What is humble leadership and why do we need it now?

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Edgar Schein and Peter Schein.


Have you given any thought as to why opinions are so polarized around President Trump’s style of leadership?  It is not about his tweeting, deceiving, and flip-flopping.  It is about his theory of leadership that hinges on his own (or your own) intuition, motives, and needs as the basis for decisions on what to do.  It is an individualistic “I alone” hero theory that assumes that whatever the leader says must be true, at least in the moment, just because the leader has said it.

This personal style reveals a problem with the leadership of a great many of our organizations and institutions. Leaders trust only their own selves instead of recognizing that, in a complex world, they must also trust many others to provide help so that decisions can be made collaboratively, not unilaterally.

One approach to addressing this endemic problem is to reduce the psychological distance between you the leader, your immediate reports, your colleagues and advisers. Get to know each other personally and build groups that can process complex information collectively and comprehensively in order to make better adaptive moves. 

If you have closer relationships with the people whom you want to follow you, get to know them better so that they are more open with you and trusting in your mutual respect. Only then will you have a chance to make the decisions that can actually be implemented by a much broader set of stakeholders who will observe and reinforce the trust relationships that yield better collective decisions.

That is the message of "Humble Leadership": get to know your people, acknowledge your dependence on them and build an effective group with them, and better decisions will follow. 

Focus on building relationships to ensure that your direct reports and the people below them will feel psychologically safe; coach your direct reports to build personal relationships with their direct reports. 

When you have interdepartmental or intergroup conflicts between groups, bring them into the room together and before trying to find compromises, invite them to tell each other their full stories, quiz them to bring out their personal reasons for their position, help them to understand each other at a more personal level before either getting into a debate, seeking victory in a zero-sum game (also a myth) or seeking a lowest-common-denominator, unsatisfactory compromise.

Instead of worrying about your own accountability, help your direct reports and peers -- upon whom you are dependent -- to think of themselves as a project group that is accountable as a group. The more you get to know each other, the more likely it will be that people will be more open both in producing new ideas and in challenging groupthink.

Simple truth: It is hard to lie or withhold information from someone you have gotten to know well. We want to introduce the word "personize" to convey this activity of reducing psychological distance and increasing psychological safety by consciously getting to know each other -- not as role occupants who transact with each other, but also as teammates trying to help each other get the job done better.

Challenge the assumption that “professional distance” is a good thing. We know how to manage closeness and space with our friends and relatives. Bring this knowledge, this skill, that we develop starting early in our childhood with you to work every day. Humble leadership means that you consciously bring "personization" into the workplace.  Try it, and see how the others around you respond.


Edgar H. Schein is professor emeritus from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He’s a pioneer in organizational development, organizational culture and process consulting.  He's contributed to O.D. since the 1960s and continues to with Organizational Culture and Leadership 5th Edition and now Humble Leadership, co-authored with Peter A. Schein.

Peter A. Schein is the co-founder of Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute with his father, Ed Schein. He brings 30 years of hands-on experience in large and small companies leading growth initiatives in Silicon Valley, including Apple, SGI and Sun Microsystems. He co-authored Humble Leadership with Ed Schein




Selling ideas when you’re the new leader on the block

Imagine this scenario: About two months ago, you landed a new gig as a leader at a respected company. You’ve done all the right things to set yourself up for success by priming the pump with these activities before Day One on the job. For the first month, you listened, networked, took copious notes and asked lots of questions.

And wow, there are so many opportunity for improvement; the list of ideas is a mile long! It’s exciting, and you’re ready to start making some changes.

Hold up there, partner. Although your enthusiasm is admirable, take a momentary pause. Before you start pitching ideas for change, know this: if you go about it the wrong way, you’ll get the cold shoulder. Worse, you might earn a reputation for not understanding the company’s culture, which could have long-lasting implications for your success.

Selling ideas when you’re the new leader on the block takes a strategic mindset, which can get overlooked in the rush of excitement or pressure to produce immediate results. Here are five things to consider to help make your case more persuasively:

Patience is a virtue

This is especially true if you’re a leader of leaders, because you have multiple constituencies to nurture and communicate with. New ideas that require a deviation from the status quo require patience, observes a senior manager with Kelly Services in this article about stepping up to senior management. “Everybody is in a different part of the journey to incorporate the change,” she notes, so it’s important to curb your enthusiasm. Even if you’re ready to roll, others most likely are not.

Don’t blow things up just yet

tSome leaders are brought in to “shake things up” and they take that advice to heart. The only problem is, sometimes they shake so hard that people are concussed. Although it might be that the entire corporate ecosystem needs a reboot, people in the trenches (as well as your middle management team, who will be your allies in communicating change) need time to adjust. Look around and decide if you need to wait or go into immediate triage mode.

