Leading Ideas e-Update

Leading Ideas MastheadLeading Ideas is the Team Results USA quarterly e-Update for leaders in business and government. Here you will find real journalism covering the nation’s top sources of ideas, including Forbes, the Wall St Journal, the Washington Post and our own news items. 

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Editorials from Leading Ideas:

Q2 2017
The Simulation Revolution

What percentage of training do you believe results in real behavioral change?

It seemed like such an innocent question.  I was speaking to a room full of senior trainers at a recent conference in Hershey, PA.

I figured about 80 percent would say that most training works. A few of the more results-minded folks might vote for 50 percent, I speculated. And I guessed a couple of curmudgeons might assign a failing grade of 40 percent.

The reality? Fewer than 20 percent of training decision makers think that training programs affect people’s behavior at all.

That’s stunning. Name one other industry which delivers a product that works less than a fifth of the time and yet expects to survive.

Cars that start one time in five?  A dentist who pulls the correct tooth about 20 percent of the time?  Garbage collectors who collect the trash a fifth of the time, and for the other four-fifths leave it scattered on your lawn?

Revolutions are caused by dissatisfaction.

And the people who make the decisions about what people-development programs organizations will invest in, the ones who set the budgets, have never been more dissatisfied.

We’ve known for decades that traditional classroom training is one of the most inefficient possible ways to cause real behavioral change in a workforce.  The scientific evidence – from watching peoples’ EEG brainwaves literally going to sleep in a physical or online class, to paper after research paper showing no real outcomes from traditional training – the game has been up for some years.

We also know what works, and we already do it.  After the essential academic training, surgeons learn by doing – first in the dissection room, then under supervision on real patients, and increasingly, through hands-on simulation using mannequins.  Pilots ditto, and they have been using simulators longer than most.  Nurses, police in critical roles, astronauts, chefs, special forces.  The list goes on.

It is only in less critical, less important roles that we think the classroom, teambuilding games and lectures are good enough.  So, the question is not really one of training at all, but rather one of how important we think our employees are, and how high the stakes are if they make mistakes.

Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical company, has decided to spend no more than ten percent of their people development dollar on classroom training.  Twenty percent goes to various forms of simulation, and 70 percent is done on the job.  It’s an astonishing change for a global company, and we are going to see much more of it.

I want to suggest that it’s high time we embraced simulation.  Serious gaming, of which face-to-face simulation is a subset, is fast becoming the go-to solution for organizations that really need change and good outcomes.  Online training is showing severe limitations in many areas, and in those areas, the organizations that once invested heavily are now realizing that human beings are not disembodied minds.  Rather than intellects plugged into a PowerPoint lecture or a computer, we are physiological beings.  We are all one piece.  People who have always worked in “serious” professions like heart surgery will happily tell you that training done in the intellect alone just doesn’t stick.

French revolutionary Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin is not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue – I had to look it up myself – but he’s well known for the famous quote “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” When the spenders of money say that they get people development value less than 20 percent of the time, when millennials desert the online world in droves, when large corporations virtually eliminate their classrooms, when all the science tells us that learning only works when mind, body and spirit are integrated and aligned as one piece, when training rooms lie idle and people lose faith, you can probably assume that there’s a revolution going on.  A Simulation Revolution.

Scholars will say that the quote from Rollin might be apocryphal, and they are most likely right, but the quote is true nonetheless.  The training industry has fallen well behind its client base.

Bring on the revolution!

Do you have any thoughts on the Simulation revolution?  Share them on our Facebook page.

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Q1 2017
The Art of Quiet Leadership

It was a tropical downpour.  Three hundred soldiers were cowering under canvas shelters, waiting for the weather to lift so that they could start digging trenches.  Nobody wanted to get soaked to the skin.  Suddenly a maniacal figure became visible through the sheets of rain, attacking the open ground with a digging tool as if on a personal mission of vengeance.  The silhouette was unmistakable.

“Holy cow!” someone muttered from inside a tent.  “That’s the C.O.!”

Moments later, everyone was back at work, digging trenches in the rain.

That incident, taken from my own early career some 30 years ago, typifies quiet leadership.  The best leaders are often not the noisiest, but the ones who lead by attitude and example.

