On June 17, 2009, Robert Half sponsored an executive business breakfast with Dave Howlett as their featured speaker. I was fortunate to have been invited to the event by Igor Abramovitch, Division Director for RHT. Dave Howlett is the Founder and Managing Director of RealHumanBeing.Org and presented the audience with his solution for “Knocking Down Silos”. When I first heard about the session, I figured it would be another traditional organizational silo presentation. My expectations were quickly and forever changed when I started truly listening to what Dave had to share. I purposely use the word “share” because the presentation did not feel in any way preachy, lecturing, or disconnected from what each one of us is capable of doing in our daily lives.
Dave Howlett is a very talented speaker who infuses his presentation with a great deal of humour and sincerity (and the right blend of sarcasm). The content of his presentation is not only interactive in nature, but also pulls from the real life relationships he has made over years of living the RHB mindset. Dave does not consider himself a motivational speaker, but I can attest that he is clearly an inspirational speaker and a testament to Toastmasters. By his own accord, he teaches a philosophy versus prepackaged tips and tricks to get you by in work and life. Like all successful philosophies however, the key is whether you can walk the walk and not simply talk the talk. To achieve this, often you need to change you current learned behaviour and those you surround yourself with. That in itself is a daunting task, but Dave has provided a community approach to helping you achieve those ideals as we all need a support group regardless of our initiatives.
While I am in no way capable of presenting the information covered as well as Dave can, I have attempted to capture the highlights on his presentation to share it with you (with Dave’s kind permission). I highly recommend to anyone trying to get out of cynical and stereotypical silos mindset to attend one of Dave’s presentations (RHB Events).
Through Good Times and Bad Times
Dave presented us with an interesting observation. He brought up the analogy that those we define as successful tend to also have the largest fences and gates around their homes. The higher you rise, the larger the gates get around you. Those gates are often imposed upon for protection, but more often they are self built for alternative means. Dave put forth the notion that people tend to establish fake barriers around themselves and proceed to justify their behaviours and stance behind those barriers. They feel in control behind those gates, but often are left alone in their cynicism and stereotypical views of the outside world. They become the angry old man that we have all seen sitting alone on the park bench. This figurative and illustrative point is a key factor in typical corporate silo disconnected mindsets. Simply put, being busy and successful is not an excuse for being rude and self-focussed.
Dave brought up the all to common corporate belief structure that those in your department are “great” and those in the other departments must be “morons and idiots”. These are Dave’s words and not mine, but I think we have all been in those situations whether it is putting down the IT department, the HR department, or whatever individual/group you may disagree with. Do you consider them “idiots” simply because they are not doing what you think is right? Dave reminds us all that you should not treat people like a category and asks “Can you be proud of yourself and still respect others beliefs?” Your task is not to judge them in advance, but let their own actions determine how they choose to operate and be perceived. Dave puts forward the notion that everyone deserves at least one shot at being a Real Human Being (and some need a few kicks at the proverbial can to get it right).
Dave comes from a military background and knows all to well what it feels like to be the new kid in the room. Being a military brat myself, I know what it is like to move from base to base every two years and how difficult it can be on all parties. He also knows full well that both sides of any conflict have their perceived good guys. What side of history you are on often dictates whether you are remembered as a Freedom Fighter or a Rebellious Insurgent.
In this economy and in life in general, nobody is indispensable and yet everyone has the potential to bring value to an organization. What Dave reminds us that is it is more important to treat people the way they want to be treated and not as you would like to be treated. We are getting more and more grounded into an innovation-based economy. You cannot afford to get behind the times and get stuck in the old mindset of treating people the way you would like to be treated. Regardless, old angry men will always be old angry men as long as they think that everyone else is a “moron” (once again Dave’s choice of word )
If you have not fallen into this corporate silo trap, you are already on your way to being a Real Human Being and you have my respect for being able to rise above this petty behaviour. As you can probably tell, I do not make any illusions to having never fallen into that mindset. I think most of us, especially in highly political environments have cast that stone. The key to Dave’s philosophy is how quickly you realize it is happening and how long you stay in that mindset. Sometimes, however, you need to change your environment before it changes you for the worse and you no longer recognize the person you have become. Sadly, in good times, we tend to ignore those basic facts and arguments which are often much clearer in hard times.
