Possibilities or obstacles?
What do you communicate to your officers? Possibilities or obstacles? (iStock photo) What do you communicate to your officers? Possibilities or obstacles?
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
When I was a little girl, my Aunt Irene nicknamed meLittle Miss Yahbut,in homage to my contrarian response to most adult pronouncements. I m reluctant to judge too harshly my childish desire to be seenandheard. As a 5-year-old, my Yeah, but was one means by which I pushed and found independence. As they say, when I was a child, I spoke like a child.
Leaders, however, should aspire beyond a 5-year-old s path to autonomy. This is especially so because yes, but in the mind and mouth of an adult in a position of command takes on a sinister power not to be found in the mouths of babes.
Even in my tender years, I intuited the power of yes, but to derail nearly any adult-held position. Because I said so might command compliance, but it never inspired extraordinary performance.
The Power of But
Yes, but focuses on obstacles to the obliteration of possibilities. When we hear but, it overrides everything before it. Yes, but is really no a sneaky no, but nonetheless negative.
Butturns a conversation into a confrontation, a discussion into a debate, a mutual endeavor into a dispute.Butminimizes the importance of what someone has just said, done, or felt: That s a good point,but
Butmeans bad news:
- I know you want to switch to day shift,but
- I d like to promote you,but
- You almost passed the test,but...
Butis a verbal hammer. And we all know that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. Respond to people with yes, but enough and they ll stop coming to you with ideas.
Charles Chic Thompson is president of Creative Management Group, a top consulting firm. A noted author, whose bookWhat a Great Idea!was a main selection of the Executive Book Club, Thompson is an adjunct faculty member at The FBI Academy, the University of Virginia s Business School, and The Federal Executive Institute.
Thompson defines killer phrases as:
- A knee-jerk response that squelches new ideas; most commonly said by bosses, parents and government officials; and
- A threat to innovation.
In his book subtitledThe Top 40 Killer Phrases and How You Can Fight Them, Yes, but, ranks No. 1 and takes the title s lead.
The Power of Yes, and
Leadership includes communicating in ways that support rather than sabotage. Yes, and acknowledges a person s contribution as having value and then seeks to build on it.
Yes, and allows for different views and ways, not just my way or the highway. It opens discussions rather than nailing them into argument. Yes, and creates rapport and trust, without which leaders cannot persuade others to follow.
Yes, and embraces the leadership of Lao Tzu: When the best leader s work is done the people say, We did it ourselves.
One of the fundamental forces that drives the creativity, flexibility and innovation of Improvisational Theater is The Rule of Yes, And. It sparks and fuels dialogue with often surprisingly creative results.
Getting to Yes, and Leadership.
Thompson says, Yes-butters are geniuses at devising excuses for inaction. Within seconds of hearing a new idea, they voice their criticism. This allows excuses rather than possibilities to drive the conversation.
Thompson then asks, Are excuses driving your organizations innovation process?
Ask yourself: Is yes, but driving your leadership?
And if you really want to know the answer, how might you find out? Be brave enough to ask your hoped-for followers how strongly they agree or disagree with the statements:
- Our department s leadership reacts to new ideas, suggestions, questions and concerns with a yes, but attitude and response.
- Our department s leadership reacts to new ideas, suggestions, questions and concerns with a yes, and attitude and response.
Then ask them to give specific examples.
As a leader, if you are faced with yes, but responses to your ideas, determine if the yes, but statement is really a question. For example:
- Yes, butit s not in the budget may really be the question of how can we pay for this.
- Yes, butwe tried that before may contain the question of how your idea is different.
As a leader, you need to anticipate such questions and answer them before a yes, but mentality sets in. If you haven t anticipated them, be prepared to respond with:
- Yes, andI ve found grant funding [or corporate sponsorship, etc.].
- Yes, andI reviewed that attempt and made the following changes [or discovered the following circumstances which have changed].
One way to get to yes, and leadership is to experience its power with some scenario-based training. Pair off with a colleague and take opposite positions on a job issue, e.g., whether to settle a use-of-force lawsuit in which the officer followed policy and procedure because it would be less costly than a trial; whether to pursue a promotion from patrol sergeant to an administrative lieutenant s position; and whether to change from five eight-hour shifts to four 10s (or vice versa).
Each of you tries to persuade the other of your position. In the first exchange, use yes, but freely. Then repeat the conversation substituting and for but.
When Sam Horn does this exercise with workshop participants prior to discussing the persuasive power of yes, and over yes, but, participants naturally revert to yes, but arguments.
These same participants are amazed at the difference when they substitute yes, and. The discussions become more courteous and less contentious. Instead of trying to make the other person see the error of their ways, they start acknowledging and treating each other s views with respect.
To communicate a yes, and leadership, Thompson recommends sending out a memo that:
- Advises officers and staff of your desire to rid the organization of Killer Phrases like yes, but ;
- Enlists their help identifying such phrases and their usage; and
- Asks them to recommend Fight Back Phrases. Thompson definesFight Back Phrasesas words that launch ideas into reality, usually said by achievers and leaders, as well as the self-talk of champions.
Finally, Thompson suggests easy, fun follow-up, like implementing a 25-cent fine when a Killer Phrase is used and using the proceeds to buy something for the department (a popcorn popper, better coffee, Krispy Kreme donuts).
Law enforcement needs great ideas now more than ever. If you re not getting them from your officers and staff, perhaps it s because they ve been stifled by a yes, but atmosphere. Make 2010 the start of the yes, and decade and experience the difference one word can make.