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Powerless Communication?

Earlier this year I shared the thesis of a workshop I designed and facilitated for the Robert Toigo Foundation Groundbreakers Women in Leadership conference…Confident AND Collaborative Communication. I explored the challenge of balancing confident and collaborative styles that allow us to share our unique perspectives with confidence, while maintaining the ability to engage others through collaboration.

The session was very well received and the Robert Toigo Foundation has asked me to facilitate a similar session in 2015 for young professionals of color on their way to top MBA programs. As I continue to explore the topic in preparation for the upcoming session, I discovered the concept of powerless communication in Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Check out previous blog posts including Givers, Takers and Matchers and The Secret Sauce of Successful Giving for more information about this thought-provoking book.

Grant’s thesis on the subject of communication is that powerless communication is more effective than powerful communication, with a few exceptions detailed below. Powerless communication techniques include asking questions, talking tentatively, showing vulnerability, and seeking advice. Powerful communication includes offering answers, talking boldly, displaying strength and sharing one’s own point of view. Through powerless communication, he argues, we are able to make stronger connections, build trust, and persuade and negotiate more successfully. The positive outcomes of powerless communication include better collaboration, building stronger networks, and ultimately garnering greater influence.

So while I advocate for balancing confident (powerful) with collaborative (powerless) communication, Grant would argue that powerless communication is almost always more effective. The exceptions he suggests are (1) when you really are incompetent regarding a particular subject, in which case powerless communication will reinforce your lack of knowledge, whereas powerful speak will make you appear more competent, […]

The Secret Sauce of Successful Giving

Earlier this month in the posting Givers, Takers and Matchers, I shared with you that I was reading a book called Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. I had only completed the first few chapters and had learned that the social style that correlates most with success is giver. The twist was that givers are also the least successful. The open question to be revealed upon further reading was…what separates the two? What is the secret sauce? Having completed the book, I can now reveal the answer!

Without knowing it, I was stumbling upon the answer when I wrote, “Being purely selfless alone does not for success make.” In fact, being purely selfless is exactly what lands a giver at the bottom of the success ladder. Unsuccessful givers are termed “selfless givers” by author Grant and are distinguished from successful givers who are termed “otherish givers.” Otherish givers work in service of others AND in their own self interest, versus selfless givers who focus only on others at the expense of their own self interest.

Otherish givers focus on creating win-win outcomes. They are adept at expanding the pie because they can see the other’s perspective and create value for all. Otherish givers are trusting until they have reason not too be, empathetic when appropriate, and advocate for their needs as well as those of others. Finally, they are not afraid to ask for help and build networks so that they are not always carrying the burden alone.

Because they lack a healthy dose of self interest, selfless givers can be too trusting, empathetic and timid. They can end up exhausted and burnt out because they are uncomfortable receiving support. They can also be taken advantage […]

Givers, Takers and Matchers


I am currently reading a book called Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.  I am only a couple of chapters in, but the premise being explored is fascinating…and even before knowing how it unfolds, I want to introduce you to this fascinating work.

The author, Adam Grant, describes three types of people:  givers, takers and matchers.  Givers tend to be focused on others more than their own needs; takers like to get more than they give; and matchers give and take based upon the principle of fair exchange.   The research correlating these social styles with success finds that the most AND the least successful people are givers.  What I have not yet learned is what differentiates the successful givers from those that find themselves at the bottom of the success ladder.  This will be revealed as I continue reading.

I am reminded of my posting on September 17 last year asking What Kind of  Leader Do You Want To Be?  The leadership styles discussed in that posting, based upon the work of Pastor Bill Hybels from the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, are two — legacy leaders who are much like givers, and hirelings who are much like takers.

What I like about Grant’s framework is that it is less black and white and underscores that the same seemingly positive orientation toward giving can have a positive or negative affect on ones success.  Being purely selfless alone does not for success make.  There is some other ingredient that makes it all work.  In addition, he isolates a third style, matchers, which according to his research describes most people.  Relatively fewer of us are singularly focused on others or self…but rather, more of us operate from a place of fairness and […]

Coach Thyself


Coach Thyself. What a strange concept. I have been trained to coach others to manage through change, transition and uncertainty. I know the models and frameworks. I know about the locus of control and how people become more concerned the less control and influence they have over a situation. I know the importance of being resilient. I have successfully helped countless others throughout my career.

