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Bob Chapman

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The Words Leaders Use Can Greatly Impact Performance

Posted by Bob Chapman on Jun 19, 2019 2:26:23 PM

In getting their jobs done, executives and managers primarily deal in communications. This includes the spoken and written word, along with the behaviors associated with those words. Words in the English language are full of richness in meaning. Yet for all the richness, we in business tend to bend, borrow and, in some cases, overtly distort the meaning of words to fit our purposes. While this convenient borrowing serves near-term purposes, often the long-term consequences are that the implied meaning of words we use in business are confusing if not compromised. This increases the complication of situations and can lead us astray.

Words are full of meaning and message, and in business are theoretically assumed to describe behavior. When the behaviors of executives and managers are consistent with their words, a powerful dynamic is created. Consider that an operational definition of integrity is behavior that is consistent with words. Doing what we said we would do, or not doing what we said we would not do is an essential part of establishing credibility and integrity as an executive or manager. Conversely, saying one thing and behaving differently is a surefire way to send mixed messages to a group, organization or team. At the end of the day, communication, which is comprised of behavior and words, matters greatly.

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Topics: Organizational Culture, Leadership

What Henry Cavendish Can Teach Us About Organizational Culture

Posted by Bob Chapman on Jun 10, 2019 6:23:56 PM


Organizational culture is one of the most important and yet misunderstood aspects in business today. Culture has profound impact on a business organization's performance. For example, a Harvard Business School study documented the significant impact of culture on performance. Heskett and Kotter documented the dramatic differences between companies with good cultures vs those with poor cultures on key performance measures. For example, the companies with good cultures achieved 756% growth in net income during the same time period that companies with poor performing culture saw just 1% net income growth.

Given the importance of culture on performance, one would assume that those of us in business would have an excellent understanding of what culture is. While this seems obvious, it is not the case. Most of us have an incomplete understanding of organizational culture. We assume that culture is:

  • The artifacts which can be seen in the organization. These artifacts include the behaviors which can be seen. It also includes how communication is delivered, the workplace is organized as well as how practices and processes deployed. While declaration is given that those artifacts are the culture, less consideration is given as to why those artifacts occur. Said differently, identifying what the cultural artifacts are is useful, however, meaningful change can occur only after determining why that culture occurs.
  • The values of the organization. It is common practice for executives who seek to change or improve their organization’s culture to use exercises to develop the exact wording for the desired values and principles of the organization. The assumption is that by identifying and claiming these new values that they will now occur in the culture. While this is a popular approach to culture change, it seldom works out for any length of time.
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Topics: Organizational Culture, Leading Breakthroughs, Organizational Transformation

How Hollywood Might Depict Changing Organizational Culture

Posted by Bob Chapman on May 30, 2019 2:55:21 PM

Most of us love movies and TV shows because it allows us to look in on characters and situations to see how things play out. Recently there has been fascinating news coverage and social media chatter about the unexpected ending to Game of Thrones. Many people are outraged at the treatment of their favorite characters. In a similar time frame, the long running TV sitcom Big Bang Theory also completed its story. While there was not as much angst and upset as with Game of Thrones, there still were plenty of points of view on how it should have ended.

This recent news got me thinking how Hollywood writers would develop a script about executives involved in changing organizational culture. What would the story line be and who would be the main characters? How might this story play out?

If we assume the screen writers looked on the internet for guidance and used the prevailing mindset about changing organizational culture, then we could expect a hero or two who were inspiring. This inspiration would be geared toward helping groups of people find new values, which in turn changed the values in the organization.

  • Given that, what movies come to mind which are inspiring?
  • What would be your list of top 10?
  • Would you include any of the following?
  • If asked to name movies which depict how you think about changing a culture, which movies would you pick?
  • Would you think of movies which you found inspiring?