Determine what the culture will support

No matter how great your solution is, some cultures simply won’t support it. When selling your idea, “find where the culture works in your favor,” advises leadership coach Eric Hicks, who held senior management positions at Cigna and JPMorgan Chase before starting his coaching consultancy. He admits to learning this the hard way. “You are not really likely to implement programs or ideas that are significantly counter to culture in your first 90 days,” he says. And it doesn’t help to say, “at my previous employer, this worked well,” he notes. If anything, that signals the kiss of death for an idea.

Take a page from marketers

Savvy communicators know that it takes time for people to gain comfort with new ideas. If your idea is radical, make it seem more familiar by pairing it with something that audience already understands. This concept, coined “MAYA” by industrial designer Raymond Loewy, stands for "Most Advanced Yet Acceptable." For example, when online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker was in its startup phase, it had to overcome the objection of how people would get fitted for eyewear online. The company was dubbed the “Netflix of Eyewear.” Pair your idea with something that people can relate to, and it will gain traction more quickly.

Co-create with others

This final idea is less about sales and more about enlisting others. “You need to really take some time to understand the nuances of the culture” before you pitch ideas,” says Hicks. People will support that which they help to create. Rather than “sell” people on a solution, look for ways to draw people into your idea and work with them to co-create a solution that all will support.

It’s understandable that a leaders who’s new to the job wants to make an immediate and positive impact. Before you make any big moves, be sure you’ve taken the time to ensure that the company’s culture, along with your key constituencies, are on board with your ideas. Patience, collaboration and savvy marketing will go a long way to paving the road to success for new ideas you wish to implement.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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3 leadership fads that undermine your success

We’re barraged daily by tips and tricks about how to improve our performance – how to hack our sleep, better manage our boss or be our most authentic selves. If we could follow all of that advice we’d become fully engaged, highly motivated, star performers. Unless, of course, some of that advice is actually wrong.

Let’s face it -- we’re uncritical consumers of information. We accept that the news in our Facebook feed is accurate. We believe that Gwyneth Paltrow offers dependable health care insights. So, it’s no surprise that we embrace reasonable-sounding ideas about how to improve our work performance, especially if they’re advanced by people with Ph.D. after their names. 

Unfortunately, some of the best-selling books and most-promoted advice on performance are more likely to waste your time than boost your success. This includes three fads that you may know well: focus on your strengths, be an authentic leader and strike a power pose. Here’s what those fads claim and what to do instead:

Please don't focus on your strengths

There have been millions of books sold that suggest you’ll be more successful if you focus on what you’re good at or hope to be good at. The advocates of that approach call those your “strengths.

The concept that you should focus on your strengths seems like a wonderful recipe to be happy at work. You don’t have to confront any hard truths about what’s holding you back or risk failure by trying something new.

However, there’s absolutely no independent scientific proof that people who focus on their strengths perform at a higher level or develop faster than those who don’t.

 On the other hand, there is research that shows: (1) we have to change our behaviors to be successful as we move up in an organization, so today’s strengths may be irrelevant tomorrow; (2) we each have fewer strengths than we think we do (if we define a strength as being meaningfully better at something than others); and (3) our weaknesses will slow or stop our career progress.

Focusing on your strengths will help you be better at the exact same things you’re good at today, but won’t help you be good at anything else.

What to do instead: Your strengths are your strengths because of your intelligence, personality and career path -- they’ll never stop being your strengths. If you keep turning up the dial on them, they can actually hurt your performance. You may be seen as a “one trick pony.” You may show the less attractive extremes of that strength (i.e. the insightful observer who becomes the cynical critic). Rather than focusing on your strengths, ask the most successful people you know which skills and behaviors you need to move to the next level or big experience. They’ll be happy to identify a few non-strengths for you to focus on.

Authentically bad advice

 It seems difficult to argue against being an “authentic” leader if the alternative is to be an “inauthentic” leader. Maybe that challenge is what has allowed this idea to gain traction among leaders and consultants. The concept started with the best-selling book "Authentic Leadership," which stated that more authentic leaders -- open, self-aware, genuine -- were needed to bring the country forward.

Yet, leading academics at Stanford, INSEAD, and Wharton business schools have attacked the concept, and the science suggests that great leaders actually change their behavior and style to meet the needs of the moment. That means that always being the authentic you could hurt your performance more than help it.

Authenticity is often used as an excuse, as in, “I can’t change; that’s just who I am.” That sentiment is laughably false because we each control our behaviors. Other times, it’s the domain of leaders whose egos drive them to show the world how special they are.

