Fight The Good Fight – Conflict that Increases Innovation

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Had any good fights lately?

That may seem an oxymoron to you. In your estimation fighting may be hurtful and counterproductive. And that may well be true when

  • Egos bump into each other
  • Political wrangling is front and center
  • A person’s honor is being challenged.
  • People are acting out their hostility
  • Culturally you are supposed to agree with your leaders

But consider the productive side of conflict.

Bossidy and Charan in their book “Execution” remind us that,

“Most innovations and inventions are incubated through robust  dialogue

Are you aware of the,

o  Vigorous debate when the Founders crafted the US Constitution?

o  Creativity that took place when John Lennon and Paul McCartney argued about the lyrics of their songs?

o  Innovations that emerged when participants from different work functions gave their opinions on the strategy or execution of a project?

Creativity comes out of conversation. It is rarely a solitary act.

 So as a leader

  • Get off your high horse and stop thinking that your idea must prevail
  • Stop employing people just like you (personality/culture) that will mostly see things your way
  • Quit procrastinating on tough issues that you just hope will go away
  • Have the leadership fortitude to confront difficult issues.
  • Get rid of your faulty model that you have to be always nice and not ruffle feathers.
  • Invite questioning and diverse opinions.
  • Don’t make the fight personal or political.
  • Learn to choose your battles wisely
  • Aim for win-win outcomes

So have a good fight.

You will be glad that you did because you will raise the level of innovation to new levels in your organization or relationships.


Tell us about a “good” fight that you had recently.



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So You Want to Be An Executive? Myths and Realities

Republished from January 2012

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All your life you have been told that you have leadership abilities and you may even have been labeled as a “high-potential” employee in your present organization.

Does that mean that you are on track to become an executive? Or is the deck stacked against you in this political and financial climate?

Not necessarily, but here is why you may not be having success. You may believe some common myths about the promotion process.

Myths to Dispel

  1. That you will be promoted on the merits of your work alone.

The fallacy of meritocracy is based on the myth that, with effort and persistence, you can be anything you want to be. Why is this a myth?

In the corporate realm meritocracy does not  always work. I have met so many highly talented people who wanted more advanced leadership responsibilities and did not make the cut to the executive suite. What can they do to achieve their corporate aspirations? The answer lies in the second half of this posting.

  1. That career advancement is based on not just what you know but who you know.

Just having connections with people of influence in your company does not in and of itself put you on the leadership track. The reason being that not one factor alone insures your career advancement.

  1. That success in you present position will insure success down the leadership pipeline.

A classic example is the career move from individual contributor to first level manager. At the former level you were almost totally responsible for the quality of the job. As a manager you are as good as your team. A classic book here is the one by Marshall Goldsmith “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful”.

  1. That there is one formula for leadership.

Successful executives come in all leadership shapes, sizes, and personality types. Some are great motivators. Others are innovation gurus. But some of the most effective executives don’t fit either mold.  So don’t disqualify yourself for an executive position if you are not the greatest motivator or innovator or an introvert.

Actions You Can Take

Now that you have dispelled some common myths about becoming an executive,  what can you do to help yourself along in the process?

  1. Determine if this is what you really want. 

As you look at what executives do in your organization you have to ask yourself the question “Is this what I want for my life right now?” Maybe it will require longer hours, a move to another geography, a severe curtailing of other important interests, and the loss of the joy you have in your work right now. Ask yourself whether it is worth it for you right now to make a move up the corporate ladder.

  1. Sharpen your executive presence.

How you show up in your organization is your basic executive presence. Like the old commercial “When you speak people listen” do people orient to you because you have domain expertise, a vision of the bigger picture, clarity and conciseness in communication, and the capacity to influence others?

Here you might want to review my blog posting “Executive Presence. Why is it so Important?”

  1. Study the politics of promotion in your organization.

Is it a place where assertiveness about promotion pays off? Or is it more important that you show a desire to make a different type of contribution? Or both? Some HR partners have told me that they are really put off by people who clamor and fret about their promotion?