And now, I have to coach myself. While I have certainly experienced career transitions before, they have always been self-determined. This is the first time events are occurring that are completely beyond my control. This is different.

On February 5th, it was announced that Hospira, where I have led the Organization Development (OD) function for over five years, is being acquired by Pfizer. Great news on many many levels. And the beginning of organizational change, individual transition for myself and others, and uncertainty as to exactly what the future holds.

The evening of the announcement I had the good fortune to have dinner with a friend who is a smart OD consultant, and she reminded me that every new beginning starts with an ending. So while I am excited about the prospect of a new beginning…the end of my job as I know it requires some processing.

As I prepare to embark on the next phase of my career into what I know will be a very bright future… I am taking time to honor the past and all that I have accomplished in my current role. I am focusing on living in the present to help those around me who can benefit from my expertise in managing through change and transition. And since many of the best learnings happen through experience, I […]

Revisiting the “80/20 rule”

I had lunch recently with a friend who referenced the “80/20 rule” because someone had referenced it to her.  When we compared notes on what it means, we realized that neither of us was entirely sure. I realized in that moment that the term “80/20 rule” is part of my vocabulary but I have lost touch with it’s actual meaning. In the spirit of “Words Matter,” a blog I posted in September last year, I thought it was time to revisit the meaning of these words. In addition, I closed out 2014 by asking the question, “how are you spending the 24 hours you are given each day?” and this concept of “80/20 rule” is completely relevant, as I know that it relates to focus and leveraging time for the greatest impact and value.

What I re-discovered about the “80/20 rule” also known as the Pareto Principle, is that it means that 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. 80% of the sales comes from 20% of the customers. 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the clients. 80% of the sales come from 20% of the products. In other words, as it relates to time management and focus…focus on the 20% that matters. Focus on the 20% that will drive results.

I, in fact, had this wrong. I was operating under the belief that 80% matters, so don’t sweat the last 20%. My interpretation was that once you get to 80%, the effort to achieve that last 20% going from 80 to 100% was not a good return on investment of time. Based upon this incorrect interpretation or recollection of what the “80/20 rule” means, I was devoting my attention to 80% rather […]

What I learned over my Christmas vacation

This holiday season I found myself afflicted by a condition known as “TV binge-watching.”  I received the 5-season DVD set of The Wire, and from the first episode of season one to the final episode of season five, I was hooked.   Having completed all five seasons, I am now going back through the discs to replay the episodes that have commentary from the producers, directors, writers and actors.  I am fascinated to get a tour behind the scenes from those that deliver this magnificent body of work.There is so much to apply from The Wire to organizations, teams, leadership, culture, and performance.  I was curious to know if any universities were using The Wire and found that, although for a slightly different focus than organization development, The Kennedy School at Harvard uses the series as a case study on the urban inequality in America’s inner cities.There is one point that I would like to address that was raised in commentary by the writer of Episode Two in Season Three, Richard Price.  If you have not watched the series, in short, The Wire explores the drug war in the city of Baltimore, MD.  Across the five seasons the drug trade is examined through the lens of the police, port system, politics and government, educational system, and press, respectively.Each season is fraught with ideological, structural and interpersonal conflicts that the organizations, teams, and individuals must find a way to work through or past in service of achieving their goals.  Examples at the organizational level alone include the police vs. the drug syndicates, city vs. state government, and schools vs. the school board.The point Price makes is that part of what makes the series, and life, […]

The challenge of balancing confident AND collaborative communication

Last month I had the honor to facilitate a workshop at the Robert Toigo Foundation Groundbreakers Women in Leadership conference. What an inspiring day of female leaders sharing their wisdom and insights.

The topic that I chose to address was how women manage the age-old challenge of, on the one hand, being perceived as aggressive if they appear too confident, and indecisive if they are too collaborative. The session title became Confident AND Collaborative Communication, in part because of the alliteration, but in the end…it seemed to work.

