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Interpersonal Needs and The Human Spectrum

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As I have done regarding inclusion and control, I wish to share a couple of stories from my own consulting career about openness. I turn first to my work with a leadership team in a major American bank. I was called in by one of the Senior Vice Presidents in this bank who was brought in from another corporation to shake things up in this division of the bank. He was to drive the vice presidents working under him to be both more productive and more innovative (his bank losing out to another major bank that had introduced new banking practices and were increasing their share of the banking market).

What our Senior Vice President found was that his reports had become even more conservative and their departments had become even less productive. I was brought in (with my team) to help improve the situation. As part of our contract, my team conducted a series of interviews with all of the vice presidents. Almost uniformly they indicated that their new boss had been unsupportive and threatening. It was either his way or the highway. I was faced with the prospect of reporting these findings to my client. I found him to be surprisingly open to the feedback. He suggested that I (and other members of my team) share these findings with his entire team of vice presidents. I did so.

After I completed my report, one of the vice presidents stood up and declared that our report was fraudulent. The senior vice president is a fine man and is absolutely supportive of our work. “Sir, you should fire these consultants – they had not told you the truth.”  The room grew quite silent and I was preparing to leave very quickly and consider another line of work!  Then suddenly one of the vice presidents (who I later found out was usually quiet in the group) spoke up. He indicated that the report we had delivered was quite accurate and that these criticisms of the Senior Vice President were often voiced in the backrooms (but never in front of the Senior Vice President).

Our courageous Vice President then said (I remember his words): “This is our one opportunity to make things better. If we can’t be honest in this setting, then when can we be honest. We are all hurting and none of us want things to stay the same.” At this point, several other vice presidents spoke us and supported this very open statement. At this point, the Senior Vice President spoke up and indicated that he appreciated the courage shown by these members of his team. Work began on making this group of vice presidents become a team. Their work over the following six months was very impressive – and this bank is now back in a much better position regarding market share. Miracles were not wrought, but important progress was made by this Senior Vice President and his team as the level of openness rose.

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