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Articles & Chapters

Articles & Chapters

“Changing a Culture’s DNA”
Chief Learning Officer, vol. 11, no. 8 (August 2012)
When it comes to culture, Czech playwright and president Václav Havel may have summed it up best: By accepting prescribed rituals, we all become players in the game, thus making it possible for the game to go on. Only when we surface the implicit assumptions we hold about the culture in which we live and work can we hope to change that culture for the better.  Read more…

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“Changing Culture Change”
Reflections, vol. 12, no. 1 (April 2012)
A common belief exists that leaders can manipulate organizational culture like a sculptor shapes clay. But whereas the expression of culture can easily be changed, people’s implicit assumptions prove more difficult to shift. But by observing and transforming relationships along three axes, a group of people at a professional services firm was able to alter those assumptions that lay at the core of their culture. Read more…

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“Across the Great Divide”
Jossey-Bass website, first published February 2012
We study many things in college and graduate school—marketing, finance, leadership, organizational behavior, innovation—but not much (if anything) about relationships and how to map, navigate, or alter those that are jeopardizing the success of leaders and their organizations. Twenty years of research observing and advising leaders has convinced me that we need to add relationships to our everyday curriculum. Because, whether we’re aware of it or not, they have the power to trump all else.   Read more…

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“Shifting Perspective to Shift Results”
The Systems Thinker vol. 22, no. 10 (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012)
Personal responsibility? Few people would disagree with the conventional wisdom that says you’re better off keeping an eye not on relationships but on individuals, where responsibility can be clearly assigned and appropriately taken. But taking a relational perspective doesn’t preempt people from taking responsibility. Paradoxically, just the opposite happens. When people think in relational terms, they are more willing and able to take responsibility for their part in any problems or difficulties. Read more…

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“The Heart of the Matter”
Directors & Boards, Fourth Quarter 2008

Good governance depends on building a solid relationship between a firm’s management and its board. As obvious as that may sound, it’s far from simple, because these relationships are what negotiation experts call “mixed-motive” relationships, making them prone to breakdown and failure. As boards redefine their roles and become more active, it’s imperative that they give relationship matters, not just substantive matters, the time and attention they require to succeed. Read more…

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“Relationship Matters”
Leadership Excellence, July 2008

In The Caine Mutiny, Captain Queeg is portrayed as a complete nut—pacing anxiously across the decks, searching for signs of insubordination, rolling ball bearings between his fingers, or shouting bizarre commands from the bridge. But what’s most striking is the perspective of the lawyer who successfully defended the mutineers: “You’re a fine bunch of officers. Queeg came to you guys for help, and you turned him down. … If you had given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you think it would have been necessary for you to take over?” The point is, when leadership falters, events are seldom authored by the boss alone. They’re authored by the relationships bosses and subordinates form with each other… Read more…

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“Three Keys to Unlock Better Relationships at Work”
Brazen Careerist
June 30, 2008
The boorish officemate, the controlling boss, the smarmy subordinate—we know them all too well. How are we supposed to build good relationships with them? The truth is, it’s not easy. But it’s possible. The three keys to doing it are shifting perspective, getting people’s stories, and pulling people into your stories. Ask yourself, “When they did that, what let me to respond the way I did?” The answer will tell you things about yourself that you can use to succeed at work, and make it worth it.  Read more…

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“Leading Through Relationships”
Published by www.trainingmag.com
MANAGEsmarter
June 16, 2008
Leaders today are struggling, and often failing, to find an alternative to command and control. To help, most trainers and consultants focus on developing a leader’s capabilities as an individual. But these efforts miss an important point: In a world where effective leadership depends more on mutual influence than on unilateral control, relationships are one of a leader’s most powerful strategic assets.  Read more…

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“Treat Relationships Like an Asset or They’ll Become a Liability”
Leader’s Edge Newsletter
vol. 3, no. 6 (June 2008)
Published by American Management Association (AMA)
Why do some leaders build teams strong enough to sustain stellar performance, while others drive them into an abyss of dysfunction? Four discoveries take on that question. First, teams aren’t a simply a group of individuals; they’re a web of relationships. Second, like people, relationships develop their own distinct character. Third, relationships have the power to make or break the success of leaders and their enterprises. Fourth, some relationships grow stronger, others weaker, over time—and their enterprises with them. With the right tools, today’s leaders can cultivate their most important relationships so that they’re strong enough to withstand intense competitive pressures, turbulent changes, and inevitable conflicts.  Read more…

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“Putting the Relational Back in Human Relationships”
The Systems Thinker vol. 19, no. 3 (April 2008)