What to do instead: It’s certainly helpful to understand the authentic you but your success depends on understanding the “you” that others need to see. Your style has to match the changing needs of your audience in order for you to successfully manage or communicate. In tough times, they may need to see a more compassionate “you.” When someone’s not performing well, they may need to see a more demanding “you.” That means that the authentic you might not get to come through every time. That’s fine. Science says that we can easily fake behaviors and that people believe those fake behaviors are genuine.

Remember that being a great leader or colleague isn’t about you; it’s about others. Forget authentic. Be the person that others need to see.

Take a stand (just not that one)

Launched like so many leadership fads, with a scientific paper and a popular TED talk, power posing comes from research that showed a boost of testosterone occurs when you stand in more aggressive postures. The authors claimed that, “High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern.” In other words, if you just stand the right way, you’ll feel ready to take on the world.

That sounds cool, but it’s 100% untrue, according to one of the article’s co-authors, who later came clean about the experiment, and to other scientists who tried and failed to replicate the original research. That hasn’t stopped more than 48 million people from viewing the TED talk, or the power- posing concept from seeping into the category of urban legends.

What to do instead: Just stand any way you want to -- it really doesn’t matter.

There’s only so much time you can devote to being successful at work, so stop wasting that time on unproven leadership fads. Be a critical consumer and realize that management advice that sounds too easy to be true, very likely is. There are no shortcuts to success, just hard work and determination. 


Marc Effron is author of "8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest), published by Harvard Business Review (August 2018). Effron founded and leads The Talent Strategy Group and consults globally to the world’s largest and most successful corporations. He co-founded the Talent Management Institute and created and publishes Talent Quarterly magazine. His prior corporate experience includes senior talent management roles at Bank of America and Avon Products. His prior consulting experience includes starting and leading the Global Leadership Consulting practice at Hewitt Associates.

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How to build workplace symmetry and win

"To any action there is always an opposite and equal reaction." ~ Newton's Third Law of Motion

On Oct. 12, 2000, the USS Cole was attacked while refueling in Yemen’s Aden Harbor. Seventeen American sailors were killed and 39 more were injured. It was the deadliest attack against a US naval vessel in over a decade. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack.

Though the horrors of 9/11 were still 11 months away, the US was now in an asymmetrical war. The new kind of struggle, which pits nations or groups with disparate military capabilities and strategies against each other and features such irregular tactics as counterinsurgency and terrorism, would force the Pentagon to rewrite its rules of engagement after decades of following a playbook driven by World War II and the Cold War.

(Though the Vietnam War had changed the rules of engagement decades earlier, the US had not truly adapted. When it led the attack against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, it was all fire and brimstone. In contrast, the 2000s struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a full array of stealth and counterinsurgency techniques.)

Though the battlefield is far from the ideal workplace metaphor, the sad truth is that many employees come to work each day feeling embattled.

There certainly exists unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety, with more than half of workers of the opinion that their bosses do not care enough about their need for work-life balance. Add that to an increased workload and a feeling that many have about having no say in decision making, and there’s no wonder that the sabotaging employee has become a growing concern to bosses.  

What do bosses do to engender such angst and ill will?

Let’s return to our military analogy. Some bosses act like they’re the biggest vessel in the water. They think that the power invested in their title gives them the right and even imperative to act authoritatively. This leads them to fall out of touch with their people as well as with market realities. When employing conventional, traditional top-down management tactics, they fail to tap into their people’s true talents, while muffling creativity and driving down engagement. They become infatuated with a particular way of doing business and lose the dexterity needed to adjust and win in a highly competitive, ever-changing market.

For leaders to succeed and bring out the best that their people have to offer, they have to be able to engage on multiple levels. Sure, they still need to maintain a level of authority and provide the “eye in the sky”, visionary guidance that sees beyond the moment and drives ingenuity. But they also must find ways to proactively create positive, “hand to hand”, ground level engagement with their people that produces winning results.

Here are some strategies that can help bosses win in any situation:

  1. Communicate often. In “The Red Circle,” co-author and former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb contrasts two ships to which he was stationed during training. One, where the captain rarely communicated with his soldiers, ranked poorly and suffered from low morale. The other, which featured regular messaging from the captain with clear, directive communications, was of the Navy’s best. Her men would run through a brick wall for their captain.
  2. Get connected. Strong leaders find ways to connect with their people. They build strong relationships, which encourages their people to come to them with concerns, knowing that the feedback that they share will be valued and possibly acted upon.
  3. Listen well. To succeed in today’s business world, leaders must be proactive, skilled listeners. Leaders who make themselves accessible for conversation and listen regularly are well informed of the goings on in their workplaces. They better understand others’ opinions and attitudes and are able to take this information into consideration when making decisions. Read more about developing listening skills.
  4. Build trust. Trust sits at the core of all relationships. One way that leaders can help to increase trust and reduce the defensive posturing that is all too often found in today’s organizations is to create a culture that encourages risk-taking. Risks are easier to take when there is less at stake. If I err in good faith and am encouraged to try again, odds are that I will. If I offer my opinion at a team meeting and my views are respected regardless of their ultimate acceptance, then I will likelier pipe up the next time. Learn more about trust building.
  5. Simplify decision-making. Empower your people to make decisions and fix problems. Give them ways by which to cut through any bureaucracy to share ideas and alert higher-ups to potential threats.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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Compliance is good, but not enough

“We’ve got this,” you say to yourself. “Our organization has a robust compliance program. We can point to a myriad of ways that we have adhered to all the expected requirements. We’ve dedicated ample resources, and we have implemented a host of internal controls and program initiatives. If ever we have to defend our efforts to uphold a standard of conduct, we’ve done the best that we can do.”

But have you really?

Unfortunately, one need only look at some of the headlines today about organizations facing scandal -- senior executives stepping out of line; corruption; conflicts of interest; fraud.

In a number of instances, the companies that have found themselves embroiled in controversy have also had robust compliance programs in place. Some of them even had award-winning programs. So it begs the question: Is it worth the effort?

The truth is that if you have implemented a comprehensive compliance program in your organization, you have done a very good thing. Every effort by an organization to encourage appropriate business conduct makes a difference. You are not wasting time or resources.

But that said, according to findings from the latest Global Business Ethics Survey, when it comes to the actual impact of an ethics and compliance program, if all you have done is to focus on compliance, you have not done enough.

The bottom line is this: There is a big difference between an organization with a robust compliance program (a minimum standard program), and an organization that has taken steps to implement a “high-quality E&C program.” The difference is evident in the buy-in of leadership and the breadth of the program. It is also evident in its impact. Organizations that have implemented high quality E&C programs significantly outperform compliance programs in reducing risk, as well as in preventing and detecting wrongdoing.

According to the June 2018 Global Business Ethics Survey, a longitudinal study of employees in for-profit organizations, there is evidence that a high-quality program is more likely to have a favorable effect on employee behavior than a minimum-standard compliance program. For example, employees in an organization with a HQP are:

  • Twice as likely to report suspected wrongdoing to management;
  • Four times more likely to express satisfaction with their company’s response to their report of wrongdoing; and
  • More than four times likely to say that they work in a strong ethical culture.

What makes an E&C effort an HQP? HQPs are based on a shared set of business principles and objectives that are recognized and embraced throughout an organization. The way they are framed may vary, but as one example, leaders in an HQP say that:

  • E&C is central to business strategy;
  • Risks are identified, owned, managed and mitigated;
  • Leaders at all levels build and sustain a culture of integrity;
  • The organization encourages, protects and values the reporting of suspected wrongdoing; and
  • The organization acts and holds itself accountable when wrongdoing occurs.

It is these types of principles that, when implemented throughout an organization, aid in the development and maintenance of a strong ethical culture. And the stronger the culture, the lower the risk of noncompliance. For example, in organizations with strong cultures, employees are:

  • 38% less likely to observe Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations;
  • 76% less likely to observe False Claims Act violations; and
  • 65% less likely to observe other white-collar criminal activity.

Results like these cannot be attained in an organization with a minimum-standard program. Taken together, the business world cannot profess a strong commitment to integrity, then implement minimum-standard compliance programs and expect exceptional results. If corporations today want to remain resolute in their commitment to integrity, the quality of their E&C efforts must improve.

A comprehensive description of a high-quality E&C program, with supporting business objectives, is available to the public..


Patricia Harned is CEO of the Ethics & Compliance Initiative. The mission of the ECI is to empower organizations to build and sustain high quality ethics & compliance programs. The ECI is an alliance of three nonprofit organizations: the Ethics Research Center, the Ethics & Compliance Association and the Ethics & Compliance Certification Institute. Harned has been featured in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today and CNN, and has been a guest on Federal News Radio and the “Diane Rehm Show.” She was selected by Ethisphere Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics in 2014 and 2015, and was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior in both 2010 and 2011 by the nonprofit organization Trust Across America.

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The media consumption habits of the C-suite

In 2015, Business Insider published a roundup of the media habits of successful people. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, it said, reads a bevy of print newspapers in the morning, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The New York Times, USA Today, the Omaha World-Herald and American Banker. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has kept the same morning routine for 25 years -- reading The Seattle Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti actually carries with him print editions of the Times, devouring the sports and business sections during his morning commute.

Why are the media habits of successful CEOs so fascinating? Because no other role requires the same amount of discipline and efficiency for how one manages their day. C-suite executives have a limited time with which to consume information that is vital for their jobs and knowing how they use that time can provide valuable insights.

That’s why SmartBrief interviewed four C-suite executives about their daily media-consumption habits. The report, “The Media Consumption Habits of the C-suite,” can be found here. Here are four takeaways.

They establish a daily routine

The best way to maximize efficiency is through repetition. The executives set a daily routine and stick to it. Jeff Litvack, CEO of AdWeek, divides his reading between general news (15 to 30 minutes) and industry developments (15 minutes on publishing, another 15 to 30 on advertising). “One of my habits is that I’ll click on a story and if I’m busy, I’ll bookmark and read it later sometimes on weekends,” he says. “I like to [use] OneTab as a way to file stories away for future reading.”

They are morning people

Once 9 a.m. rolls around, a CEO is swarmed with meetings and myriad requests from subordinates. That’s why the early morning hours are crucial for interruption-free reading. “[I read] first thing in the morning, usually on my phone or at my desk,” says Lisa Walsh, CEO of Truco Enterprises. She’ll also use her downtime at night to catch up on what’s happening in the world. “[I] will often watch national news on TV that I have recorded before going to bed.”

Relevance matters

An executive is met with hundreds of stories from which to choose once opening a newspaper or firing up Twitter. That’s why concise, descriptive headlines are so important. “Subject line and article title matters a great deal to me,” says Lisa Mann, founder and CEO of Think Marketing. When she’s scanning her email feeds, she’s looking for headlines in her areas of interest. “For instance, I’m interested in plant nutrition businesses. So [I] read all the articles about emerging technologies in this area and changes in consumer demand.”

Email newsletters are vital

The signal to noise ratio for social media is less than optimal. Most C-suite executives opt for email newsletters, which are formatted simply and easy to scan for relevant information. “I actually get a lot out of newsletters,” says Adryanna Sutherland, COO at business advertising agency Gyro. “I get a few industry newsletters and I read 3 to 4 a day — even if I only have time to browse headlines, I get a lot of it.”

Read the entire report here.

Simon Owens is a freelance contributor for SmartBrief.


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Building a servant-led culture

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Art Barter.


Culture — every organization has one. Is your culture thriving? Do people feel like they can make worthwhile contributions and others have their backs? Are people happy to come through the door each day? 

When I joined Datron World Communications, I walked into a failing culture that was extremely toxic, and I soon learned the organization was built on a foundation of mistrust that started at the very top of the company. In 2004, my wife and I had the opportunity to buy the company, and we began the process of rebuilding the culture on the foundation of servant leadership.

One definition of culture is the behaviors, beliefs and characteristic of a particular group. It’s illustrated by how your organization behaves on a daily basis. In a servant-led culture, we strive to behave in alignment with the nine behaviors of a servant leader.

The behavioral expectations at Datron are that we will serve first, build trust, live our values, listen to understand, think about our thinking, add value to others, demonstrate courage, increase our influence and live our transformation.

Under this culture, our employees have achieved goals we never thought possible. Over the last 14 years, we have come through hard times and celebrated great times together and still work to serve each other every day.

How do you build a servant-led culture? Here are six things you can do to foster one:

  1. Flip your org chart. First and foremost, you must change your mindset regarding leadership. Employees do not exist simply to serve a leader’s needs. You are there to serve them. You are there to lead from your heart to inspire and equip employees. If you are at the top of the pyramid, you have no one to serve. Flip the pyramid and you now have the opportunity to serve everyone; if you truly embrace that mindset, you’ll become a leader worth following.
  2. Be a good example. As a leader, you’re always being watched. As a servant leader, you’re being watched even more closely. It’s vital that you behave your talk. No one is perfect and you’ll make mistakes, but when employees know you care about them, they’ll give you grace, especially if you’re willing to apologize.
  3. Use your mission and values effectively. The mission and values of your organization are extremely important if you want employees to understand their work has meaning. Too often, we use our mission and values on marketing collateral but not in our decision-making process. Equip people to make good decisions by allowing the company’s mission and values to become their North Star.
  4. Communicate till you are talked out, and then communicate some more. People want to know what’s going on in their organizations. They’re eager to understand how the business works because it affects them. In addition to wanting to know about the status of the company, you need to constantly be talking about servant leadership. Use the vocabulary of the behavioral expectations you have for them. Make yourself available to answer their questions.
  5. Train everyone with the same servant leadership materials. At Datron, we trained every employee in servant leadership, not just the leaders.
  6. Hire for character first, then competence. To preserve our servant leadership culture when we hire, we look first at the character a candidate displays. Does he/she express a team orientation by talking about team achievements or is it all about “I” and what “I” have achieved? Does the candidate have values that are in sync with the company values? Don’t be in a hurry to hire. Take the time necessary to learn what’s really important to candidates and how they’ll fit in the organization.

