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Bobby Orig's Book Summary Of 'Authentic Conversations'

By Manuel “Bobby” Orig, Director, Apo Agua



By Jamie Showkeir and Maren Showkeir

Talk Does Matter!

In this groundbreaking new book, Jamie and Maren Showkeir take something people typically think of as merely functional – ordinary conversation – and show how it can lead to a workforce that is engaged and energized to one that is alienated and uninspired. All too often workplace conversations create what the authors call parent-child relationships. People hide facts, sugarcoat reality, and claim helplessness to try to control the interaction and get what they want.

The Showkeirs show how we can move to honest and authentic interactions: adult conversations that create increased commitment, true accountability, and improved business performance.

Praise for the book:

This book is about sharing the truth with each other in ways that build effective relationships and improve business results. It is not a fairy tale but an honest, hard-hitting book. And it’s not just for leaders or managers, it is for everyone in your organization. If you want to compete successfully in the world marketplace, you need Authentic Conversations.”

  • Dr. KENT M. KEITH, CEO, Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

About the authors:

Jamei and Maren Showkeir are principals of Hening-Showkeir & Associates, Inc., whose clients include 3M, Ford Motor Company, British Airways, Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard, among others.

Since the early 1980s, Jamie Showkeir has used his expertise to help individuals and organizations improve results while creating workplaces where people find meaning and purpose. His work is grounded in the belief that individual choice must be authentically engaged for organizations to successfully create cultures of accountability.

Maren Showkeir is married to Jamie. She served as a fellow for the International Center for Journalists whose mission is to promote “quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial to improving the human condition.”

From foreword of Margaret J. Wheatley

Industry Week named her first book, Leadership and the New Science, Best Management Book of 1992.

In 2002, I published Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, and went public with this statement: “I believe we can change the world if we just start talking to one another again.” In the years since I made this rather simplistic albeit, well-founded claim, the world has only grown more dark and complex.

These days, very few people remember the pleasure of being in good conversations especially in the workplace. We race past one another at tornado speed, frantic to get through our ever-growing list of tasks, consumed and consuming meaninglessness. Nearly three-fourths of American workers are disengaged, which means they’re doing the minimum of what’s required and not offering anything extra – no creativity, caring, or responsibility. I place the blame for this terrible apathy and indifference squarely at the feet of command and control leadership. When people are bossed around, treated like robots, and discarded casually, any sensible person disengages. Why waste our human potential on a place or person that has no regard for us?

And there’s no sign that it’s going to get better in organizations. Fear has become the primary motivator. Turning people against one another in aggressively competitive ways is now common practice. Speed is the synonym of productivity. Time to think has simply disappeared. When things go wrong or people refuse to engage, leaders get more demanding, more controlling, more imperious, and more destructive.

Into this current insanity comes this very sane book. This is a thoughtful and patient book drawn from years of experience. Its clear and simple process truly show how we could stop this deterioration in the workplace and become fully human at work again. The authors remind us of basic truths about how human beings work well together – that we’re adults, that we work best with intrinsic motivators of contribution and meaning, that we’re creative, that we have a need for community, that work needs to be engaging, that people behave responsibly when they care, that conversation is the way we think well together.


Typical workplace conversations are so common they almost seem invisible. They are so ingrained in our daily life that we often don’t realize  how deeply they influence our experience of the world. Conversations are significant than we are aware of, more powerful than we acknowledge.

Quotes about Conversations (425 quotes)

In this book, the authors hope to create an awareness of how daily conversations create, reveal, sustain, or change organizational culture. They explore the significant role culture has in facilitating healthy relationships and creating business results. Their premise is that true and lasting changes to organizational culture cannot occur unless people understand how traditional conversations stymie growth and erode commitment.

For twenty years, the authors have worked with clients who desire to gain the benefits that can be derived from using authentic conversations. They feel passionately that abandoning manipulation and engaging others authentically, is the right thing to do.