We humans change behavior much more easily by being quietly shown, where possible, than we do by being noisily told.  From earliest childhood, we learn to do things by copying.  Moreover, aggressively pointing out mistakes that need correction can be counter-productive.  That mistake is now all the nervous staffer can think about, making them far more likely to do it again rather than to try some new behavior.  We only learn new behaviors by repetition and practice – the key argument for learning by simulation – and that in turn is because our resource-efficient brains only build new circuits for new skills when they really must.  Without lots of practice and reward, new behaviors remain theoretical.

Quiet leadership works best, because a combination of patience, avoidance of unhelpful “significance” that scares people back into old habits, and allowing people to reinforce new behaviors is a proven way to get real change and progress than doesn’t constantly slip back toward the old picture. It also works with people we have to lead but don’t necessarily supervise – colleagues, clients, project teams, partners in other agencies, even our own bosses sometimes.

The reality we’re often all too familiar with, though, is one in which verbal “telling” and leader-centered correction is the commonest type of feedback we get.  There are many reasons for this.  Leaders are under pressure, and frequently the thing they want to do most in the world is to react in a human way that can be very satisfying in the short term.  As well, there’s the idea that if we leaders aren’t seen and heard, if we don’t self-promote, then we might be overlooked.  These are the two main reasons we see more “noisy” and self-centered leadership in the workplace than we really need to.

A further benefit of quiet leadership is that sometimes, in exigent circumstances, leaders DO have to raise their voices.  If you are a strong, quiet leader who raises their voice very rarely, you can be sure of immediate attention when you do.  Noisy leaders are much more likely to be ignored or to get unplanned-for results when people panic about the wrong things.

Going calm in a tense situation is against all our instincts.  So is being modest and others-focused when you see some leaders being rewarded for being self-promotional and self-focused.  But take a look at the most well-regarded leaders who make it to the very top, and you’ll find that the great majority are skilful at the art of quiet leadership, in which other people are made to feel as if they matter.

Do you have any thoughts on Quiet Leadership?  Share them on our Facebook page.

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Letters to the Editor – Talking Back

Talking Back is Leading Ideas‘ Question and Answer column.  Archived letters/answers from Talking Back:

Q2 2017

Dear Talking Back,

I have a problem with people talking back! Nobody respects me in my group. How do you handle such sass?

– FoxyLady

Dear FoxyLady,

Talking back and disrespect are all about power.  They are trying to claim it, and you are expected to give it up.  There are many possible causes, ranging from insecurity to corporate culture to discrimination, but power is the common element, and also your point of leverage.

The transaction does not work for them unless you allow it to be completed.  No completion, no payoff.  Right now it sounds like disrespect and backchat are paying off for at least some people like a one-armed bandit stuck on a winning streak, which is why they keep pulling the lever.

You have to take responsibility.  This is not the same thing as accepting fault.  Your bad treatment is almost certainly not your fault, but until you take responsibility, nothing will change.

Recognize that winners and confident people don’t try to take others’ power away, because they believe there’s plenty of power and success available for all.  Losers and unconfident people try to take your power away because they believe there isn’t enough to go around.  It’s sometimes called “the scarcity mentality”, and is at the root of all office politics.  Your tormentors are threatening you with what they fear most themselves, the loss of power.  It’s the scariest thing they can think of.

So what can you do?

1.     Find allies.  Don’t expect them to fight your battles, but an ally is someone who won’t join in the nastiness.  Bullies always want you to believe that everyone is against you and on their side, but that’s hardly ever true.  Look around the next time you’re treated with backchat and disrespect, and notice who ISN’T sniggering or joining in.  Those are your allies.

2.     Pick a starting place.  You can’t take them all on at once, so decide who your first elbow will be.  Footballers who throw an elbow, hard, once, very seldom get seen as victims after that.  Bullies are cowards and they move on to easier targets.

3.     Throw an elbow.  Quiet and vocal people, people from different cultures, and people with different value sets all have their own unique ways to do that.  Find yours.  Practice.  Remember that bullies have little substance behind the bluster, which is why they use bullying strategies in the first place.  Consider these gambits:

  • Humor.   If you have the knack of making people laugh, nothing works better than humor.  “Hey Fred, you sure it’s your turn to be arrogant today?  I thought you had Wednesdays.”
  • Calm.  If you aren’t a comic, relax.  Try being very calm.  “Hey Jim – no, over here Jim, hi Jim, my face is over here – tell me again why I’m an idiot.  Yes, but why?  Why am I wrong?  Why is that?  Why?  Are you sure?  Is there any room for other viewpoints, do you think?  Okay, so why not?  Have people considered X?”
  • Strength.  This is a power negotiation, and you cannot get good terms in any negotiation unless you are willing to walk away.  Be ready – really ready – to do that.  Have a plan to take a time out.  Have a plan to escalate.  Have a plan to break the game.  Just having the plan gives you great power, and people see it straight away.

