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Breathing and Intelligent Awareness

Posted on February 23, 2016 by: Lisa Koss

“Breath is the vehicle of consciousness and so, by its slow measured observation and distribution, we learn to tug our attention away from external desires toward a judicious, intelligent awareness.”

B.K.S. Iyengar


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Coaching and Individual Change

Posted on February 10, 2016 by: Lisa Koss

thWe have the good fortune and privilege to be partnering with Harvard professor, Bob Kegan, who will be presenting a workshop to our client next month based on his newest book, co-authored by Lisa Lahey, called Immunity to Change (2009).  The book describes why we set goals and then don’t reach them, like the person who swears to lose 20 pounds on Monday and then eats burgers and fries on Tuesday.  Or like the New Year’s resolution by the person who is 100% committed to her goal, but then can’t execute it.  Whether the goal is to lose weight or to become a better delegator, why isn’t a road map and a can-do attitude enough?

Kegan describes some challenges as “adaptive”.  An adaptive challenge is one that might actually implicate a change in one’s own self-identity.  For example, imagine that my challenge to delegate tasks comes down to an assumption I hold that conflicts with the whole idea of delegation.  For example, perhaps I believe that when I delegate I’m actually shirking my own responsibilities.  This makes me feel badly about myself each time I delegate something, so I resist the very notion of delegation, even though I also see the need to do so.  If I shift my perspective somehow to see that when I delegate I am able to impact others in an entirely different (and more impactful) way (such as by clarifying direction or removing roadblocks for others), this allows me to be less conflicted.  In this case, redefining the “right” work to be done is the difference between fighting against a change and embracing it.

Shifting perspective is rarely easy, which is why people often look to trusted others for help.  This  is one way a skilled coach can bring value.  One job of a coach – either a professional coach (see description of this service near bottom of page) or someone skilled at coaching – is to help the person discover conflicting assumptions that generate internal conflicts and thereby prevent the desired change.  Identifying assumptions which may be at war with one another requires the coach to help the client enumerate those different assumptions and, when warranted, prick holes in them.  The insightful perspective of another is highly useful in that the assumptions we hold most dearly are the ones most difficult to let go.  Those assumptions usually constitute a part of our identity, and while they may have been important at an earlier time in our life, they may be now irrelevant and we just haven’t realized it.

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How to Learn Trust-Building in our Global Environment

Posted on January 03, 2016 by: Lisa Koss

As a part of our ongoing research on building trust across cultures and boundaries, I’m re-reading a book by Stephen M.R. Covey (Stephen R. Covey’s son) called The Speed of Trust (2006).  Covey provides rich coverage of all the aspects and derivatives of trust, makes a clear case how trust impacts the bottom line and has done a great job including compelling quotes throughout, most of which come from various CEO’s and global business leaders.

My experience of the read, however, leaves me both overwhelmed and thus, also underwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because in the 322 page book, Covey lays out his “5 Waves of Trust”, “4 Cores of Credibility”, 13 behaviors, a 3-part “see-speak-behave” model, a series of trust tips, and layers upon layers of bulleted and enumerated sections and subsections to the extent one loses track of which hierarchy of ideas one is wading through. I find some humor in that my reading experience seems to be an antithesis of the book’s subtitle “The One Thing That Changes Everything”.

Underwhelmed because after working my way through half of this book, I have the ongoing experience of not being sure what I’m really learning, except for a few helpful framing mechanisms, such as the fact that trust is comprised of two main buckets:  character and competence.  Additionally, despite the numerous references to global business leaders, there is little mention of cross-cultural aspect of his recommendations.  For example, Americans are susceptible to creating distrust across cultures due to a direct communication style,  so it would be helpful to consider Covey’s chapter on “Straight Talk” in different contexts.  To propose to “tell it like it is”, Covey uses the example of a president of a large division of a public company who tells others “…if you do not do these things, you will be fired.” (pg. 137)  For indirect communicators, the message could easily be interpreted as “Please leave the company now. I’ve lost trust in you and your ability to be successful here.”

A book for a topic like trust can be perhaps be useful to heighten awareness, but as it relates to really meeting the needs of the clients around the globe we work with, a more effective way to explore the topic is in a context of real people with diverse perspectives who are mutually impacted by a lack of trust, and who are motivated to learn through real experiences.

This book makes a cognitive exercise out of a topic that’s better learned experientially.  In fact, the topic of trust is one of those multi-pronged topics like “diversity”, “emotional intelligence” or “leadership” whereby the method of learning must match as closely as possible to real life experience.  In well-designed, experiential group learning events (see “Global Learning Lab”)  people must be asked to make decisions, self-disclose, take slightly uncomfortable amounts of risk, share perceptions, receive feedback, and come to one’s own conclusions about what really matters.  Experiential events should also be complex enough such that each person finds ample ground from which to pull their individual learnings, which will always be somewhat unique from what any other person needed to learn.  To me, the mode of learning must make sense with the subject of the learning.  In fact, I’d say it’s the one thing that changes everything.

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You’ve Probably Heard Me Speak About Your Breathing

Posted on October 19, 2015 by: Lisa Koss

If you’ve been in one of our workshops where you were practicing your coaching, your communication skills, or your executive presence, you’ve probably heard me comment about your (or someone else’s) breathing.  You’ve probably heard me mention some of what is in this tip, the 10/15/15 Harvard Business Review “Management Tip of the Day.”


Focus on Your Breath to Sound More Persuasive

Breathing plays a big role in how you sound. The ability to harness your breath is critical when you’re speaking up in a meeting or giving a speech or presentation. To speak with more confidence and power, focus on your breath. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your arms up over your head. Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, slowly lower your arms down to your sides. Make sure your shoulders are back, not hunched. This is the best posture for speaking: you are standing tall, owning your full height, and resonating confidence. Put one hand on your belly button and one hand on your chest. Breathe deeply and notice which hand moves. Keep your chest steady and breathe into your stomach. Then exhale slowly, and speak “on the breath.” Also, make sure to use your breath to support your words by letting it out steadily while you are speaking.

Adapted from “Breathing Is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking,” by Allison Shapira.

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Visuals of Negotiation Communication Patterns from Different Cultural Viewpoints

Posted on August 24, 2015 by: Lisa Koss

Published in the August Business Insider, check out these visuals that depict the structure of a negotiation from different cultural viewpoints.  Does this track with your experience?




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The Power of Schemas: As Easy as Riding a Bike? (Check out this video.)

Posted on May 24, 2015 by: Lisa Koss

Those of you who know our latest research, know that we are intensely interested in how cognitive schemas enable or hinder our ability to change – individually and collectively.  See this video for a perfect example of how we cognitively can understand something (say, the new corporate strategy) but cannot easily unlearn and change the way we work to enable it.


Posted in: Change / Change management, Organizational change, Organizational culture | Post A Comment

Rethinking Culture

Posted on January 21, 2015 by: ontos_admin

For change executives and change agents, read our new white paper entitled, ♦ Rethinking Culture ♦, by Ontos Principal, David White, PhD.

Summary:  Most leaders and many consultants believe organizational cultures can be “shaped” for competitive advantage. This immensely popular notion is so embedded in conventional thinking that to suggest otherwise is almost heretical. Yet this idea is, at best, unproven beyond espoused values and at worst, deeply wishful thinking. The problem is not the concept but the way it is defined and operationalized in practice. The good news is cognitive science over the last 30 years offers strong evidence on which to base a fresh approach to culture and change, one that promises to be far more impactful and sustainable in practice. This article explains why current approaches are problematic and outlines this compelling alternative.


04 heave culture

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How Do You Show “Politeness”?

Posted on November 12, 2014 by: Lisa Koss

Here in northern Germany today, we asked our client group what constituted “good service” at a restaurant.  (The idea was to begin exploring the idea of how to conceive of a competency.)  Among the answers one person responded “Being polite.”  “What does that mean?”, I ask, knowing that politeness is culturally specific.  The answer I received?  “Being serious.”  Of course, from another culture’s perspective “serious” can mean unattached, disinterested, lacking humor, lacking personality, feeling upset, and so on.

On the second occasion, we were speaking about what constitutes a leader who is an exceptional collaborator.  Among the answers is again….Politeness.

I love these anecdotes that provide windows into culture.

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Tips for New Team Leaders

Posted on November 03, 2014 by: Lisa Koss

01 Org XToday we received these business tips in our inbox from Harvard Business School Management.  We like them, but have added some caveats at the bottom of this post.

“New team leaders often skip over the basics of team building in a rush to start achieving goals. But your actions in the first few weeks and months have a major impact on whether your team delivers results. Here’s how to set things up for success:

  • Get to know one another. Resist the urge to jump right into the work and focus instead on fostering camaraderie with team-building exercises.
  • Showcase your values. Explain what’s behind each of your decisions, what your priorities are, and how you will evaluate the team’s performance.
  • Explain how you want the team to work. Not everyone knows the best ways to ask for help or go about tasks. Set expectations and explain processes.
  • Set or clarify goals. Make clear what the team is working toward and how you expect to get there. Setting goals early on lays the framework for holding team members accountable. “

Our Comment:  We like these as 4 good ideas to get started with a new team and the emphasis it puts on clarifying expectations.  But don’t forget that understanding your team’s values and preferences should be part of the discussion that follows.  Imagine that your values actually conflict with theirs!  Especially in cross-cultural teams, what a “good team member” looks like, or what constitutes “good leadership” will change.  In some cultures, for example, team members keep quiet until asked to speak.

I hear some leaders who like to start by saying they are direct, open and honest.  These behaviors may take time to learn for those who have learned indirectness and who have learned the art of communicating difficult messages while allowing the other to “save face”.  In sum, simply stating what you value makes your preference clear but may be difficult for others to understand, appreciate, or integrate.

Our Tip:  We recommend you facilitate a conversation where  the team also defines their own views about values, asking for help, teamwork, leadership.  In a conversation about the team’s values, for example, make a list of examples of what that word means to each.  If they say “trust” is important, make a list of what that looks like in practice for each person.  Record what they say for use in checking in as time goes on to see if the team is adhering to what they say matters.  In doing this you learn a lot about the people you’re leading …and – when done well – build the trust you seek at the same time.

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Humans are Unreliable! Test your Own Biases about People (Harvard Online Tool)

Posted on October 23, 2014 by: Lisa Koss

We all know we have our biases about other people, but often not to what extent.  We talk about this most often when discussing who is hired, who is promoted, who is most listened to, and how we make our daily decisions.  Harvard University has a set of quick tests online that are open for anyone to take that allow you to gauge your own biases toward a number of areas of difference, such as:

– race
– age
– sexuality
– skin tone
– weight
– gender-career
– more

This is fascinating and may dispel any notion you have about your own lack of bias.  Very compelling and highly recommended as a self-awareness tool.  CLICK HERE:  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html


Posted in: Diversity, Global teams | Post A Comment

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