  1. Identify what skills and values you will need to become an executive. 

Here the book The Leadership Pipeline” by Ram Charan et al is most helpful. The authors identify the specific skills and values you will need to be a success at various leadership stages. Map yourself against this data and see where you need to develop skills that will prepare you for executive leadership.

  1. Understand the succession planning strategies of your organization (if any). 

Is it common practice in your organization for bosses to tap their reports for succession planning? If so, and you have been identified, ask yourself whether your boss is in fact the decider or is there someone else at a higher level who makes these decisions? How do you then position yourself with this more senior leader? In other organizations there are certain training and development experiences that high potential leaders are nominated for. What do you have to do to be placed in such programs?

  1. Be brutally honest with yourself about any behaviors that may be sabotaging your career advancement.

I remember once that I was coaching a senior manager who aspired to a director role. However one of his bosses told me that quite frankly this person, while highly talented, would not make it to the executive ranks unless he stopped behaving like an adolescent. To this person’s credit he made the necessary changes and was promoted to the director level. 

  1. Clearly articulate and market your leadership brand.

Be very clear with yourself and others what is unique about your leadership abilities. What distinguishes you from others and sends the message that you are executive material? But don’t just stop with talking about yourself. What unique contribution can and will you make to your organization and to the common good?

See my blog postings on developing your leadership brand at


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My Purpose in Life Is?

(Originally published in 2012)

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Is there just one purpose for our lives? And where does this idea come from in the first place?

Here is a partial answer. We have,

1.  Some stellar talent or ability that others view as our great contribution to life. My hair stylist told me last week that she was born to do hair. She was emphasizing that she loved her job, was naturally good at it, and, at a deeper level, that it gave meaning to her life. It is quite easy then to say that this was her purpose in life. Maybe people have told you, “You are a born artist” or “You are destined to become a CEO”

2.  A drive to find meaning for our lives. As humans we attempt to ferret out meaning in just about everything we do. Usually we hone in on a career or a compelling passion to express ourselves. We look for one focus to help us make a good choice and define our purpose.

But do we, like my hairstylist born to do hair, view our purpose as one thing? Just as the acorn is destined to become an oak, do the seeds of our calling clearly emerge as one thing?

Here are some problems and challenges about viewing our lives through the prism of one fixed purpose.

1.   We risk becoming reductionistic.

We live in a shrink it down culture. We reduce complex issueto their simplest terms in order to wrap our minds around them. So we hear people saying, “Oh you are an introvert or a depressive or born to be an artist”. As if one adjective, personality category, or professional identity can capture the essence of a person. We are far more complex than that.

How can we reduce the wonders of the universe to one star or even galaxy? How can we boil down a person’s achievement or personal skills or passion to one manifestation of the self? Such reductionism violates the mystery of our person and makes our life’s journey too simplistic.

2.   We can never predict the future.

When I was in my 20’s I would never have dreamed up the configuration of my present life. I was a boy living in a backwater small town in a country then called Rhodesia, limited by my cultural and religious heritage. Breaking frame and immigrating to the USA, training to be a psychologist, leaving the religious heritage of my childhood, having a child who was disabled, marrying Kris, having a global consulting business, embracing new friends, and moving to Mexico have influenced my evolution in ways I would never have dreamed possible. Was this what I would have predicted for myself in late middle age? In no way, shape, or form.

As with any journey we can plan on and imagine our destination. However, all the guidebooks can never prepare us for the surprises and challenges that we will actually experience when we are there. And so,

3.  We cannot reduce the journey of a life to one goal.

The other day I met a staff person at the FedEx store that had an obvious passion for design. In fact I mentioned to her “You have the design gene in you.” She agreed with me and mentioned that she had been enrolled in a school of design but had to drop out for unstated reasons. Will she ever go back to that path? I don’t know. However, does that mean it’s the end of the line for her finding a calling in the years ahead? Who knows where the stream of her life will flow? She was obviously a multi-talented person. A whole journey lies ahead of her full of mystery and adventure.

So too you may have imagined one goal for your career and relationships. You invested all your energy and hopes into that quest. But life happened and you were knocked off course. So is that it for you? No more options? Well if you were destined to do or be one thing you are out of luck. You are then destined to live on the bench and never get back in the game.

