23 Jun

Orlando: How our Ideology is Killing us

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By Robert Hall – 

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.
John Stuart Mill

Orlando now joins San Bernardino, Paris, Fort Hood and many others. Attempts to understand these atrocities focus on the ideology and theology of the killers – issues around ISIS, radical Islam, and hate crimes. But those issues beg a bigger question. How have our own ideology and theology immobilized our ability to respond? We lament that the enemy does not change their ideology while we steadfastly hold on to ours, leaving us unable to act. In light of that old adage, “It’s not what happens to you, but what you do about it” – we are failing.

It is our country’s own ideological divide that makes many of today’s headlines. Presidential candidate Donald Trump accuses President Obama of stupidity, indifference or “something else.” Obama goes on a tirade denouncing Trump’s statement about Muslims. Trump retorts that Obama is angrier at him than at the Orlando shooter. Our gravest risk is not that terrorism will destroy us but that it will provoke us to destroy ourselves.

We keep asking: When are we going to wake up and take action about – fill-in-the-blank. For some the blank is filled in by stricter gun laws, limits on immigration, more effective mental health programs, or more aggressive police or military action. But as a nation we are immobilized by the depth of our disagreement. Our response is heightened worry, but not heightened action.

Our inability to agree on a holistic, strategic response means that we eventually become a part of the problem – but at least it is a part we can do something about. We have met the enemy and it is not just guns, bad guys, ineffectual military efforts or dysfunctional mental health system. The enemy is also us and our broken relationships that prevent constructive engagement and thus constructive solutions on behalf of future innocent victims. The first one or two incidents – shame on the perpetrator. The last ten, shame on them AND on us and our disabled relationships.

We may not be able to control “them” but what to do about “us”? That should be a different story but it requires leadership.

It is time for leaders and followers to stop asking: How do I convert others to think like me? The more constructive question is: What about your ideology or theology would you be willing to repurpose in order to reach a shared solution that would save lives and save our Union? What would you be willing to concede, not by forfeiting your personal beliefs, but in support of a shared higher-purpose solution for the country.

Until leaders and followers humble ourselves regarding our own imperfect beliefs, we will remain stuck. Let me suggest three keys for thinking more relationally about ideology.

Recognize broken relationships as our greatest long-term risk.
No matter how you disdain violence, loss of innocent lives, and any opposition you consider the enemy – ISIS, gun lobby, religious extremism, immigration policies – we are stuck unless we come together enough to craft solutions.

Years ago General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff commented on the sectarian violence in the midst of the Iraq war:

“If the Iraqi people as a whole decided today that, in my words now, they love their children more than they hate their neighbors…this could come to a quick conclusion.”

If we could decide we love those future people who will be gunned down and blown up more than we hate our fellow citizen’s solutions, that would be the starting point.

Place relationships at the center of ideology and theology. The preamble to the U.S. constitution begins with these words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”. Our Constitution – the supreme law of the land – seeks union. As a nation of individuals with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and needs – the founding hope was union and relationship as the best means to serve and benefit from our diversity.

Theologically, we all have beliefs, be they faith-based or secular. I am a Christian and since that is the largest group in this country, let’s start there. In Matthew 22 Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment. His answer was relationship: Love your God with all your heart mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Then he added: All the law and all prophets hang on these. The Bible is the supreme law of Christianity and Christ described the law as a means to a higher purpose – relationship.

To disagree is human. To deploy our differences as weapons trained on each other is self-destructive. Making productive relationships our highest priority is crucial to creating broader, more holistic strategic solutions.

Sacrifice for the purpose of relationship. Sacrifice is the acid test of commitment. If productive relationships represent higher purpose, we must be willing to sacrifice some of our favored ideology if we are to reach common ground with those who have their own favored ideology. Remember John F. Kennedy’s famous question: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Said differently, ask not what you can get others to do for your belief, ask what you can do to “sacrifice” for shared belief that increases safety for all. Assault rifles, immigration policy, more invasive law enforcement — it is a fool’s errand to ask others to sacrifice what they hold sacred if we are unwilling to also. The arrogance of our self-righteousness is daunting – I am righteous and of God and thou art an evil idiot. It is the ideology we disdain in our enemies and it must cheer the hearts of those who would kill us to see its disabling effect on us.

Our enemy’s beliefs and connected actions threaten our safety and our way of life. Our failure to connect our beliefs to the higher purpose of constructive relationships blocks our attempts to respond with holistic, strategic action. It is time to Relationship-up!

This was originally published on 17/06/2016 by the Huffington Post and has been re-published here with the author’s permission.

