Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm from … “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning“… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“… the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him — mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

“Under the same conditions, those who were oriented toward the future, toward a meaning that waited to be fulfilled — these persons were more likely to survive. Nardini and Lifton, two American military psychiatrists, found the same to be the case in the prisoner-of-war camps in Japan and Korea.”

“One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate.”

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.”

“As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

Book Review: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for MeaningI often find biographies of accomplished leaders or thought pioneers inspiring and instructive. Having read the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl’s, classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning years ago I recently came across his autobiography Viktor Frankl Recollections. I enjoyed reading about his story and it drew me back to reread Man’s Search for Meaning. Meaning is far more inspiring and relevant than his meandering, disconnected, and poorly written autobiography. Maybe something was lost in translation.

The first part of Man’s Search for Meaning focuses on the horrific ordeals he suffered in Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War. He witnessed humankind at its very worst and its very best. After suffering severe starvation, beatings, back-breaking labor, freezing temperatures with no shoes or warm clothing, and nearly being sent to the gas chambers a few times, he emerged at the end of the war to learn most of his family including his wife had been killed.

The second part of his book outlines the thinking that kept him from joining the many prisoners who died of despair or committed suicide in the camps. In an inspiring example of turning tragedy into triumph Frankl emerged to find a new form of psychotherapy called “logotherapy.” Logos is a Greek word denoting “meaning.”

Building on Nietzsche’s words, “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” Frankl advises “we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

This search for meaning is very consistent with the most recent research on positive psychology as outlined by the movement’s founder, Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, “Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life. The Meaningful Life consists in belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.”

A key part of logotherapy that Frankl first practiced in the Nazi death camps was focusing on the future through visioning or positive imagery. He imagined himself speaking in a lecture hall about his experiences and sharing the key lessons he learned to help others alleviate their suffering.

A major message woven through Frankl’s powerful personal example and this book is that life is all about choice. It’s not what happens to us as much as what we do about it.

Is your Leadership Audio in Sync with Your Video?

Is your Leadership Audio in Sync with Your Video?
It’s really annoying to watch a video with the audio slightly out of sync. Too often this is what people see from their leaders in matching their behaviors to their bold proclaimed core values.

Here are a few examples of how leaders in extraordinary organizations ensure they’re role models of the organization’s values:

  • The CEO of a contact lens manufacturer begins each executive team meeting with a report from each executive on what they have personally done to advance the service/quality improvement effort in the past two weeks.  This includes such activities as senior vice presidents leading major process improvement initiatives, CEO lunches for top performers, each executive calling at least three customers a week who’ve experienced a problem, and executives kicking off every one of the dozens of service/quality introductory education and awareness sessions running throughout the company.
  • One executive team realized the “humorous” barbs VPs were throwing at each other had become a thinly disguised form of “sniping” that rippled through the organization with departments taking shots at each other as well.  To give the “sniper” feedback and help form more constructive team patterns, executives now clang a pen on their water glasses or coffee cups whenever one executive “snipes” at another team member.
  • A fine‑paper manufacturer, a large hospital, a producer of medical devices, and a federal government department demonstrated their clear commitment to development by making the budgets for these efforts “sacred and off‑limits” during painful budget cuts.
  • To dramatize the importance of clean bus depot restrooms, the president of a bus line warned his managers he would drop into any depot on an hour’s notice and dine in the washroom.  Within weeks he was getting photos of managers dining in spotless washrooms.
  • Executives at an insurance company developed their own unique approach to “management by wandering around” and signaling called PEET — Program to Ensure that Everybody’s Thanked. Each of the fifteen executives receives a monthly PEET sheet, which lists the names and leader of three they are to visit to discuss the core values.  After the visit, the executive notes the visit’s highlights and sends the PEET sheet to Culture Team Central. A monthly summary of highlights and trends is compiled and circulated to the executive team.
  • Senior executives are the instructors for major coaching and team leadership skills development efforts that equip every manager and supervisor to live the new culture.
  • A high tech manufacturer was running at capacity to meet escalating demand. One of their hottest products was slightly off specifications, yet the desperate customer said he would take them anyway. But the plant manager refused to ship a product that wasn’t up to standard.  The CEO reports “It took about five seconds for the people in the plant to understand that he was serious about quality. Those are the things that have to happen because people are always asking, ‘What do you want? Quality or profit?’ The answer is ‘Both’.”
  • Executives of a clothing manufacturer spend one Saturday a month on the sales floor of major retail outlets selling their products. “It’s quite an eye‑opener to sell our own brand and watch people decide to buy other people’s clothing,” says one senior manager.

