When I was growing up, I spent many weekends camping with my Boy Scout Troop in pursuit of my Eagle Scout badge. One thing I remember about those trips was the campfires and the stories we told. From the scary to the hilarious, those stories created an environment as we entertained each other. No devices, no distractions, just stories.
We may live in a different time, but the power of story remains an important part of memory, of persuasion, and of leadership.
What should a leader do when she arrives at a company that is struggling?
The founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies recently wrote a book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies to answer these and other questions. Paul J. Zak, PhD, is also a professor at Claremont Graduate University. He recently answered some of my questions about his extensive research into trust. His book is fascinating and contributes to the body of work on trust and organizational culture.
Survey of 200,000 employees: 71% of companies have mediocre to poor cultures.
In one part of the book, you tell a story of walking into an office full of cobwebs, old furniture, and a struggling culture. What are some of the signs of a low-trust culture?
Distrust drains employees’ energy, so people move slow, think slow, and lack a passion for their jobs. Organizations with low trust also have lower profits, so offices often look out-of-date, even while new employees show up as turnover tends to be high. We have also shown that people take more sick days when they work at low-trust companies, so one sees empty desks. All these factors are signs of a low-trust syndrome and a downward cycle of productivity, innovation, and profits.
“High-trust companies invest in employee health and productivity.” –Paul J. Zak
Why is a healthy culture based on trust so vitally important to its success?
Companies are, first and foremost, people. As social creatures, we naturally form teams to accomplish goals together. Extensive research shows that teams are more effective when they have a clear objective and when team members are trustworthy. Trust reduces the frictions that can arise in teams so getting things done takes less effort and as a result more and better work is done. By measuring brain activity while people work, we’ve shown that people are more relaxed when they trust their colleagues. They innovate more and shed the stress from work faster than those in low-trust companies. Creating a culture of trust provides powerful leverage on performance because it harnesses what our brains are designed to do: cooperate with others in teams. And the neuroscience I’ve done shows how to create a culture of trust in a system so it has the maximum effect on brain and behavior.
Workers in high trust organizations are paid an average of $6,450 more.
My whole life I’ve been a student of success. Many people are surprised to learn that it’s not always technical expertise, extensive training, or even the highest I.Q. that creates sustainable success. There are a range of other skills that are critically important.
Author Judith Glaser is an expert in conversations. Her new book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results makes the latest research from neuroscience accessible and practical for all of us to apply immediately. Judith is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. whose clients range from American Express to IBM. She helps people boost Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ). I reached out to her to learn more about her work.
“Everything happens through conversations!” -Judith E. Glaser
Most of us think of conversations as casual, but you reveal that they are much more than what they appear. What has your research revealed about the power and importance of conversation?
Conversational Intelligence is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations, we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow to each other, and to create our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations.
Conversations are not just the words we use when engaging with others. Our 35 years of research shows that conversations are the golden thread that keeps human beings connected relationally, neuro-chemically, and energetically. Our brain has the ability to ‘signal’ us when the connection feels like ‘distrust’ or when we feel ‘trust.’
Conversations happen like this:
Our conversations take place against the backdrop of our brain chemistry. Our state of mind – and our level of trust and distrust – directly impacts what kinds of conversations we have and how we interpret them. Equally so, our conversations impact how much we trust someone, or don’t.
Brain chemistry is like a symphony, moving us to higher or lower levels of trust or distrust as we converse with others. The brain is where trust lives or dies, and if we are threatened during our conversations, we activate the distrust networks, and if we are feeling trust, we activate the trust networks. According to Angelika Dimoka, Temple University, Fox School of Business, distrust takes place in the lower brain (the amygdala and limbic areas) and trust takes place in the higher brain (the prefrontal cortex).
In other words, the distrust, or fear network, closes down most of our thinking brain, giving power to our emotional and action brain, while the trust network opens up access to our executive brain – the neo-cortex and prefrontal cortex.
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” -Carl Jung
All human beings, from the time they were born, can access 3 Levels of Conversation. We are hardwired for all 3.
Level I: Informational conversations are transactional – we are most interested in giving or receiving information. These conversations remain at Level I, and don’t activate fear networks, stimulate questions about the impact of the transaction, nor lead to deep exploration of consequences or building strategies and plans. This level is informational.
Level II: Positional conversations are designed to bring clarity, understanding and influence how the other person feels and thinks. We advocate our own opinions and inquire into others’ perspectives. If this inquiry is based on shared curiosity and respect, conversations will be healthy, and the networks of trust will be activated.
But if one or more participants are more focused on making a point or taking a stand, conversations turn to debate, signaling to our brain that we are dealing not with a ‘friend’ but a ‘foe.’ In response, the brain releases cortisol and closes down, or the amygdala becomes hijacked.
Copyright Judith Glaser. Used by permission.
Conversational Intelligence enables us to learn to control this release. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we can instead “wait and see” how the other person reacts. If the other person shows trust, fairness, or reciprocity, then we can sustain healthy brain chemistry and build trust, creating a culture where people are open to share, discover and co-create.
Level III: Relational Conversations build meaning and create connections, which release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. When we care about what others think and feel, our brain senses not only safety; the prefrontal cortex ‘reads’ oxytocin as a signal to trust and open up. As a result, our conversations become innovative, co-creational and energizing. These conversations are the most likely to result in higher levels of partnering, trust, and innovation.
“Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -J.F.K.
Today, many marketing leaders report that they are having less impact and are not satisfied in their jobs. That may be somewhat surprising since marketing methods and capabilities are in the midst of exciting changes and the opportunities are like never before.
Research: only 44% of marketing leaders satisfied with career.
Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey Partner, and Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, just conducted the most extensive research ever onwhat drives marketers’ business impact and career success. What drives impact? What does it take to thrive in marketing today? With data spanning 170 countries and over 8,600 leaders, Thomas and Paddy distilled the results into what it really takes to drive customer and company value.
Your research revealed that most senior marketers aren’t satisfied with their career paths. Why not? What’s different for them than they expected?
That’s right. Only 44% of marketers are satisfied with their careers—and in the 360-degree data, marketers’ bosses, when comparing the career success of all their direct reports, put them last. We think there are two reasons. First, as customer experts, they likely think they should have more influence on key business decisions rather than being limited to decisions on advertising and promotion. Recent research by Frank Germann, Peter Ebbs and Rajdeep Grewal shows that they’re right: having a CMO in the C-suite and having an influential marketing department do help companies become more customer-focused, increasing business performance. Secondly, they lack job security. While average S&P 500 CEO tenure is six years plus, average US CMO tenure is only four years and possibly decreasing: search firm Spencer Stuart recently reported it was down to forty-four months in 2015.
“Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.” -Warren Bennis
You say that leadership skills matter more than technical marketing skills. I passionately agree. Is there a certain time when this matters more in a career? How do marketers balance the constant need to stay up with new technologies with the need to learn leadership skills?
Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing, and many marketers underinvest in leadership skills.
As a junior marketer, most of your effort will inevitably go into becoming excellent in the particular technical area you’re working on. As you become more senior, you have to achieve more through other people. But at all stages, it’s important to keep developing your broader business and leadership skills.
Our evidence is that many, perhaps most, senior marketers are getting so sucked into the ever-changing technical issues that they lose sight of the bigger picture and the need to build and mobilize a great team, keep it aligned around the CEO’s agenda, spend time with their non-marketing colleagues who mainly determine the quality of the customer experience, and so on.
As a senior marketer, you should aim to be a leader of leaders. You need enough understanding of the latest technical developments to hire the best people, mobilize them, align them with the strategy, and constructively challenge them when necessary. But your main role isn’t to try to keep fully up to speed on the technicalities (an impossible task); it’s to ensure that, as a group, the team contributes as much as possible to the development and execution of the strategy. Crucially, that includes mobilizing your boss and your non-marketing colleagues as well as your team (and yourself).
Functional skills and leadership skills matter. Getting the balance right is a big challenge, but really important for both marketing and the company.
“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” -Joss Whedon
You distill your findings into 12 traits that drive success, and you put them in 4 categories (boss, colleagues, team, yourself). That’s basically an internal 360 degree view from where you sit in an organization. What are some of the symptoms that demonstrate you have it wrong, e.g., you’re focusing too much on the boss and not enough on the team or otherwise have your balance out of whack?
That’s exactly right about the 360 degree view. Our beef with most work on leadership is that it’s only about managing your subordinates and perhaps yourself. But most leaders – in fact, everyone up to CXO level – also need to manage their relationships with their colleagues and bosses. The traditional picture of leadership is incomplete except for perhaps the CEO – and even the CEO is accountable to the chairman and the board.
The main way in which senior marketers get this balance wrong is by spending most of their time inside the marketing department managing the team’s activities rather than walking the halls to energize everyone around the customer agenda. The symptoms are that non-marketers in these companies will likely say: “Marketing is a silo,” while the marketers will refer to themselves as something like “the coloring-in department” – that is, limited to advertising and promotion, with little influence on the company’s products, prices, distribution, service support, etc.
To build trust within the team, leaders need to go beyond professionalism (knowing a lot, being reliable, and so on) and our key recommendation to get people to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” People like strong leaders who trust them and genuinely listen to their ideas and concerns, but they also want to know the real person behind the business leader. That’s why, at times, it’s critical to be willing to show weakness, too. Michelle Peluso, former CEO of online shopping site Gilt, for example, shared her own 360-degree assessments with her team and asked for help. You can’t put a value on that. Conversely, having and showing a big ego destroys trust. So make your corner office the team room. Praise people. Take one for the team at times.
Author and speaker Simon Sinek is a gifted storyteller. In this talk, Simon zeroes in on an often overlooked aspect of leadership: safety.
Simon recounts the story of an ambush and its powerful lesson. When Army Captain William Swenson and his men were under heavy fire in Afghanistan, it was all caught on camera. As Swenson is seen helping an injured soldier onto a helicopter, you see Swenson lean over and kiss the injured soldier’s forehead before running back into a battle.
“Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.” –Simon Sinek
Why did he do this? Sinek’s first hypothesis was that the military somehow attracted selfless people. After further investigation, Sinek concluded it was the environment that elevated behavior. The culture and values of the organization were strong enough to encourage selflessness.
We will put our lives at risk to save others because of trust. That means that trust increases safety. When we feel safe, we are empowered. When we are not acting under threat, we are able to give our best, to be more creative, to be more productive. More trust = more safety = more productivity and creativity. It’s a formula that all leaders should study.
Trust and safety may be difficult to measure, but they are essential for optimal performance.