15 Jan

When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies

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Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, recently published an article in the Huffington Post entitled When a Society Falls Madly in Love With Hating Enemies. He writes:

Enemy: it is the ascending relationship of our time. Terrorism, a Presidential election, and racial strife are but some of the forces that propel “enemy” as today’s hot stock in a turbulent relationship marketplace. The list of enemies seems to grow endlessly…Increasingly we are defined by the enemies we hate. We express love by how much we hate our common enemy.

We risk becoming an enemy-mongering culture as our ability to wound overwhelms our ability to heal. When our political engagement is primarily animated by our disdain for enemies, civil communities transform into angry tribes driven by endless conflict…

In fact, research shows that those most educated and informed are the ones most staunchly divided and least susceptible to influence. It seems enlightenment has been hijacked for the cause of division.

Hate always carries this risk: that we become what we disdain in others. A person recently posting on Facebook asked everyone who supported Donald Trump to de-friend her adding “we have nothing to talk about.” In the name of wanting more love and inclusion of other religions such as Islam, this post expressed contempt and exclusion of supporters of Trump. Hating haters is still hate.

Robert Hall suggests three keys to reversing this course:

New Language

We need language that outs those who mass-produce hate and enemies. Let’s invent a word that captures what is going on. ‘Enemiation’ (enemy+ation): the process of transforming differences into hate, objects of our differences into enemies, and the wounded into victims by blaming those enemies for all that is wrong.

‘Enemiating’ leaders probe wounds and seize power by trading on victimization. History provides many examples: Hitler blamed Jews and Russians as the source of Germany’s ills. ‘Enemiating’ leaders are dependent upon wounded followers as emotional fuel for their own empowerment. Time to call them out.

New Intention

The decision to disagree is a completely different decision than to hate. To reverse our state of hate requires a new intention regarding our differences. It is simple: we don’t condemn the color red because it is not blue. We don’t hate one of our children because he is different from his sister. We don’t criticize our hand because it is not like our foot. Differences have the potential for great synergy – hybrid mostly outperforms in-bred. A culture that espouses love of racial and ethnic diversity must apply it also to political and religious thought. If boxers, football players, and basketball players can physically battle for a couple of hours and then hug afterward, surely we can embrace our differences without making bitter enemies.

New Leadership Model

A new direction will require new leadership. We must upgrade our broken ‘enemiation’ leadership model to Relational Leadership – intent on engaging diverse groups/stakeholders to build productive relationships and outcomes. Relational Leaders prioritize bringing people together versus being wedge-merchants promoting issues designed to produce division, victimhood and dubious outcomes. Oracle’s Meg Bear calls empathy – standing in another’s shoes, acknowledging their perspective even if you disagree – the critical skill of the 21st century. Unfortunately empathy scores among college kids has declined 10 percent since 1979. As voters we can start by electing a President with Relational Leadership skills including empathy and rejecting ‘enemiating’ leaders who use leadership as a weapon to grow hate.

We must lose our love for hate and find our love for productive relationships and leaders who help produce them.

Photo: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (By Gage Skidmore from Flickr)

27 Nov

The time to build Relational Leadership is now!

Timothy Wolfe

Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, has recently published a fascinating article in the Huffington Post about Relational Leadership. Entitled ‘The Follower Revolt: What’s Eating Leaders for Breakfast?’, he writes about the growing distrust from followers in leaders and the increasing incidence of followers rejecting leaders whom they are no longer willing to follower. You can read the full article here.

He recommends three steps for leaders in the light of this developing distrust:

Relational Risk — Name it

Leaders must begin by identifying and naming Relational Risk as a new, compelling component of risk management. Often the signs are present but ignored. The New York Times reports “Volkswagen’s command-and-control structure probably made it difficult for Winterkorn to escape responsibility, even if no direct culpability. Critics long faulted a company culture that hampers internal communication and discourages mid-managers from delivering bad news.” Millions of customers threatening class-action lawsuits were a product of a leader’s unidentified Relational Risk.

Of the University of Missouri, the New York Times wrote, “Wolfe didn’t do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, Wolfe possessed a command-and-control style that didn’t jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn’t know how to respond to the protests.”

Relationship crisis does not devolve from a single incident but from a series of episodes where relationship damage accumulates because it is ignored or handled ineffectively – incubating risk.

Spineless acquiescence or reactive overkill are traps for leaders who fail to name and respect relational risk.

Relational Leadership — Lead it

Relational risk demands relational leadership. I define Relational Leadership as the ability to deliver and sustain productive engagement with widely different groups. It means being engaged with your employees, your customers, your shareholders and especially with outspoken groups that feel powerless – that may seem oppositional or even hostile. Yesterday’s wisdom was: Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.

Today’s wisdom requires leaders with the humility to recognize that those who oppose them constitute one of their most valuable resources. Competitors push leaders to perform better; philosophical opposition introduces differences that may reveal blind spots or opportunities for innovative improvement. Critics push them to get clearer on what they believe and why. A recent study found that highly regarded CEOs were six times as likely to be viewed as humble when compared to least-highly regarded CEOs.