Do the people you’re leading feel your values rhetoric matches your leadership reality? What’s your feedback loop? Do know whether they feel your video is synced with your audio?

An Hilarious Illustration of How Perceptions of Fairness and Equality Are Relative

Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally: Excerpt from Frans de Waal's TED TalkAs part of a larger culture development effort, we’ve worked with dozens of executive teams over the years to articulate or revise their core values. An almost universal core value is some variation of respect, integrity, or equality, or fairness.

Whether our espoused or aspirational values become the real or lived values to everyone inside an organization is all about perception. That’s especially true with equality or fairness. How does the individual or team feel they’re dealt with relative to how others are treated is the critical question.

So I might be perfectly fine with my current pay and benefits package and see it as fair compensation for the work I do. But if someone else is doing the same job and getting paid more my perception of fairness and equality will change. I am no longer OK with my compensation. I may even feel exploited and come to resent how I am being treated.

A very funny two and a half minute clip from Frans de Waal’s TED talk shows an experiment when Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally. This humorously illustrates how commonly we decide on the fairness of how we’re treated by comparing how peers or others are dealt with.

We often judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. But as the French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupery, once pointed out “the meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.” Most leaders strive to be fair and equal. We need to find ways to continually get feedback and understand how those we lead perceive how they’re treated relative to others.

Talent Management and Global Leadership Development

Global Leadership Development Whitepaper
Talent Management including succession planning, developing high potentials, and attracting and retaining top people is now a critical issue. During the financial crisis and economic downturn of the last few years organizations slowed or stopped leadership development. As executives now face a wave of retiring Baby Boomers and take a longer term view, “leadership bench strength” has become a choking constraint to organizational growth.

We’ve recently published a Zenger Folkman white paper on Global Leadership Development. The paper reports on one of our studies on the topic that looked at senior executives rated in the 90th percentile in the globe perspective. The factors that most differentiated these top leaders from their peers were strategic perspective, customer focus and understanding, spotting trends, engaged team, willingness to take risks, and deep knowledge and expertise.

Whether developing local or global leaders these skills align with Talent Management best practices in developing future leaders for more senior leadership roles. The steps for implementing a long-term global leadership development strategy also apply across the range of Talent Management approaches:

  1. Create a new mindset and awareness among the senior leadership team.
  2. Establish a new culture and context that will support the creation of global leaders.
  3. Identify the unique capabilities required of a global leader for your organization.
  4. Begin developing future global leaders early in their careers.
  5. Utilize the most proven development techniques.
  6. Devise ways to better identify global leadership potential.

A key factor that’s emerged in this and our previous research is the need to develop leaders much earlier in their careers. As outlined in this white paper, more than three-quarters of managers don’t get any formal leadership development in their first position. Many don’t get leadership training until they’ve been in leadership roles for over ten years.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of Global Leadership Development.

In our CLEMMER Group planning session last week we recognized just how vital Talent Management is becoming. We’re planning a series of webinars, executive briefings, and workshops to address this issue in the next six months. Watch this space for details and how you can participate.


Coaching and Feedback are Vital to Continuous Improvement

Coaching and Feedback are Vital to Continuous ImprovementThere’s an old story about a man walking into a drugstore to use the pay phone: “Hello, ABC Company, sometime ago you had an opening for an operations manager.  Is the position still available?”  After a slight pause, he continued: “Oh, you have.  Six months ago, huh?  How’s he working out?” A somewhat longer pause. “I see.  Well, thank you. ‘Bye.”  The druggist, having overhead the conversation said in sympathy; “I am sorry you couldn’t go after that job.”  The man, surprised, turned and said; “Oh, I’m not looking for a job.  That was my own organization.  I was calling to see how I was doing!!”