Culture is fragile: You must work on it all the time or it can slip away. But creating a culture based on service to one another as well as your suppliers and customers is truly rewarding and will make a difference in our world


Art Barter is CEO of the Servant Leadership Institute, an organization that helps people and organizations put servant leadership into practice. He’s also CEO and cultural architect of Datron World Communications, an organization he transformed from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in just six years.

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Leading with social consciousness

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ahmed Rahim and Reem Rahim Hassani, the brother-sister founders of Numi Organic Tea, which started in Oakland in 1999 and has grown into a leading brand of organic premium teas. It is a brand that many founders have tried to emulate. Numi is a B-Corp and has remained committed to its ethos of creating healthful, innovative products that nurture mind, body, and planet.

We had a wide-ranging discussion on leadership that I am excited to share with you. I hope you enjoy.

Why are you guys doing this crazy thing?

Reem Rahim HassaniReem Rahim Hassani: “We were both doing various things in our lives, and we both intrinsically knew that we could do more. We're both artists, and Ahmed had owned and operated teahouses in Europe. We imported this tea we drank as children from Iraq called Numi, which is a dry dessert lime. We were on a family trip in the Grand Canyon, and we both said sort of simultaneously, ‘Let's do it.’"

"Ahmed did all the sourcing because he knew a lot about tea, and I did the original artwork on the packaging, which were paintings inspired by his travels around the world.”

Ahmed Rahim: “There was a feeling that we could bring all these pure, organic ingredients from culture to culture. It was also about being innovative and authentic to the types of herbs and teas we've brought to the market, as well as the authenticity from the farmers to the consumer."

What have been some of the biggest obstacles that you have faced?

Ahmed RahimAhmed: “It's really been finding the right people that can share the brand story and the brand authenticity, because it's a unique culture and a story that we're trying to share. It is just about finding those that are either very skilled at their work or very in tune with our culture. It is essential to find that right blend of people that can grow with us and be right in the seat of what we need them to do without falling too much off balance from one way or the other.”

You have made it your goal to be a company that benefits the world. Why is it important to you to be leaders in doing that?

Reem: “A lot of businesses are sort of depleting Earth's resources and maximizing people without considering them as people in a sense -- just skill sets. I guess we intrinsically aren't like that as people.”

Ahmed: “People come first, and it’s important to not take anything for granted. It’s also a bit about our upbringing, because we come from the Middle East. In the Middle East, our culture is a lot about hospitality, and making sure everyone feels warm and welcome. We had to leave Iraq due to political strife, and we witnessed our parents take in family, friends, and even strangers. Those actions really inspired us. We were always taught to just take care of one another.”

“Since day one, protecting the environment has been important. The idea of spilling chemicals into the earth or using plastics bothers us deeply. We want to let nature speak for itself. It's our job to be a protector, and to leave the planet better than when we first touched it.”

How do you deal with any doubt and fear?

Reem: “My life had taken so many different routes. I wasn't scared of falling, because I was used to getting up. I was more, in a sense, scared of success.”

What do you do to care for yourself?

Ahmed: “Time and nature are great. Both of us live on our own little farms. For myself, it's spending time in the earth, in the forest and by the ocean. I live right by the ocean. It's getting a lot of free time to enjoy the bigger things in life than our little tiny business, because the world is much bigger. And always reminding ourselves that finding a way to take a 60,000-foot view of your business, because you will always get too caught up in it, and it becomes too 'micro.' Maintaining that 'macro' perspective is essential.”

“Besides being immersed in nature, it's also doing other projects. Helping young entrepreneurs to grow. They teach me because they're learning new ways, and they're a different generation that look at business differently. Some of them might have degrees and some of them might not. But just the idea of helping them and also at the same time learning from them has been very helpful."

Part of that 'macro' view is being involved and working with other entrepreneurs, similar size or larger. I do a lot of that by a group I co-foundedstarted called OSC2, One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community”

Reem: “For me, I try to make time for painting. I also do art residencies and workshops every couple of years in Italy, which really rejuvenate me beyond measure. I've also done meditation retreats and things of that nature. It allows me to focus onf healing as well as spirituality.”

