Sunday, September 23, 2007

Integrity vs. Convenience by Michelle Kunz

Carmine Coyote's blog entry for September 21 asks a very important question: Can you display integrity only when it suits you? Inspired by Peter Vajda's article "Integrity at work – how do you stack up?" Carmine argues that striving for absolute integrity adds undue stress and guilt to already overwhelmed individuals who may find that under certain circumstances it makes sense to simply compromise their integrity in favor of simplifying a tense or demanding situation.

Peter Vajda states that integrity is "a lot like being pregnant. Either you're pregnant, or you aren't. There's no middle ground." Either we act with integrity or we don't. This is a tough position to take, and his quiz asks some very hard questions. I cannot pass with 100% perfection. The perfection word has tripped us up again. That and a lack of clarity around what is integrity.

What is integrity?

Integrity, according to Encarta, is "the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards." The second and third definitions are also helpful in extending our understanding: "the state of being complete or undivided" and "the state of being sound or undamaged." Taken together, one who acts with integrity not only possesses and steadfastly adheres to high moral principles or standards, but is also complete, undivided and undamaged. This state of being complete, undivided and undamaged is due to the fact that such an individual does not act in a way that divides them against themselves. They hold themselves in a state of deep respect and honor.

Whose standards?

The problems we experience with integrity begin when we fail to stop and ask ourselves whose standards we possess and expect ourselves to adhere to. It makes sense that whenever those standards are externally imposed we will at some point find ourselves in conflict with them and probably choose to ignore them. There may or may not be an external consequence for that choice, but most people will experience some sense of guilt or shame for going against principles they claim to honor but fail to actually follow in their real life actions.

A better choice is to take the time to define our own values and standards. When we narrow down our most important values to no more than five (it is almost impossible to focus on any more than about five) what we have left is a set of core defining principles around which all of our actions and attitudes can be compared. When we align our actions, attitudes and beliefs with these core principles, we are living in integrity. Because they are prinicples we defined, we see the direct correlation between living these values and an improvement in some area of our life, depending on what values we defined. Making choices becomes easier, saying no becomes easier, and guilt is manageable because when we say no to something external, we say yes to something internal.


A mid-level manager is working 60 hour weeks. His wife complains frequently that he is missing his son's soccer games and isn't home to engage with her. She questions his values around family. He experiences a great deal of shame and guilt because he thinks he ought to be a better husband and father, but he doesn't know how to balance the demands of his job with the demands of his family.

During a coaching session, we define his core values as Family, Financial Freedom, Authenticity, Integrity and Honesty. As we explore what these values mean to him, we uncover that he has deep concerns regarding paying his mortgage and a strong desire to earn a promotion which may be available to him in the next year so he can provide some additional discretionary income to his family. He has a strong commitment to providing for his family's financial future, and a desire to fulfill his wife's desire for nice things in their home.

On closer inspection, it turns out that his working long hours serves two of his five core values: Family and Financial Freedom. By working long and hard he has a better chance at getting that promotion, and therefore providing for his family's financial future and filling their immediate desires. He has not seen it in these terms before because on the surface it looks like his values have been in conflict. But the long hours are less about his career and more about his family. Where he is out of alignment most is in Authenticity and Honesty. He needs to have a discussion with his wife to express with authenticity and honesty how his working long hours serves those other two core values. This will put him into better integrity over all. With her feedback he can make adjustments if necessary as he gains a better understanding of his family's financial needs and desires.

At first glance, it may have looked as if the answer was "work fewer hours and spend more time with your family". Perhaps after receiving feedback from his wife the answer will be more along the lines of "work 55 hours and spend one hour per weekday playing with your son". The point here is that until you define your core values, you don't really know what the answer is. What appears to be the answer might be a lousy compromise that will make you feel guilty about something else. You end up trading guilt for guilt.

Relationships - Integrity = Lack of Trust

When people choose convenience based integrity, which means they adhere to high principles only when it is convenient, no one knows what to expect. Who defines when it is convenient? When is that definition made public? Typically that decision is made on the spur of the moment and under duress. Or in rebellion. Or in any number of other situations which are purely self serving. How can anyone count on you when your integrity changes without warning? Trust simply cannot exist under such conditions, and this is a requirement for powerful, engaging, dynamic leadership.

