Creativity is such an all-encompassing concept. We often think of imagination and originality as something tied to artists, authors, architects, designers, master chefs and so on. However, creativity is everywhere, including the business world. Where it’s often underappreciated is in the procedural attributes of the operational, management and strategic aspects of a business. In these areas, we often find a severe commitment to “what we know” and “we have always done it that way.” The blank wall, dead end or “not invented here” environment is clearly not the Petri dish of new ideas or lateral thinking.

I am a business re-engineering professional with a CPA background. That means I spend a great deal of time turning around businesses, helping create successful cultures, building effective teams, and helping to grow thriving small-to-medium-sized companies. Years ago, I made a decision that in order to be most effective in this dynamic world of challenging businesses, I needed to substantially increase my interactive or soft skills and communication was the key. I went to UCLA Extension to immerse myself in learning how to connect with people. I knew that our projects, most of which were incredibly challenging, were very successful, especially in the technical aspects: systems, corporate finance, operations, strategy, organizational development, etc. Even with this success, it was clear communication could make a major contribution and would shift the way these complex projects could be addressed.

I began working with one of my professors, Master Teacher Gloria Axelrod. I asked if she would join me in working with our challenged clients. Her ability to train the client’s team in communication and, simultaneously, boost their morale had a major impact on client success and also enhanced my work with these now more engaged members of the businesses. The results were infinitely more effective and productive. I then began teaching communication workshops with her, as a journeyman in training.

This was a very invigorating experience and greatly enhanced our client work. It was also an exceptional way to increase my knowledge about communication. With a Masters from Harvard and having graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Gloria’s extensive training and experience helped create a phenomenal and unique learning environment. To add to the excitement, she had been previously married to George Axelrod, who wrote the Seven Year Itch among other plays and movies. My systems background then kicked in and I started studying the success of our communications workshops. During role plays, I observed that students were using, on their own, an array of conversational techniques that weren’t being taught by us. It took some time to better understand what these diverse techniques had in common. But after some hard work, a pattern emerged that would become what we define as a language — a set of Tools that literally create and support a highly successful conversational process. Though it took some time to create, the first time we put these new techniques into a 1½ day workshop, the results were beyond any of our expectations.

It has now been many years that we have been teaching workshops and using this process with clients which we now call Revolutionary Conversations™.

You might want to ask: What does this all have to do with Leadership Skills and Leveraging What You Don’t Know? The answer is everything.

The Power of HELP

The language I mentioned is based on an interactive set of conversational skills or techniques, which I developed, called the S.H.A.R.E.™ Tools. They all work together, assisting every conversation to reach another level of success. The acronym stands for STOP, HELP, ASK, RISK and EXPLORE. Tied together, they are amazingly effective.

As mentioned above, leading with the “I Know” mindset can stymie creativity by discouraging others from contributing and thereby eliminating additional information that could help ourselves and others. It can also create a contentious environment where co-workers battle over their agendas. However, maybe most importantly, it can slow down or stop any further action on a particular subject. Our project focus is to move forward, strive to understand the situation and course correct as needed. By reaching for HELP from ourselves or others, we break a cycle of holding a process back because we want to hold on to the surety of what we think we know or our perceived power of being all knowing.

We found out that, as people became more comfortable with HELP, they became so much more open to letting go of their “I know” approach. By admitting/owning that we don’t know and asking for assistance, a solid step towards true engagement is created. Why? Well, despite what most of us have come to believe, most people are glad to help and, in many cases, are also open to asking for help themselves. As we begin to let go of our agendas and belief in having to be the “be all and end all”, the possibilities and options grow and grow in a natural way.

The first steps to embracing our need/desire for help, start with appreciating what you think you might know, then letting go so that you can begin embracing where you might need more investigation and support from others. Let people know that you need more information and it is okay for everyone to put forth that there are areas that we all have where we need to fill in the spaces. The two most important benefits here are that creativity becomes more vibrant and the amount of rework and starts and stops is decreased amazingly. As to leadership and helping everyone to move the process forward, by reaching out for help and creating an environment of collaboration, we are also creating an environment of leaders — where everyone can contribute for the betterment of all.

Law of the Situation:

Mary Parker Follett was a pioneer in the field of management and organization. In her very successful life in business and organizational development, her focus was that business was not only a business but also a social organization and that management had to become a discipline. [1]

Peter Drucker wrote in his Introduction to Follett’s biography, “Prophet of Management”, that, in the 1920s and 1930s, “we know that Mary Parker Follett was not only right but superbly relevant, and her relevance persists today. … She was the prophet of management.”