It is with this in mind, that Dave presented that fact that “When times are good, we tend to create bad habits“. There is a lot of truth to this statement. When times are good, we tend to get so wrapped up in the moment that we forget the basic rules of behaviour and ethics that got us to those good times. It is with that, that Dave followed his point with “When times are bad, we can use that time to create good habits“. You need to know how to manage yourself and others in hard times. The tools and techniques (basic reward models) that were so easily available to us during good times are now gone. The collapse of institutions caused by bad behaviour in good times (GM, AIG, the list goes on and on and on sadly) is especially true in the current state of the economy. Using the focussed guidance and awareness that one is granted during hard times is a key factor in redefining not only ourselves but also our organizations to rekindle the basic truths that make for a successful and complimentary relationship.
On a side note, it is appropriate and ironic that as I am writing this section, that my playlist just kicked into “Best I Can” by Queensryche while in full shuffle mode.
Good Guys and Amazing Women
Personal Branding is one of my favourite research topics these days and the topic of upcoming posts. On that note, I highly recommend the work that Paul Copcutt has been performing on this topic now for some time.
Branding is what you want people to say about you and/or your company. What is true about Personal Branding is that “if you have to say it, you are not it“. Dave emphasized this point very clearly in his presentation and it is one that I fully subscribe to. You need to earn that reputation as it is not one that can be labeled successfully through marketing. You may achieve short term success by marketing yourself that way, but things eventually fall into the places they belong.
On that note, Dave re-introduces us to the age old statement “He is a good guy, tell him that I sent you“. He proceeded to then introduce many of us to the lesser known (to us men at least ) female equivalent “She is an Amazing Woman“.
Dave outlined that “Good Guys“/”Amazing Women” are found in that very small intersection of Knowledge, Personality, and Reliability. Knowledge is simply experience and skill. Personality can be considered “fit“. Reliability is whether you are able to deliver on what you set out to do. Now this can be a very difficult intersection for many of us to achieve given our daily challenges in toxic environments. However, it is my shared belief that trying to be a good guy whenever you possibly can is a great start in achieving that intersection.
The three elements (Knowledge, Personality, Reliability) that define the intersection that makes someone a “Good Guy” are wrapped by a fourth element. The fourth element is giving back and this is one of the reasons I am investing as much time in this post as I am (once again with Dave’s full approval for sharing his content via this blog).
Dave equates this fourth larger circle as the environmental rebranding of the individual. It is with that in mind that I recall one of the attendants discuss after the session that he “does not buy into this recession mentality“. I found that statement to be fairly symbolic of the fourth element as he is ensuring that he is supporting those he believes in during these tough economic times through economical interactions and knowledge acquisition and sharing. You sir (whoever you are) are a “Good Guy” at heart.
If your goal is to become a consistent “Good Guy“/”Amazing Woman“, Dave outlined three basic codes of conduct for building your reputation towards that ideal.
RHB Code of Conduct
- Assume everyone is intelligent
- Have passion for what you do
- Get over yourself.
Third Gear Philosophy
Dave proceeded to remind everyone that how you drive is how you live and work. Now, considering my last three cars have been sports cars (TA, 951, TT) and I drive them hard and fast, I was intrigued by his statement . What Dave was eluding to, was his Third Gear philosophy. He uses the analogy of how you drive you car in heavy traffic situations and I will attempt to summarize them for you here.
First Gear people are those who will not let you merge to the point where they will inch their car as far as possible to actually stop you from being able to merge. These individuals suffer from a “only looking for #1 mindset” and have a “me, me, me” attitude. They are also the ones who are most likely to exhibit constant road rage both in and out of the car. First Gear individuals also tend to go out of their way to avoid doing work that is not their primary task. They are the first to complain and exhibit the highest forms of arrogance: stereotyping and lack of compassion of others needs.
Now everyone has been in a first gear situation, but as Dave points out, what is important is how long you stay in first gear. Those who fester and stay in first gear can start to manifest sociopath attributes to the point where they can become the very people discussed in the book Snakes in Suits (a book which I found to be a highly fascinating read).
Second Gear people are those who will begrudgingly let you merge, but expect to see a wave of thanks in return. More importantly, they are likely to revert easily to first gear if they do not get their wave. They tend to attach actions to expected outcomes. Their eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mindset works in both positive and negative aspects. Everything depends on whether their expectations were met. If they value the relationship, they will go out of their way to assist. If they no longer value the relationship, they will not help again.
On a positive note, they do perform an honest days work for an honest days pay and have a collaborative mindset at heart. Most people fall into the second gear mindset and for the most part tend to find a proper balance in their work/life environment that seem to meet their needs (notice I said “seem to”). However, as with cowbells there is always a need for more to make the music right.
And this brings us to what Dave is promoting as the gear for a Real Human Being.
Third Gear is the mindset that Dave recommends that you strive to drive your life in. Third Gear people are those who will gladly let you merge with no expectations of thanks or reciprocation. They didn’t do it for the wave, they did it because it was the right thing to do. They have cleared their personal road rage and have disassociated themselves from other peoples anger. They may let 20 people merge and only get 5 waves for their efforts. However, those 5 waves have far more value to them because it was not expected and was genuine. They tend to be embarrassed when someone makes a big deal of something they just do because it is natural to them. They realize that work involves a two way flow which leads to trust which then leads to real problem solving.
Watch your Weekend Challenge
Dave presented us with three simple tasks that help us practice becoming Real Human Beings. He called it the “Watch your Weekend Challenge“. It is made up of three elements: Watch, Weekend, and Challenge. To be effective, this must be done with a Third Gear mindset.
Watch is exactly that a watch. When you compliment someone, you should be complimenting them on something that they were not born with. There is a huge difference between commenting about someones appearance and commenting on something they have purposely choosen to wear as a form of personal expression.
Weekend is, yep you guessed it, the weekend. What a person does with their free time says a lot about a person (and I am choosing to Blog so I probably need to look into that). You should make a point of asking someone what they did on their weekend. Ask and listen and pay close attention to the passion you will see in their eyes and maneurisms when they discuss something they are genuinely interested in.
Okay, by now you should see a pattern. Challenge is …. yep challenge. Ask a person what is their largest challenge. What keeps them up at night? This is what you can help them with if it is within your capabilities. When you help someone with a challenge, you are not only showing genuine interest in them, but also that you care about them as individuals and want to empathize with their distress. This shows them that you have their best interests at heart and this will go a very long way in building the necessary relationships needed to meet the challenges you both face in the work place.
Friday Thank You Cards
At the beginning of the presentation, Dave hinted to us about an intriguing challenge, which he proceeded to outline in detail at the end of his presentation. What made it even more intriguing is that he indicated that his own statistics showed that young females tended to be successful in the challenge and older males tended to not be. Being an older male, my first reaction was “well I will prove those statistics wrong”.
Dave put forward that on every Friday we should mail out two (2) Thank You cards to individuals who either had a lasting impact on our lives or simply did a good thing for us recently. As an added control mechanism, Dave instructed us to ensure that he was a recipient of one of the cards to prove that we took on the challenge.
So on that note, the challenge is to go out and purchase ten (10) Thank You cards, ten (10) stamps, and start giving back to those who have given to us. I am taking up that challenge as a constant reminder that you are only as good as the people that you surround yourself with. No matter how good or bad things are, it is always a good time to thank someone for helping you (it is simply the right thing to do). The key is to not wait nor expect for them to say Thank You in return. If you find that the people you are thanking question your motives, you clearly have been living life in first gear.
One that note, I am publicly thanking both Dave Howlett and Igor Abramovitch for their time and effort in trying to make organizations more successful and reminding ourselves that we can simply be a Real Human Being.
Yours in 3rd gear,
Robert Lavigne, RHB