The necessity of treating others’ point of view and life experiences is a fundamental reality. The authors don’t advocate authentic conversations as a means for self-promotion, getting ahead, or getting what you want, but as a way of engaging everyone. This is about interdependence and collaboration, caring about the other’s success as much as you do your own, and increasing the likelihood that we will all benefit.

A chasm exists between compliance and commitment, in their very nature and in the results they yield. For commitment to be authentic, people must choose. Unless “no” is a legitimate option, the answer “yes” has no meaning. Leaders in organizations often say they want commitment but center their conversations on merely gaining compliance. Because the front line in any organization is where the core work gets done, commitment there, not compliance, is essential for good results.

Real improvement efforts in any organization must be engaged first at the front line. Those in the front line must be treated as the complex and capable human beings they are, acknowledging their perspectives and engaging them in a way that takes this into account. Doing so generates widespread commitment, meaning, purpose, and improved business results.

Along with like-minded famous authors such as Chris Argyris, Peter Block, and Meg Wheatly, the authors advocate abolishing command-and-control systems in favor of systems that rely on widespread literacy, contribution, collaboration, and commitment. Creating new, authentic conversations is essential to move organizations in this direction.


James Autry, businessman, author and poet, says, “We do make things true by what we say … Things and people are what we call them, because in the simplest terms, we are what we say, and others are what we say about them.”

Simply put, a conversation is an exchange between two or more individuals, but that simple definition obscures a conversation’s complexity. Words and language are powerful tools, and conversations are so commonplace in our daily lives that we don’t pause to contemplate their inherent power.

First, conversations reveal what we see in the world and what meaning we attach to what we see.

Second, we name things and create reality.

Third, we invite others to see what we see, the way we see it.

Fourth, through conversation we either sustain or change the meaning of what we see.

All these things play a commanding role in creating and defining an organization’s culture.

Judith E. Glaser Quote: “To get to the next level of greatness depends on  the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relatio...”

Edgar Schein, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the man credited with coining the term “corporate culture,” talks about culture as being a pattern of shared basic assumptions. Schein defined organizational culture as “the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.”

Culture tells us what is acceptable and unacceptable. It alerts us to whether it is okay to show up a little late for a meeting, how we should be dressed when we arrive, and whether bringing up difficult issues in the room will be viewed favorably. It influences how we treat each other, talk to each other, and is a factor in the way we view and interact with our coworkers and customers. Culture shows up as a similarity in the way people behave at work, regardless of their rank or title.


The overarching creators and carriers of an organization’s culture are the conversations in which the members of that organization engage. Statements about the culture are seen in what we say as well as through our behavior. Culture influences decisions such as whether to share or withhold information, whether it’s more important to a person’s position instead of authentically stating a point of view, and whether we see our coworkers as collaborators or competitors.

In an organization where business literacy, choice, and accountability are distributed widely and deeply, where flexibility and innovation are highly valued and the dominant roles are adult-adult, the culture norm is “when I see something is wrong, I want to attend to it. I am expected to attend to it and I am accountable for doing so. My boss and coworkers expect me to push back and challenge their thinking. Dissent and accountability are the lubricants of this organization.”

Conversation is the primary way of learning and sharing cultural norms, especially those ways that are informal and implicit. Messages are transmitted both in the words we use and in the relationship dynamics that drive how we talk to each other.

Michael S. Seaver on Twitter: "Create culture rather than command change. # quote #changemanagement #culture #leadership #employeeengagement  https://t.co/e5lSLtuM1m" / Twitter

For this reason, commonplace workplace conversations can sabotage any attempt at significant organizational change. In addition, some of the most powerful conversations take place outside the boardrooms and meeting rooms such coffee shops, restrooms, in people’s offices, on the assembly line. Those ordinary conversations people have thousands of times a day ultimately define the culture.

Establishing new conversations is the most effective way – and the most underutilized – to create ongoing, long-lasting change in our lives, our organizations and society.


The authors were consulting with a large newspaper grappling with a multimillion-dollar shortfall and the plaques of the industry: declining circulation, shrinking advertising revenue, increasing newsprint prices. Layoffs seemed inevitable. Hundreds were likely to lose their jobs.

