There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ – Avoid Costly Failures to Communicate


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: April 30, 2014


One of the more famous lines from movies is the one uttered by the punitive prison warden (Strother Martin) to a recalcitrant escaped convict (Paul Newman) in the 1967 motion picture Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Failures to communicate clearly can be very costly, as evident, for instance, in the slow rollout of Obamacare, and the disastrous launch of the Columbia space shuttle.

What can you (and your team) do to avoid disasters and achieve the most powerful and most inspirational communications? I suggest you take a journey into new discoveries about Conversational Intelligence™, the science and art of how human beings connect, navigate and grow with other human beings in the pursuit of reaching their most vital dreams and aspirations together.

Seeing Reality in a New Way

Old thinking says that reality is ‘the physical world that exists around us’ and that we all live in the same reality. In this view, some people are smarter than others, and some people are more right than others about what reality is – and we need to turn to the ‘big authority’ for the ‘answers’ because they know best. In their view it’s not a good idea to push back against authority.

New thinking says that ‘reality lives inside each of us,’ and each person’s reality is made up of the person’s own experience of reality. Each person’s experiences are valid, valuable and unique. When people get together and share their perspectives on reality – a bigger picture emerges full of clarity, co-creativity, and new ways of thinking. This view affirms that through co-creating conversations – we release a new energy in the universe – an energy that gives us the power to shape reality and shape the future together.

Insights about Teams from Neuroscience

Neuroscience is teaching us that the ‘new way of thinking about reality’ is more accurate than the old way of thinking. We are learning that we create reality through our experience. We may use words that others use, yet the meaning of the words comes from our own experiences and each person’s experiences and perspectives are different. In teams where people try to move toward consensus too quickly, or into ‘groupthink,’ as they try to come to agreement about ‘what is true,’ or ‘what steps to take next on a project, they often limit the opportunity to explore each others most interesting, novel, and provocative ideas. The human force to connect and align with others can be so powerful, that we give up – give into the old thinking – of ‘authority’ at the expense of harvesting new ideas and the wisdom growing inside of each of us.

Building on What We Know to Arrive at What We Don’t Know

Conversational Intelligence™ is a new disciple that helps us break loose of old paradigms about conversations – and opens the door to new ways of thinking about creativity, collaboration and clear communication. For more than three decades, I’ve studied patterns of conversation in companies, teams, partnerships and relationships to identify patterns that lead to the most innovative, collaborative, and co-creative outcomes.

What I’ve learned is that there are three levels of conversation that lead to best results, yet we often get caught in one level or another and don’t know how to use conversational agility to get to the most creative. To navigate the world of conversations with others, we need to understand each of these levels.

Level I: Confirm what you know

This level is defined by people ‘telling and asking’ each other what they know. People love this level and often get caught in ‘telling’ and less asking or listening. Creativity can’t take place if we only live in our own ideas about the world, yet we often live in this world without knowing we are stuck. When we are talking – we feel great. In fact researchers have proved that we get a higher level of ‘dopamine,’ which is a ‘feel good hormone,’ when we are talking. We feel so good we may not realize we may have turned others off and they are not even listening to us.

ACTION: In Level I, we need to strive for clear communicationsasking more than telling, and being open to listen to and appreciate the perspectives of others. We need to realize that multiple realities exist, and each one provides new insights to explain, define and make sense of the world. In Level I, we need to identify when we are falling into the ‘Tell-Sell-Yell-Syndrome,’ and shift the conversation from push to pull

Level II: Defend what you Believe

This level of interaction dynamics is defined by ‘advocating and inquiring.’
In this level we feel so strongly about our perspective, or point of view, we defend our ideas and navigate with others to move them toward our points of view. When we are in this mindset of defending what we believe is true we often don’t see, hear or appreciate what others are trying to communicate, and we are not open to influence. People want to collaborate; yet each wants the other to move over to their points of view. Collaboration is defined in the dictionary as ‘cohorting with the enemy’ and in Level II we often see others who hold different points of view from ours as ‘our enemy.’

ACTION: In Level II, we need to redefine collaboration – and redefine others as ‘friends, not foes’ – even if they hold perspectives different than ours. We need to do more inquiring more about the views and perspectives of others rather than trying to influence them to our point of view. And, we need to be open to listen without judgment – often difficult when we are in a state of ‘high influence.’ In fact, we can get so committed to our perspectives that we become ‘Addicted to Being Right!’