We all want to know where we stand.  Decades of research shows that we want recognition for our skills and accomplishments, feedback that tells us when we have accomplished something that someone else values, some input to the decisions that affect our work, and the chance to grow and develop.  One of the outstanding characteristics of an effective coach is the frequency and quality of the feedback he or she provides to reinforce, support, and help others continue to improve.  Feedback is an absolutely critical issue all across the organization.  Organization improvement can’t happen without it.  Operating without feedback is like blindly shooting at targets and never seeing or being told whether you hit the bull’s eye or missed altogether.  You can’t improve when you don’t know how you’re doing.

Organizations with effective feedback loops have cultures that view continuous feedback as continuous learning opportunities.   And the cultural feedback patterns are set by management.  If most teams and their members are being well coached, they will come to view feedback as a positive and much needed step in the continuous improvement process.

Coaching traps, research, assessment, and asking for feedback are featured in tomorrow’s publication of our June blogs in the Leader Letter. And the quality of coaching along with a coaching culture determines the levels of customer service — another key topic in this issue. Finally, we look at the need to break free of learned helplessness and The Pike Syndrome. The burgeoning practice of Cognitive Psychology provides powerful evidence for just what we can change or break free from and what we can’t.

Here’s to busting self-imposed barriers and using coaching and feedback skills to liberate and develop others.

Learned Helplessness: The Pike Syndrome

Canadian and American Independence: Busting BarriersSince the mid-sixties, there have been a large number of experiments with animals and people revealing that helplessness can be a conditioned or learned response. An early experiment with learned helplessness was demonstrated with rats. When they were put directly in ice water, they could swim around for forty to sixty hours. But if the rats were held until they stopped struggling and then placed into the ice water, they gave up immediately and drowned.

In another case, scientists put a pike in a large aquarium with smaller fish that it feeds upon. However, the pike was separated from its tasty meals by a layer of glass. At first, the pike continuously smashed its head against the glass to reach its prey.  Eventually it abandoned the painful and futile attempts. It sank to the bottom of the tank and just lay there. At that point, the scientists removed the glass partition. But the pike now ignored the smaller fish, even when they swam right next to it. Eventually, the pike starved to death, despite its meals being right in front of its pointy nose. This behavior came to be known as “The Pike Syndrome.”

Many wallowing people, teams, and sometimes entire organizations choose to become victims of The Pike Syndrome. Here are common examples:

Personal Helplessness

  • That’s just the way I am…
  • There’s nothing I can do…
  • He/she makes me so mad…
  • They won’t allow it…
  • Nobody ever listens to me…
  • I am no good at….

Collective Helplessness

  • Forget it! We tried that before…
  • The collective agreement won’t let us…
  • Management/staff/head office/customers/operations/sales … don’t listen to us…
  • The systems/policies won’t let us…
  • It’s deeply ingrained in our culture…

Statements like these are sometimes a legitimate, healthy acceptance of barriers or limitations blocking the way. We may be better off to just drop it and move on to something else. But in most cases, statements like these are just excuses to give up.  Generally, these permanent, pervasive, and personal explanations are conditioned responses from past failures or setbacks. Like the pike, we may have smashed our noses against the glass ceiling or wall a few times and stopped trying. When conditions change and those barriers are removed or reduced, pessimistic people and teams still wallow helplessly and give up.

Leadership is an action, not a position. Leaders refuse to be victims or spend much time wallowing in negative situations.

Are You Using Your Customer’s Yardstick?

Using Your Customer's YardstickIt’s all about perception. Eons ago the ancient Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, mused “What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.” We so easily mouth the words “perception is reality.” But do we seek out and work from our customers’ reality? Or do we tend to dismiss key internal partner or external customer expectations as “unrealistic.” Or “that’s not reality, that’s just their perception.”