The thesis that I explored was that communication is a form of energy, and that our job as leaders is to find the right balance of confident and collaborative energy so as to both have and share our unique perspective with confidence, while maintaining the ability to engage others through collaboration.  Both forms of energy are managed through “how” we communicate, or the delivery, as well the “what” we deliver, in terms of content and word choice.
Fast Cash Forked River

For more information on energy management and it’s relationship to communication check out the work of Ginny Whitelaw, listed among the expert resources on

Despite the fact that this is an age-old challenge, the topics appears to have legs for women. No fewer than four other conference speakers raised an aspect of my thesis in their remarks.  Furthermore, I know the topic still has legs for women because based upon the session description alone it was oversubscribed by the attendees at the conference and was standing room only.  So there is still work to be done.

Since energy is a manifestation of how we feel, think, and behave…it is a complicated matter.  My session at this conference focused mostly on the […]

What can you learn by simply switching lenses?

Last month I spoke at the CLO Exchange, held on Coronado Island off of San Diego in southern California. A beautiful venue for a thought-provoking gathering of Chief Learning Officers and other learning professionals from around the country.

One of my messages was the importance of expanding beyond our functional expertise as learning professionals, to integrate best practices from other disciplines. Every function or discipline approaches problem solving through a particular lens, and often the solution can be found by simply switching lenses.

The case study I shared was about integrating marketing principles as learning professionals. I find that many learning and development practitioners struggle with how to get buy-in or support from the business leaders with whom they work for the portfolio of learning and development programs and services they offer. What is the ROI? How can we measure the outcomes? In a resource constrained world, both financial and human, business leaders are appropriately challenging their learning organizations as to the value of a leadership development workshop, or the rotational program for high performing talent. The natural tendency is to respond by defending the proposed workshop, to justify the cost of the rotational program, and to attempt to quantify the value of work that is inherently qualitative and difficult to measure. As an aside, I advocate for measuring business outcomes not the learning program, and linking the business outcomes back to the learning. But this is a topic for another blog posting…

Rather than falling into a trap of defending and justifying each workshop and program, what can we learn by looking through the lens of the marketing professional. Marketing teaches us the power of a brand. A strong brand equals a strong reputation. If you […]

Who do you want to be in 2015?


Last week I reflected on the question of how we each spend the 24 hours we are given each day. I am going to continue this line of reflection as we move into 2015, with the annual opportunity to define new beginnings. What are we going to finally start or stop doing? What New Year’s Resolution can I put into place that is going to have a profound and significant impact on the quality of my life? The challenge that many of us share is that we live in overly-scheduled, overly-demanding worlds that make it difficult to pack in all that we desire. My life is no different. I don’t have time to do all that I desire to do? Or do I?

I found a compelling answer in a book called Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul authored by Bill Hybels. Last August I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Conference led by Bill about which I wrote two blog postings at the time (What kind of leader do you want to be? and Words Matter). I found the conference to be inspiring and engaging that challenged my thinking on a number of topics. In Simplify, Bill reframed the question that we often ask ourselves as we manage the exploding demands on our time. Rather than asking “what am I going to do today, this week, this month, or this year”…ask “who do I want to BE at the end of today, this week, this month or this year?” As I evaluate each opportunity regarding how I spend my time against the question of who I want to BE, what I choose to do becomes much more clear. The question of who I want to […]

How are you spending the 24 hours you are given each day?

Earlier this month I had the good fortune to leave the winter weather of Chicago to speak at the CLO Exchange in southern California on the topic of branding with Chief Learning Officers and learning professionals from around the country.

The gentleman introducing me made a joke and asked me if I have the same 24 hour day as everyone else because, from his perspective, I seem to accomplish more with the 24 hours that I am given. Since all things are relative I am sure the fact is that I accomplish more than some, and less than many! But this comment got me thinking about how we each spend the 24 hours that we are given each day. And what is it that allows some people to create and sustain the energy necessary to do more, achieve more, and perform at a higher level with the same 24 hours as everyone else.

I think the root of the answer is in finding your soul’s purpose…that thing which you were placed on this earth to do…that thing about which you are passionate. Perhaps it is the years that I lived in California, or my recent trip there, that leads me to this “woo woo” metaphysical answer…but I truly believe that we can create and sustain energy to do that about which we are passionate. Think about your hobby or avocation. No matter how busy your day or week was at work, don’t you magically find the energy to play golf, shop, play the guitar, or go to the Bears game? If we have the good professional fortune to do something that we love, that is fulfilling our soul’s purpose, we magically find the energy to do more and […]

By |December 19th, 2014|Motivation|0 Comments|