Image of There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ – Avoid Costly Failures to CommunicateLevel III: Discover What You Don’t Know

This level of interaction dynamics is defined by ‘sharing and discovering.’ In this level we are open to influence, listen to connect, and ask questions for which we have no answers. Our minds are curious and agile and open to think in new ways about the past, present and future. Because we are not judging others – we are receptive and open to their perspectives, insights and wisdom.

ACTION: In Level III, we need to be open to influence – discovering what we don’t know we don’t know, and being curious and open to really listenening without judgment so we can step into the other person’s view of reality and appreciate their ideas, perspectives and insights. When we do this, a whole new view of reality emerges. When we are in this state of mind, we are doing more than collaborating we are ‘co-creating!’  

Image of There is an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ – Avoid Costly Failures to CommunicateTRY THIS!: There is an “I in Team’

Conversational Intelligence is a new view about conversations that says when we are having co-creating conversations, we are validating the ‘I inside of the WE!’ We are acknowledging each other’s view of reality and are opening the door to higher levels of shared success as well as higher levels of innovation, collaboration and clear communication.

To develop your Conversational Intelligence, become consciously aware of your state of mind. Ask yourself, ‘what impact are my ‘interaction dynamics’ having on others?’ Is my thinking I-centric or WE-centric? These various approaches—and states of mind have dramatically different impacts on the conversations you have and the outcomes you create. Once you recognize the differences, you gain mastery over your mind-set, link intentions with impact, and create healthy thriving organizations through co-creative conversations.

When you feel trapped in positional dynamics, triggered by tendencies to power over others, rather than shying away from having difficult conversations use Conversational Intelligence wisdom to stay in an open mind-set in which you share power, co-create outcomes, sustain rapport, invite innovation, and cultivate better, more productive relationships — even with former foes.

Stretch Roles: Why They Benefit Your Career and Why Women Aren’t Taking Them.


By Kayla Turo |
Published: April 30, 2014

Research from Catalyst suggests that on-the-job experiences account for 70 percent of the most valuable career development tools for employees, compared to networking and mentoring (20 percent) and formal programs (10 percent. These on-the-job experiences include stretch assignments, or challenging projects in which an employee must develop new skills and improve their capabilities in order to be successful. Stretch assignments not only prepare employees for future managerial roles, they highlight high potentials and put them on the map for leadership consideration. According to the Catalyst report “Good Intentions, Imperfect Execution?”, of the high potentials they questioned, 62 percent claimed that obtaining stretch assignments was most favoring to their careers above any other factor.

However, the most interesting finding of the report is that men were more likely to land high-profile assignments than women, were staffed with three times as many employees as women, on projects with budgets twice the size of women’s project budgets.

Sponsorship is a key factor in securing stretch assignments
Lack of sponsorship is a crucial factor that could be preventing women from attaining high-profile assignments, and ultimately advancing to executive board positions, which stems from a societal fear of rumor and scandal. According to Sylvia Ann Hewett in an article published on the HBR Blog Network, “Women suffer a disproportionate amount of damage in the fallout from illicit relationships between a male boss and a female subordinate.” The fear of even be suspected of an improper relationship prevents 64 percent of executive men and 50 percent of junior females from seeking out private encounters, let alone a sponsorship relationship.

Unwillingness to ask for help could also be a culprit here. “Women fear rejection more than men in this area. They often feel it’s ‘pushy’ to ask [for help] as though they are saying I can’t do it myself,” said Judith Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. Understanding that gaining sponsorship attributes to 70 percent of your overall career advancement (by opening up opportunities for on-the-job experiences) may help alleviate some uneasiness of coming off vulnerable or incompetent. “Climbing alone is not an option anymore,” reminded Glaser.


Read the full article here:

Protocol Consultants International Book Review

By Judith Bowman |
Published: April 23, 2014

Conversations are the source of energy that have the power to release transformational thoughts – (products and goods) into the world. Conversations are the golden threads that enable us to move forward and trust others. It is through conversation that we communicate and ultimately, connect. Conversation is integral to the health and productivity of a company culture.  