What does it take to effectively motivate and engage with people?

Ahmed: “It is important to find the people that can do the jobs right, and who understand the goals of the company. Then you have to empower them to take ownership. Obviously, you set some clear goals and objectives, but after that it is about getting them to feel like they're an entrepreneur, and that they're a part owner of the business--so that they take it personally.”

“Another thing is creating a culture that makes people feel like they belong, that we are a family. We are not a place that they take for granted, because there aren't a lot of companies like Numi out there. We've had a lot of employees that have left but want to come back because they miss the culture we have created. We are very family-oriented and mission-driven. Part of my work is to deepen that and make sure that it stays on the front burner. We give them, also, a purpose to come alive at Numi and do the best that they can do, and challenge them as well.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

Reem: “One thing that comes to mind is I probably would have let go a little sooner. I think entrepreneurs have the issue of holding on to control. I would have tried to let go of it a little sooner and allowed people to do things their own way. Not to say everything's going to go haywire, but find ways to trust people more in that endeavor. Then when something doesn't necessarily go the way I was hoping, I don't take it personally. There's been many times where I feel like it's a personal slight and then I would react. But really you cannot beat yourself up over things. Those are just personal behavioral things.

“From a business perspective, being more calculated with risk is important, so that we can run a more profitable and sustainable business from a top-line and bottom-line perspective.”

“Lastly, if I was to start a business now, knowing what I know, there'd be a lot more strategic thinking in terms of where to sell and how to sell. It is not about going after every single mom-and-pop business in the world and thinking that you can be everything you so desire. You have to really focus more on the things that work, or the things that can potentially work, and not be too scattered. That ability to focus, obviously, has come with time and experience.”


Elliot Begoun is the founder of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow and become scalable and investable. He works with clients to design and execute customized go-to-market strategies that drive sales, build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. Catch him at FoodBytes in his role as a mentor and find his articles in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and New Hope. To get an article each week, nothing else, no B.S., sign up.

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Collaborate or go solo?

Collaboration is the way of work today.

Our workplaces require collaboration because we work in teams. But working in a team need not subject individuals to collectivism. That is, you don’t need to sublimate your creativity. You can have the freedom to inject your ideas when appropriate.

At the same time, individuals can set limits on how they collaborate. Doing such is not being anti-social, or even anti-team; it is an act of setting parameters on what you do so that you can do your best work.

Writers, designers and craftspeople are by nature soloists; managers who supervise others must be collaborators, otherwise nothing ever gets done.

Collaboration is an exercise by which you can get the best out of others by working with them. The result is that you produce something better -- be it a service, a product or a comedy sketch.

Team leaders need to be especially attuned to the needs of individuals. Knowing how they like to work as well as how they can work better enables them to succeed for themselves and for the betterment of the team.

Knowing how you prefer to work is the secret to being a successful collaborator.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Global Gurus ranked him No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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The power of moments: How to create defining moments in business

Defining moments shape all of our lives yet they often seem to happen by accident or luck. But Chip and Dan Heath maintain that we can become the authors of these defining moments in life, in relationships, and in our work. In fact, they’re so fascinated by this idea that they’ve written a whole book on the topic. If you have been reading "The Power of Moments" and you’re like me, you have become fascinated with this idea, too.

The book has two aims: First, the authors explore the traits that defining moments have in common and what makes such experiences particularly memorable. Second, they want to show us how to capitalize on these traits to create these defining moments.

Whether you are a professional speaker looking to create memorable moments for your audience, a CEO or HR director looking for innovative ways to re-energize your employees, or perhaps a customer service director wanting to enhance the experiences of customers, you will benefit from the Heath brothers’ insights in this book. When you reflect on what goes into creating defining moments, you will start to spot ways to create them everywhere.

What are the elements of a defining moment?

Chip and Dan Heath talk about a defining moment as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.” There are big defining moments, such as getting married or landing a job that leads to a career path you love, that capture who you are. And there are smaller experiences, such as getting a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check-in to your hotel, that are defining moments within the context of a vacation or product development cycle. Paying attention to these defining moments opens up a world of possibilities.

According to their research, the Heaths found that these big and small defining moments share one or more of the following elements:

Elevation: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They tap into not just a fleeting moment of pleasure, but a deeper, memorable experience of delight. To construct elevated moments, we need to think about how to elevate sensory pleasures to make them extraordinary. The Heaths use the example of the Popsicle Hotline to demonstrate elevation. At a particular mid-level hotel in L.A., you can pick up a red phone and order free popsicles. They are delivered poolside on a silver tray, of course.

