Smart People + Smart Leadership = Happy Customers? by Lucy Freedman

Interpersonal Intelligence for Technical Organizations

By Lucy Freedman, developer of the SYNTAX of Influence, co-author of Smart Work (the second edition of Smart Work: The Syntax Guide to Influence, is available at HappyAbout.com or Amazon. ).

Originally published at http://svforumelsig.blogspot.jp/

When I first started my business, a mentor quizzed me about what it meant to have a business. Does coming up with a great idea make it a business? Clearly no. Does having a product make it a business? What about an office, employees, marketing? No, no, and no, he said. You have a business when you have a customer.  Aha.

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In the world of technology, we can get so focused on the product or process that the relationship part of the business receives a minimal amount of mindshare. Sure, when we need to make a funding pitch, attract a key executive, or give a customer presentation, we put attention into those relationships. Even then, it’s typical of technologists to be mostly content-oriented and not so focused on tuning into the interests of their audience.  There’s room for growth.

While the ability to relate well with funders, talent, and customers is important for business success, the internal communication in a company is equally important. What customers and VC’s really want is for the product to work and meet their needs in a timely and cost-effective way.  For that to happen, managers and teams need to be able to get on the same page and come up with solutions and answers. Knowledge needs to be mobilized. Deadlines need to be met. Problems need to be solved. All this takes communication that is both focused and flexible.

The Challenge

The kinds of interpersonal intelligence that allow people and teams to collaborate well tend to be underdeveloped in engineering organizations for three main reasons.

  • Engineers are generally not drawn to learning “soft skills”
  • Engineering leadership is mostly made up of engineers
  • Most interpersonal skills training is oriented more toward personal growth than practical business interactions.

As a result, efficiency, accurate and relevant sharing of knowledge, and delivery to the customer are often hampered by turf battles, planning disconnects, and just plain miscommunication.

Is this just a depressing downer, condemning engineering organizations and their customers to clunky communication, relieved only by those special high-tech + high-touch individuals who can navigate well both technically and interpersonally? Although many are resigned to this state of affairs, there are lights flickering here and there.

Bright Lights and Good Books

In fact, at a past Silicon Valley Engineering Leadership Community meeting, Ron Lichty presented a “Crash Course” based on his new book with co-author Mickey W. Mantle, Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams  (Addison-Wesley, www.ManagingTheUnmanageable.net ). They address important considerations for people who move up the technical ladder from writing code to managing people.

Another new and highly recommended book on this subject is Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others by Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman (O’Reilly Media, 2012). It’s very entertaining reading and addresses expanding circles of influence, from your own team to the organization to the user community.

A few years back,  Michael Lopp wrote the insightful and humorous book, Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager (Apress, 2007). Michael gives practical advice for many of the situations that recur in software development. He names some of the types of people you’ll run across – such as Mr. Irrelevant, Laptop Larry, Curveball Kurt, the Snake, and Free Electrons. Cleverly written, full of useful homilies.

What all of these books have in common is the practical experience of the authors, who have lived what they are writing about.  They share illustrative stories that those who follow in their footsteps will easily relate to.

De-coding How People Work

As an outsider who can’t code my way out of a paper bag, I have been taking a different approach for the past few decades of working as a consultant, coach, and facilitator for high tech companies.  Programmers understand the structure, or syntax, that is required for code to work. I have studied the structure, or syntax, that is required for human communication to work.

What I have discovered is that the smart people who know how to code have an easier time learning interpersonal skills when they have access to the proper syntax for communicating. Hundreds of engineers have experienced and applied the SYNTAX model to their workplaces. People who considered themselves non-people-oriented have shown that with several relatively small changes in their communication, they can achieve great improvements in their working relationships.

This is not about sentence structure or grammar. If you consider that people are pretty systematic in how we organize our perceptions and our behavior, it makes sense that you can detect each person’s syntax, and hence, get more predictable results with them. There’s also a structure, a syntax derived from studying outstanding performers, that makes communication work better. Our model, SYNTAX, represents that architecture so that people can easily learn it.

It’s explained in detail in the book Smart Work, which I co-authored with Lisa Marshall. If you are interested in getting a look at it, or even writing a review, please contact me at syntaxoffice@syntx.com and I will gladly share it with you.

Smart Leadership

When leaders in an organization start practicing SYNTAX principles, or some of the other excellent suggestions in the books listed above, they create a climate where it is much more natural for others to collaborate productively as well. It’s a matter of good design of human systems – whether writing effective, clean code for applications that will benefit people, or holding effective, clean meetings where work gets done and agreements are solid, it’s about designing intelligent human systems.

Whether through the stories and rules of the road derived from experience, or through applying a systematic, structured approach to interpersonal behavior, everyone benefits when a technical organization develops its conscious competence at communicating.