We here at PCI have always spoken to the importance of conversation (skills) as a means to help place the other person at ease while learning information, sharing information, earning trust, and advancing critical business relationships. I am delighted to recommend Judith Glaser’s new book, Conversational Intelligence. Judith brings the importance of conversation skill to the next level and contends that everything happens through conversation and nothing happens without it. Moreover, setting the right conversational tone stimulates the brain to appeal to others, activate higher engagement, build more resilient organizations and get transformational results with employees, customers and vendors. The key to success in life and business is to become a master at CI. “It is not about how smart you are, but how open you are. Conversations prime the brain of trust, partnerships and ultimately, mutual success. Getting to the next level depends on the quality of culture, which depends upon the quality of relationships which is contingent upon the quality of our conversations.” Trust is the foundation of quality, successful relationships and the fuel for navigating, indeed, creating the future; trust changes reality.

Communication and Trust – A Neurochemical Reality

Glaser contends that when we communicate with others we essentially feel good or bad. We feel good when we have a sense of fairness, ownership, reciprocity, cooperation, open expression and status. This state coexists with neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (the happy neurotransmitters) as well as oxytocin (a bonding hormone.) Together, these neurotransmitters buffer against stress and produce pleasure. When we consistently feel good around certain people, that feeling typically leads to greater trust and when we feel trust, the relationship/cycle is reinforced. Unhealthy conversation is the root of distrust, deceit, betrayal and avoidance … it promotes lower levels of productivity and innovation and yields low success. Bad conversations are unhealthy and non-productive. Either way, every communication (with another person) has a chemical component. Conversation triggers different parts of our brain that can either catalyze and freeze our brains in protective patterns or enhance and develop conversation skills. Conversations stimulate production of hormones, neurotransmitters and nerve pathways, body systems and have the ability to literally change our body chemistry.  

Conversation and Storytelling

Conversation and sharing stories of mutual success actually shifts our neurochemistry. Glaser urges us to become curious about others’ perspectives, knowledge and success. This intentional shift releases dopamine which creates curiosity in our brain. “When we are curious and ask questions of others, the heart connects to our brain, engaging us to open up. When this happens it sends a whole new path of neurotransmitters that enable connection with others. This encourages successful conversations.” Judith maintains that successful conversations encourage us to define success together, make meaning and create the story together that describes the reality you want to co-create. Physiologically, this stimulates more oxytocin and will create new bonds of friendship, understanding, trust. Trust leads to rewards that go beyond words and feelings; they are a neurochemical reality.”

In Summary

The words we use and the conversations we have hold the power to change the brain. Healthy conversations are critical to healthy relationships. Being a master of Conversation Intelligence will help advance trust, ideas, partnerships and commerce. Consider the question: what impact are my words having on others? We need to be aware of our state of mind and know that being in a positive state of mind is critical to developing healthy, productive Conversational Intelligence and actually change the future and co-create new realities. We need to become masters at articulating our words (of intention) and aware of the impact our exchanges have on others. When aligned, the trust quotient is elevated, connections are ignited, relationships advance.

Hottest of the Hot: The Most Exciting Trends in Innovation Right Now

By |
Published: February 11, 2014

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The following is an excerpt read the full article here:


Innovation is the buzzword of buzzwords right now.

Everybody is innovating, or wants to be innovating, or tweeting about how they should be innovating, or Instagraming a picture of the innovative culinary concoction they had for breakfast. We are rethinking how we do what we do and who we are. And we are all sort of obsessed with the process.

At the launch of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Innovation Week, which is under way right now in New York City a gaggle of leaders in innovation shared what they are most excited about in innovation right now. Their answers range from new technological gadgets to new ways to think about our own identities.

Judith E. Glaser, chairman of the Creating WE Institute, author of Conversational Intelligence: “The idea of identities and new identities: there are actually places in the brain — every time you chose a new name, you get a new title, you learn something new or you can actually see yourself in a new way — you are creating a new identity inside of yourself. So the fact that human beings are now co-creating new identities, we are able to give new definition to each identity and release ourselves from the past. Most of our identities, we bring all that stuff from the past, right? So we are who everybody said we were or we weren’t. But now with new identities, we are able to put new memories, it frees up our brain to give ourselves a boost to become something else that we never thought we could become before. So I highly recommend you think of yourself in new identities. Who do I want to be with other people and co-create in a completely frees your brain from the past, dis-attaches some of the things that are back here — the amygdala hijacking that we get that stops us from doing things — and actually frees us to garner new insights from others.”
Read the full article here:

There Is an ‘I’ in ‘We’!