In preparation for a large group meeting about the crisis, the authors followed the publisher for an entire day as he met with small groups of employees from advertising, circulation, production, and the newsroom. Everyone asked similar questions: What are you going to do about this crisis, Joe? How are you going to fix it?” They complained about being so stressed about the possibility of losing their jobs. They angrily told Joe they blamed him and other senior managers for “getting us into this mess” and demanded to know what he was going to do about it.

Joe encouraged his employees to focus on the long term. He assured them, “We will get reestablished. We will develop new strategies to build circulation and advertising.” All day long, we heard him give one reassuring message after another: “Don’t worry, I’m going to make you safe. Don’t worry, senior leaders will take care of it”

Joe was a bright, capable, and caring man. He was passionate about his job and committed to his employees. He wanted to do the right things. But in the authors’ estimation, he was saying all the wrong things. His conversations were making the situation worse. By making promises he couldn’t possibly keep and sending a message to employees that they were off the hook for resolving a difficult situation, he was exacerbating the problems the company faced.

The authors gave him their frank assessment of the damage he had been doing. Joe, obviously taken aback, was thoughtful and silent as he contemplated the authors’ feedback.

This was the feedback the authors gave him before his big meeting with employees: “In all the meetings you had with people today, you were reassuring them that things would turn around and that you are going to make it okay. Joe, how are you going to do that?” In the type of culture we advocate, it is likely that one or more people would have already asked this question directly. But the existing culture did not support asking this difficult question of senior management. Nor did the culture encourage introspection about individual accountability.

Joe was silent for a while, and then he finally said, “Well, I want to make it okay. Everyone is expecting me to make it okay. If I tell people the truth, that I don’t know what the solution is, this paper might fall apart today. It is my responsibility to figure things out and to reassure people.”

The authors asked, “Who are these people you’re talking about? Are they children or are they adults?” From the authors perspective, he was stuck in the traditional way of looking at things and choosing the same old conversations to talk about a difficult situation. He was reinforcing the parent-child relationship embedded in the culture. By choosing words of reassurance, by promising to define and solve the problems and telling employees they shouldn’t worry about the company’s future, he was treating employees as children who needed caretaking and protection. We suggested he try a new conversation by changing his view of the people who show up to work every day and the words he chose when he talked to them.

First, we advised him to stop sugarcoating the situation and tell employees the truth about the difficult circumstances the newspaper faced.

Second, we asked him to stop promising them a safe and secure future that he knew was impossible to deliver.

And finally, we advised him that he help employees realize that their issues of safety and security were something they were going to have to manage for themselves. In fact, they were the only ones who could.

Joe found the authors suggestions daunting. He wrestled with the ramifications. But at the end of the day, he stood up in front of a large group of disappointed, scared, and angry employees who were looking for reassurance, and he had a new conversation with them.

He began, “I have been doing a lot of thinking and I have some tough things to say to you  that I didn’t say when we met earlier.” He then explained clearly and directly the full gravity of the situation they all faced in making the newspaper profitable in the current market. He admitted that he had made the situation worse by implying he had answers to those difficult issues when he didn’t and by reassuring employees that things would be all right when he couldn’t be sure. He was clear with them about the costs of failure and said he needed them to begin taking responsibility for finding the answers. Joe was emphatic about the necessity of everyone working together to turn the situation around.

He finished by saying this: “The final thing I have to say is the most difficult. I can do nothing about your happiness. I can do nothing to make you feel safe, and I can do nothing to make you feel secure. Those things are in your hands. You will have to choose what you are going to do to account for your own future here and the future of this newspaper. I will do everything I can, and I hope you will too, but stop tap-dancing on my head about your happiness as if I were accountable for it. I am not.”

There was a moment of tense and bewildered silence. Then the employees spontaneously stood up and applauded – for a long time. It was a crazy moment of relief. They had been told the truth for the first time in years. Joe had acknowledged that they were adults and he had talked to them as adults. He made it clear he could not resolve the paper’s problems by himself.

