work. Take the example of a web developer that my writing partner, Tim, told me about. This gentleman, who had previously been as reliable as the tide, was driving his employer to distraction with his erratic performance on a project. He missed deadlines, did substandard work and seemed lost. Rather than come down on him, his supervisor asked him if there was anything wrong that he needed to talk about.

It turned out that in recent weeks the developer had not only been dealing with his father having a painful and risky surgery, but had been undergoing tests for a possibly deadly form of cancer. By keeping in mind the "something else is always going on" rule, his boss avoided disciplining a valued team member who really needed support. An increased understanding gave this leader greater options for leading in a personally challenging time.

Every person has a backstory, and no leader-no matter how perceptive-can claim to have read every word of it. Better we should keep Ms. Sontag's wise words close at hand.

How would greater awareness and sensitivity to those around you change how you lead?

4.8.13 0
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Two CEOs Walk into a Bar...

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

According to a new study conducted by the Wharton School, leadership effectiveness and height are correlated. In other words, the taller you are, the better leader you'll be. Just kidding. Today is April 1st, also known as April Fool's Day. That's got me reflecting on the role of humor in leading. As a rule, business is often serious business: we're dealing with lives and livelihoods, health and safety, and powerful technologies. And, we need to lighten up once in a while. I'm not suggesting that Boeing workers be allowed to throw pies in each other's faces while they're assembling the components of the 787 Dreamliner. I am suggesting that encouraging humor can help people defuse the tension that comes with Very Important Work. After all, as Bertrand Russell said, "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." Some leaders discourage humor in the workplace because they see it as a coded challenge to their authority or don't understand its value to worker engagement. But what if humor could be open and intentional? What if the boss was the first one to share a joke each morning? Instead of being a means to express grievances and mock authority, humor can be a means to build camaraderie and bring teams together. In your organization, are you the initiator of humor or the butt of the jokes?

According to a new study conducted by the Wharton School, leadership effectiveness and height are correlated. In other words, the taller you are, the better leader you'll be.

Just kidding.

Today is April 1st, also known as April Fool's Day. That's got me reflecting on the role of humor in leading. As a rule, business is often serious business: we're dealing with lives and livelihoods, health and safety, and powerful technologies. And, we need to lighten up once in a while.

I'm not suggesting that Boeing workers be allowed to throw pies in each other's faces while they're assembling the components of the 787 Dreamliner. I am suggesting that encouraging humor can help people defuse the tension that comes with Very Important Work. After all, as Bertrand Russell said, "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."

Some leaders discourage humor in the workplace because they see it as a coded challenge to their authority or don't understand its value to worker engagement. But what if humor could be open and intentional? What if the boss was the first one to share a joke each morning? Instead of being a means to express grievances and mock authority, humor can be a means to build camaraderie and bring teams together.

In your organization, are you the initiator of humor or the butt of the jokes?

4.1.13 1
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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams