Category Archives: Empowerment

Reenfranchising Your Organization’s Disenfranchised with Daniel Radcliffe

If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I may have overestimated how tuned in I am to large segments of the population. I would not call this group a silent majority (as they are neither “silent” nor a “majority”), but recent political events have reinforced the need to engage and find common ground with those who feel alienated. Consider the wise words of Daniel Radcliffe.

In his recent movie, Imperium. Radcliffe plays a FBI agent who goes undercover in a white-supremacy group. According to Radcliffe,

…my biggest takeaway from this film is that, as much as we want to demonize these people and in a way demonize their views, we should try and find a way of getting them into this conversation, unfortunately as awful as that sounds, because the more you ostracize them and aggressively dismiss them, the more it just plays into their worldview that everything is a conspiracy against them.

Before you send me your oppositional emails, let me be clear: I am not equating, comparing, or in any way associating those who feel disenfranchised with white supremacists or racists-at-large. What I am saying is that Radcliffe makes a valid point about demonizing people without engaging in a conversation to understand their point of view. Imperium’s Director, Daniel Ragussis, added that characterizing those on the fringe with insults like “monster” is not helpful.

They don’t give you any access as to the mechanism that’s going on there and why the people are behaving the way they are. I think if you’re going to try to dismantle that or change it, you have to understand what’s going on and what’s happening.

A mutually beneficial workplace culture is not determined solely by the leaders; the employees ultimately decide what practices and habits they will adhere to… and this includes those who don’t feel welcomed to participate. Therefore, companies must focus their resources to involve these individuals.

To help us encourage those who believe they are estranged from the decision makers, we must be mindful of one important concept: Don’t confuse feeling disenfranchised with feeling disengaged. The disengaged are not willing to put in extra effort for success. They don’t like work and they aren’t afraid to show it. The disenfranchised, on the other hand, believe they are deprived of rights and/or privileges. They want to contribute, but either don’t know how to initiate, don’t think they are allowed, or don’t feel welcomed into the process.

To reenfranchise, start by listening to their concerns. Actually, that’s too easy. Your really need to start by withholding judgment. It’s easy to dismiss those who disagree with us, especially when they are not in a position of power. An effective leader, however, cannot disparage or ostracize these individuals. They are part of the organization, so either treat them like they are part of the organization or release them from your condemnatory sentencing.

Once you are able to withhold judgment, you can begin listening to their concerns. Schedule one-on-one’s to figure out what they need to feel embraced. Ask questions, focus on their concerns, and formulate an ongoing plan.

After you know their hindrances and have a plan in place, it is your responsibility as the leader to change how you manage. However you led before resulted in a disenfranchised populace, so figure out what you can do differently to be more inclusive. And follow up frequently to ensure that your efforts are effective.

If attitude is an indication of success (and it is) you will get more bang for your buck if you concentrate on reenfranchising the disenfranchised then engaging the disengagement. Since the disenfranchised crave involvement, involve them. If you don’t, they will find their voice, with or without you. Why wait for them to be an organized opposition? Make them allies and strengthen your team.

Mark Hamill on Three Ways to Build “Ultra Passionate Fan” Support

mark-hamillA key aspect in being a leader is having people who follow you…voluntarily…and readily. Some may call these individuals “fans,” but after reading this quote from Mark Hamill, we need to strive for more than just people who like us; we need “Ultra Passionate Fans.”

…I have the most supportive backup. It sounds corny but over the course of my life to have this happen in a way that people are, you know – it’s like if I hadn’t gone through the Beatles I wouldn’t understand it. And I’m not comparing myself to them in any way, shape or form, but in terms of disproportionate reverence for something that you can’t explain, where you wanna know where they live and what they eat. I call ’em UPFs: the Ultra Passionate Fan. ‘Cause there’s fans who like the movie and, go, ‘It was well done and I enjoyed myself. Now I wanna see the James Bond’ — and then there are the UPFs. It’s changed their lives: ‘I got into movies because of this,’ or ‘I met my wife online [because of Star Wars].’—Mark Hamill

We don’t need to possess the Jedi mind-control mastery of Luke Skywalker to garner Ultra Passionate Fans. These three support-building tools should be all the Force you need.

Focus on Feelings

The essence of fandom is based in an emotional attachment. This means you will not build a foundation of support on a logic-based fact campaign. You need to tap into their sentimental side.

Star Wars provides endearing characters and an engaging plot shrouded in a mythos that is imprinted in our unconscious. To tap into you’re team’s feelings, consider why they should care, how will they be affected, and what is expected of them to get it done. Then, tailor your message to directly address these concerns.

Emphasize Involvement

While Passionate Fans are fascinated with a particular thing, Ultra Passionate Fans are actively involved in propagating that thing. For a Star Wars fan, this includes watching the movies, reading the books, and/or buying the toys; however, these are still relatively passive behaviors. To be more active, they may role play Han and Luke (as me and my friends did when we were kids) or argue the intricacies and philosophical stances of the Jedi Knight (as me and my friends do now).

The idea of active involvement stems from the psychological theory of effort justification where people have a tendency to attribute greater value to an outcome if they put effort into achieving it. Therefore as leaders, we must produce opportunities for your team to exert energy. Include them in developing goals. Enact an action plan. And empower them to move that plan forward.

Encourage Inquisition

For people to feel a desire to be involved, they cannot be spoon-fed every morsel of information. In an interesting article by R. Donald James Gauvreau, he relayed a conversation on Harry Potter fandom:

It was pointed out that a major factor— not necessarily the biggest, just big— was, paradoxically, that there was so much room for improvement in the series. There were holes, there were things that didn’t make sense, and there were plot decisions that weren’t liked, and so the series straddled this weird place where it was awesome enough to be worth reading but sucky enough that you wanted to go in and fix the stuff you didn’t like.

If you want to teach your team, give them a fully outlined project. If you want them to be engaged contributors, provide the vision and get out of the way so they have adequate time to build curiosity and buy-in. Ask questions to prompt participation and let them fill in the details so they can own it.

Mark Hamill has been in the center of Ultra Passionate Fandom for almost 40 years. He understands the benefits of an avid group of supporters and how they will follow and back you through each of your subsequent endeavors. You can re-create your fan base with each new venture, or you can solidify your champions now, freeing you up to spend the rest of your time making progress that moves you closer towards your goals. Resist the Dark Side and be a leader in the Rebel Alliance.

James Corden and the Three Ways to Be a Larger-Than-Life Leader

james-cordenWhen people think about the “ultimate leader,” there is a tendency to consider the larger-than-life individuals who invigorate a room with their charisma, omnipotence, and swagger. While these people exist, they are extremely uncommon. Many managers try to emulate these characteristics only to find that they are unable to sustain the energy required to constantly be “on.” That’s why I like the distinction made by James Corden.

In a recent interview with James Corden, the Tony award winning host of The Late Late Show, he discussed his theory that there are two categories of actors. As he describes it:

There are two types of actors—aliens and humans. And neither is better. Genuinely, there is no better. We just watch them in different ways. So your aliens are Daniel Day Lewis, Mark Rylance, Ray Fiennes where you look and say, ‘I don’t know how they are doing that, that’s amazing.’ You look at them on a pedestal and go, ‘this is astonishing to me. I don’t know how they are doing that.’ And then there are actors where whoever they are playing and whatever they’re doing, are representing us, the audience. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great example of someone who is astonishing and amazing and yet finds a humanity which is always representing you.

You can watch Mark Rylance or Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet and then you can watch one of my favorite actors in the world, Simon Russell Beale, with the text and one you are watching saying, ‘I don’t know how this is happening’ and the other you’re going, ‘whoa, that’s me up there.’

Aliens and humans. That is how we classify ourselves. In the leadership realm, aliens include such luminary favorites as tech maven Elon Musk, sports legend Phil Jackson, media icon Oprah Winfrey, and entrepreneur extraordinaire Mark Cuban. The rest of us are humans.

There is nothing wrong with being a human. As Corden said, these are the people who we can see in ourselves. There may not be much hero worship, but their draw is in their relatability. “Human” leaders inspire because they can connect on a personal level. They are less intimidating, more approachable, and more replicable.

There are plenty of humans who would like to become aliens. Unfortunately, the ways aliens practice leadership are aspirational, yet ultimately unattainable. There’s no harm in trying (depending on your level of authenticity), however a more realistic goal is to incorporate their habits in a seamless, natural manner that matches your style and the culture of your organization. Try a few of these tips:

Aliens are vision-oriented. An alien leader is renowned for their focus in a particular area. They have a clear, uncompromising vision and use it to set expectations for their team. With this understanding, employees are largely empowered to complete initiatives on their own. The leader remains involved to the degree needed and, so long as the vision remains intact, they can cede control knowing that the direction of the organization is in good hands.

Aliens innovate. Those who have risen to the alien-level of leadership did so by transcending the status quo. They are obsessed with finding new, inventive solutions and surround themselves with self-motivated people who are also willing to take bold risks.

To be more alien, you must increase your team’s threshold for taking chances. While your inner monologue may be conservative, to build a culture of creativity, others need to feel free to take calculated risks without fear of reprisal. To demonstrate how to fail, admit your failed attempts, including what you learned and how you will avoid making the mistakes next time. When someone else fails, use it as an opportunity to laud their risk taking. And, if you are feeling especially generous, incentivize failed attempts to motivate others to make their own ambitious attempts.

Aliens are involved. Whether they are interacting with employees, investors, or vendors, alien leaders are engaged and hands-on. They seek chances to network and are committed to learn as much as they can from others. Aliens also prioritize development opportunities where they can coach, mentor, and provide feedback. They handpick protégés and remain acutely aware of their responsibilities, challenges, and progress.

Attaining an alien’s level of involvement is a practice that all leaders (humans included) can easily grasp. Carve out time in each day to remain connected. Regular contact with employees positions you to be in-tune with the culture, the personalities, and the quality of work. You will also be more aware of the decisions being made and you’ll be able to enforce accountability in real time.

If you are torn between whether you’re an alien or human, just assume you fall in the later camp. After all, an alien is probably too removed to even consider this question. Once this reality sets in, it’s time to elevate the leadership of your mere humanness through alien-approved best practices. Set your vision, embrace innovation, and get involved. This may feel foreign at first, but by creating these preconditions for trust (a great term from HBR’s Sydney Finkelstein), you never know who will look to you as an alien.

Weekender: Rob Burnett on Declarative Suggestions

Rob Burnett LettermanWelcome to another addition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a letter of thought to start your weekend off on the right track. Why just a letter, man? Because it’s the weekend!

For newer leaders, there is a moment where your new responsibilities become painfully apparent. Going into the job, you thought you understood the burden of being the “big man/woman” only to learn that reading the job description cannot prepare you for the overwhelming feeling of ownership and exasperation. When Rob Burnett took over as the executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman, he had just such a realization.

On the Fitzdog Radio podcast, Rob Burnett discussed a particularly bad episode that occurred early in his tenure. There was a moment in rehearsal when everything was going wrong. They couldn’t settle on an idea and Burnett was being overly tentative.

At 4:00, rehearsal is over and [David Letterman] gets up and he leaves. And now everyone is looking at me ‘cause no one knows what the show is, and we’re taping at 5:30. I go up to his office and I say, ‘So what are we suppose to be doing?’ And he looked at me very sternly and said, ‘This is suppose to work the other way around.’ And he turned and left. That was a real turning point for me because I realized he’s right, it’s my job… Dave is the kind of guy where you can’t say, ‘Should that guy be wearing shoes or sneakers.’ You have to say, ‘That guy is wearing red sneakers.’ And he’ll say, ‘No, he should be wearing shoes.’ It’s too slack the other way.

Treading lightly may have served as a beneficial crutch before you were in a leadership position, but once you are in the power seat, it is up to you to express certitude. So stop asking for permission and start acting like you have the authority to make decisions. As Burnett learned, even your top talent want a degree of guidance and direction. Provide options. Have a plan. Prepare for the worst-case scenarios. And speak with conviction.