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: April 21, 2014

Minimizing Breakdowns – Maximizing Breakthroughsbreakdowns-350

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? You want to support your team, and you’re trying to navigate the conversation and be helpful. When you hear an idea you like, or see a chance to add something new, you share it. Then someone says: “That’s a stupid idea — we tried that before and it failed.”

When you hear the words stupid and failed, you have an emotional reaction. Instantly, a switch is turned on in your brain. You feel betrayed. You tune out of the meeting and ruminate. The team thinks you are still there, but in fact, most of you has left the meeting.

Your body freezes up. You can’t find words to respond. Your attention is now turned inside to your silent conversation with yourself about being stupid and failing. You can’t believe he said that to you. You were so sure of your opinion; it represented your truth and until now, you trusted your gut instincts. Yet in one moment your whole mindset shifted from trust to distrust.

This story is a synthesis of many that come from our consulting. So many people think they’re in good stead with a colleague only to find that when threatening dynamics are at play, a friend appears to turn into a foe overnight.

Our personal answer to the Who Am I question is vital, and our answer to the question Who Am I within the WE deserves attention as well.

There is an ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’!

At the core of every endeavor, relationship and communication is a personal, mystifying and sometimes paralyzing question, Who am I? The breakdowns that occur in most teams (early in the process) are created when people don’t see where they fit, and a dynamic tension emerges as individuals struggle with the Who Am I question while integrating into a team of We.

Lack of awareness of our personal identity inside a team can lead to broken relationships, the inability to collaborate creatively and effectively, a lack of confidence, and unnecessary personal stress. Lack of awareness of our identity inside a team can also diminish our in-group interactions as we adapt to the people around us. Lack of clarity on where we stand with a team can limit our access to our innate conversational skills, and our leadership skills, preventing us from ‘showing up’ as smart, strategic and capable contributor to the overall team process.

When we least expect it, our personal identity can be threatened and leave us vulnerable and incapacitated, activating the limbic brain, limiting our choices to flight, fight or freeze. The Who am I within the We question is enormously vital, and the often overlooked recipe for success, for leaders who hope to build healthy, thriving, and productive organizations — since most of the work gets done through a team.

Identity Is Our Core

At the core our identity is the foundation of how we see ourselves in the context of our relationships with others. When we are secure in our identity, our sense of self-trust grows. And yet, no matter how secure we think we are, we can be shaken from time to time. Why?

Our identity lives deep within our subconscious and unconscious mind, as a set of unexamined beliefs, expectations, and assumptions about who we think we are and need to be and who we think others are and should be. Identity, according to neuroscience research, also lives inside the primitive brain – the amygdala, which is the seat of our ‘threat responses.’

Research at the Harvard Negotiation Project indicates that everyone is subject to unexpected.

Identity Threats that trigger us back into our lower primitive brain where unconscious behaviors that originate in the past are stored When our identity is threatened, our purpose shifts from problem solving, innovation, and relationship building to an impulsive need to defend, protect, or withdraw.

Leadership mastery, the ability to move authentically within the I and We, requires us to discover our personal and actualized self-identity strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and rules in relationship to others as well as reliable best practices to help us regain balance when threatened by unexpected identity issues.

Power of Perceived Threats

Since feeling safe within our own identity is so important, Perceived Threats activate the Amygdala and Limbic Brain. The symptoms include: a sense of threat, confusion, exaggerated internal self-talk including projected blame or unjustifiable self-criticism, heart palpitations, sweating, incapacity to articulate our thoughts or feelings etc.

Here are seven Universal THREATS that give us an Amygdala Hijack:

1. Tone Threat — judgmental or angry tone is felt as threats to our ego;

2. Hurt Threat — threat to our physical safety;

3. Risk and punishment Threat — taking risks, fear of failure and making mistakes;

4. Exclusion Threat — looking stupid in front of others and being ostracized;

5. Anger Threat — fear of someone’s potential anger toward us; and not knowing how to respond;

6. Territory Threat — having our territory limited, or people encroaching on our territory;

7. Status Threat — challenge to our status, or making us feel small.

Tips for handling Identity Threats

When we are threatened our brain produces a chemical cocktail including neurotransmitters such as cortisol – our fear hormone – and adrenalin, which activates our ability our body to protect and defend itself. We can’t stop the physiological effects, but we can reduce them.