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Topics: Organizational Culture

Appreciating I.M. Pei and Architecture for Transformation

Posted by Bob Chapman on May 29, 2019 10:34:23 AM

Photo of The Louvre pyramid which serves as the entrance, designed by I.M. Pei 

A remarkable man died at the age of 102 on May 16th, 2019. I.M Pei lead the design of some of the most unique buildings, which blended daring visual effect with practicality. Among his most notable projects were Boston's John F Kennedy Library and Museum, Bank of China tower in Hong Kong, Japan's Miho Museum, Suzhou Museum in China and Dallas City Hall with fellow architect Theodore J Musho. Remarkably, Pei was in his eighties when he designed the spectacular Islamic Museum of Art in Qatar.

I came to appreciate I.M. Pei for his work on Louvre Museum in Paris. This project was for me a masterful example of architecture for transformation of a building. I have adopted some of the lessons I observed from the Louvre project to my work with clients as an architect for organizational transformation. Let me explain.

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Topics: Organizational Transformation

Spotting Leaders to Promote Growth and Innovation

Posted by Bob Chapman on Apr 25, 2019 10:29:29 AM



Firms that want significant growth and innovation will find that organizational transformation is an essential element in executing their strategies. Without this large scale change the factors which have been limiting growth and innovation will persist. Acting to promote growth and innovation without organizational transformation is the embodiment of the popular definition of insanity:

Insanity is doing the same things over and over while expecting a different result.

Organizational transformation is required to alter the organizational context and culture. To better understand the word context, think of it as assumptions, beliefs, and experiences which, while in the background, actively shape how a person perceives events and phenomenon as they occur. While we are largely unaware of our contexts, these contexts shape our experiences, perceptions and thinking. As an example, if you are in a business conversation, the term leadership will be shaped by your experiences in business as well as how the organizations with which you are engaged use the word leadership.

Context occurs in language. The context in which words are used clearly shapes the meaning of that word as well as the sentence in which it is used. Consider, for example, how the word beauty takes on very different meanings given the specific context. “Beauty” can be used to describe an attractive woman as well as “beauty products”. However, the same word (beauty) can be used to describe a physical injury to the eye (as expressed by “that shiner’s a real beauty”), and many physical objects such as an auto, classic sailboat, etc. Same word, but very different meanings given the context in which the word is used.

Growth and Innovation are two words with intense meaning in business. Growth is directly related to value creation, which is why businesses exist. Shareholders punish and reward executive and management teams based on growth achieved and sustained. Some management’s attempt to achieve short term growth through a combination of acquisitions, cost cutting and financial engineering. However, for long term sustained growth the organization must demonstrate organic growth, which is based in part on innovation. Organic growth and innovation require organizational transformation. Organizational transformation requires leaders throughout the organization.

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Topics: Leadership

A Field Guide for Observing Transformational Leaders In Action

Posted by Bob Chapman on Mar 12, 2019 11:57:45 PM

If you have ever wondered what kind of bird you just saw, you know how useful Field Guides are. They provide photos, physical descriptions and locations where the bird can be found. With the advent of technology, my favorite field guides are apps. These apps provide excellent color photos. They also include the sounds which the birds make as being able to compare the sounds can be important. A few years ago, I was at the Lake of the Woods in Canada and could hear this unusual bird call which happened at sunset. Since we were in the woods I never was able to see the bird, even though its sound was quite clear. After much trial and error, I was able to identify the bird, which was new to me, thanks to my electronic field guide.

Unfortunately, birds are much more identifiable and predictable than leaders. Part of this challenge is that in many cases we do not have a common meaning or good understanding for the terms leader and leadership. Our understanding is shaped by our context. As an example, in organizations the term leader often refers to a position more than it does to the capabilities of the incumbent. A person is assumed to be a leader given the position that the person holds. It's as if being a leader was determined as part of the selection criteria for the person being selected for the position. While those of us who have spent much time in organizational life know that is not the case, this background assumption nonetheless persists. Another manifestation of this thinking that leadership is based on position is how the terms leadership and management are used in an organization. In many organizations the terms are used interchangeably, as if to have the same meaning.

