Teamwork

Bounded Set Thinking vs. Centered Set Thinking

(This is the ninth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

In my last post I stated that business and government can’t solve all of America’s problems by themselves. Ideally, our leaders in Washington would involve every sector of society in problem solving. The three sectors encompass nine different domains:

  • The Public Sector, represented by government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector, represented by business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector, represented by the faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

When Eric Swanson and Sam Williams were working on their book To Transform a City, they come across a very interesting philosophy about problem-solving relationships. Paul Hiebert from Fuller Seminary discovered in the 1970s that when people come together to solve a problem, they often have a “closed circle” philosophy, or what he called a Bounded Set. A bounded-set thinker asks the question, “Do you believe like I believe?”  This becomes a divisive question because it separates those who are in from those who are out, limiting people who are allowed to work on the problem to those who sign off on an agreed-upon belief.  Whether it’s political, religious, or some other type of personal conviction—unless you believe what we believe, you can’t work on the problem. This philosophy doesn’t work because it is exclusive, not inclusive. The weeding-out process continues, the circle keeps getting smaller, and the problem doesn’t get solved.

A more productive way to look at problem-solving relationships is an open philosophy Hiebert referred to as a Centered Set. A centered set has no boundary that defines who is in and who is out. The question that determines if you are part of the problem-solving group is, simply, “Do you care about what I care about?” This philosophy works because it is inclusive of all belief systems and focuses on the matter at hand: Are you concerned about the problem we want to focus on?

How would this work in Washington?  It would be the job of the president and the legislature to first identify the key problem areas that need to be focused on to help keep America prosperous and safe. Next, they would select key people from each of the nine domains, whether inside or outside their own ranks, who care about each of the areas selected. Each of these groups would work with other American citizens to develop strategies to solve each of the key problems or concern issues going forward.

The people working together could have all different kinds of personal convictions about things as long as they were all passionate about the key problem area they were working together on—whether it be the economy, homeland security, unemployment, affordable housing, balancing the budget, improving the educational system, or another important issue.

Identifying leaders from each of the domains to work on each problem highlights the fact that no one segment of the population can solve all of America’s problems. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

A perfect example of someone who lived and breathed this philosophy was William Wilberforce, who helped stop slavery in England. It took twenty years. He traveled the country on horseback and got to know key leaders from all of the different domains. He didn’t care what they believed politically, religiously, or economically—all he asked the leaders was whether they agreed with him that slavery was wrong.  If they agreed, he would help them determine how they could influence important people within different segments of society and get them on the “stop slavery” bandwagon. This led to a number of people from diverse backgrounds coming together to put an end to slave trading and ultimately abolish slavery in their country altogether.

This is the type of process our government leaders need to put into action to deal with today’s pressing issues. Right now, Washington seems to be dominated by the bounded-set philosophy, where “you have to believe what I believe” to even begin to work together on a problem, let alone agree on a solution. So you have one big bounded-set group, the Democrats, at odds with another big bounded-set group, the Republicans.

The only way to get anywhere is through compromise. What makes this third secret for fixing Washington so powerful is that it focuses on sustained collective action by all segments of society.

Next time I’ll bring it all together with the fourth secret for fixing Washington, which involves a practice that’s near and dear to my heart:  servant leadership.

Categories: Community, Government, Leadership, Politics, Servant Leadership, Teamwork, Values, Vision, Vision for America | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Are the people of America treated as business partners?

(This is the seventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

I’ve laid out the first secret that would help our leaders bring America back to a healthy state:  Create a compelling vision by knowing who we are (our purpose), where we’re going (our picture of the future), and what will guide our journey (our values). If our leaders had a clear, agreed-upon vision, it would help them set national goals they could focus on. But they shouldn’t try to figure everything out by themselves. That leads me to the second secret.

The Second Secret: Treat Citizens as Your Business Partners

Assumption: The more that people are “in the know,” the greater their commitment to work together to help solve problems.

In my work in the business world, one of the things that has bothered me the most is watching leaders of companies in financial trouble go behind closed doors and make all the decisions by themselves in an attempt to turn the situation around.  It’s amazing to talk to people in those organizations who didn’t even know there was a problem until major layoffs were announced. Those people certainly didn’t feel like business partners—they felt like victims.

A lot of people don’t know that Southwest Airlines is over eighty percent unionized. When employees were first asked to vote on being union members, they came to cofounder Herb Kelleher to tell him what was going on. He said, “I love unions as long as they will let you sit on the same side of the table as me. If they want us to sit on opposite sides of the table, vote them down.” Union leaders have been present at every leadership meeting I have attended at Southwest Airlines. That’s quite a different story from other airlines that fight with their unions or even declare bankruptcy to break union contracts. At Southwest, they are one big family of business partners.

That’s why I think many Americans don’t trust politicians—because they don’t treat the American people as business partners. They don’t share information with us. We know we’re going through a difficult time but we don’t really know the facts. Politicians are sitting around Washington trying to figure out solutions to our problems and they haven’t asked us to help.

My wife Margie and I were recently in Australia visiting a business colleague, Lindsay Fox, who founded Linfox Transport. When we first met Lindsay in 1977, his company was doing about $10 or $15 million in annual business. Today, Linfox does over $1 billion annually just in logistics—not only in Australia but also in countries all over Asia. He’s one of the most respected businessmen in Australia. Several years ago when Australia was having a big problem with unemployment, Australia’s then-prime minister asked Lindsay and the head of the trade union association to take to the road. They visited major cities and towns in Australia to share the facts about the unemployment problem and to try to convince business owners to provide work for unemployed people.  This approach helped generate over 60,000 new jobs. Why? Because they went to the people, shared the information, and asked for help. Lindsay was quoted as saying, “It’s incredible what you can do when you believe you can work through it. This is why it’s tremendously important to work with the government, with friends, and help people.”

Our leaders need to do the same thing. Be honest with us. Tell the American people what the issues are and then go to communities around the country, let us know how we can help, and listen to our suggestions. I guarantee you that the citizens of this country have lots of good ideas and are willing to work with our leaders to find solutions for America’s problems.

Jack Bowsher, former Director of Education for IBM, agrees with my contention that Washington should treat our citizens as business partners. He argues, “To protect our way of life and our standard of living, we Americans must become more involved in seeking the truth about the key issues that are being debated and voted on at all three levels of our government.”

If our leaders in Washington would start seeing American citizens as true business partners, it’s amazing to think of what we could accomplish together. Would you agree?

When it comes to getting America back on track, I believe involving every segment of society is essential. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Categories: Government, Leadership, Teamwork, Values, Vision, Vision for America | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coach Calipari: A Winner and a Servant Leader

The world is in a desperate need of a different leadership role model. Everyone has seen the effects of self-serving leaders in every aspect of our society. What we need today are leaders who are servant leaders.

When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused. They immediately conjure up thoughts of the inmates running the prison, or trying to please everyone. Others think servant leadership is only for church leaders. The problem is that they don’t understand leadership. They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. From my experience, not only is it possible, it’s the only way over the long run to get great performance and human satisfaction. To prove my point, I’m always looking for good servant leader examples. Continue reading

Categories: Change, Focus, Servant Leadership, Teaching, Teamwork | 11 Comments

Ken Blanchard – It’s Always the Leader

Categories: Leadership, Management, Optimism, Passion, Paying Attention, Teamwork, Time Management | Leave a comment

Managing Up The Organization

It’s not uncommon after I have given a presentation for someone to say to me, “If only my manager had been here!  He (or she) really needed to hear this.”  I feel it’s a bit of a cop-out to blame your work problems on others.  It’s a safe way of not taking responsibility for your own circumstances and initiative to make things better.  The fact of the matter is that, during the span of your career, it’s likely that two out of every three managers will not be very good at the job of managing.  Are you going to let that keep you from getting what you want and need in your job?

If you’re going to succeed, you need to train your manager to give you what you need.  Fortunately, this is easier than it may sound—perhaps as easy as 1,2,3:

1. Give your manager what he/she needs to be successful. It’s going to be difficult to get your manager to make special efforts to help you if you don’t first show, through your actions, that you are worthy of such special effort.  Be responsive both in promptly doing what is asked of you, as well as volunteering to help on special projects and responsibilities.  Be proactive, try to anticipate your manager’s needs, and help to meet those needs.  Take a moment on occasion to ask what else you could be doing to help out.  Your attitude and behavior on this first step paves the way for the next step.

2. Tell your manager what you need from him/her to be successful in your job. After you have confirmed with your manager what is expected of you in your job, state what you’ll need from him/her for you to succeed.  This is where your knowledge of One Minute Management can be used to get the results you want.  Identify simple, clear, and specific One Minute Goals for each item you will be counting on for your manager to deliver, and then set realistic time frames for when those items can be done.

3. Follow up on 1 and 2. By doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it, you will build a reputation for being dependable and responsible.  By tactfully following up on items your manager agreed to do, you will build the expectation of reciprocity.

When your manager follows through on a commitment to you, use One Minute Praising to positively reinforce the behavior.  I am constantly amazed at how many employees feel that managers don’t need praisings!  After all—so goes the logic—that’s why managers are paid more.  It’s as if by making more money managers graduate to being appreciated less!  Let me let you in on a secret:  People are never too old or too high up in an organization to not want praisings—it’s human nature. Everyone likes others to notice things they worked hard to achieve. Give your manager a praising today and see for yourself!  And remember to praise progress—don’t wait until something is done perfectly before you say something.

If your manager does not follow through on a commitment to do something for you, you need some subtle form of a One Minute Reprimand.  Either reestablish the goal while checking on what you could do to move things along, or redirect your manager’s efforts toward a more feasible and realistic task.  Of course, you won’t have the position power to reprimand your manager, but the more you have built your personal power with him/her, the more likely a subtle reminder will work to get things back on track.

So don’t lament that your manager hasn’t created the perfect working environment for you—do something about it!  Take control of your work life, and learn how to get what you want from your manager in order to make things happen for you and the company.  People who learn the skills of managing up will soon be the ones who move up in today’s organizations.

Categories: Listening, Manage Up, One Minute Manager, Praise, Teamwork | 4 Comments

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