It’s snowing at Goat Leap, my tree house on Orcas Island. That’s where I am now, as I write to you. My dogs Dobby, Tallulah, and Hamish – two labradoodles and a Cairn terrier - and I are cozy. The fire is toasty, I’ve enjoyed my coffee with whipped cream and there’s a roast in the oven. It smells heavenly. I read somewhere, “I’m not anti-social. I’m pro-solitude.” Amen to that! I’m in my favorite place for solitude.
Each December, I think about what to share with you. I wrote in Fierce Conversations: “Life is curly. Don’t try to straighten it out.” 2015 has been a decidedly curly year and is in no danger of straightening out in 2016. So let’s talk about curls and how to navigate them. Those we welcome and those we don’t.
Curls can be wonderful. An unexpected romance, a financial windfall, a promotion. For me, stepping back into the company as CEO was a welcome curl. Meeting with clients, giving talks, writing articles, hanging out with our team and planning for the future is pure pleasure, and if you’ve ever been in our Seattle offices, you know what a warm, welcoming culture we have.
Our mission is to transform the conversations central to our clients’ success. Our vision is to change the world – one conversation at a time. I had wondered now and then if the notion of fierce conversations, those conversations in which we come out from behind ourselves, into our conversations and make them real, would remain relevant in the years since Fierce was founded. Turns out, they are increasingly relevant for individuals, companies, this world we share.
Our world is struggling. Weather related tragedies like the tornadoes in Texas must be navigated after they occur. No one is to blame. But others are entirely man-made. Shootings, Paris, corporations that have broken the trust of their customers and the public, the current political debate in the U.S.
Words matter. What we set in motion. “I shot him because I believed my life was in danger.” “We can cheat the emissions tests.” “Those who don’t believe as I do deserve to die.” “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
And at home. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing!” Followed by a weekend of stony silence.
We all do or say things we regret from time to time, but shouldn’t we be solving problems together, rather than being the problem ourselves?
When I returned to Fierce, my leadership team and I identified a few things we wanted to transform. We began by modeling what we espouse to our clients: radical transparency and human connectivity, which includes the four objectives of a fierce conversation:
- Interrogate reality
- Provoke learning
- Tackle tough challenges
- Enrich relationships
Radical transparency: Telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at all times, no matter what, even if it makes you look bad. Also uncovering and addresses mokitas, the Papua New Guinea word for that which everyone knows but no one talks about.
The “truth” is complicated. There are multiple, competing truths existing simultaneously on just about every topic under the sun. Leaders can’t see everything that’s going on and be aware firsthand of every broken or limping segment of an organization. What don’t you know? Who does know? Are you sure you’ve got the whole picture?
What realities might you need to interrogate at work or at home? What mokitas are in your way? What about this world we share? If a problem exists, it exists whether we talk about it or not, so we might as well talk about it. And as Carl Jung said, “What we do not make conscious emerges later as fate.”
At Fierce, we believe that a leader’s job is to get it right, not be right, which requires heaping handfuls of humility, modesty, and recognizing that, while we may object to reality, we cannot successfully argue with it.
When I returned to Fierce, we had frequent, all-company meetings during which we gained the perspective of everyone in the company, including our remote employees, which helped ensure that we made the best possible decisions for the company going forward.
Human connectivity: If you are a leader, your most valuable currency is not money, intelligence, charisma, self sufficiency, industry experience, or the ability to analyze a case study and read a profit and loss statement.
Your most valuable currency is relationship. It is emotional capital. To realize the next wave of growth for yourself, your family, and your organization, you must introduce a new element to your existing skill set - relevant and appropriate warmth and human connectivity.
Consider leaders you know or know of, who conduct business as usual. Many lead with their intelligence, experience, title. Others lead with a spectacular ability to spin a story in order to motivate employees to work 24/7 or to hype a stock. Such leadership is temporary.
Notice the difference between those individuals and leaders to whom people willingly commit at a deep level. Big difference.
Human connectivity is the next frontier for exponential growth, for individuals and for companies, and the only sustainable competitive edge. In fact, if you want to be a great leader, you must gain the capacity to connect with your employees and your clients – at a deep level – or lower your aim.
So connect I did. I began by having one-to-one meetings with everyone at Fierce, which took a full month. I learned a great deal and the staff, particularly those who had come on board when I was no longer running the company, had an opportunity to size me up. The leadership team conducted insight interviews with our clients. They told us what they liked, what they wanted more of. They are savvy and smart, measuring the results of training in all things “fierce.” We love them. Literally, love them.
There is a clear, compelling line between leadership and fierce leadership. It’s okay to cross the line. In fact, it’s essential. The progress of the world depends on our progress as individuals now. It’s not up to someone else. It’s up to you. And me.
I leave you with an image and a quote from T. S. Eliot.
The image: Imagine yourself in a canoe. If you put your paddle in the water at the right angle for just one or two seconds, the canoe will change direction. A conversation can be like this. A few words that connect us. A question. Truth.
The quote is from T.S. Eliot:
““For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
Yes, please. Another voice would be helpful, for all of us, for our families, our companies, this world we share. Your voice, sharing what is true for you and inviting it from others.
We navigate the curliness of life one conversation at a time. Make them fierce.
With fierce affection,