The truth is that there are many options for our lives as we position ourselves to open up to new possibilities. But we only discover this truth when,

So if the notion of “one thing for our lives” is unworkable here are some preliminary ideas on how we can experience a sense of purpose in life.

How to Experience a Sense of Purpose

1.  Remain flexible and learn to improvise. Surrender the illusion of control.

2.  Realize that there is more to you than you can begin to realize.

3.  Develop a sense that you are attached to something larger than yourself especially by serving the common good.

4.  Demonstrate kindness to others and the self on a daily basis.

5.  Listen to and live according to the prompting and poetry of the soul.

6.  Embrace the adventure of life in whatever way it presents itself to us.

7.  Be as fully present as we can be with others and ourselves.

8. Focus just a much on your ‘being’ than your ‘doing’.

How would you describe your purpose?


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Letter From My Older To Younger Self

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(As a blog addict I come out of Sabbatical with this “just one more blog”)

My dear younger Cedric,

You are at the beginning of your career and first marriage and life is brimming with hope. You are deeply optimistic and have great plans for yourself and your new family. You believe that you made a career decision based on an inner calling and then set the course of your life based on this compass direction. The result is certain: things will turn out the way you planned. The universe presented you with an opportunity and together you are going to make it happen.

Now listen up. Things are going to change.

In mid-life your whole universe will collapse. Every dream you ever had will crumble. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and disease will stare you in the face. And the deep-seated faith in the universe that you had (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. With your sense of despair at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What now?”

Here are some pointers that you will probably not believe and may completely disregard.

However, before you reject these views out-of-hand, consider this.

Right now in later life things have never been better. I am living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of my life.  I have a deeply gratifying career that is 180 degrees from where you are. I live in a country filled with magic and adventure, a universe away from your life in Africa.

But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on a wisdom that I have discovered through my life’s teachers of momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and complete unpredictability.

  1. Life is messy. It never turns out the way you planned. In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can keep you disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) behaving in rational and adult ways, and create fantasies of how you want things to turn out. In a strange way, this realization of the messiness of life normalizes things when you go through hurtful relationships, jobs that are disappointing, and unrealizable dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.
  1. Success, as the world defines it is not everything that it is cracked up to be (e.g. getting to the top, receiving recognition, being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family). There are two reasons. First, life does not work that way. And second, the success of being is more important than the success of doing. Furthermore, the fact that there have been failures does not make you a failure.
  1. Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard times. This is the one constant in the face of an ever changing universe.  Grace is also bundled into the universe despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. By the gift of grace we find those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,

“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”

     What then is that grace?

In my experience it is the realization that I am loved without conditions and           accepted by something bigger than myself. Grace is also a part of my oneness with all. This most important part of life opens the door of my heart to another way of living. The result is gratitude and a capacity to see the beauty inherent in everything. Who would have known that life could have brought you to such a place?

  1. Stay in the moment. Paying attention to this and getting out of your head or derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) is the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of the future you plan or the past that you regret?

To my middle aged self I leave you with the words of Adyashanti,

“In those moments when we know that we don’t know, when we take the backward step, heart wide open, we fall into grace.”

So my dear younger Cedric, brimful of dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age will still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these four beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter.

Above all,  remember that it may seem that your ship is sinking but in reality it is only changing course. So you don’t have to descend into despair and hopelessness. You can then grab the opportunity to live  more fully before you die.

Best wishes

The older man you never dreamed you would become.


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Four Years of Blogs – Themes

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My sincere gratitude to all who have read my blog and made comments

I will be taking a sabbatical from blogging but here is a summary of the past four years

4 years of blogging

25,000 viewers

Over 130 countries

Almost 200 blogs

1554 subscribers

Most popular blogs co-written with Kristine MacKain, Ph.D.

