Cheryl offers: I consider myself a pretty savvy business woman. I’ve read a lot of books, have an EMBA from SMU, had a great career at IBM, on and on. I have lots of reasons to tell myself so. And yet, with all the information I’ve read and know about women in the workplace, I find myself committing some of the very behaviors I advocate women release to make themselves more powerful. Take yesterday for example. I am in downtown Dallas at a busy street corner during lunch. As I approach the corner and start to cross the street, a young man approaches from a different direction and wants to cross to a different corner than I do. We do the imaginary “dance” of positioning to sort out our intentions without really speaking. As we “dance” he says “Excuse me” and I respond with “I’m sorry,” Whoa! I realize a few seconds later I’ve just committed one of those behaviors Gail Evans warns all women about in her book Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman. Evans claims women’s apologizing with “I’m sorry” is a “female addiction”; that sorry is a sorry word for us to use. Women need to drop all the apologies because in a business environment, a man hearing them infers a mistake has been made and it’s the woman’s because she apologized. This is one of those subtle ways we undermine our power and future opportunities. I’m beginning to think she’s right and I’m working on retraining my brain and tongue. Oh, I’m sorry, did I offend anyone?
Cheryl offers: Karl Krayer delivered a book synopsis this morning on SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good. There were a number of companies referenced as examples, one of them my former employer, IBM. As I listened to the characteristics of how a SuperCorp was being defined, I couldn’t help but be proud of the many years I spent at IBM. One of the hallmarks of a SuperCorp is the effective use of company values; not just words on a page, but real thoughts that guide strategy and how the company’s employees think and behave when no one else is around. One of the IBM examples described how the company responded to the tsunami that hit in 2008. I had left the company by then, but I was there on 9/11. Not only did IBM make huge donations of money and equipment, but the individual actions of my fellow employees were nothing if not amazing. If they were in sales, they donated their commission checks, others donated their annual profit sharing payments, bonuses, a month’s salary, their vacation days, etc. The most interesting thing about IBM is they don’t publicize all the good work they do. They are intentionally low key, perhaps even humble and modest. As I sat there thinking about all the fond memories I carry of my days with IBM, I can confidently say IBM was and is a SuperCorp! Thank you, Rosabeth, for writing this book because it truly made my day!
Cheryl offers: I love to read, always have; but that doesn’t necessarily always translate into making a living, which I must also accomplish. When I was a corporate soul living inside the Big Blue walls of IBM, I was always reading about what other companies were doing, trying, and accomplishing. I wanted to learn how to help my company be more competitive, innovative, and creative. Now that I am an entrepreneur, I’m learning how reading connects us in business conversation. Just last week I was on a call with a potential client. Someone we both knew insisted we meet, so we did over the phone. It wasn’t an easy event either: first we had a bad line connecting Texas and Amsterdam, then his computer crashed and he had to call me 3 times before we actually got to talk. After going through the normal introductions, we both admitted we weren’t quite sure where the next part of the conversation was going. And then it happened. As we started to discuss what we were currently doing, the connection was made like a lightening rod and the book title I mentioned, “Women Mean Business” was the electric current. From that conversation we moved into new exciting territory and tremendous opportunities emerged. It appeared to be just as Joseph Jaworski describes in his book, Synchronicity, when he wrote “Synchronicity is the seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant. The people who come to you are the very people you need in relation to your commitment.”
Cheryl offers: As practitioners of change leadership, our focus is not so much on the change management process itself as on what kind of leader is required to really create change that lasts. We love John P. Kotter’s book, The Heart of Change because it touches all aspects of change, including the need to get employees emotionally invested to create the energy needed to change. With the new “normal” of our economy, one thing I fear will not change is that as markets dictate consolidation, the percentage of Merger and Acquisition failures will remain constant. You see, acquisition happens. One company is bought by another. Seldom does a merger happen. Oh, assets get combined, leadership is chosen and redundancies eliminated; and the real heart of change that makes M&A’s worth the price paid is the MERGER of cultures. Most leaders pay more attention to the organization chart, press releases, and employment contracts than the real need to enroll employees in the changes. The fact is, about 70% of mergers and acquisitions fail. Almost 100% of the failures can be traced to not asking everyone to pay equal attention to the M as well as the A. Communication is the leadership’s responsibility in times of change; it becomes their legacy.
Sara adds: I was with IBM when it acquired Lotus. I coached a number of people on the Lotus development team and was struck by how victimized they felt. The acquisition had occurred, but for them, there was no merger. In the shadow of those memories, I turned to Adam Kahane, author of Solving Tough Problems . Kahane is known for his work in helping create unity in places like South Africa. He states, “There are two ways to unstick a stuck problem. The first is for one side to act unilaterally – to try imposing a solution by force or violence.” That’s how I read the press release in mergers like IBM acquiring Lotus or Oracle acquiring Sun Microsystems. Kahane goes on to add, “The second way to unstick a problem is for the actors to start to talk and listen in order to find a way forward together.” My opinion? Acquisitions are financial agreements to acquire assets; mergers require people to work with other people intentionally and creatively.
Sara says: Cheryl and I teach graduate students and we’ve discovered that many don’t write well. It’s a rampant problem and when we mention it, some students get a real “deer in the headlights” look. They don’t have a clue where to start. Now, this isn’t going to be a rant about today’s youth not being able to write. It’s about a leader’s responsibility to good communications. The quizzical look from our students, whether it means “I don’t know what you are talking about” or “I don’t know what to do about it” is not a sufficient response. A leader’s job – right up there with delivering results to the shareholder’s – is communicating. Leaders must always be on the lookout for 1) the most effective ways to communicate and 2) the number of ways they can deliver the message.
Lou Gerstner who wrote about the turnaround of IBM, wrote in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, “Personal leadership is about communication, openness, and willingness to speak often and honestly, and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener.” I heard Gerstner tell an audience of IBM executives that, “you cannot over communicate. You are responsible to communicate your vision in every memo, every conference call, every interview.” If change in a company fails, look first to the leader and their ability (and tenacity) in articulating the change.
Cheryl offers: Our friend and ally blogger, Bob Morse, posted this question only a few days earlier in June: Q #184: Has the ability to write well become obsolete? Bob’s answer was “No, and I am convinced it never will.” I agree with Bob and Sara. The responsibility to teach, practice, and role model good communications reside with leadership; be it the school system or in corporations. “Have you ever thought about the fact that the great philosopher Socrates had a student named Plato, and that Plato had a student named Aristotle?” This comes from the book, “If Aristotle Ran General Motors” by Tom Morris. Morris goes on to say, “Given the right context of intimate and sustained association, greatness gives rise to greatness.” If that doesn’t inspire a teacher or leader to invest the time to teach their students/employees the value of clear, concise, and grammatically correct communication, I’m not sure it can be done!