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Topics: Leadership

Self-Enrollment: Choosing To Be A Leader

Posted by Bob Chapman on Feb 12, 2019 8:05:12 AM

Personal choice is a crucial step in becoming a leader. A person wanting to be a leader must actively choose to commit to what is required of leaders. This choice is intentional and volitional. Choosing to be a leader is not a one-time event. Rather this choice is made daily, at challenging times moment to moment.

The choice is enrolling oneself as a leader who makes a difference for others. For the person who is serious about being a leader, the choice begins a potential lifelong journey of discovery and learning. Leaders need high levels of commitment to deal with daily challenges, e.g., success, failure, hostility and surprises of all kinds. Being a leader requires large doses of courage, humility and resilience, all of which reflect the leader’s commitment. Being a leader is NOT natural or comfortable, at least not at first.

Being a leader requires high levels of commitment to be someone who engages and inspires others. This inspiration of others involves enrolling them in a new possibility for being at work. That is, other choosing to be enrolled in the possibility of making a difference for others in the organization, and ultimately the organization itself.

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Topics: Leadership

The Consequences of Transformational Leaders

Posted by Bob Chapman on Jan 16, 2019 1:07:32 PM

Transformational leadership is passionate about achieving excellent results through extraordinary actions taken by others in the organization. Transformational leadership also acts to alter the organizational context and culture in order to sustain the remarkable accomplishments. Transformational leadership is crucial to creating breakthroughs in financial performance, revenue growth, innovation, and other forms of organizational transformation.

Transformational leadership begins with intense commitment to achieving the results needed to create value for the organization. This intense focus on value creation is a core commitment of the transformational leaders. Transformational leaders know that a key element in creating value begins with predictably delivering results with their organization. Further value is created when results are achieved far beyond what is expected and what competitors are achieving. When extraordinary results are being achieved, leaders have excellent opportunities to speak with their various stakeholders regarding the exciting future of the organization.

Observing the Consequences of Transformational Leadership

The popular comedy Seinfeld was described as the “show about nothing”. It may sound like transformational leadership is similar when answering the question “What to Look for in Observing Transformational Leaders”? There is no single right answer since there is not necessarily any one personal attribute or characteristic that identifies the person as a transformational leader. However, if the question is reframed as “What is probably going on around a transformational leader”, then we have something to talk about. When I look to see the consequences of transformational leadership, I consider the following:

  1. People are inspiring and in action.
  2. The organizational context is changing.
  3. People are working to expand the quality of communications, both personally and organizationally.
  4. Things are happening and there is a high energy among the people.
  5. The intense commitment to improving performance of the organization is readily apparent.
  6. Leadership development is happening on a large scale.
  7. Employees and other stakeholders are enrolled in the changes and are organized and active.
  8. Innovation is happening.
  9. A solid foundation for the future is being built.

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Topics: Leadership

Ownership: Increasing Responsibility to Enable Employee Engagement

Posted by Bob Chapman on Nov 20, 2018 11:04:48 AM

Author's note: This is a long-form article. If you prefer, download the entire PDF including a Study Guide here.

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Leadership is the “Road Less Traveled”

Posted by Bob Chapman on Nov 6, 2018 8:15:00 AM

Choice is a critical element in being a leader. This choice is made daily, during challenging times, moment to moment. The choice to be a leader can be thought of as choosing between the comfortable and familiar vs. potential discomfort and unfamiliarity. Articulating this choice so as to be understood is challenging.

Robert Frost gives us a wonderful analogy for this choice, and the journey which follows in his classic poem, “The Road Not Taken”. This poem describes the story of a person walking in the woods who comes to a fork in the road and has to choose one of the two paths. The choice is between the familiar and comfortable vs. the less familiar and therefore less comfortable. This poem speaks to the heart of the matter for being a leader. The poem reflects a personal choice that is faced, like a fork in the road. The road less traveled is the only one that will create sufficient possibility for enrolling and inspiring others. The road frequently taken is the comfortable, familiar road that will feel good but not produce the desired outcomes.

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Topics: Leadership