Here are some tips for how:

  • If left unchecked, an Identity Threat can continue for days. It activates your worst fears and includes emotional pain.
  • Noticing/naming the symptoms of an Identity Threat can break the unconscious response.
  • Manage the physiology of the impact. Breathe deeply and move to give your body time to release the biochemical toxicity and return to problem solving.
  • Notice when people have been triggered (and intervene) to save time and misunderstanding. Simply asking for a break can help reduce the impact of Identity Threats.

Know Your Identity Vulnerabilities

Ask the tough questions to discover Identity Vulnerability: What threatens me? What causes me to question my ability, my achievements? What is my capacity to listen and validate another’s point of view, when I strongly disagree? How do I change my behavior and persona in this situation?

Practice self-observation. Notice your physiology, breathing, thoughts, feelings and behavior when you feel threatened. Now, notice these same elements in situations where you feel confident. Record your observations to discover innate resources.

Written in collaboration with Mary Ann Somerville, Conversational Intelligence consultant and trainer.


Minimize Fear – Maximize Trust


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: April 8, 2014

Conversational Intelligence for Mutual SuccessConversational-Fear-2

Are your people afraid? I’m not asking if they’re scared of you because you are a bully or bad boss. Nor am I talking about the fear that comes from worrying about being punished for a well-thought-out plan or product launch that fails. I’m talking about something more visceral: anxiety or angst caused by the concern that something drastically harmful—such as a layoff, firing, pay cut, or demotion—will happen.

Everyone is somewhat fragile at the core. We secretly worry that tomorrow may be our last day. Uncertainty and volatility induce fear, and fear impedes people from feeling good and doing their best work. Fear impacts our sense of identity and causes us to doubt our ability to achieve our greatest aspirations with others. Our biggest fear is the fear of failure in the eyes of others; failure to be perceived as capable, valuable, powerful, smart, and poised to handle the challenges your organization is facing.

When we perceive the world through a lens of fear, we turn away from others when we are coming from protective behaviors, rather than turning to others for help. Our egos drive us to develop habit patterns of protection. Over time, we incorporate defensive behavior patterns into our daily rituals and routines.

When we perceive the world through a lens of fear we:

  • Move against others (fight)
  • Move away from others – (flight – avoid – freeze)
  • Move with others (give up/give in)

Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) at Work

Fear is a common but counterproductive response to uncertainty. When fear dominates, the creative brain shuts down. Here is how it works….

C-IQ Neuro-Tip: When fear dominates, the primitive brain takes over, releasing cortisol and catecholamines—hormones released during emotional or physical stress. These chemicals shut down the brain’s prefrontal cortex, or executive functions, which enable sophisticated strategies, trust, integrity, and strategic thinking. Instead of responding intelligently and creatively to people and situations, you freeze, coming across as unintelligent or defensive. Appreciation and Trust, on the other hand, minimize the impact of cortisol, and enables oxytocin, the bonding hormone, to flood the brain – elevating our ability to have a voice and partner for mutual success.

Level III Conversations

When we perceive the world through a lens of trust, we are open to connect, to listen; to share and discover and to engage in trusting behaviors – we develop patterns of partnering with others. We are able to learn to speak what is on our minds and be strengthened through the conversations – we are generative, growing and co-creating with others. I call this Level III Conversations.

When we are living in Level I, we are focused more on ‘telling’ people what is on our minds; when we are living in Level II we are focused more on ‘selling’ people on what we believe; yet when we are living in Level III we are open to learn, to engage in co-creating behaviors with others, and open to influence. We put our egos aside and focus on creating win/win situations with others. We adapt, we are agile, we are open to positive influence, and we are willing to change our minds. Most of all, we minimize judgment and maximize appreciation, helping others to bring their ‘best selves’ to work every day.

When we are living in Level III Conversations, we perceive the world through a lens of trust and we are open to share what is on our minds and to discover what is on other’s minds; we have courage to step forward and speak our voice, and we work with others to speak their voice. We partner, collaborate and co-create for mutual success.

So how can you, as a leader, eliminate fear and enable your employees to develop their identity as ‘leaders in their own right’:

  • Be present. Your people spend an inordinate amount of time watching everything you do. If you’re almost always behind closed doors, don’t seem to listen during conversations, spend a lot of time reminiscing about the way things used to be, or talk about a future that seems disconnected to the present, people will read things into your actions and words; and typically, what they imagine isn’t positive.