Some Common Themes

  1. Inspirational Leadership

  1. Cross-cultural leadership         communication/  differences/

  1. Authenticity and Leadership

  1. Executive Coaching when-is-it-necessary/   development-plan/

  1. The Power of   power-of-envy-cinderella-and-her-stepsisters/

  1. Leading from the Ego or the Soul        journey/

  1. Living Through Change

8.Character and Leadership

Guest Blogs by

Roger Hoffmann

Carolyn Patten

Meredith Moraine





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This is More About Me Than It Is About You

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

Our capacity for understanding others emotionally really gets messed up when we unconsciously impose our feelings onto them. Here we deny our own feelings or thoughts (usually negative) and in self-defense attribute them to others.  In the psychological world this is called projection.

When our projection is negative we may perceive the person as threatening.

When our projection is positive, we may recognize a couple of good qualities but then incorrectly also assume that everything else about that person is positive.

Consequently, we find ourselves being either strongly attracted or repelled by the person to whom we are projecting onto. Our resulting perception or understanding of that person is distorted.


Julie was an MBA student at a university in Pennsylvania. Although she was getting good grades, she was struggling with feelings of insecurity. Julie had been socialized to be cooperative and felt uncomfortable with the overt competitive atmosphere in one of her classes. She was having a hard time being assertive with her ideas in class and was beginning to feel resentful. The teacher of the class, Dr. Smith, was an associate professor who was confident, ambitious, and highly accomplished in her field. The MBA students admired Dr. Smith and enjoyed taking her classes. Julie did not.

Julie soon discovered that she had been assigned a new course advisor and that it was Dr. Smith. When Julie and Dr. Smith had their first advisory meeting, Dr. Smith asked about Julie’s long-term goals. Julie expressed uncertainty. Dr. Smith remarked to Julie that she should think carefully about her direction before they decided which courses she should take. Feeling humiliated, Julie left the meeting, later telling her best friend that she was going to switch advisors. When asked why, Julie said she viewed Dr. Smith as a cutthroat competitor who would try to eclipse her talent and ignore her contributions. In reality, her advisor wanted to make their time together optimally productive and had Julie’s best interests in mind.

Because Julie was uncomfortable with and could not acknowledge her own competitive urges and the negative feelings it evoked in her about herself, she projected those feelings onto her advisor who she then experienced as intimidating rather than the helpful and supportive advisor she, in fact, was.

In this example, Julie’s projection resulted in her having a distorted perception of her advisor and their relationship. If Julie continued to hold this faulty view of her advisor, it could eventually preclude the development of a potentially productive and healthy relationship. In addition, in situations such as these where projection distorts one’s perception of another person, one’s capacity for empathy is limited or impossible. Recall that empathy is the capacity for understanding the (genuine) feeling states and motives ofanother person.

Because projection is a subtle process that occurs without self-awareness, how can we learn to see when we are projecting and put it aside to perceive the other individual more accurately?

The following suggestions will help you identify and manage projection.

  • Use a trusted colleague or friend to provide you with candid feedback on your negative and positive attributes.
  • Explore with that confidant possible problematic individuals where projecting your weakness onto them may be an important variable.
  • Learn to suspend negative feelings toward or judgments of others until you have processed them (by engaging 1-2).
  •  Ask yourself: “Am I reading this person accurately and could my strong negative reaction be more about me than about him or her?”
  • Once you have practiced 1-3, make an attempt to try to get to know one of the “problematic” individuals without having any other agenda. Try to go into this encounter thinking of something Abraham Lincoln once said: “I don’t like that man. I need to get to know him better.”
  • After you’ve examined your presuppositions about the other person and learned more about who he or she truly is, you can consciously choose to respond to him or her in a more positive or (at least) a neutral way.

Once we free ourselves from our tendency to experience and understand others through our individual filters of projection or pre-judgment, we are free to be more receptive to the real world of the other.

Making a more authentic connection with another opens up the possibility for empathy.


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The Gift of Feedback

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

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Think about a time when someone you respected told you that you had certain strengths but also specific areas where he or she thought you needed to develop. How did you receive this feedback?

Were you defensive? “Who is she to tell me what I do well and where I need to improve? I’m doing the best I can with all the others things I have to do.”