Leaders coddled by uncontested power are often unprepared to lead during a relational crisis. In fact coddled leaders often unwittingly make coddled followers stronger. Today like never before, in both selecting and developing leaders, Relational Leadership skills must be a priority for successfully addressing this new risk of highly critical, sometimes entitled followers.

Relational Metrics — Measure it

The growing relational risk that leaders face is changing the metrics that boards, key shareholders and regulators pay attention to. I recently spoke at a Relational Risk conference at Cambridge University in England with attendees from about 20 countries. A fellow speaker addressed a growing movement requiring more integrated reporting from public companies beyond just financial information to include metrics regarding social and relational capital – a Relationship Scorecard, you might say. This broader reporting is now mandated in Brazil and South Africa and voluntarily being addressed in 20 percent of the FTSI 100 companies in the UK. Governments and shareholders recognize that financial reporting is a pretty narrow, after-the-fact instrument for understanding and anticipating relational risk with customers, employees, communities and the environment.

Instituting a Relationship Scorecard to track and understand the strengths and weaknesses of key constituent relationships is an important step to proactive Relational Leadership.

If we want a more accountable, less-entitled society, it must start with leaders competently and plan-fully addressing follower dissonance.

Simply blaming the “victims” will not be a viable strategy. In medicine it often leads to medical malpractice. In leaders it risks leadership malpractice. Leadership is similar to medicine where what most often gets you sued is not substandard medical treatment, but callous relationship treatment.

The risk of followership revolt is real. Self-righteous dictators, Pharisees, and command-and-control leaders are no more attractive than self-righteous followers. Relational leaders must be the grown-ups that engage proactively, productively, and relationally; anything less fuels revolt. Relational leaders will view these challenges as opportunities to strengthen leadership, build relationships with dissident groups and grow their relational currency. The time to build Relational Leadership is not in the midst of a crisis – it is now!”

Photo:  Timothy Wolfe, who resigned as President of the University of Missouri amid a race row at the University. (By UKMC from Flickr)

06 Aug

Leading the Millennials: Focus on relational outcomes

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Robert Hall, author, consultant, and former company co-founder and CEO and one of the speakers at the upcoming Relational Thinking International Conference, published recently an article in the Huffington Post about leadership and working with Millennials (born 1980 – 2000). He argues that understanding the Millennial generation, who as a work force are quite different from their predecessors, will not just help managers to accomplish their goals. “It is an opportunity to become a better leader”, he says.

After setting out some of the characteristics of the Millennium generation, he explains how leaders can tackle the challenge of managing this generation best by changing their own behavior and how, by doing so,  they themselves can become better leaders:

“While leaders might be tempted to ask Millennials to conform to the old ways, the best and most predictable course is for leaders to change their own behavior toward three relational outcomes:

Smartest team: Once upon a time leaders controlled access to information and power which made them uniquely positioned to have the answer. Today the explosion and democratization of information means there is so much relevant information that no single person or place monopolizes it and in this world the younger generation is much more agile. Today’s leader must facilitate getting the right information to the right places that leads to the right answer. Today’s leader does not need to be the smartest person in the room; rather, to lead the smartest, most-informed team.

Energized team: Today’s leader is challenged to produce an energized team from a workforce often running-on-empty. Floggings and firings have historically been the motivator de jour. Fear eventually becomes a leaky, deflating vessel. Today, over 50 percent of adults are single – the pressure of providing for family has changed. Healthcare and more generous unemployment payouts make job-loss less catastrophic and living with parents less stigmatized. Tech has even made unemployment less lonely – people stay connected.

Gallup/Deloitte found three keys to high-performance teams – today’s crown-jewel of organization success: a sense of purpose, commitment to excellence and people doing what they do best — their strengths. Successful leaders must be hyper-attentive communicators of purpose and thoughtful match-makers – finding and inviting excellence-oriented round-pegs into round holes.

Empowered team: Empowerment fuels workforce development. Successful empowerment combines letting go and enabling – focused learning and mentoring that develop those strengths Millennials trust to protect from the vagaries of corporate life. Enablement is the lubricant that then cultivates and humanizes the final piece – accountability. Millennials loathe egotistical “power-taking” leaders but are energized by power-making leadership that multiplies their power by informing, building strengths and redistributing control and successful accountability.

Leading in today’s Millennial age comes down to redistribution of leadership wealth – communication, development and power.”

Read the full article here.  Robert Hall is speaking at the upcoming Relational Thinking International Conference  (Cambridge, UK, 16 – 18 September) about, among other things, Managing Relational Risk in Companies. Visit our website for more information about the program, the speakers and for registration.