It was a wonderful moment for the organization. Joe stopped the old conversation and created a new, authentic way of talking to the employees. He changed the culture in the room.


relationships | Small Talk, Big Results | Page 2

When the authors begin working with a client organization, they assess the culture and other things by interviewing people throughout the company. One of the first questions they ask is “What is it like to work here?”

When people say, “This is a difficult place to work. The pace is hectic and demanding, they don’t really care what I think. Nothing ever changes and I feel like all they want me to do is show up and do what they say,” the authors can draw some solid conclusions about the culture. They deduce that the work is fast-paced and people work long hours, but they don’t understand why and they don’t like it.  They are afraid to speak out or feel unheard if they do. They feel their ability to contribute is limited. They feel like victims and justify those feelings. The authors conclude that the culture is riddled with parent-child conversations.

The ways in which people view change are also signals of organizational culture. People say things like this, “When someone suggests a change, someone else says, ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work.’” Pretty soon everyone is talking about what happened in the past and how change never works.

Statements such as these tell a lot. They tell us that people in the organization have been disappointed by change efforts, and the culture is marked by a lack of hope and optimism. And because their conversations are centered on disappointment, injustice, and not being taken seriously, rather than the demands of the business, the authors conclude that the serious issues that affect success are not being addressed in the way they should be.

The first, most critical step to creating a healthier, more productive culture is to change the conversation. Changing the conversation in the moment can change the culture in the room, the way Joe did when he told the truth about a difficult situation. Changing the culture in the room in any given moment is the best any of us can do. If new conversations change the culture in the room enough times and in enough rooms – the organizations culture will change.

Changing the culture with new conversations can create a more mature, resilient organization with a capacity for creativity, innovation and transformation in the face of unyielding marketplace demands. Through new conversations, we can establish organizations that people believe in, where they take accountability for the success of the whole, where people find meaning in the work they do and achieve the necessary results to succeed.


Joe’s new conversation with the newspaper employees had four powerful elements that are not typically heard at traditional organizations:

First, he honestly acknowledged the problems and named the difficult issues. The newspaper was in deep trouble; he didn’t have all the answers and did not expect the answers to come fast or easily.

Second, he owned his contribution to the difficulty. He admitted he had clouded issues by offering empty reassurances to those who should have been engaged in finding solutions. He acknowledged he had wanted to make people feel safe and secure, even when he knew he couldn’t.

Third, he stated the risks and acknowledge the possibility of things not working out. He was telling it to them straight when he said, “I don’t know how we are going to solve these problems.”

Fourth, he presented them with a choice. He confronted the fact that everyone had a choice to make about what they were going to do and how they were going to face the future.


20 Quotes On Truth, Lies, Deception And Being Honest

For Joe, the business implications of telling the truth were enormous. Everyone in the room that day was looking for leadership from the boss – and he had to make a choice. On the one hand,  he could continue caretaking and encourage employees to look to him and senior management for answers and reassurance. But if he did that, people in the organization would remain stuck, unable to act for themselves. They will get the message that they were off the hook for finding solutions. In the end, he was likely to have a room full of people who were deeply disappointed, raging against the injustice of having to bear the outcome of inadequate leadership.

On the other hand, he could tell them the truth and acknowledge their betrayal. He could communicate the expectation that they work as adults who could, and should, contribute to the success of the organization. This speaks to the adult nature of everyone’s existence and the fact that we alone choose what we make of our future.

At least in the moment of Joe’s speech, employees heard the message that the survival of the paper was as much in their hands as it was with senior management. Rather than demanding like children, that Joe solve the problems for them, they could choose to grow up, have hope and optimism for the future, and put their energies toward making a difference.


In more than twenty years of doing their consulting work, the authors continue to hunt for the organization that says, “Our biggest problem is that  people are too darn accountable for the success of this business.”

Being accountable, motivated, and committed is a choice people make, not a mandate with which they comply. We see compliance in others and choose to believe it is accountability.