Engineering is about solving real-world problems and creating innovations that make a difference.  It takes smart people working well together to do this successfully. With smart people, smart leadership, and outstanding communication, you get happy customers. That, plus your satisfaction at meeting your own high standards, makes it worthwhile to master the softer skills.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lucy Freedman is Founder and CEO of Syntax for Change, working with change leaders in technology companies to spread collaborative leadership throughout their organizations and to their strategic partners. Lucy has trained and certified both internal and external facilitators who have implemented Syntax programs in companies such as Agilent, HP, Sun, Oracle, EDS, Tokyo Electron, Intel, National Semiconductor, and Cisco Systems. Visit SyntaxforChange.com for an explanatory video and to request a complimentary sample chapter of Smart Work: The Syntax Guide to Influence. Direct email is lucy@syntaxforchange.com.

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Closing the Confidence Gap: Stop Waiting for Permission! by Kathy Klotz-Guest

(Originally posted at Kathy Klotz-Guest’s Linkedin Blog on May 06, 2014 – www.linkedin.com/in/kathyklotzguest)

Last week, I wrote about the Confidence Gap for women and how important it is to step up to uncertainty and re-frame the way we look at risk. In that post, I talked about a key concept from improvisation – the cornerstone principle of “yes, and” – that we can use to exercise our risk-taking muscles and build confidence.

Closely related to confidence and risk is the issue of permission. Too many people are waiting for validation and permission to do the most important thing in the world: be themselves and do the things they are passionate about. Stop waiting for the external OK to be you and build what you need to build in the world.

If you want to be great, stop asking for permission.

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Truth In Comedy and Life

There’s truth in comedy. In improvisation, we endow our on-stage partners with character traits: gender, relationships, names, idiosynchrasies, etc., in order to build great scenes.

It’s also important to endow yourself on stage and off. In improvisation, I often hear from women, “Why am I always endowed as a mom, or a teacher, or a girl, or a whatever?” That usually means an uninteresting and weaker character. There is some truth here – men tend to endow women with certain qualities. Hell, I’ve said this very thing in frustration a number of times. Years ago, a great male friend and fellow improviser finally said this to me: “What the hell are you waiting for? Why don’t you jump in there and force the guys to keep up? Don’t put up with that!” He was right. I’ve started a business and an improv group for Pete’s sake. Yet, here I was expecting someone else to endow me, to recognize me…to give me permission to shape my on-stage character. Why? What the hell! It made no sense. I should know better, right?!

Listen, we can’t control what others do. We can control our choices. Where is it written that we can’t self-endow? We don’t have to wait for permission. Permission comes from within.

The next time I was endowed as a mom, I endowed myself as a werewolf. And a mom. See, they are not incompatible. You want to endow me as a mom? Fine. I will be the biggest, most badass mom – on my terms so I am “yes, and-ing” others ANDmyself.

That’s the key. You must “yes, and” yourself, too. Give yourself permission to be, do, explore, discover, and create.

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Successful People Don’t Wait for Permission; They Choose Themselves

Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot calls it “selecting yourself.” You get to discover yourself and act on your talents. You don’t need to wait for someone to fund you or give you that column in a magazine, or promote you, or tell you how how great your ideas are. Get your ideas out into the world. When you see a need, step up and use your talents.

Here are some ways to give yourself permission:

1. See it and do it. If it’s something that compels you, find a way to do it. Partner with others if you need to. Start first. You don’t have to know all the answers ahead of time. Life isn’t a straight line; it’s a series of comically (at times) twisted turns.Visualize the start and end. You don’t have to know all the pieces in between just yet. Just start. Somewhere.

2. Speak up. If you feel you have something to say and contribute to a conversation, don’t talk yourself out of it. Your point of view is as valid as someone else’s. How many times have you wanted to say something and didn’t? You censored yourself. Unless it’s a tacky comment or an expletive in an inappropriate setting, what’s the worst that could happen if you speak your mind? You would be surprised at the support you might get.

3. Dare to ask the basic questions. You won’t look silly; you’ll learn.

4. “Yes, and” and ask, “What if?” Engage in possibility thinking. Asking “what if” can be a very powerful tool to jump start possibilities and new ideas. “Yes, and-ing” others and yourself can create a positive dynamic. Remember, “yes, and” doesn’t mean wewill do it; it’s simply opening up a space that says to people, “I hear you.” And when you do this, most people will reciprocate that positive energy.

5. Stop apologizing when you don’t need to. “I’m sorry, but….this may be wrong but….” Nope. Stop. You have a right to your opinion. Own it. We use an apology to soften our stance or lower our status to be equal to others. While men do this, too, women do this far more often in my personal experience. It signals a lack of confidence and that we are waiting for approval. You don’t need no stinkin’ badges and you don’t need no stinkin’ approval. Unless you are a jerk or hurt someone’s feelings, you don’t have to apologize for an idea, a presentation, a failure, etc.