ACTION: To make yourself present, you need to open yourself up to others by tuning into your relationships before working on tasks. You may need to have a talk you didn’t plan on with a staffer or colleague. You may need to handle a project that went off schedule because an employee’s confusion distracted you from your grand thoughts. Welcome to life in the big city. Business is about people. It’s about how we handle our relationships with others.

  • Provide context in every communication. A picture with a frame becomes a different picture. Without background, fear can be elevated by confusion and uncertainty. A technology company I’m working with is growing rapidly. Sales have tripled in two years and now top $1 billion. The CFO, in anticipation of this growth, told his staff: “Go out and hire your replacement.” He thought his message was clear: “I want you to hire someone capable of filling your shoes because with all this growth—and how wonderful you all are—I anticipate promoting each of you.”

 His staff heard: “Hire your replacement because none of you are good enough and you all will be fired soon.” Not surprisingly, his employees grew anxious. Morale and performance suffered. When I explained to the CFO what his people had heard, he instantly understood what he had done. He called a meeting to explain that he wanted his people to go out and search for their own replacements as part of planning for the future, and to make it easier for him to promote them when the time was right.

ACTION: Putting this context around the statement was not only less frightening, it made people feel good about themselves and the company, and more secure about what role they would play in the growth process. Not surprisingly, fear receded and performance improved. Context can make things that are bad seem right—or at least far less worrisome.

  • Tell people where they stand. As leaders, we resist doing this because we fear it will lead to broken relationships, feelings of rejection, and messes we can’t fix. So we don’t raise certain issues. Yet people need to know where they stand so they can do something about it. Once they know, they often discover their imagined fears were far worse than reality. When we live in fear, we withdraw, build our own story of reality, imagine others are out to get us, and react accordingly. We stop turning to others for help and stop taking feedback and advice from others.

ACTION: Set up time with people to calibrate on what they are doing and how. This doesn’t mean telling them what they are doing ‘wrong.’ This means providing them with quality calibration to see how to move forward with success. This means guiding them forward to develop their ability to experiment, and take new steps to achieve a goal. This makes people feel good about themselves and more secure about their role within the company. Not surprisingly, fear recedes and performance levels improve when we tell people where they stand. They move from feeling judged to feeling appreciated.

  • Use honesty at all times. No one likes to tell the truth when it hurts someone or makes that person look bad. So we fudge. As adults, we should know better. Often we don’t. When the truth finally surfaces, the impact is twice as bad as it would have been without the fibs. At all times, tell the truth—tactfully and within the appropriate context. Context, in this case, does not mean spin. Don’t make a situation sound better than it is, even if you can.

Action: As a leader, you have no greater resource than a high-performing team. If you are honest, you’ll admit there are times—maybe far too often—when the people who work for you are not producing their best work. Check to see if fear is one reason. Then be willing to have the courage to address the concerns with open, honest, non-judgmental conversations – that are shaped by the intention to move forward and support the person’s success. When you speak with candor and caring you minimize the impact of fear and maximize the impact of trust.

As a leader, you can have no greater resource than a high-performing team. If you are honest, you’ll admit there are times—maybe far too often—when the people who work for you are not producing their best work. Check to see if fear is one reason, and then step into Level III Conversations with others. This shift will move you from living in transactions to driving transformation for mutual success.


The Flip Side of Success…

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: April 4, 2014

Flip side of Success

What happens when our leaders harbor Addictions and Delusions?

Much is written about the psychology of success, far less about the flipside, the leadership psychosis that leads to failure, ruined lives, and fortunes.

Here are two examples. First, whistle-blower Michael Winston, former head of leadership development at Countrywide Financial, alleges that former CEO Anthony Mozillo suffered from a sort of leadership psychosis, believing that virtually anyone with a pulse should qualify for a home mortgage (leading to catastrophic consequences). Second, I once worked with a bankruptcy lawyer whose narcissism, denial of reality, and belief that he was the best in the industry led him to be ousted from his role in his firm. Tragically, he was hired to chair another law firm, which went Chapter 11 in two years!

Psychosis entails a loss of contact with an objective reality, often including false beliefs about what is taking place (paranoia or fantasy or fabrication); who one is (delusions); or seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (imaginations or hallucinations).

In my work with leaders, I see how such delusions can be caused by various addictions, along with inaccurate, incomplete, or distorted information passed on in daily conversations and thus embedded deep in (counter-productive, fear-based) cultures. Such psychotic leaders tend to suffer form a sort of bipolar personality disorder. Symptoms often include: disorganized thoughts and speech, false beliefs, and unfounded fears or suspicions. These leaders can cause much harm to themselves and others; employees dealing with delusional bosses carry a heavy burden, and their work suffers from it.