It has been said that the hardest rules to follow are the ones you create yourself. Choosing accountability for the success of the whole means creating a mindset that says, “I am choosing to be accountable for this business even though there are no guarantees. The future is always uncertain, and I am still going to be accountable.”


Let’s look at the difference between an organization where the people are showing up to “do my job” and an environment populated with people who see themselves as accountable for the success of the whole business. This is story about one of the authors’ clients, which managed a transformation from the former to the latter.

Personal Accountability for Improved Business Performance - MPG

The authors worked with an emergency department (ED) at a medical center. The medical center was part of a major health care system, and about 80 percent of this hospital’s admissions came through the doors of the emergency department. The rest via doctor referrals.

The ED was a busy, high-stress operation. It was staffed with competent individuals who genuinely cared about the patients and the business, and the same was true of those who worked throughout the rest of the medical center. However, the ED was struggling with a business-threatening issue that was caused, in part, because individuals didn’t see the need to take accountability for the whole. The department was managing its patient flow in a way that was seriously eroding customer satisfaction, quality care, and the bottom line.

Frequently, the ED became so full that patients were lined up in the halls on gurneys waiting for attention and admission. In extreme cases, some patients were being treated in the halls. Once patients were admitted, there was another long wait to find empty beds for them. Patients were subjected to a lack of privacy and intolerable waits when they were physically and emotionally at their worst.

Two things quickly became clear after the authors’ initial conversation with those who worked in the hospital.

  1. First, admitting a patient was a complex process that required the cooperation and coordination of several departments in addition to the ED – radiology, labs, transportation, housekeeping, doctors and nurses, admissions/discharges, among others.
  2. Second, everyone the authors talked to, no matter what department, framed this issue as an “ED problem.” Except for the medical center executive, no one the authors talked to saw themselves as responsible for anything other than what they had been hired and paid to do in their department. The ED patient pileup, they told the authors was not something they could influence or control.

It was clear that dealing with these problems was going to require new conversations about issues of accountability, interdependency, and collaboration. The first, most critical conversations involved educating people on what was at stake for the business.

Distributing business literacy was a priority. Everyone at the hospital needed to know and understand the circumstances, such as how long patients waited in the ED before they were admitted, how long they waited for required tests and services prior to admission, how long they waited for a room after they were admitted, and how long it took to turn over a room after discharge.

Everyone also needed to be educated about what this situation was costing the hospital in terms of money, patient outcomes, and patient satisfaction. People had to begin talking with each other across departmental boundaries so they could understand these critical issues and the roles they played. Most importantly, they had to see this as more than the ED’s problem. Ignored interdependencies had played a huge role in creating this situation.

Finally, people needed to have conversations that would raise their consciousness about what it meant to be accountable for the whole process of caring for patients.


In a meeting that included core workers, supervisors, and managers from across the medical center, the ED manager, Elizabeth, began having a different kind of conversation by saying something like this:

This problem is out of hand. The quality of our care for admissions, and for those being treated and released, is suffering greatly. Everyone thinks this is my problem. It is not. It is our problem. We together are accountable for the whole patient experience because it is through our collective interaction that they get great care or something less. We can’t solve this alone in the ED.

We in the ED contributed to this difficult situation by being way too protective of our department. We have even discouraged collaboration. We are not going to do that anymore. Some of you may think we are changing because our situation is miserable and we are doing it for ourselves. That is partly true, but much more important is the patient’s experience. All you have to do is look at patient satisfaction surveys to see how bad it is. We are all accountable for this. How should we begin to remedy this situation?

In her introduction to the meeting, Elizabeth started the new conversation with four important elements:

  1. She reframed the difficult issues in a way that emphasized the need for every department and every employee to see themselves as being accountable for the entire patient experience. She helped people understand that it was their collective efforts, not the work of individual departments, that comprised the patient experience.
  2. She owned her contribution to the problem by admitting she had protected her turf and had discouraged collaboration.
  3. She acknowledged she couldn’t resolve this critical business issue alone and she needed everyone’s help.
  4. She shifted responsibility for coming up with a plan – or at least the first steps of a solution – to others in the meeting. In this way, she clearly signaled her intention to collaborate and share the accountability.