Two of Follett’s postulates are very relevant here as we discuss leadership and focusing on what we don’t know. The first is the Law of the Situation and it is defined as follows:

Human relations school of management concept that conflicts should be resolved according to the facts of the situation and not by the reference to the relative superiority of any party over the other. In other words, the solution to management problems should be governed by the demands of the situation and not by reference to any authority or principle.[2]

The second is “Power With”:

“Rather than establishing a strict hierarchy and delegating power to certain individuals over others, Follett believed that workers should practice co-active power. Powering with their team is better than powering over them, this way, each member feels just as valued as the next. This is not to say that hierarchy should be eliminated entirely, however. Structure is still crucial, but employees should not feel like they are less valuable than their managers.”[3]

We have been using this approach for decades, that the situation has the answers, the clues, the inspirations, possibilities and potential. Along with The Power of HELP, you can create new ways forward because you are not caught up in what you know and begin to believe more in what is possible. Something good always comes out of this process — I often view the additional information and inspirations as blessings. When you trust in the wisdom of the situation, and leaders to move the process forward, success is always superior.

Coming Alongside: Engaging Others:

“Come alongside” means to us that we approach any and all situations with a sense of appreciation of others and the situation, of what has been accomplished, of what they have to say, of whether they are willing or not willing to move forward. As humans, often, we first look to protect our turf by facing off with others. Coming alongside says to approach others as equals with unique values, even if their contributions are limited to their own perceptions. This approach makes it easier to embrace new information and to set up an environment of cooperation and collaboration. It provides a way of engaging others and helps create the team needed to advance the process for whatever needs to be done. It also aids in tapping into The Power of HELP, appreciating the Situation and utilizing a Power With mindset. As Dave Mattson of Sandler Training highlights in his article “6 Benefits of Teamwork in the Workplace”: “An employee working on a project alone will probably not want to stick his/her neck out for an off-wall idea. If the project fails when working solo, that employee takes the full brunt of the blame…Working as a team allows team members to take more risks, as they have the support of the entire group…” (Sandler Training posted February 19, 2015).

Some of the ways to aid us in Coming Alongside others:

1. Resist the desire to prepare answers/responses while listening to someone talk.

2. Avoid getting into a “My Ideas, Your Idea” dynamic.

3. Focus on What is Happening.

4. Try to come from a place of honoring others.

5. Assure others that you are listening.

6. Open up to the possibilities of others’ perspectives.

Coming alongside helps to create a more focused learning environment, reinforces a more engaged team experience, and helps to instill a leadership profile as people become more and more able to lead by working together and sharing.

It is Not What You Know but What You Need to Know:

As mentioned above in the Law of the Situation, the situation almost always has a clue to the needed information to move the situation forward to a whole new level of success. What if I had shunned the growing feeling that my project work could be so much better if we engaged our client team members more? I would have lost a great deal. And our clients would have as well — I remember turning around a large multi-office business with several serious issues, life-threatening challenges. We, of course, did personal interviews and confidential surveys. But the most impactful activity was a 3-day workshop with 70 of the team members. It was a dialogue between them and me. I let them know what I felt I did not know about the business and I acknowledged that I assumed that there was so much more. I also let them know that I trusted that they could help. Those 3 days flew by but the results were quite amazing. From start to finish, this 2,000-person operation in 7 states had gone from collapse to financial success. By not leading with having answers, we focused on what happened/was happening, engaged others, created leaders and built creative teams for amazing success.

Why did I take time to outline the development of our communication technologies and the exciting road to success and the unusual and unexpected rewards that came from this experiment? It is a perfect example of leadership and development by embracing “what you don’t know and not just relying on what you already know.” I took accountability for my skills and needs. I sought HELP to understand how we could enhance the effectiveness and profitability of our own projects, especially the success of our clients. I embraced a whole new leadership agenda for myself and my firm.

The result of this leap to learn was a whole new way to approach successful project management. It was also another way to help thousands learn how to be more effective through a new way of injecting improved communication in all aspects of their lives. It opened doors to many new clients, associates and friends and, ultimately, the opportunity to give back through non-profit endeavors. All this happened because what I didn’t know was more important than what I was comfortable with. All it took was to embrace one more time the opportunity to engage the HELP I knew I needed.

I am constantly surprised by what people can do when given the chance in some way. We all have the leadership gene. Keeping the door open for what we don’t know is imperative. Realizing that seeking HELP in any situation or interaction pays enormous dividends is clearly the “get out of jail free” card for your success and the success of others.

As a final reminder, please know that I do respect what I know, what you know, and all the experiences we each have had. I want you to own and remember it all. However, I would like you use it as a base of knowledge, a foundation point, remembering that there are always new pieces of information and other individuals that impact our situations. Often, maybe more often than not, these new discoveries are seeds of future success and future growth. This process most often creates an environment of being on the same page; many times, this being on the same page leads to a whole new level of peace.

[1] Excerpted from Peter Drucker’s Introduction of The Prophet of Management by Pauline Graham, ©1995

[2] Proposed by the U.S. management philosopher Mary Parker Follett (1868 –1933). [http://www.businessdictionary.com/degfinition/lawofthesituation.html]

[3] From: The Management Theory of Mary Parker Follett, by Sammi Carameia at Business.com, February 21, 2018

Copyright©2018 Mark H. Fowler, Revolutionary Conversations, LLC and Stowe Management Corporation. All Rights Reserved.