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How You Think is How You Lead: Roger Schwarz

Contributor: Liz Stiverson Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 to 9 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Roger Schwarz, who is CEO of Roger Schwarz and Associates, where he helps leaders and organizations attain better results by changing the way they communicate and work together. Friedman and Schwarz welcomed callers and talked about how great teams make work and the rest of life richer.

The following are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Stew Friedman: Roger, you work with clients in a model you call mutual understanding, which is based on a set of core values that are fundamental to the approach you bring to your work with leaders and others in organizations. What are those values?

Roger Schwarz: roger schwarzMutual learning is the approach that we believe makes for the most effective leadership in organizations and, I think, effective human behavior in general. The core values that guide mutual learning are transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability, and compassion. Everything we do as human beings occurs as a result of the values and assumptions from which we operate. What’s really in question is whether we are aware of the values and assumptions from which we’re operating, and how well they’re working for us.

SF: One of the things I find so compelling and powerful about your model of learning and change is that it really does apply to all aspects of human behavior in a social context, not just at work.

RS: It does. I almost always work with my clients in a work-related context, but I tell them that I don’t make a distinction between how I show up when I’m working with them as clients, how I show up when I’m working with my colleagues at Roger Schwarz and Associates or colleagues outside the organization, or how I show up when I’m simply being with friends or my family. That set of core values are ways I want to operate in the world at a fundamental level. I don’t draw boundaries about how I show up, even though I distinguish between work time, community time, and family time.

SF: In your work with clients, does the question of inconsistency about who they are or who they are not in different parts of life come up?

RS: When I work with clients, I’ll often give them a scenario that is purposefully ambiguous, where they’re in a conversation between two people about a presentation that didn’t go well. And one of the first questions clients almost always ask is, “Who reports to whom in this conversation?” I ask them why that’s important, and they say, “If Mike reports to Jennifer, I would do it this way, but if Jennifer reports to Mike, I would do it a different way.” That immediately brings up this idea that we should operate from different values depending upon the power dynamic in a relationship. That’s as opposed to saying – as we do to our clients – that if you’re operating from the same set of core values all the time, it’s essentially the same conversation whether the person you’re talking to has more power, less power, or the same amount of power as you have. If you have information to share, it’s relevant, irrespective of how much or how little the person opposite you has.

SF: Are you saying we should be speaking to our employees the same way we speak to our spouses and children?

RS: Yes. And when I say the same way, I mean that we should be transparent with them. We should talk with them in a way that helps them understand not only what we want, but how we’re thinking about the situation and how we’re feeling about it, so they understand what our reasoning is. We owe that to all the people we’re in relationships with. When you’re transparent by sharing your perspective and ask questions to see if the person opposite sees things the same way, you’re showing compassion by being curious and asking that person to be accountable for a response. If you come across with implicit or explicit judgment, it undermines your genuine curiosity, and makes other people respond defensively. Curiosity allows you to have conversations in a way that suspends judgment. Judgment is essentially taking information we already have and adding meaning before determining if that meaning is true. Suspending judgment is hard to do – the key is to first become aware when you’re making judgments.

SF: How can leaders and others in organizations get started on these conversations?

RS: I don’t think there’s one right way to do it – there are a number of ways that can work. You can take your staff to an off-site for a day, or you can add it to the weekly staff meeting agenda. I think the most important thing in either case is that your team understands why you’re trying to do this. You should be transparent with them about the fact that you’re trying to understand some of the instances where you didn’t get the results you wanted, and you’re willing to ask and answer questions. It’s also critical that you work from real examples. If you just talk in general terms about how you think you have different assumptions, you and your team will never really know if you’re talking about the same thing. Instead say, “Let’s take this situation we faced recently where we tried to make a decision or implement something and it didn’t go well, and let’s walk through it together and figure out how we got on different paths that led us to be ineffective.” Start by agreeing on the results you got – in terms of performance, working relationships, and individual well-being and work backwards from there. Mutual learning is a way of thinking that says, “I understand some things, and you understand some things. Let’s talk about what we understand, find where we see things differently, and learn about our differences and how we can use them to our benefit instead of being afraid of them.” It starts with thinking about the conversation – about what assumptions you, as a leader, have made, what values drive your expectations and how you feel – and approaching others with a goal not to try to convince them of anything, but to find out what they really think. Anyone can get better at this. If you have some inkling of curiosity as a human being, you have the wherewithal to develop compassion, transparency, and everything else you need for mutual learning.

Schwarz highlights a way of communicating that leads to strong relationships, but may be hard to implement in organizations or cultures with strong hierarchies or cultures where discussing feelings is not the norm. Have you had experiences talking about your values in the workplace? Did they help or hurt your progress and effectiveness? Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Roger Schwarz is the author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results and The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches. Hear more from him on Twitter @LeadSmarter.

Join Work and Life tomorrow, Tuesday, April 29 at 7 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Prasad Setty, VP of People Analytics and Compensation for Google, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the author of the ground-breaking Atlantic article that ignited a new national conversation on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author: Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School.

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