6. Take your seat at the table. Stop waiting for the invite and invite yourself. Donna Brazile, well known democratic strategist and CNN contributor, tells a great story of how she wasn’t invited to a meeting early in her career. So she found out what time the meeting was happening and showed up. All the seats had been “taken” by briefcases – where men had claimed their spots. While they standing and discussing, she marched in, physically moved aside a briefcase and took her spot! She spoke up at the meeting and acted as if she belonged there. The results? She was invited to future meetings. She stopped asking to be invited.

You have something to say and something to offer the world. When you own who you are unabashedly and act according to your values, you step into something pretty great – your own power.

Got that blog or book you want to write? That company you want to start? That non-profit that means so much to you? Or maybe it’s just being a badass mom in an improv scene.

Whatever it is, do it. Stop waiting for permission. Choose yourself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kathy Klotz-Guest, A marketer and storyteller, helps clients tell compelling stories that get results. The founder of marketing strategy and communications firm, Keeping it Human, she also performs improvisational comedy and kicks jargon’s butt.
Email: kathy@keepingithuman.com.

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Men “Versus” Women…NOT! By Pat Obuchowski

PatObuchowski“Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you’re driving at another.”
– George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) “Pygmalion” (1913)

I spent many years of my career climbing the proverbial ladder in Corporate America. I did what I think is typical of so many women who want to succeed in their careers and be promoted into leadership positions. I looked at who was above me, modeled them, was mentored by them, and got promoted by them. The only problem was that these were always men. I was constantly trying to act less than myself and more like men, even if I would never admit this. Men were my only role models.

As a woman in business, I am always fascinated with the behavior between men and women in the work place. I picked up the latest book by Annis and Gray “Work with Me” in which they define 8 blind spots between men and women in business.

As they state, “There is a conventional wisdom that women and men are no different from each other, have the same aspirations, and are expected to achieve their goals in the same fashion.This is precisely why we are experiencing cultural breakdown today instead of the equality breakthroughs we expected by now.”

“Men and women belong to different species, and communication between them is a science still in its infancy.”
– Bill Cosby

As I do my work in many different organizations, I see that in chastising men for behaving as men, and trying to fix women to act less than themselves and more like men, we are perpetuating a cycle of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

We are not being authentic or honest to each other and more so, to ourselves. Annis and Grey bring an objective (as much as one can be objective) viewpoint into gender intelligence. They find women are not as content in today’s workplace as men are and that women feel valued differently then men. Women feel dismissed for their ideas and excluded from events and opportunities for advancement.

On the other hand, men are generally comfortable in corporate cultures. Their blind spot is not being aware of how their behavior in this primarily male-designed environment affects women. Women’s blind spot is in assuming men’s behaviors are intentional.

In a 2005-2011 Gender Survey by Barbara Annis & Associates they found some very interesting statistics:

  • 82 percent of women say they feel some form of exclusion – whether in business social events and casual meetings, in conversations, or in receiving direct feedback.
  • 92 percent of men don’t believe they’re excluding women.
  • 79 percent of men feel they have to be careful and indirect when providing women critical and timely feedback.
  • 82 percent of women say they want to receive direct feedback from men.
  • 79 percent of men feel appreciated at work while only 48 percent of women feel the same.
  • 82 percent of women want to be recognized for their effort in achieving the results.
  • 89 percent of men want to be recognized for their results.
  • 72 percent of men state that women ask too many questions.
  • 80 percent of women say they prefer to ask questions even when they know the answer.
  • 95 percent of men and women consider trust to be the foundation of a working relationship.
  • 92 percent of women say men earn their trust through caring and concern.
  • 89 percent of men say women earn their trust by showing credibility and competence.

WOW! These are not small percentage differences in culture.

I don’t offer any magical formula to fix this. I just know this needs to change as it is causing a lot of stress and unmanageability in the workplace which overflows into personal lives.

What I do offer is that it doesn’t have to be one side ‘versus’ the other. There are many ways to find the common ground and bridge these gender differences. We simply need to understand where the other gender places his or her greatest value and importance, and why.

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Pat Obuchowski is the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of inVisionaria. inVisionaria is a company devoted to  helping people and organizations find and achieve their vision and their voice. She works with individuals and organizations that are looking for structure, focus and accountability to set and achieve their goals. She also works with people who are ready to make big changes in the their businesses and their lives and step into the leaders they’ve been yearning to be. People who are ready, willing and able to begin playing their “bigger Game” No kidding. Right now.

The approach to achieve this and create this alliance is individually based and is designed between Pat and each of her clients. She is also a contributing author to “Scrappy Women in Business: Living Proof the bending the Rules Isn’t Breaking the Law.”

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