In high service/quality organizations there’s little doubt or debate. Service/quality is defined by the customer. Period.

A major driver of the enduring service/quality leadership and success of the Four Seasons international hotel chain has been their definition of service/quality through the eyes of the customers they serve. One of their senior executives explains, “Customers don’t buy a product, they buy what the product does for them. Quality in product or service is not what we think it is. It’s what our customers perceive it is — and what they need and want. If we don’t give customers what they expect, they’ll perceive our service as poor. If we give them what they expect they’ll perceive it as good. If we give them more than they expect they’ll perceive it as excellent. Perception is largely a matter of expectation.”

All too often we’ve found that the features, attributes, or service/quality expectations of the customer are out of sync with what the organization considers to be important and is focused upon delivering. As customers, we have all dealt with organizations that have done an outstanding job delivering a service or product feature we could care less about. So as the salesperson prattles on about that “wonderful” feature, or the company heavily promotes some “unique” service, we’re being driven crazy by the lack of attention to some other feature or service that the company obviously considers trivial or much less important.

One reason for customer and organization perceptions of value to be out of sync is that customer expectations are changing so quickly today. Teams/organizations not tuned into their customers often miss these shifts — until someone else bursts onto the scene with more customer-responsive products or services. We must continuously improve and change our service/quality levels in step with those we serve or we risk being changed.

Do You Agree on What Customer Service or Quality Is?

Do You Agree on What Customer Service or Quality IsCustomer service and quality is one of todays most talked about and least understood concepts. Service/quality is a very slippery concept. It’s exasperatingly difficult to define and a source of great confusion to many managers. There’s a wide range of differences in premises, concepts, and even in the meanings of key words.

Definitions of “service/quality” depend heavily on the mind set of servers/producers, their support groups, management, and especially on the culture of the organization. In some organizations, just showing up for work every day, in never mind how snarly a mood, is considered a good performance. A receptionist under siege on the switchboard might consider connecting the caller to the right department, regardless of how long they’ve been holding, as good service/quality.

High sales and marketing costs are an organization’s tax for low levels of service and quality. As Ted Levitt, former professor at Harvard Business School and author of the classic book, The Marketing Imagination, points out “The organization must learn to think of itself not as producing goods and services but buying customers, as doing those things that will make people want to do business with it.” Where’s the customer’s view in your definition of service/quality? Do you know (with facts and data) what your key internal partners and/or external customers expect from your team/organization? Is their definition of service/quality your starting point?

Organizations need a clear, well understood, consistent — and customer-centered — agreement on what service/quality means and how to deliver it. If people throughout your organization can’t consistently define service/quality, how can you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, how can you achieve it? Most managers and team members want to improve service/quality, but they are not all reading the same road map. But then again, they’re not even all heading to the same place. How about you and your team?

Further Reading:

• Click Customer Service blog posts for further blogs and a series on our Three Rings of Perceived Value model defining service/quality from the outside in.
Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance


How Am I Doing? Asking for Coaching Feedback

Asking for Coaching FeedbackSurveys show that when we’re asked to rate our own driving skills, over 75% of us score ourselves as above average. Similar self-assessment distortions show up when managers are asked to rate their own coaching effectiveness.

In researching and developing The Extraordinary Coach development system, Zenger Folkman identified four powerful reasons for asking coachees for their feedback on the coach’s effectiveness:

1. Asking for input significantly changes the nature of the relationship from parent-child to adults talking with each other.
2. Being asked for input changes the coachee’s feelings of being in control and having power.
3. The feedback changes the coach’s behavior.
4. Being asked for input changes the coachee’s attitude toward and ratings of the coach’s effectiveness.

That last point on perceptions of the coach or leader’s effectiveness is clearly illustrated in this data from our data base of 50,000 leaders being assessed by over 500,000 raters:

Looking for Feedback

You can start your coaching effectiveness feedback by viewing the recording of the webinar Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman recently conducted on becoming a better coach, as well as our Coaching Attributes and Perspectives Assessment on the same page.

Happy motoring and good coaching!