4.     Lastly, keep a very, very steady and still picture.  People won’t believe you at first.  Why should they?  Bullying you has always worked in the past.  Human beings are herd animals and change is slow.

Let me know how you get on, please!


Dear Talking Back,

How do you handle sexual advances in the workplace as a leader?

– “WorkingReader?”

Dear WorkingReader,

Unwanted advances may be a product of our culture, both the specific office culture, and/or that of society at large. However, you don’t have to give this up as a lost cause quite yet.

As a woman, I can tell you that we are generally taught to make nice, smile, not hurt people’s feelings, and generally “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. It’s called social graces, and that’s all well and good, but this time, social graces are not doing the trick. It’s time to try a more masculine approach. Just the thing to turn your inappropriate suitors away adroitly.

First, get rid of all your built up “he’s done something wrong, and vengeance will be mine” feelings. To fix this problem, first practice discarding the emotional weight. He is more likely to react without big emotions if you bring it up without big emotions. Once you figure out what you want to say, practice it in the mirror if you have to, until you can say it with the deft and delicate combination of “I’m serious” but also “this is no big deal. I’m sure you’ll clearly understand at the first word from me, and everything will be just fine.”

This communication has two barrels. Once you’ve loaded the first barrel with your chosen tone, load the second barrel with the information. “No thank you. I’m not interested. There’s not enough beer in the world.” Whatever you choose to say. Just remember, think like a mailman, a fishing buddy, or whatever neutral male figure you can conjure in your head. You’re not here to make nice, you’re here to deliver the message “No.” So make sure that word is displayed front and center. No pussyfooting around it. Save his feelings by delivering the message lightly in tone, do NOT save his feelings by changing the actual MESSAGE in any way. We want clear, concise, and breezy.

Now, once you’ve done the hard thing of going against everything our culture teaches women to be, and you’ve delivered this clear message, you are now done. If he continues to pester you, this is no longer your problem, this is the authorities’ problem. Turn it over to HR, level disciplinary action, or whatever is appropriate for your business.

But seriously, try the double-barreled communication. It’s surprisingly efficacious! And not just for this one purpose. Someone in charge with the ability to drop the emotional load (even when under pressure) and deliver communication with breezy efficiency is someone who is going to be garnering respect for the rest of her life.

Wishing you fair winds and smooth sailing.

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Q1 2017

Dear Talking Back,

How do you convince leadership in a resource-constrained environment that team dynamics is more than just a soft-skill, feel-good waste of resources? The answer may be couched in terms of helping teams work together to better navigate the new “political” culture coming this month.

 – Planner

Dear Planner,

Your leadership is not alone in doubting the value of investing in teamwork, especially with a new administration that is focused on results and business.  Rather than resisting and being dismissed, stop arguing for resources and lift the conversation to a higher level.

It’s up to the administration to choose what government does, but they will want it done productively.  That’s your “in” for talking about team dynamics.  Getting teams to work more effectively saves effort and money.  Professional team development accelerates team progress from years to days, and also generates real measurements that show how effective and productive your team is.  These things will be essential for survival in the near and medium term.

Leadership needs hard data on productivity and results and measurable outputs, not a boring argument for training resources.  We can help.

Go get em!


Dear Talking Back,

Is it possible and appropriate for a new leader to change their communication style to fit a team’s established way of solving problems?

“Fresh Start”

Dear “Fresh Start”,

Your most important role as a new leader is to establish a rapport with the team.  Without that, nothing else can be done well. As long as your communication serves its intended purpose and doesn’t get hijacked, it’s very sensible to pick a communication style that you know fits in with the team’s established habits.  Even if you want to change those habits, you have to start by going to where the team is, and then bringing them with you.  The alternative is edicts and ultimatums, and these only work for a short time.

So don’t be afraid to speak to your team in a language everyone can understand. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll get the rapport and any change you need much faster.

Good luck!

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