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The Power of Candor

A Disturbing, But Empowering Question

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I promise to share how we help your leaders answer a developmentally disturbing question. Why is it that I sometimes behave in ways that are both ineffective and inconsistent with my own values? And I can tell you that answering this question will empower your leaders with both a deeper understanding of themselves and a much greater ability to manage their own behavior. And I can also say that helping your leaders address this question will jumpstart a profound journey of development that will build for your company the kinds of leaders it needs, and that your leaders would love to become because it will equip them to not only behave much more effectively, but in a way that’s much more consistent with their own values. And how do I know that? Because I’ve witnessed the power of this question with the tens of thousands of leaders that my colleagues and I have developed. And it was actually this very disturbing question that I ended up having to face nearly 30 years ago.

So let me tell you what happened at the ripe old age of 21, after numerous books and seminars on leadership, coaching, negotiations and public speaking, I considered myself quite the communications expert. But then I began to notice that anytime I got into a conversation in my personal life or at work about something that really mattered to me or to them, and we didn’t see quite eye to eye, the conversations didn’t go so well. And I blamed myself for this. Okay, to be fair, I blamed them too. But I was very frustrated with myself because I felt like the principles I was learning were really good. I just really struggled to behave according to them in real life.

So let’s take listening, for example. I could teach you everything you ever wanted to know and then some about this important topic. But whenever I was frustrated with how unreasonably these other people were being my ability to listen, it went out the window. It was like when I needed my good principles the most was the exact moment when they abandoned me. And that was one of the big reasons why I went back to grad school. It was either that or years of therapy, but apparently psychologists don’t give you a degree for sitting on a couch. And what I learned there, much to my relief, is that I wasn’t the only one.

Apparently, this challenge of people believing one thing and then behaving in a different way is a widespread phenomenon that’s been studied since the seventies by this amazing guy named Chris Argyris. Chris was a renowned Harvard professor who had joint appointments at the business school, the law school, the Kennedy School of Government, and the Graduate School of Education where I studied. And on top of that, Chris wrote 30 books, 150 articles, received 14 honorary doctorates for his massive contributions to multiple fields, and was one of the co-founders of the entire field of organizational development. And Chris’s biggest discovery was that even under low amounts of stress we’re all subconsciously blocked from operating according to our good principles by an overprotective program that’s been encoded into all of us and reinforced by our cultures. And collectively, Chris and I studied 45,000 documented conversations. And in every single instance, regardless of country, company or culture, the subconscious program got activated in people and blocked them from operating according to their good principles, every single time.

And it’s really vital to help your leaders recognize their overprotective programming because it really blocks their effectiveness and it’s also the root cause of many of their leadership capability gaps. But beyond improving their effectiveness, there are at least two other reasons. One reason is compassion. Because when your leaders begin to realize that under pressure they behave in ways that are both ineffective and inconsistent with their own values, it can be a little hard on people. So when we help them understand that their own behavior is just a consequence of programming that the whole human family is subject to, this helps them have more compassion for themselves. And another reason is and empowerment, because the more your leaders understand how they behave and why they behave in the ways that they do, the more power they’ll have over their own behavior. Helping your leaders understand the shape of their protective programming requires being developed by people who have an intimate understanding of this program and have worked hard to overcome it in themselves.

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