Insight: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. It’s that moment when you realized: “now is the time to start my business” or “I’m ready to go after that promotion.” These are the moments when people suddenly understand their circumstances in a new light. Although these moments of insight often seem serendipitous, the Heaths show that we can engineer them or at least lay the groundwork so others “trip over the truth.”

Pride: Defining moments capture us at our best—moments of achievement, moments of courage. When you discover the architecture of pride, you can plan a series of milestone moments that build on each other and are so much more effective as a motivational tool than a simple imperative like “sell more.” For example, instead of creating a recognition program like “Employee of the Month” or an annual banquet, consider spontaneous recognition of individuals that is targeted at specific behaviors. Effective recognition makes employees feel noticed for what they have done.

Connection: Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events. These moments are strengthened because we share them with others. The Heaths discuss one experiment where two people walk into a lab as strangers and walk out, 45 minutes later, as close friends. Through a series of questions designed to create connections, people can really feel connected in a short period of time. This might make you rethink your typical interview questions or how you relate to your audience during a business presentation, for instance.

Defining moments possess at least one of these four elements, but they need not have all four. Many moments of insight, for example, are private. And a fun moment during vacation like calling the Popsicle Hotline may not offer much insight or pride.

How to create defining moments for others in business

Now that we know how to identify these defining moments, what does it take to create defining moments in business? I took away some important business lessons and reminders from The Power of Moments. These lessons are applicable to whatever you happen to do and in whatever stage of your career you happen to find yourself.

1. Use defining moments to combat problems in business.

One of my favorite parts of this book are the Clinics. There are five of these sprinkled throughout the book and designed to help readers understand how to use the core framework above to create defining moments. Each Clinic introduces a problem in business and explains how creating a defining moment can solve this problem.

Clinic 5, about combating the “silo” mentality in business, piqued my interest. The scenario is about the VP of marketing and the VP of sales at a large company trying to figure out how to get their two departments to work together more effectively. They decide to do this by creating a defining moment: a two-day off-site meeting.

They add elevation:

  • The meeting itself breaks the script by being in a different environment and disrupting everyone’s routine.
  • They boost sensory appeal and raise the stakes by creating intermixed “pit crews” of marketing and sales members to collaborate on the task of changing the tires on a real Formula One race car.

They add insight:

  • The VPs cause everyone to “trip over the truth” by inviting an actual customer to address them and describe the “whiplash” of interacting with each department.
  • They invite both departments to “stretch for insight” when they reveal that for the week prior to the off-site meeting, there were two salespeople “embedded” with marketing and two marketing people embedded with sales. They are invited to share what they learned in presentations called “What marketing doesn’t understand about sales” and “What sales doesn’t understand about marketing.”

There’s much more to this Clinic, but I’ll leave it to you to discover along with other insights. I really appreciate how Chip and Dan Heath make it so easy to apply their ideas to my work. It’s even easy to turn to a section, read it in isolation from the rest of the book, and practice using just that small tidbit.

2. Many defining moments are free and unproduced.

Speaking of small tidbits, it’s true that some of the examples in the book are produced moments (e.g., school signing day where seniors announce which college they’re going to during a ceremony similar to the NBA draft). But it doesn’t take a huge production to create a defining moment.

Actually, some of the most memorable moments cost nothing extra. Consider the example of the nurses who decided to bring a bucket of snow to a little girl confined to her hospital bed for months (Chapter 12) or John Deere’s “First Day Experience” for employees (Chapter 2). These defining moments took little more than some thought about what a memorable experience would look like. We all can create these types of defining moments.

3. Target a specific moment.

If you want to start creating powerful, defining moments, start by targeting a specific moment. Then ask yourself a series of questions:

  • How can I elevate it?
  • Spark insight?
  • Boost the sense of connection?

Life and business are full of “form letter” moments. When we focus on building up to a moment and consider what might make that moment extraordinary, we increase the odds of standing out. Yes, it takes more effort and you might be wondering “what’s the payoff?” Well, the Heath brothers suggest the following tangible outcomes:

  • More revenue (e.g., the Southwest Airlines anecdote, p. 74-76).
  • Greater customer satisfaction and loyalty (e.g., the Magic Castle Hotel anecdote, p. 9-11).
  • More motivated employees (e.g., data on recognition, p. 146-148).
  • More effective employees (e.g., employees who felt their jobs had purpose performed better overall than employees who felt passionate toward their jobs, p. 216-222).

Of course, the most important thing to notice about the stories of powerful moments in this book are that they are moments of action. It’s not enough to spot opportunities for creating moments, you have to follow through to actually create these defining moments.


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.

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