Conversational Addictions and Delusions

Here are three common conversational addictions:

1. You are addicted to being right or being in control. The body makes a chemical choice about how best to protect itself from the shame and loss of power associated with losing control or being wrong—and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality.

2. You irrationally try to defend or sell your position, even when you sense that your idea is not the best possible solution. You raise your voice and convey defensive or combative body language. When others push back, you try to convince them you’re right. In such tense situations, your brain is hijacked as the cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that govern advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down, and the amygdala, your instinctive brain, takes over.

3. You talk over your colleagues and correct their point of view. Your conversations then become monologues or one-way diatribes instead of two-way dialogues. You talk past and over others. Leaders tend to be great talkers because they continually pitch their visions, strategies, products and services. Unfortunately, many leaders discover too late they are failing to connect with and influence others. They have communication blind spots, resulting in conversational delusions.

Here are three common conversational delusions, and what to do about them:

1. Why listen—I already understand their point of view.

Antidote: When you give people extra time to explain their ideas and listen without judgment, speak less and listen more, you learn about their perspectives, engender empathy, and create synergy. And when you listen with empathy, people want to listen to you, creating a virtuous circle.

2. Why include, involve or invite—I already have enough good ideas.

Antidote: When you involve people, invite them to suggest ways to make an idea or product even better, engage in inclusive conversation and write the ideas down for everyone to see, you tend to build relationships and achieve better results. Our brains are designed to be social. We need to belong. When we feel uninvited or rejected, our fear networks are activated, moving us into protective behavior. A sense of inclusion reduces protective behavior while promoting bonding.

3. Why ask—I already know what we need to do.

Antidote: When you open the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes, you help others buy in to the solution or course of action, even if it is different than what they proposed. So, when you need to solve a difficult problem, ask discovery questions, “What are your thoughts?” And listen closely to the answers to expand your frame of reference and gain new insights into needs and opportunities.

When we suffer from or encounter leadership psychosis, we tend to default to one of four hard-wired protect responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

These default responses prevent honest and productive sharing of information and opinion. I find that the fight response is the most damaging to relationships; sadly, it’s also the most common because it’s addictive. When you argue and win, your brain is flooded with adrenaline and dopamine, hormones that make you feel good, dominant, and even invincible—a feeling you want to replicate. So, you fight again, becoming addicted to fight and being right.

Many leaders excel at fighting for their point of view (right or wrong), ignorant of the damaging impact their behavior has on others. If one leader is getting high off his or her dominance, others are being drummed into submission—experiencing the fight, flight, freeze or appease responses that diminish their collaborative impulses.

Luckily, another hormone, oxytocin, can feel just as good as adrenaline: It’s activated by human connection and it opens up networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, increasing our ability to trust and share. As a leader, produce oxytocin in yourself and others, while avoiding spikes of cortisol and adrenaline in conversations.

While conversational default responses may treat the symptoms of the problem, they don’t address the cause; thus, they do not represent conversational cures.

We need Conversational Intelligence to know which conversations trigger primitive brain activity—such as instincts for fight, flight, freeze and appease—versus what brain activity sparks trust, integrity, strategic thinking, empathy, and synergy.

Conversational Intelligence enables us to enhance our relationships with others, overcome our addictions and delusions, and achieve sustainable results.


2014 Leadership 500




Judith E. Glaser, Chairman of The Creating WE Institute and CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., has been honored by with their  Leadership 500 Excellence Awards as one of 2014’s top 13 independant consultants, trainers and coaches in the country known for their thought leadership in the development of leadership in organizations globally. Judith was ranked as the top woman in this category.

As an Organizational Anthropologist, Judith’s unique approach to leadership development has enabled her to create state of the art, engaging and innovative approaches that enhance the leadership and growth capacity of C Suite leaders by elevating Conversational Intelligence® throughout the organization.

For the past 30 years, Leadership Excellence has identified and recognized the top 500 leadership organizations and their strategies and solutions in our yearly ranking issues. Now we are enabling YOU and YOUR team to become one of these recognized leaders.

Judith E. Glaser, on behalf of The Creating WE Institute and Benchmark Communications, Inc., is proud to receive this special honor.

Read the full award list here: