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Leading from the Shoulders of Giants
Dear <<First Name>>

Word count - 744
Time to read - 4 mins

Few Leadership Teams work really well and I’m currently doing a piece of research to understand why that is – and what can be done about it.

If you’d like to be part of this research – or to see the outcomes - then please contact me by replying to this newsletter.

It’s already clear from the research that trust between people is one of the foundations of a successful leadership team – as it is for so much else - and this month’s issue focuses on one aspect of how trust is created.

I hope you enjoy this article. If you do, please click here to forward this email to a friend.

Click here to see more articles in this series.

Chris Henderson
Leadership Connections

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Building powerful, trusting relationships

Have you ever shared an experience with someone and then been amazed at how the other person described it completely differently - or been surprised (or disappointed, or angry) when someone’s response to a situation isn’t what you expected? What impact does this have on the trust in your relationship?

Trust is not a soft, HR ‘nice to have’. It’s the foundation for powerful and constructive debate, high standards, accountability and results. Let’s explore how perception influences trust and how we can use it to create productive relatiosnhips.

'The map is not the territory'

You may well have heard this expression which has been much used in NLP and in leadership development. You might be surprised to know that it was coined by a Polish scientist and philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, as long ago as 1933.

Korzybski’s work on ‘General Semantics’ concerned the relationship between perception and reality – or what we think we know and how we know it. It has been hugely influential, not least on the subject of last months article Gregory Bateson.

Semantic nonsense?

Korzybski pointed out that, due to a combination of how we use language and how we think, we often make serious oversimplifications when we’re describing things. This is best illustrated through an example.

What if I were to make the statement

‘Fred is devious.’

It’s an example of the sort of thing we’d think or say about others that we work with – probably many times every day. But what does it really mean?

What I probably mean is something more like:-

‘Given the experiences I’ve had of people being open about what they are trying to achieve, I’ve found some of Fred’s behaviour doesn’t meet my expectations about the apparent honesty of his intentions.’

That’s quite a mouthful – and it’s obvious why we use the first, shorthand, version! It does, however, offer a number of insights which might help understand and, more importantly, resolve the relationship issues between Fred and I.

Here are some ways that we might be ‘missing’ each other:-
  • How might our experiences of openness and getting things done differ?
  • What actually is he trying to achieve?
  • Exactly which behaviour am I concerned about?
  • What are my expectations (and have I shared them with him)?
  • Could it be that his intentions are honest – and I might have misinterpreted something?
How can Korzybski help you today?

The critical words to watch out for are ‘is’ and ‘are’.

Behind them are always subjective issues of experience and opinion. If you hear them (or use them!) in a context that is causing problems, here are some questions to ask to move forward and build powerful and trusting relationships:-
  • What questions would help you better understand? (e.g. What exactly have you observed which makes you say that? How do your expectations differ? What can we do to reconcile the differences?)
  • Who else could help you/them think through the hidden assumptions/information?
  • How could you get the two people concerned better understand one another’s perspective – and the data on which they are based?
  • How could you simply spend more time together? Getting to know people better allows a better mutual understanding of perspectives and facilitates easier discussion of tensions.
  • In a Leadership Team context, might it be helpful to address these issues using a facilitator - whilst working on the issues of the day?

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to read more you could look at:-

Wikipedia provides a brief summary of his life  and of General Semantics

A modern account of the theory and application of General Semantics can be found in Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics. Extensional Publications ( 2001). ISBN: 978-0970066466

If you want to read about it in his own words you can get a recent reprint of Manhood of Humanity: The Science and Art of Human Engineering. Forgotten Books (2009). ISBN: 978-1440038006 ing

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