Did you summarily reject it? Perhaps you have fixed ideas about your abilities and will not accept any evaluation of yourself or your work unless it comes from you. Perhaps you are in denial about what needs development.

Maybe you were perplexed: “What does he mean I don’t listen carefully? I never interrupt….”

Or, perhaps, it was an “aha” moment for you. The timing was right—the strength mentioned was something you had wanted to leverage, the development challenge noted was exactly what was holding you back. “This is really what I needed to hear right now. Now I know where I need to focus my efforts to grow.”

In most of our work (and personal) relationships people typically are not that direct in telling us how well they think we are doing in a particular area. They may hint or beat around the bush. Or, they may avoid giving an opinion at all, especially when we do not ask for it.

The corporate world where we work as executive consultants is rich in feedback. Leaders regularly receive performance input and based on this, they create development plans to improve their effectiveness.  As coaches and assessors, we, too, receive feedback on our performance. To a great extent, we welcome it, even if it initially takes us out of our comfort zone.

We view feedback as a gift. If we are open and ready to receive it, feedback helps us grow. Integrating feedback can be important in developing our capabilities as well as helping shape the important life or career directions to which we aspire.

However, for those of you who don’t receive feedback as a regular part of your lives, what exactly is feedback? To answer this, we’ll include some of the misconceptions people often have about feedback by noting what it is not.

Feedback is not about…

  1. weaknesses. It is not about pointing out a deficit (which can come across as criticism and/or result in lowering morale). Rather, feedback is about highlighting a performance gap that presents a developmental opportunity; that is, an area where we want to grow and where we can make significant progress. Feedback is also about revealing where we may be underusing our strengths; e.g., we may be limiting our potential in a job that is tactical by not engaging our strengths in strategic thinking.
  2. how we see ourselves. Rather, feedback is about how others see us. Consequently, others’ perceptions of us become the basis for our growth or change. If others view us as distant and cold in our relationships, then this is the impact we are having on others and this is what needs to change. If in our hearts we know we are very loving and accepting of others, then we need to change the way we relate to others so that others also see us that way.
  3. people telling us what to do. As consultants we don’t go around telling people what to do about their development challenges. Rather, people decide for themselves what changes they need and want to make based on the data we collect (e.g., co-worker assessments, personality tests).  These data, once analyzed and synthesized, reveal consistent patterns of behavior for that individual. What drives people to change their behavioral patterns is a big desire or inspiration to grow; e.g., to have greater influence in higher levels of the organization by developing a more effective communication style.

Again, feedback is a gift. Its value lies in:

  1. Recognizing a developmental challenge or underused strength as an opportunity to grow.
  2. Aligning our perception of ourselves with how others see us.
  3. Using the feedback about developmental gaps (and strengths) to make us more effective individuals or leaders.


Where do you need honest feedback in this period of your life?

What value would this feedback be to you and how would you use it?

Who do you trust to give you the most productive feedback?





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The Power of Intention

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“Say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.” David Brooks, NY Times

Your intentions are potentially life-changing.

You know them when, You cannot stop thinking about an idea Your “aha” moment is becoming deafening You identify with others who have traveled a similar path  It is an idea that makes you feel young all over again Your present situation has either run its course, is destroying your spirit or just plain bores you. You have reached the tipping point where you have to act

Of course there are common derailers that interrupt the flow from thought to reality. These include fears that inhibit risk-taking and unexpected events that come out of left field to interrupt our plans.

But when our intentions are conceived at the core of the true self or soul, then what we dream unfolds in ways that surprise everyone including ourselves.

Let me use a personal story. By now it is no secret that we have moved a significant part of our life to Mexico. What drove such a move? Quite honestly, I really cannot say for sure. I find that many of the reasons people give for moving to another country boil down to groupthink, clichés, and sentimental overtones.

Major life changes go far beyond motivations like the low cost of living, excellent climate, intriguing cultural experiences, and even learning another language. Big moves are born in our unconscious desires. And the gestation period for these dreams is often longer than nine months. But there is an idea in us that has to eventually become a reality.