Her speech produced rousing enthusiasm and a crowd that jumped to its feet, while shouting, “Let’s go out and win!”

Looking back, the authors noticed another problem. When people convened to talk about the issues, conversations were fragmented because information was fragmented. Departments or groups within departments were meeting without essential information or input from those whose collaboration was necessary to resolve the problem.

Meetings were important and, to an extent useful. But they were also a symptom of how lack of information contributes to lack of accountability for the whole. Meetings were reflecting the cultural beliefs about the importance of individual accountability versus accountability for the good of the entire business. Without the input of other departments and without information being distributed throughout the organization, the impact of these types of meetings was severely limited.

Fear also has to be confronted. Managers saw the notion of accountability for the whole as an erosion of their authority and (illusion of) control, a ceding of the responsibilities they had for managing their departments and the people who worked in them. Core workers were reluctant to take on what they saw as a management responsibility, which they argued was outside their job descriptions and salary ranges.

But as the conversations began centering on patient care and the experience of their customers, a slow realization began coalescing the group. Patients, most of whom were in distress or serious pain, didn’t care about the infighting among departments. They didn’t care if doing something that could make them feel better and more secure wasn’t in the job description of hospital workers. Patients needed whoever was taking care of them to have the information, authority, and accountability to resolve issues that would make their experience as seamless as possible.

After several months, hospital workers began seeing changes that had been effected by their new ways of perceiving accountability. The number of patients in the halls shrank. The lag time for patient admissions was reduced. Patients were moved into their rooms more quickly, and the time it took to turn around a room for the next patient decreased significantly.

Knowledge of how each department affected the whole and the development of processes that allowed speedy resolutions to problems meant a far different experience for their patients. As a result of the collaborative work methods, patient satisfaction ratings began to improve significantly.


Reframing accountability in organizational practice

In large organizations with many departments and scores of employees, the idea of seeing yourself as accountable for the whole can seem daunting or even ludicrous. “I can’t possibly be accountable for something this big! I am not that powerful, and there are too many variables outside my control.” But being accountable does not mean always having your own way. Nor does it mean that no one is in charge. True accountability asks you to recognize that the contributions you make as an individual affect the whole enterprise.

Choosing accountability for the whole and working in partnership are the same. By reframing your view to include the reality that each individual – and every department – is your partner, you acknowledge that partners are people who choose to be accountable for each other’s success. Partners are people who tell each other the truth, talk openly about doubts and difficult issues, openly acknowledge when things are not working, and extend understanding and forgiveness.


H. Jackson Brown Jr. Quote: “When declaring your rights, don't forget your  responsibilities.”

To create and sustain adult relationships, people must make a number of critical agreements as a set of rights and responsibilities. Consenting to rights and responsibilities is necessary for us to claim our place as adults.

These are the rights and responsibilities that the authors propose:

  1. Each individual becomes the eyes and the voice of the business.
    This means it is no longer all right to isolate yourself or let others isolate themselves. You can no longer afford to remain blind to the fortunes of the whole enterprise or ignore the difficult issues that must be raised and resolved. To be the voice of business means to develop an informed viewpoint about what’s going on in the business, the difficult issues, and the prospects for the future. It means putting the success of the whole before personal ambition.
  2. Each individual brings an independent point of view and is open to others’ perspectives.
    Though you are committed to bring the voice of the business, you realize your voice is only one of many. We all make sense of the same data in different ways. Each person will bring an independent point of view about defining the issues, what changes are needed, and where attention should be focused. You expect and embrace passionate, heated discussions and dissent. You do not back away from conflicts, because when people bring their points of view and care deeply about them, conflict is inevitable.

    While valuing dissent, it is mitigated when you make yourself open to the influence of others. Leadership is no longer defined as “having the right answers,” but as an ability to engage others to find the best solutions.

    As Margaret Wheatly writes in Leadership and the New Science:
    We need constantly expanding array of data, views, and interpretations if we are to make wise sense of the world. We need to include more and more eyes. We need to be constantly asking: “Who else should be here? Who else should be looking at this?”… An organization rich with many interpretations develops a wiser sense of what is going on and what needs to be done. Such organizations become more intelligent.
  3. Each individual chooses accountability for the success of the whole business.
    This commitment recognizes that the business is a collection of interdependent units and relationships. Maximizing one at the expense of others is detrimental to the success of the whole. You recognize that we are all in this together and that our success is more important than yours or mine or any single department. This also speaks to the heart of collaboration.
  4. Each individual manages his or her own morale, motivation, and commitment.
    Although you support others, you do not take responsibility for their emotional welfare or expect others to do this for you. You resist the impulse to blame others when things go wrong and instead look for understanding and resolution of the issues. You discover what your contribution to the problem has been and make it public before you take it on yourself to articulate how others contributed to the problem. One of the most powerful positions you can take is showing goodwill and commitment by saying, “As I reflect on this issue, I want to acknowledge what I have done. Here is how I have contributed to this difficult situation.” You choose to hold yourself accountable for the part you played in creating the problem, rather than waiting for someone to catch you. You stop expecting others to motivate you and take responsibility for your own morale.




One of the dilemmas the authors face in writing this book was addressing the difficult issue of starting a revolution. When they conduct their workshops on how to change culture through authentic conversations, it seems that the right people are never in the room. If we’re working with a group their leaders say, “This would be great for our employees! We need to get them in here.” If the room is full of core workers, they want to know if management has attended this workshop, because “We can’t do this unless they do, and they are not doing it now.”

Another question that gets frequently asked is “How can we change the conversation if they don’t?” Sometimes it is a simple statement: “This won’t work here because the organization isn’t ready for it.” These questions and statements have a subtext in common: “You go first.”

Do we think that leaders should be out in front, taking accountability for transforming their organizations by changing the conversations to create adult cultures?

Yes, we do!  Danah Zohar, coauthor with Ian Marshall of the book Spiritual Capital points out:

“It is a well-known sociological law  that a 10 percent minority in any culture begins to unsettle and change that culture.” She posits further that if 2 to 5 percent of the top leadership in organization undergoes profound personal transformation, and another 10 percent of their direct reports eventually join them on the journey, “The  culture will have a leadership profile sufficient to raise the motivational level of the whole organization …”

Like Zohar and Marshall, the authors believe that critical connections are made when a relatively small number of people shift their views and behavior.

But the authors want to be emphatic about this: “The revolution begins with the person in the mirror. It begins with you, regardless of the type of work you do, where you sit, how much you make, your title, or the size and location of your office. Much like the answer the authors advocate for the question “Who is accountable for the success of this business?” their answer to “Who starts the conversation revolution?” is “I do.”

One could interpret what the authors advocate as self-help, pop psychology, a collection of great techniques to help people through difficult moments, or steps for getting better business results. In the authors’ minds, there is something else that goes so much deeper than that. It has to do with the worthiness, purpose, humility, fear, anxiety, and facing the fact that it is up to you to create the world you want to live in, here and now, with the people in this room. It is about letting go of the wish that someone else will make it easier, pave the way, or take responsibility for you and your circumstances. If you can’t do these things, you will never be able to say, “I will go first.”

One way to get clearer about your intention is to invest significant, reflective time finding your own answers to these questions:

  • What do I want to be in this world?
  • What is my purpose?
  • What am I trying to create?
  • What contributions do I want to make?
  • What legacy do I want to leave?

When you develop satisfying answers to these questions, the decisions about how you live out your intentions become more relevant, illuminating, and authentic. Your determination to act in a certain way becomes firmer. This is where authentic conversations start, and that is where your work truly begins.

Such transformation will not happen overnight. But it can begin today.

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