Why You Should Encourage Conflict


Fast Company / USA Read on fastcompany.com

Conflict is necessary for change; just make sure your team is fighting for the right ideas.

If you are not generating the right type of conflict, your organization may lack innovation.

Many of today’s organizational leaders avoid conflict because they’ve been trained to build cohesion in teams. They have gone to the outward bound type of team building exercises, done the trust falls, and have come away from it all with the misguided impression that their job is to ensure that the team gets along, that the more cohesive and connected the team the better the result, and that conflict is destructive.

fast-company-article-boxing-image-xsmallThe same leaders also often talk about igniting the “spark of innovation.” But we need friction in order to ignite sparks. Without healthy and productive conflict we can’t generate friction. Simply put:

  • no conflict = no friction = no sparks

When it’s Okay to Fight
The challenge is how to ignite enough of the right type of conflict to bring the best out of people.

We can become better at promoting healthy conflict by distinguishing between conflict with a person and conflict about his or her idea–between attacking an idea not the person behind it. It’s okay for your team to be fighting, so long as they are fighting about the right things: ideas.

How to Challenge an Idea
Challenge another person’s idea by thinking about the situation in terms of three points drawn onto a balloon: One point is you, the second is the other person, and the third is the person’s idea.

What happens when you squeeze two of the points together? The third gets pushed away. So if you close up the distance between you and the other person–and put some distance between you and the idea–you create resonance between you and the person.

By addressing a person’s perspective in this way, you are able to demonstrate your appreciation for the person while still challenging their idea. This approach may help prevent people from taking things personally.

What might it sound like when you express that an idea is not in alignment with your own thinking? Use any variation of these statements to highlight curiosity rather than judgment:

  • “I like your way of thinking, and your ideas are usually very creative. But I am really struggling with your current suggestion. What am I missing here?”
  • “I love working with you and I’m having difficulty understanding the value of the idea you just offered. Here are some considerations I feel we should make before running with your idea. Can we explore those together?”
  • “I want to like your idea, and right now I don’t. Would you help me understand why it makes sense for us?”
  • By asking questions such as these, you allow others to feel that you respect them and are debating their ideas rather than judging them because of their ideas. Doing so promotes healthy conflict, and others will not hesitate to bring you even those seemingly whacky ideas that prove to be invaluable.

By Colm Foster and Henry Evans

[Image: Flickr user Mike L Photo’s] Return to In the News

5 Business Books You Should Read This Spring


Inc. / USA Read on Inc.com

Why? They’re great. And they’ll help you become greater.

I promise they’re all good:

    1. Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter, by Henry Evans and Colm Foster. You lead all day, every day, but some moments really matter, and what you do in those moments makes all the difference.Short on theory (but not too short) and long on practical applications, Step Up is a great book for anyone who needs to know how to step up more often–and when you think about it, title or no title, we all need to step up more often.
    2. Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion, by Steve Yastrow. Though theoretically just a sales book, Ditch the Pitch delves into understanding people’s real needs and interests so you can make a genuine connection.Everyone gets hung up on perfecting an elevator pitch, but at its heart, business is two people coming together and extending trust. Yastrow shows how, if you want to influence and persuade, you don’t have to become a different person–you just need to adapt to those around you and let who you really are shine through.
    3. Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, by Yukari Iwatani Kane. If a steady diet of how-to books has left you feeling flat, read Haunted Empire. It’s a nonfiction book based on exceptional reporting that reads like a novel.If you think you know everything there is to know about Apple or Jobs, you’re wrong. Plus, Kane digs deeply enough into personalities that you’ll recognize parallels to yourself and your employees, which makes this a practical book after all.
    4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo. I know. There are tons of books and articles that use the TED Talk theme to help you improve your speaking and presentation skills.No problem. This is the best one. You’ll learn how to become a better speaker–and better yet, you’ll be excited about becoming a better speaker.Plus, you’ll find a slew of examples of Talks you can watch and learn from, even though that might take you on an hours-long journey down the TED Talk rabbit hole. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
    5. Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption, by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Samuel Ikua Gachagua. An American woman goes to Kenya, by chance meets a young orphan boy, and in time their lives are forever changed.Trite and clichéd? Hardly. Hope Runs is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Unflinching, thoughtful, and honest, it will definitely make you rethink what you’re doing with your life.

And it shows that all it takes to find a little more meaning in our lives is to walk through just one of the many doors that are already open but that we never seem to notice.

Until now.

By Jeff Haden

Image: Shutterstock Images

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Give Heat Like a Boss — and Take It Like a Champ


Men’s Health / USA Read on menshealth.com

Handled poorly, criticism at the office can spur lasting tension and grudges. “But if it’s handled right, negative feedback is a gift,” says Henry Evans, co-author of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter. Sometimes you have to dole out the pain, and sometimes you have to take it. Either way, here’s how to turn workplace heat into career-building success.


mens-health-boxing-gloves-thumbnailDon’t save it up
Confrontation sucks, which is why most people—even bosses—do it as rarely as possible. Instead they let it simmer and build until it explodes in the worst possible way, like an angry outburst at a meeting. Instead, handle it soon after the offending behavior has occurred, and deal with it calmly and privately, says Joshua Ehrlich, an executive coach based in New York. It’s the best way to ensure the receiver will respond constructively.

Focus on results
All workplace criticism should be tied to one of three things: “Goals, roles, and procedures,” says Ehrlich. If you impugn the guy’s character, he won’t listen—or he’ll just get angry. Also, there’s no point in telling him he’s incompetent—if he simply can’t do the job, then bring in HR. If he can do the job, use the so-called “Situation-Behavior-Impact” model: Describe the situation where the problem arose, then the behavior that created the problem, and then its impact. After that, make a specific request about how to resolve the situation or otherwise change course. Better yet, ask him how he’d fix the situation he’s created, and then ask him to act on it.

Do it more often
If your tennis coach only pointed out the problems with your backhand once a year, how effective would that be? Bosses—the coaches of the workplace—shouldn’t save up criticism for the annual performance review, Ehrlich says. It should be part of a regular and ongoing conversation about performance. And it should be heavily outweighed by praise, if possible. Ehrlich suggests maintaining a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative feedback: “Criticism will be received better if the subordinate feels you’re supportive of their success.”


Take a deep breath
Beware: Criticism feels like an attack, and your fight-or-flight reaction will kick in. A defensive or angry response is likely to backfire. So just take a moment to calm down. “It’s perfectly okay to say, ‘I’d like to think about this and get back to you. Could we set up a time to talk about this later so we don’t have any interruptions?’” says Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D, a corporate psychologist and professor at Antioch University.

Now, flip your script: Well-meaning criticism can help to pop the “bubble” of rosy self-perception that many of us are trapped in, says Ehrlich. “People deal with you based on what they think of you—not what you think they should think about you,” Evans adds. “It’s a good predictor of whether you’re given resources, promoted, or demoted.” Your critic is willing to risk confrontation to help you see outside that bubble.

Ask questions
Even if the criticism is delivered thoughtlessly, it might still have a grain of truth. Ask for details about what you’re doing wrong. “You’re trying to separate fact from fiction,” Kusy says.

If the criticizer is getting personal, take the edge off by asking how your misbehavior or performance misfires are tied to specific organizational goals, roles, and responsibilities, Ehrlich says. Or try a little jiu-jitsu and yield to the attack, he suggests: Admit to missteps, but don’t admit to a character flaw. Then get right back to business. (Ehrlich calls it “fogging.”)

Take action
If the critique is on target, then it’s time to face the music: Apologize and say exactly how you’l fix things, Evans says. You could even ask your supervisor to inform you next time he or she detects further trouble, Ehrlich adds. If the critique is inaccurate, that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Listen to the emotions behind it and try to empathize, Evans says. Ask yourself: Why did I make this guy frustrated or angry? What can I do to make it easier to work with him? You don’t have to acknowledge he’s right, but you can say you’re sorry he feels that way, Evans says.

If the critique is downright malicious—designed to humiliate or undermine you—you shouldn’t ignore it either, Evans says: “Silence is a passive endorsement of the behavior.” If it’s part of a pattern, then confront him on it and ask him to justify his actions or clarify his position. He’ll think twice before trying to hurt you again.

By Richard Sine

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5 Signs Your Organization May Have A Learning Disability


LinkedIn / USA Read on linkedin.com

Hi, my name is Henry Evans and our team gives organizations a competitive advantage. As consultants and thought partners we are sometimes in the painful position of watching our clients repeat limiting behaviors in a way which makes us scratch our heads.

Why is it that some organizations remain on a path of destruction, even when they have multiple opportunities to exit or change course along the way? They suffer in an endless loop of redundant dialogue, poor accountability, and they consistently make mind boggling mistakes.

Much has been written about individuals with learning disabilities, and we find that some organizations are seemingly Learning Disabled in their inability to remain sustainable.

These organizations “just don’t get it” and having coached and advised companies all over the world, we’ve identified;

learning dissabilityFive Signs which indicate a “Learning Disability” at the Organizational Level.

  1. Loving Legacy. Often, organizations who have been around a long time, are too resistant to change and lack agility.
    • Sounds like: “We know what we’re doing”. we’ve been doing this 50 years.”
    • Solution: Agree to keep your planning “future focused”. Your legacy provides some solutions and over time, is more useful as a backdrop for “creative contrasting” and also, for marketing (e.g. “trust us, we’ve been serving the market for 50 years”).
  2. No written strategy. Many organizations spend their time on their “core business” and “fighting fires”.
    • Sounds like: “We can either work on our future or meet current customer demands, we can’t do both”.
    • Solution: Challenge yourself and others to rise above this pressure and do both. If your competitors can only focus on one or the other, and your team does both, you will have a competitive advantage.
  3. No mistake goes unpunished. Many organizations expect perfection from their teams, insist on innovation, and then punish people who make mistakes.
    • Sounds like; “Come up with a new idea, but don’t make any mistakes, deviate from your current deliverables, or mess up”.
    • Solution: Allocate time for people to come up with new ideas. Have “new idea” contests”.
  4. Repeating the same mistakes. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing and expecting a different result”.
    • Sounds like: “It didn’t work. Let’s try “it” again.”
    • Solution: encourage people to make new and innovative mistakes. They will make mistakes anyway, let’s not be boring about it.
  5. Ignoring Trends: The world is changing rapidly, so is your sector, and next year will be bring an even faster rate of change then this year.
    • Sounds like: “Yeah, everyone else is going to mobile, be should still stick to desktops.”
    • Solution: Listen to and observe consumer trends. Be more agile than your competitors.

Advice: Look and listen for these five signs in your meetings and/or e-mail strings. Reverse The Momentum of these interactions so that they focus on a solution. Reversing the momentum of negative interactions is a leadership competency which can be demonstrated by people at any level of an organization. Why shouldn’t it be you?

By Henry Evans

Image courtesy of Google Images

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Five Ways to Leverage (and Love) Your Pessimists


LinkedIn / USA Read on linkedin.com

Hi, my name is Henry Evans. I’m a five time CEO, global consultant, and a recovering optimist.

Life was going really well for me. My father practiced meditation every day (82, and still practicing). Through his example and those of my teachers and mentors I learned not to sweat small stuff, reserving energy for real problems: ill relatives; my own health; or Spotify not loading properly when I NEED to hear Miley Cyrus’ latest track.

My optimism attracted friends, significant others, and got me invited to great parties. I became a first-time CEO at 25, was a competitive martial artist, carried a positive attitude, and built a company that made it to the top of its industry within 5 years. We were enjoying our 10th year of double digit EBITDA , had bleeding-edge technology, and all was good. I felt we could do anything and so did our people. As Stacy Colino wrote, “emotions, like germs, are contagious.”

I had the company highly leveraged as we launched an innovative online client interface. I refused bank loan offers; thinking their money was too expensive. We had such strong cash reserves that we self-financed construction of our software. Fueled by optimism, I believed we would replenish our cash in 4-6 months. Each year I had failed to address the alarmingly high percentage of topline revenue from only two clients, thinking, “this will be the year we diversify our revenue streams”. In addition, I took our marketing and sales folks away from their responsibilities, directing them to focus on software implementation. I felt that rebuilding our pipeline again would be easy with this great product. I needed all hands on deck for an on-time product launch.

Meanwhile, I had advisors, particularly in my Vistage group (a leading CEO think tank), telling me to use “OPM” (other people’s money) to finance the deal and maintain my cash reserves. They also advised me to mitigate high client concentration and bring in new clients (this I did try to do, but failed). Lastly, they told me to ABM (always be marketing). I heard them, and knew they had my best interests at heart, but my optimistic voice was louder, saying, “you do this your way, it will work”.

Optimism is good. Unbridled optimism can be deadly.

We launched on time, and the software worked. Launch was Monday, September 10, 2001. The next morning, Tuesday, 9/11, the world faced a new problem. So did my company: No cash reserves; Only two clients representing 75% of our topline revenue; and No New Business. Within a year, my industry-leading organization was reorganizing under Chapter 11.

Friends and colleagues said it “wasn’t my fault”, and that “thousands of companies failed because of 9/11”, but I knew better. My optimism, which had served us well for many years, had us so highly leveraged that we couldn’t withstand the following economic collapse.


One of our client organizations was looking to make a significant acquisition of a company whose topline revenue was larger than their own. The board of directors agreed that the deal made sound financial sense. At our suggestion, one of the directors suggested that in addition to the financial and operational assessments, they perform a cultural assessment as well. The concern was that the acquisition target’s executive team had been profitable and independently owned for 75 years, and may not be open to active oversight. At first, the director raising the concern was perceived as “not fully understanding the financial upside of the deal”, and was a “worry wart”. After a few rounds of making the suggestion, the board agreed to a full cultural assessment of the target company. In fact, our assessment revealed that while the owner/sellers were fully on board with acquisition taking place, most of the executive team who would be responsible for sustainable success, post-acquisition, were already looking for other work. Ultimately, the deal went through with a cultural integration plan, and a strategy to retain top talent, which in the end, worked.

Now, about those pessimists . . . In the book I co-authored with Dr. Colm Foster, (friend, colleague, and thought-leader in Emotional Intelligence), we give you research-based advice on the

Five Ways to Leverage (and Love) Your Pessimists:

  1. Get a pessimist on your team. They offer perspectives that your optimists might be missing (or outright avoiding).
  2. Invite their input. Ask them where the obstacles or roadblocks are in executing the plan.
  3. Publicly appreciate them. That’s right; thank them for their input and contribution. They’ll feel appreciated and encouraged to speak up again.
  4. Use our “state it once” rule. Pessimism offered once may be pragmatic and thought- provoking. Repeated pessimism is a buzz kill, and may be counter-productive.
  5. Don’t put pessimists in leadership roles. No one wants to be led into battle by someone telling them they’re going to die.

Some pessimists in your life should be ignored. Ones who say, “don’t start your own company”, “there’s too much competition”, “you’re too young”, or “your ideas won’t work”. Never let people derail your dreams, but invite and listen to input that disagrees with your instinct until that instinct has been vetted against reliable data and peer perspectives.

Advice: Next time you have a “great idea”, invite a pessimist to lunch and listen carefully to what’s said.

By Henry Evans

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Leaders Radiate Competence, Shine In Tough Moments


Investor’s Business Daily / USA Read on investors.com

Everyone faces dilemmas at work. Adept execs turn quandaries into accomplishments. How they proceed:

  • Lengthen the fuse. We all work with difficult colleagues, and “We’re conditioned to react,” said Judith Orloff, author of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life.  What if you don’t fire back, instead keeping the bigger goal in mind while taking a minute to formulate a thoughtful response?  “You win half the battle when you don’t react,” Orloff told IBD.
  • Concede worthy points. “Identify the people in the workplace you react to,” Orloff said.Maybe it’s Miss Nitpick or Mr. Opposing View.Take them by surprise by agreeing with aspects of their arguments.”  I like to let people be right. It takes all the negative energy out of the equation,” Orloff said.
  • Balance your act. Being conciliatory doesn’t mean being a doormat. The trick is learning when to let something go and when to exert your opinion. “You’re not fighting. You’re not struggling all the time. You’re flowing,” Orloff said.
  • Handle fury. Workplace anger shouldn’t be totally taboo.”It is the pointy end of the spear. It has a purpose,” said Colm Foster, co-author of Step Up : Lead in Six Moments That Matter.  Irritation signals that a situation needs to be addressed. Dial down your visceral response. Lean back and take a breath. Keep your palms open, not in clenched-fist position.  The physical shift de-escalates the situation. “It sends the signal to your brain that there’s no danger here,” Foster said, and the situation can be handled intellectually.
  • Lead in carefully. When disagreements arise, start with an acknowledgment of the working relationship.Foster suggests saying: “You’re very creative and your ideas have been important to the company. But this one I’m struggling with.”  Then talk it out.  “The key to leadership is in the language you use,” he said.
  • Unfreeze the smiles. On the opposite end of the spectrum, colleagues can be polite to a fault. That’s terminal niceness, according to Foster and co-author Henry Evans. “No conflict, no friction, no sparks,” they write. Handled adeptly, a vigorous debate illuminates issues and opens minds.
  • Take the heat. The easiest way to postpone a decision? Ask your team for more data.Overusing that foot-dragging dodge only weakens your stature.Don’t be afraid to take risks. A reasonable amount of worry goes with the territory. “Waiting until you’re 100% sure is the root of indecisiveness,” Foster said.
  • Move the ball. Ever suffer through conference room deja vu?  That’s when one person identifies a problem, then “five people say the same thing in different language,” Foster said.Those are well-intentioned but misguided contributions. “They’re trying to get heard,” he said.  Savvy leaders institute a state-it-once rule. Foster suggests pushing the dialog forward by reminding attendees, “That part of the conversation is done.”
  • Lift them. Professionals who make others’ lives easier earn respect. “Ironically, the key to shining is putting others first,” said Andy Core, author of Change Your Day, Not Your Life. “When you help others reach their goals and become their best, you’ll usually find that the same things happen to you,” he said.
  • Be a rebounder.  Forget perfection. “What sets thrivers apart is the fact that after a fall, they forgive themselves, get back up and continue the journey forward,” Core said.

By Sonja Carberry

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Henry Evans Shares Corporate Experience with SMU Cox Students



For immediate release

Henry Evans Shares Corporate Experience with SMU Cox Students

Dallas, TX/USA – March 11, 2014

Henry Evans, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Dynamic Results, LLC, presented a seminar titled Accountability Principles for Dynamic Results on Monday, March 10, 2014 as part of the Edwin L. Cox Business Leadership Center’s programming for Cox MBA students. Through the BLC, Cox grad students gain insight into various facets of business leadership. BLC instructors are business leaders drawn from prominent national and international companies, who come to the SMU campus to share their extensive knowledge with Cox students. BLC Instructors include representatives from Dynamic Results, LLC, Accenture, Container Store, Grant Thornton, LLC, Texas Instruments and many more. Although no class credit is given for attendance, students consistently rate what they have learned from BLC instructors as extremely valuable, and many students say that the BLC was a major factor in their decision to attend Cox.

Mr. Evans earned a Business Leadership Teaching Excellence Award for his presentation, which means that the students attending rated the seminar as a 4.8 or higher out of a possible “perfect” rating of 5.

For additional information on the BLC visit our website at http://www.cox.smu.edu/web/blc/blc


The Business Leadership Center at the Cox School of Business, SMU

Genevieve Meek, Program Manager


[email protected]

Cox School of Business, PO Box 750333, Dallas, TX 75275-0333

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Consultant’s ‘Glossary of Failure’ gets Down to the Nitty Gritty


Dallas Morning News / USA Read on dallasnews.com

When it comes to accountability, the devil is in the details. Be explicit in your communication or be prepared to disappoint or be disappointed.

That’s the message from Henry Evans, who makes his living coaching executives.

“People fail to meet expectations when those expectations are ambiguous, even when they have the highest intentions in the world,” he says.

dallas-morning-news-thumbnailThe 46-year-old founder and managing partner of Dynamic Results LLC tells clients to banish such terms as:

ASAP. I’ll do my best. I’ll get right on it. The end of the day. Let’s do something new and bold. Let’s do a better job. Let’s improve our service levels. Let’s increase sales.

These are all part of his “glossary of failure” — murky language land mines that lead to trouble because they lack specificity.

“What do you mean you thought ASAP meant next week?” he says in a mock conversation. “It meant by tomorrow, 5 p.m. Dallas time.”

Dynamic Results is a boutique consultancy with annual revenue approaching $3 million that Evans started 10 years ago in Dallas. It teaches corporate clients how to make their organizations more accountable by making the accepted lexicon highly specific.

“In business we use language like We need to beat our competition to market. What does that mean?” says Evans, who now lives in San Francisco. He teaches people to outline a highly focused goal and then reverse-engineer a timeline to achieve it.

The process has to start with the top brass and filter down, he says. Any changes made by mid-managers are apt to be vetoed if the bigwigs aren’t on board.

“We’re working with a $10 billion commercial and consumer products company that wanted us to train 2,000 middle managers,” Evans says. “We refused to take the work unless we had the top 26 executives for six months first.”

In 2008, Evans published Winning With Accountability: The Secret Language of High Performing Organizations as a quick take on the basics.

“This is a 75-minute read,” he says, holding up the 96-page paperback that has more than 70,000 copies in distribution.

There are four pieces to Evans’ accountability puzzle:

Clear expectations.

Specific date and time.

Designating a person or people responsible for getting it done.

Sharing information with everyone who needs to know it.

People should stop and think about fuzzy terms they routinely use. Need help discovering yours? Ask the people you work with. Look at the email you sent yesterday afternoon and see what information potholes you created.

Clear objective

Every year, Evans does a pro bono project. This year’s recipient was Kids-U, formerly Dallas Community Lighthouse, which provides after-school education in low-income housing communities.

Diana Baker, Kids-U executive director, says she learned to clearly state her objective first and then add the reasoning behind it.

“This has helped me not only deal more professionally and respectfully with my staff, but it has also helped me to go straight to the ‘ask’ with potential donors for our nonprofit group,” she says.

Janine Steiner Jovanovic, chief executive of RealPage, a Dallas software provider for rental housing, has been working with Evans for nearly a decade. She and her sales staff have learned to tell customers exactly what results they can expect.

This “has led us to dominate our space and maintain a 98 percent client retention rate,” she says.

Terri Sue Wensinger, president of Snap! Event Productions, thinks Evans’ accountability message might be just the ticket for several corporate events she’s planning.

Her favorite takeaway: “When you send an email, tell the person when you want something,” Wensinger says. “Instead of saying, ‘This is in your court. Please get back to me,’ say, ‘Please get back to me by 3 p.m. on Friday.’ Then if they miss the deadline, ‘You can say, ‘Hey, you missed the deadline.’”

Processing data

Information overload is a huge component of the problem.

We’re being asked to process 30 times more information in a day than people in the workforce handled in 1985, Evans says.

Rapidly rising rates of stress-related illness are proof that our brains haven’t miraculously evolved to process this surge in data, he says. “We’re trying to shove 20 pounds of garbage into a 10-pound bag.”

Evans says he’s an obsessive-compulsive personality — highly detail-oriented but not to the point of a disorder.

All of his time mechanisms — including his watch with two time zones, iPhone and computers — are set to the atomic clock. So when he says he’ll call at 11 a.m., you won’t hear from him at 10:59 or 11:01.

“A lot of my clients answer the phone laughing, saying, ‘I knew it had to be you,’” Evans says. “I’m trying to model a standard for them. If you’re in a leadership role, you don’t go up in front of your people and say something haphazardly and then not do it. You lose all of your leadership credibility and you might never gain it back.

“You say, ‘Here’s what I’m doing, when I’m doing it and I’m letting you all know it so that I’m on the hook for it.’”

Henry Evans

Title: Founder and Managing Partner, Dynamic Results LLC

Age: 46

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Residence: San Francisco

Personal: Married

Interests: Skydiving, meditating, reading; he’s also a mixed martial arts referee in Texas.

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Leading With Accountability


Irish Director / Ireland

The higher you go on the organisational chart the more responsibility you have and the less accountability you may have. Leadership expert Henry Evans suggests some self-generated accountability might be in order.

Henry Evans has been working with C-suite executives and organisations for many years, through his Dallas-based company Dynamic Results, and is author of Winning with Accountability, a practical step-by-step guide to help organisations improve performance by creating a strong culture of accountability. The book is required reading in many multinational corporations, and executive MBA courses.

Winning with Accountability forms just a small part of a wider programme he employs when working with CEOs, company presidents and other high-level executives, on introducing the accountability model into their organisations.

Indeed, in the move towards an accountable organisation, Evans emphasises the importance of the change coming from the top down, and has been known to turn away clients who do not understand the importance of this.

“Top executives need to be demonstrating and exhibiting these accountability behaviours themselves, before they request it of anyone else in their organisations,” he says.

The accountability method employed by Evans is, he explains, deceptively straightforward. “It has strong elements of emotional intelligence, but it’s intellectually simple and behaviouraly complex.

“When you’re in a leadership role especially at the C-level your people are emulating what you do, so you yourself are affecting the culture of the organisation in every interaction, actively or passively,” he continues.

“Our theory is that, the higher you go on the organisational chart, the more responsibility you have and the less accountability you may have,” says Evans. “That’s because there are fewer and fewer people who are willing to hold you truly to account. What that means is if you want to be more effective at C-level you have to be more willing to self-generate accountability. And one of the best practices for self-generating accountability at that level is to proactively communicate your commitment to others, in a very unsolicited way.

“In my experience, when I first step in to work with a CEO or the people reporting to them – let’s say the upper two or three tiers on the organisational chart – they have this laundry list of things they should be doing, things that are critical to the company’s success, but that other people in the organisation don’t know about.”

Because these are driven and accomplished people, they have a very high confidence that they will execute around these things, says Evans. “While often they are executing around many of these things, without an exception so far in my career I’ve found them also to be human, and to have things around which they are not.

“So one of the ways I think we’re able to help executives at that level perform at an even higher level is by getting them comfortable with the idea of letting other people know what they’re working on, and encouraging people to follow up with them on those things.”

It is not uncommon in organisations for people to have no idea what their leaders are doing much of the time, says Evans. “That’s a real liability people at the top sometimes have. They have great innovative ideas, they see the path and the journey that will get them to the execution of these ideas, but they’re not always as masterful at communicating those on a timeline, and in a way that brings everyone else along.”

A healthy nervousness

In order to get this across to clients, Evans asks them to look back at a time in their career when they were reporting to a difficult manager or a difficult board of directors. “We can all relate to a time earlier in our career when we worked for somebody, and when we were going to go to see that person we felt a little bit nervous in our stomach – a physical sensation that we got when we were going to see that person. Because we knew that they were going to hold us accountable for whatever our responsibilities were.

“As we move up the organisational chart in our careers we experience that feeling less and less, because there aren’t as many people who can hold us accountable – or are willing to. What we try to do is to help our clients to self-generate that feeling.

“An action you can take to start doing that is to look through the important things that you’re responsible for doing in, say, the next 30–45 days, or perhaps in the next quarter of the company’s activity. Then, send out a memo to key stakeholders saying: ‘Here’s the things that I’m going to be doing’. Use the four pieces of our accountability puzzle (see panel) for each of these commitments.

“So you are saying: ‘Here’s what I’m going to be doing, here’s what it looks like, here’s this date in time when it’s going to be finished, I’m the owner of the task, or here’s who the owner is, and I wanted you guys to know about it’.”

According to Evans, this action should generate a healthy nervousness. “And I’m not talking about the kind of nervousness that makes you sick or causes heart disease. I’m not talking about work-related stress here. I’m talking about the healthy kind of nervousness you have before you attempt to something that is truly challenging.”

The veil of ambiguity

It is not a method that will appeal to all, recognises Evans, as there are those leaders who rather like the comfort of ambiguity. “Of course, there are people who love to hide behind what we call the ‘veil of ambiguity’, and some people are successful in doing that. The people we take on as clients are people who don’t aspire to be one of those people.”

To create a truly accountable organisation, an environment of emotional safety must be created, says Evans, where subordinates feel they are in a position to hold you accountable for your commitments, and are rewarded when they do.

“There’s a lot of emotional intelligence woven into our accountability method,” says Evans. “One of the things we communicate to clients that we’re working with is this: ‘Your primary role for the next year is not to manufacture silicon parts or deliver financial targets or build automobiles, it’s to create emotional safety.

“Your focus is going to be on people having a comfortable feeling when they walk into your office to give you bad news, on ensuring they feel safe and encouraged to talk to you about a mistake that they have made – or a mistake that you have made – or something that is wrong in the supply chain, or in the delivery to a customer. This is so that you are not positioned to be the last person to find out’.

“This is really about creating the safety for people to do so. We talk a lot to leaders about how one violation, one slip, can set you back months, even years, of openness. It is quite common for those leaders who use their title as the reason people should be performing to be the last people to know what’s actually happening in their own company,” he says.

They also tend to have a higher attrition rate, says Evans. “It is like the old adage, that people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders. Now, in the current recession people are likely to hold on to their jobs, but that becomes a problem when there’s the inevitable upturn.

“At these times a lot of leaders legitimately and accurately realise that they don’t need to change or improve that much. People aren’t going anywhere. However, that puts them in a seriously handicapped position once the market starts to upswing, if their competitors have more sophisticated and developed leaders.

“So, just as you would refine your processes and your systems during a recession, you should be refining your relationships, you should be refining your abilities and skills around them so that, when the upswing comes, you are better equipped to capitalise on the opportunities.”

Salutary advice for the many leaders with their heads down, busily trying to lead their organisations through the current environment.

Printed with Permission: Irish Director Magazine, Issue 19, Spring 2011.

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Meet the CEO Coaches


Businessworld / India

Citius, Altius, Fortius — that’s what India’s business chiefs need, and that’s what CEO trainers give

The Gurus

But who are these people who make the CEOs what they are or what they want to be — confident, assured, poised? Meet the CEO coaches.

They are impartial observers who push the CEOs to exploit their potential. They don’t pass judgements; only point out strengths and weaknesses. They help others understand how things can be done differently. Ask them what they do and their most common reply is: “Hold up the mirror to the CEO.”

Their guiding principle is: “Ask, don’t tell.” They help the CEOs understand problems rather than give solutions. By asking open-ended questions they facilitate the process of self-discovery and self-motivation.

To Be Or Not To Be Coached

“Though a new phenomena by that name now, CEO coaching has existed in India for the past 30-40 years,” says [Gopal] Shrikanth. Earlier, there were strategic advisors who were essentially management gurus and expat professors who, having spent their formative years in India, would combine a trip to India once or twice a year with some professional linkup with their former batchmates.

… One of the reasons behind asking for external help is age. CEOs today are no longer old men who have spent decades in the industry and learnt through experience. Instead, they are young, mostly in early-to-mid 40s, have all the right degrees and management jargon to spew, full of energy and positive attitude, but often lack the sheer gravitas needed to make the cut. Moreover, expatriates posted in India as well as Indians dealing with foreign bosses now need to understand a lot of cross-cultural nuances. …

One-Man Army

Since coaching is all about the rapport that the coach shares with the CEO, most coaches work with miniscule, boutique teams and are largely a one-man army… CEO coaches are high-flyers who often visit a city or a country just for a half-day session with a client. The rates charged are therefore on a per-hour basis and normal sessions rarely go beyond one hour. At the CEO level, the rates range between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2.4 lakh per hour with expats and global coaches commanding a fee which is on the higher side. The duration of the training and length of the sessions also vary from level to level. At the CEO level the engagements are usually for a year and there are one-hour sessions once a month.

Be it a face-to-face meeting, a telephone call or a Skype session, an increasing number of CEOs are looking for a friend, philosopher and guide, in short, the CEO coach.

[excerpts from Businessworld, 25 October 2010]

by Shalini S. Sharma

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