I had been mulling on the idea of living in yet another country for a long time but it was what happened after the move was made that made the power of intention more potent.

After coming to Mexico it dawned on me that I wanted my life’s contribution to be to help  Latin American executives find inspiration in themselves and pass that on to their organizations. I was already doing this type of work in the United States and did not have a single contact in Latin America. Then a year or so ago the intention became a reality. Out of the blue (the universe was conspiring with my intention?) I found myself working with first one then eventually dozens of Latin American senior executives. Looking back I conclude that intention unfolded in three steps

  1. Intend – An idea you cannot get out of your head.
  2. Risk – Having to reset our own inner self-limits (what ifs?).
  3. Act – Improvising how to make it work. You make the decision to launch the process despite the many unknowns..

Remember the ancient mariners who out of curiosity and a sense of adventure felt compelled to sail into the unknown. They acted despite their belief that the world was flat and that they could fall off the edge (risk).

So they faced their fears and acted anyway. As they unfurled their sails (action) they were eventually rewarded with the discovery of new continents.

What is your soul-driven intention right now? What would be the cost of not acting on this prompting? What are your first action steps?

I love the words of the French writer and aviator Antoine de-Saint Exupery “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Start with your inchoate and powerful yearning. Honor the inner prompting. Find a way to make it happen.

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I Love the Way you are Different. Now Change!

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Diversity in the workforce and relationships has both an up as well as a downside. In the plus column it lends itself to greater innovation,  energizes relationships, and generally makes for a more interesting place to work.

The dark side of diversity is that we often reject people who have cultural and personal differences. Those examples can be blatantly obvious.

However, when the differences are subtler and have to do with one’s personality or thinking style the sources of personal divisions are less obvious.

This article is about those differences that sometimes divide and create conflict rather than unite people.


This article is about conflict around our normal differences (driven by what we are at our core) and not our neurotic differences (driven by the anxiety generated by the stories we tell ourselves).

 A Case Illustration

They were both senior executives in the same company and had a long history of conflict. They butted heads on everything, kept their organizations in constant churn every step of the way, and both were a pain in the neck for their CEO.

I was called in to help resolve the conflict. My first job was to get to the root cause of their fights. So I gave them both a basic personality test that immediately isolated the problem. It was how they viewed data and each other.

Executive #1 liked working with numbers, enjoyed analyzing statistical information and based his decisions on facts and figures.

Executive #2 was the big picture strategist in the organization. He preferred dealing with opinions and feelings rather than facts and figures and he was likely to avoid delving into details. He also was highly intuitive and trusted his “gut” with important decisions.

Once they understood and accepted each other’s differences years of conflict eventually melted away.

Too Good To Be True?

You may be saying to yourself “Yeah right!” Resolving conflicted situations is not that easy. You are right. It is sometimes much more complex than the case I have just cited.


The principles and steps of conflict resolution are similar in even the thorniest cases.

  1. Seek to Understand.

When we appreciate why others

*Think the way they do (in the weeds or big picture)

* Behave in a certain manner (introvert or extrovert)

* Express their emotions (expressive or guarded)

* Deal with relationships (trusting or suspicious)

We can arrive at an understanding of our differences. As a result we can

  1. Become More Accepting

All of the above polar differences are not necessarily good or bad. They are just apples and oranges. And being accepting of another’s unique style is not to be seen as pressure from them or ourselves to be like them. It can be an occasion for deep appreciation and acceptance of the other which is a prelude to

  1. Embrace the Diversity

Diversity is not just about race, gender, or sexual orientation. It is also about working well with differences in personality and thinking style.

Introverts may prefer to associate with other introverts but most recognize the value of having an extrovert on one’s team. The big picture strategic CEO is glad for the skills of the COO type that can go down into the weeds and keep order in the midst of a ton of data.

So vive la difference.


How have you worked well with personality differences?




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What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?

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We make a living by what we get.

We make a life by what we give.

- Winston Churchill

What is your legacy?

What do you want it to be?

It’s generally accepted that we are inspired when we contribute to a cause

greater than ourselves. The media is replete with stories of people inspired

and energized when they have made a difference in other people’s lives.