Trust requires reliability -- people have to know what to expect from you. Your commitment to your self-defined set of values makes you reliable. Your actions align themselves in a way that makes sense because they are defined by your values. Even if people do not agree with your values, they at least know what to expect, and this increases their ability to trust you.

What many people dislike about absolute integrity is that it requires absolute responsibility for our actions. When we find ourselves out of alignment, we cannot affix blame to outside circumstances or other people. We have only ourselves to look to for accountability. And this is a key difference.

Blame vs. Accountability

When you practice convenience integrity, you get an easy way out any time you need an excuse as to why you choose an action which does not align itself with your values. You simply blame it on the extenuating circumstances. "The boss required it." "I needed a break." The assumption is that you've done something wrong and you need to provide a reason why. When you practice absolute integrity, there is a better choice: accountability.

Accountability and responsibility are interchangeable. Blame, however, is not. Blame is always negative. Accountability and responsibility are neutral. This difference is crucial. When we look within to examine our behavior in a situation where our actions did not align with our values, we can give ourselves permission to be neutral. We can simply be in discovery mode. What were the circumstances? What were we thinking and feeling? What other values came into play? What other choices might we have made instead which would have better served our core values? What kept us from making those choices? What can we do differently next time?

This mode of discovery allows growth to occur. Convenience integrity does not allow for growth because of the convenience factor. It's like eating fast food: no work, little nutrition. The blame game encourages excuses rather than discovery, and we go nowhere. But we still feel guilt, even while we feel relief. Because we know that we have divided ourselves and we are now unreliable.
Powerful leaders know it requires courage and inner strength to live with integrity. They do not fool themselves into thinking it requires perfection. They realize the values they define are there as a guide for their actions, and they seek to choose those actions mindfully. When they make a mistake, they freely admit it, learn from their experience and adapt. This adaptive ability strengthens their alignment with their core values. As a result, they become more reliable and trustworthy, which encourages others to have greater confidence in their ability to lead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Better Than Any Assigned Mentor by Michelle Kunz

Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble.
-- Sidney J. Harris

Nothing is less sincere than our mode of asking and giving advice. He who asks seems to have a deference for the opinion of his friend, while he only aims to get approval of his own and make his friend responsible for his action. And he who gives advice repays the confidence supposed to be placed in him by a seemingly disinterested zeal, while he seldom means anything by his advice but his own interest or reputation.
-- Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613 - 1680)

Mentoring For Success

Many success experts suggest finding a mentor as one way to assure success. Mentoring, as described by Jack Canfield, for example, in The Success Principles, is a fundamental aspect of "seeking out the clues of success." He dedicates an entire chapter to "Find a Wing to Climb Under." This chapter begins with instructions to find someone who has already accomplished what you wish to accomplish and seek their advice.

In the August 28 print edition of The Wall Street Journal Elizabeth Holmes wrote a column addressing the limitations of assigned mentor programs. In her article she cited examples of mismatched relationships, poorly run programs, ill defined objectives and lack of mentor commitment among the reasons why such programs might fail.

The trouble with many internal mentoring programs is they fail to make the essential match of determining what it is the mentee wishes to accomplish and who has already done it. In addition to other issues of personality matches and levels of desire for participation, this first test must be met in order for a mentoring relationship to exist. Many organizations simply match mentors and mentees at random. Other managers of internal programs believe they have met this objective based on shared experience and assumptions such as:
  • You must have the same goals as the person supervising you
  • Assigned mentor used to have your current position
  • Transitioned from same company
  • Transitioned from same discipline
  • Shared alma mater

Shared experiences might give you something to talk about, but they may have nothing to do with your professional objectives. Furthermore, if the company were to ask you to identify your objectives in the hope of better matching you to a potential mentor, it is highly unlikely you would feel free to share such information if it included plans to transition to another division or be promoted to CEO.

Companies offer mentoring programs with good intentions. Mentoring can be a path to success, as we have seen. In addition, new hires and new promotions often need additional help, and it would seem that a mentor relationship would make most sense for offering that help. This reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of a mentoring relationship, however, which is to show someone else how you accomplished what they would like to accomplish and guide them through the process. If we are looking simply to help a new hire or a new promotion, there are several non-mentor helping relationships which might be more useful. These include:
  • Buddy: show me where everything is and how it works and introduce me to key people
  • Supervisor: establish key position goals and objectives and walk me through the organizational structure
  • Guru: clue me in on organizational culture and other off-the-record information I can't find anywhere else

Any of these individuals might also make a great mentor. The key to finding a great mentor is first to understand what you want from them -- define your professional objective. A mentor is going to help you see what is possible within the organization and help set expectations of what you can achieve and how. They are going to take an interest in your professional development. In order for that to happen, this individual needs to be far enough ahead of you in the organization that they have perspective and experience.

A buddy can be a peer, and a guru can be anyone who has been there long enough to be in the know. Neither of these are necessarily someone far enough ahead to grant the necessary perspective to make a great mentor. Meanwhile a supervisor may find themselves with conflicting priorities or interests. What is in your best interest long term may be in direct conflict with what they need you to do right now.

Who's Who?

It takes time to identify someone who makes good mentor material. A quick read of who's who in the office line-up will not always reflect quality so much as altitude. How they got there is just as important as that they did. In addition, leadership styles matter. Someone who leads with "might makes right" or charisma will not be as good a mentor as someone who leads with a developmental leadership style. If you are new to the organization, ask around about leadership styles. People will likely have a lot of opinions they are happy to share.

Once you've identified a good candidate, the only thing left to do is make an appointment and ask. Most people are afraid to ask for what they want. The specific fears are too many to list, but they really are variations of the fear of rejection. We are afraid someone will say "no." That fear keeps us from asking someone out for a date, asking for that promotion, proposing a great idea, and finding a mentor who can show us the way to the very highest peaks of success. The truth is that if we do get a "no" we are no worse off than we were before except for our pride. If we can learn to manage our egos, we can learn to ask for anything and get much more than we currently have, just because we asked.

Successful people like to share what they have learned. And they want to be asked in a way that makes it seem appealing. Planning how to ask is an important part of the process which leads to a potential "yes." Developing a plan for the relationship in advance and showing how you plan to do the necessary work to make it a successful venture will certainly make a request much more attractive to a potential mentor.

Once you have found someone who will mentor you, the best way to keep that relationship vital is to follow through with what your mentor suggests. Wasting someone's time is never a good policy, and with mentors this is particularly true. Since you are ostensibly learning from what they have done, why would you not take their advice? Be very clear on this when you make the decision to enter into the relationship. If you are not prepared to act, do not bother making a proposal.

Alternatives to Assigned Mentoring

After reviewing how a successful mentoring relationship works, it is easy to see why many internal mentoring programs fail. In addition to the fatal flaw of the mismatch of desired to achieved success, without a personal request and commitment on the part of both parties, there is no buy-in. While the mentee may be desperate for help, the objectives may be unclear and help might be better sought through other sources.

If your organization offers assigned mentoring, there are alternatives, such as training and coaching, which provide different benefits but which might be more appropriate solutions for you and your team. Training brings a specific program of skills to the individual or group and, if applied throughout the organization, can offer a certain level of consistency. For new hires, this can be a great choice if getting them up and running is the challenge. You can even develop an internal training program which uniquely addresses your needs.

Coaching can also provide a foundation for consistency if it is designed to do so. In addition, coaching provides a confidential arena for the coachee to explore areas of concern and challenge combined with objective feedback and observation. In the coaching relationship a coachee can try out new skills without concern, explore possibilities, and develop action plans which are tailored to their needs and the needs of the organization. Unlike training, coaching is flexible and provides ongoing support and feedback in a real time environment. Unlike mentoring, coaching does not provide advice, but rather supports the coachee in discovering unique solutions to challenges.

Organizations often opt for internal assigned mentoring programs because there is a perception that training and coaching are more costly. However, when employees are left feeling lost and have no where to turn in spite of having an assigned mentor, what is the cost to the organization and to the employee? Worse, when an organization has offered a benefit which has no actual benefit, but instead lays hidden costs on both the mentor, who feels obligated to spend precious time with someone they have little professional interest in, and the mentee, for whom the relationship can be a burden in a situation where burdens are the precise reason for the relationship, what are the costs?

Ms. Holmes concludes her article with an anecdote from one employee whose best advice came from someone else's assigned "buddy." This was someone she felt comfortable going to for help and with whom she shared projects for feedback before presenting them to management. Is this not the essence of a mentor relationship: identify, choose and ask? Powerful leaders know the value of these actions in a mentoring relationship and they provide opportunities for their team members to engage in them as often as needed for their individual and mutual success.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Excellence is Giving by Michelle Kunz

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same.
Giving and receiving - not giving and taking.
-- Joyce Grenfell

Perfection is taking.
Excellence is giving.

In the second quote, Joyce Grenfell makes an important distinction between receiving and taking. This distinction also gets to the heart of the important difference between perfection and excellence for the purpose of our discussion.

Tracing our steps, perfectionism begins when we become vested in our being right. We become entrenched in the status quo, defending it hotly and building great arguments against change. We gradually come to fear all that change represents as we continue to find every excuse why our way is the best way. This fear leads to anger and frustration when others cannot or will not conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be. As we tighten our grip on our perceived sense of order, we drive others to anger and frustration as they feel our rigidity cutting off their creativity and individuality. Finally, we apply our version of right and wrong to challenges we face and mire ourselves in the tyranny of judgment.

Given the fear-oriented, rigid position of the perfectionist's view of the world, it is understandable that such a person might be tempted to adopt a "What's in it for me?" attitude toward challenge, including change, risk and sacrifice. Fear encourages us to see the possibility of loss and/or failure, and as a result, we grasp at everything we have now and what little we see might be available to us in the near future. We want to get and keep a tight hold, in case it all disappears, because this is what we fear most.

The dynamic created by a grasping orientation is essentially one of taking. We reach out and bring to us anything within our reach, whether it is right for us or not. We do this because we are collecting all we can against the possibility of ultimate loss and/or failure. This stockpiling of successes and material goods is an empty endeavor in the end because one can never fill the hole that fear creates deep within.

How are giving and receiving the same?

When we shift our orientation to one of excellence, which is grounded in a willingness to be wrong, gives us confidence to take risks, empowers us and others to be spontaneous, and looks for ways in which to accept what is in the current moment context, we free ourselves to see possibilities instead of failure. This freedom results in an openness to generosity -- in both directions. Rather than look for "What's in it for me?" we begin to shift to "What's in it for us?" or even the more empowering "What's in it for you?"

This openness allows us to not only give freely, but also to receive without suspicion or guilt. When we are stuck in a "What's in it for me?" mentality, it is easy to believe that everyone else is stuck there with us. When we move away to a more open, generous belief system, it doesn't matter. We take people as they are and appreciate whatever we find because we are looking for possibilities.

Why is giving important in building powerful leadership?

When we begin to give freely and actively seek the advantage for the other person, a marvelous thing happens. Powerful leadership begins to take root. To quote BNI's motto: "Givers Get." What do they get? It's hard to predict exactly, and true givers don't try to manipulate the outcome. Some of what might come back includes:

  • Trust -- people trust those who have their interests truly at the center of all they do
  • Admiration -- people admire those who commit their energies to advancing the common good
  • Respect -- people respect those who dedicate their time to helping others win
  • Wisdom -- when we listen deeply to what others need we learn more about ourselves and the world around us
  • Humility -- giving to others shines a mirror back on all that we have and helps us feel grateful
  • Authenticity -- giving deeply of ourselves removes the filters we keep in place when we withhold, requiring our true selves to come into focus
  • Integrity -- aligning our values with principles which do not change greatly simplifies the challenge of walking our talk

These are some of the qualities of a powerful leader. Truly great leaders aren't always made. Sometimes they simply are. Allowing that to take place can be a much bigger challenge than acquiring an impressive resume or the accoutrements of success. Great leaders know how to let go and allow their best selves to brilliantly shine.