No systems thinker worthy of the name would argue that a single cause, close in time and space, produces a single result in any complex system. Yet that thinking governs how most of us think about relationships and the troubles they sometimes encounter. When upset, even the best systems thinker among us automatically reasons: When you did that, it made me feel this. However innocuous this formula may look on the surface, it reinforces thinking that makes relationships grow weaker, not stronger, over time. Read more…

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“How to Reap the Benefit of Relationship Conflict
in Management Teams”

Academy of Management Conference Paper, 2008

The rise of cross-functional teams has fueled an enduring interesting in conflict management. At the heart of conventional wisdom is an assumption that managers should avoid relationship conflict and focus instead on task conflict. In practice, however, the two are difficult to separate—a fact that raises two questions. First, what causes relationship conflict? Second, how can we put relationship conflict to constructive use? This paper describes ways to reduce relationship conflict and to use whatever conflict remains to improve an organization’s performance. Read more…

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“Today’s Trojan Horse”
ChangeThis No. 51.03

A recent study of the world’s 2,500 largest publicly traded corporations reported a 318-percent rise in forced turnover among CEOs since 1995, a whopping one out of three having left involuntarily. Why? Hidden among the usual suspects—myopic vision, strategic missteps, managerial incompetence, corruption—is an answer so simple and sweeping it goes unnoticed: leaders aren’t building relationships strong enough to withstand the intense pressures of today’s hypercompetitive world. Read more…

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“The Missing Piece to Building Great Teams”
Reflections vol. 9, no. 1 (2008)
The Society for Organizational Learning
As far back as Agamemnon and Achilles on the beaches at Troy, relationships within teams have determined the fate of leaders and their teams—yet they still go largely unnoticed. We analyze group dynamics; we size up individual team members; we tinker with design and redefine roles and rights; we even consider the larger context within which teams operated. But we don’t take a close look at the relationships that turn a bunch of people into a team. Read more…

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“Sensibilities For a Change”
Book excerpt, from Divide or Conquer

What can we learn about leadership from Abraham Lincoln? A lot, as it turns out, beginning with seven pairs of relational sensibilities: curiosity and courage, humility and hope, appreciation and acknowledgement, nuance and novelty, generosity and generativity, and empathy and accountability. The good news is that, with practice, these are sensibilities that we, as mere mortals, can cultivate in ourselves. Read more…

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“Too Hot to Handle”
Amy C. Edmondson and Diana McLain Smith
California Management Review, Fall 2006 

Conventional wisdom, together with the weight of published management advice, recommends that management teams engage task conflict directly but avoid relationship conflict. Implicit in this advice is the premise that it is indeed possible to separate the task and the relationship aspects of a business conflict. Argues that this separation is not always possible for management teams. When teams discuss “hot topics,” substantive disagreements (task conflicts) tend to trigger negative attributions… Read more…

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“Keeping a Strategic Dialogue Moving”
by Diana Smith
In Peggy Simcic Brønn and Roberta Wiig Berg, eds., Corporate Communication: A Strategic Approach to Building Reputation. Oslo: Norway : Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 2002.
In conference rooms all across the country, executives are caught up in strategic conversations right out of a Eugene O’Neill play: What’s wrong? How bad is it? Who’s to blame? What’s to be done? People’s answers to these questions all too often clash, generating point-counterpoint debates that waste precious time and produce poor choices. Underlying all strategic choices are steering mechanisms that drive how those choices get framed, discussed, understood, and ultimately made. When strategic conversations go awry, you need to shift attention onto those mechanisms or risk making choices you’ll forever regret.  Read more…

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“The Muck Stops Here”
by Diana McLain Smith
In The Dance of Change, by Peter Senge, et al. (1999)
It takes time to create the muck of human interactions we all get stuck in—and it takes effort to climb back out. This chapter from The Dance of Change by Peter Senge and others recommends seven guidelines for doing just that. Read more…

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“Climbing Out of the Muck”
by Bob Putnam, Phil McArthur, and Diana McLain Smith
In The Dance of Change, by Peter Senge, et al. (1999)
We’re all humans. We all interact all the time. Yet for most of us the structures of human interactions are largely invisible, even as we find ourselves mired in them time and time again. This dialogue between the founders of Action Design—Bob, Phil, and Diana—demonstrates both the difficultly and the benefits of discovering those structures in the service of each other’s growth. Read more…

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“The Four Myths of Feedback”
by Jamie Higgins and Diana Smith
Harvard Management Update, 1999 (reprint No. U9906E)
The biggest obstacles to constructive feedback—both giving it and getting it—stem from four widespread misconceptions: that my reality is the reality, and my job is to get you to see it; that defensiveness is bad and should be avoided at all costs; that this performance problem has nothing to do with me; and that mistakes are crimes to be covered up, punished, or both. When executives abandon these myths, they find that feedback is both a lot less frightening and a lot more fruitful… Read more…

 


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