The cause to which one contributes may be different, of course, for each

individual. For example, for one of the authors of this article, the cause is

helping talented but at risk children from impoverished backgrounds find

new educational opportunities in the arts and sciences. For the other, the

mission is to help global business leaders create lives filled with vision, purpose,

and passion.

There are other examples of how the call to work for the greater good

inspires people to do their best work and feel that they are living a life that


A Company President’s Surprising Legacy

Several years ago, a president of a biotechnology company was

reflecting with one of the authors about the type of work that deeply gratified

and inspired him. The president’s company had greatly expanded its market

share to become a leader in its industry. The president was also highly

regarded as a dynamic and successful leader. Because he was successful

and obviously fulfilled in his role as president and industry leader, it was a

surprise to hear him say:

“My biggest gratification comes from volunteering a few hours each month

on behalf of undernourished school children [in his developing country of

origin]. Our volunteer group provides children with regular and healthy

meals on school campuses. The impact of these simple meals on the

children’s health and subsequent classroom performance has been dramatic.

My greatest satisfaction has been in seeing what a difference this project has

made to children’s lives. It has also inspired me to put time into other projects

I know will immediately improve these children’s prospects.”

This president saw the direct link between nutrition and school performance

and the immediate impact his actions had on the education of these

impoverished students. It filled him with hope for their future. He was also

acutely aware that without their group’s efforts, the children would likely

languish. This is a personal example of how one individual found inspiration

in working for the greater good.

What Makes for a Great Place to Work

In a September 2000 Harris poll reported in Business Week, Americans were

asked to identify which of two propositions they agreed with:

1. “Corporations should only have one purpose – to make the most profit for

their shareholders – and pursuit of that goal will be best for America in

the long run.”

2. “Corporations should have more than one purpose. They should owe

something to their workers and the communities in which they operate,

and they should sometimes sacrifice some profit for the sake of making

things better for their workers and communities.”

The results were dramatic: 95% of the respondents aligned themselves

with the second proposition. In certain sectors of the business community,

corporate responsibility has, in fact, become a part of the business model.

(For example, the clothing company Patagonia puts aside 10 percent

of its profits for projects that support the environment). Employees and

their families are volunteering in their communities and want to see their

workplace making a difference to their communities by having their place of

work also investing money and volunteering time.

Some of us may be fortunate to work for a business whose mission is to

provide for the greater good. Even so, it is still easy to become consumed

by the mundane day-to-day details of our jobs and lose touch with the deeper

meaning of our work. Consequently, from time to time, employees need to be

reminded about the significance of their contributions.

Creating Technology That Saves Lives

This point is illustrated in the following story. A group of engineers that

produce defibrillating machines had become dispirited in the face of a

significant corporate reorganization: employees had been laid off and

projects disrupted. Consequently, employees had lost sight of the value of

their enterprise and morale was low. In response to the drop in morale,

the CEO invited a man with heart disease to meet his employees. The man

told them his story. He was traveling on a plane when he suddenly lost

consciousness. It turned out he’d had a heart attack and his heart had stopped.

A flight attendant quickly grabbed the company’s defibrillating machine

and successfully restarted his heart, making it possible for his to survive

the landing and subsequent trip to the hospital. After telling his story, the

man thanked the group for saving his life. Listening to the man’s dramatic

story and its positive outcome helped to reconnect the employees to the

significance of their work. They were given the inspirational boost they

needed to weather the corporate changes.

In this example, a corporate leader inspired his employees by showing them

how their work contributed to the greater good. It was done in a way that

communicated the company’s value in transforming lives. As a result, the

workforce was inspired to do their best work in achieving that mission.

As leaders, how do you find meaning in your work?

Do you know how your employees find meaning in theirs? How does your work and the

work of your employees contribute to the greater good? We can inspire our workforce by

finding ways to craft each individual’s jobs into a source of meaning through

their personal contributions.


This blog posting is from the first chapter of our book “What Inspirational Leaders Do” (Kindle 2008) written by Kristine MacKain, Ph.D. and Cedric Johnson, Ph.D

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