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Kari with Sawyer at age 7My long-time pal Karina Bland, a columnist for The Arizona Republic newspaper, recently used her column to take a trip down memory lane. She did what most parents do: Wondered how it is that one day you have an infant, the next day a toddler, and a week later a gangly teenager. As she chronicled some of her son’s exploits over the years, one line in particular jumped out: “This boy renegotiated his bedtime with a Power Point presentation.”

Kari was describing a process we recommend in our book Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment. Although our book discusses the ways parent-child dynamics in organizations sabotage good results, this particular parent-child conversation was a beautiful example of something we advocate. At age seven, her son managed to create a “business case” for a change he wanted, which also had the potential to be beneficial to the “family enterprise.”

In second grade, Sawyer’s teacher taught the kids how to do elementary power point presentations. His made the case for why he should get a later bedtime. Rather than just nag his mom — or whine that “all the other kids get to stay up late” — he gathered data, constructed an argument, and tied his case to things that “the business” (i.e. Mom) cared about.

First he did a poll of all the kids in his class to see what their bedtimes were. Most, although not all, were allowed to stay up later than he did. He created a simple table that showed where the numbers fell.

Second, he talked about how a later bedtime would give him opportunities for more learning, by watching the Discovery Channel, for instance, or other informative programming. This would tie into the vision of  “the business” — raising a well-educated, well-rounded young man who would be come responsible and self-supporting.

Finally, he argued that because of their busy schedule and the demands of homework, very little time was left over in the evenings for quality mother-son time — to play cards, catch up on the day’s news, or read a book together before he had to go to bed.

 “Sawyer presented me with good research and sound reasoning,” Kari says. “He appealed to my working mommy guilt about not spending enough time with him — without even knowing it. Honestly, I was impressed Besides, it was just so cute.”

Was it manipulative? Clearly, Kari’s decision was based partly on mommy guilt. But whether there was manipulative intent can only be answered by one person: Sawyer. Manipulation is purely a matter of intention.

His approach, however, did exactly what a good business case is supposed to do: propose a change, and show how it would be beneficial not just to him, but also to the enterprise. It wasn’t a childish demand: “Give me what I want or I’ll sulk or throw a tantrum.” Kari had good information on which to base her decision.

The presentation of his business case worked — Mom moved his bedtime 30 minutes later. Did the decision benefit the enterprise? As we’ve watched Sawyer grow into a smart, funny, and responsible young man, we would argue that his getting a little less sleep didn’t hurt the enterprise one little bit.



Bob, the organic dairy farmer, who was featured in Sunday’s New York Times, has an attitude about his cows that would benefit managers and employees alike. Bob sees his cows as an investment, and knows that whatever is going on with them will affect his bottom line.

“For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” Bob says. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”

The farmer understands that this relationship is mutually beneficial. Bob doesn’t see his cows as easily replaceable milk-producing cogs in his dairy machine. He knows their names, their offspring, their quirks and their outputs. And he knows that the harder he works to provide what they need to be productive and contented, the better the cows will produce.

“They support me as much as I support them, so it’s easy to get attached to them. I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me.”

Because he cares about his cows, just like many supervisors care about their employees, it’s especially hard when Bob has to make decisions about the cow’s future, especially when productivity is off. When that happens, he tries to find alternative ways for those cows to contribute. But he is running a business, and he knows sometimes saying good-bye to the cow is inevitable.

Obviously people are not cows. For one thing, they have choices to make around their own contentedness.

And unlike cows, people have far more to contribute to boosting bottom lines when hard times befall a business than cows do. Smart managers know this.  By engaging workers in finding ways to create a better future, leaders have the opportunity to build business literacy, discover cost savings from the people who really manage day-to-day costs, and generate creative solutions to difficult challenges. 

Employees who are engaged in creating their own future are more connected to the business — and more likely to be content. And like Bob’s cows, an employee who is content is far more likely to be productive. When that happens, "the bottom line will take care of itself.”  



One breath. One deep, powerful breath.

Steve adopted this practice to keep his conversations authentic.

We met Steve last spring at an Association of American Medical Colleges conference, where we presented a workshop on Authentic Conversations. He is a physician who works as a financial development officer for a major west coast medical university. Most people call him a fundraiser. He defines himself as a donor advocate.

After introducing himself, he told us how something we advocate in our work — clarifying intentions  — makes a big difference in the way he approaches his career.

Before each meeting with a potential donor, Steve pauses for a few moments to do a short meditation. It serves to remind him that, even unconsciously, he does not want to veer into using manipulation “to get people to do what I want them to do.” He sets an intention to help people discover ways of contributing that are meaningful to them.

It is a wonderful practice for supporting authentic conversations.

Steve’s story also was perfect for our next book, to be published in the spring of 2013 (tentative title: Yoga Wisdom at Work.) It is about how living the principles of yoga on the job can help people become more successful and sane. We asked if he’d be up for an interview, and he agreed.

That’s when we discovered another useful practice for authentic conversations. I noticed right away that after a question, he takes a deep breath — inhale . . . .  exhale. And then he responds. In yoga, this focus on breath is called pranayama.  Steve consciously practices this during his conversations.

Mindful breathing, Steve tells us, gives him space to roll his thoughts around, and helps him stay present. It also decelerates the conversation — his conversation partners slow down as well. The interaction becomes more rich and meaningful.

In our hurry-up, do-it-now, I-can’t-wait world, imagine what would change if everyone took a breath before they spoke?

Inhale… Exhale. . . . . See the person to whom you are talking.

Inhale… Exhale. . . . . Think carefully about your response.

When stakes are high and conversation heats up — inhale… exhale. . . . . Create space to calm down, and consider what is best for the good of the whole.

Inhale, exhale.




On a recent afternoon, we found ourselves with a couple of free hours and decided to feed our inner film buffs. We headed to a movie theater to watch “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt. It’s based on Michael Gene Lewis’s best-selling book with the same title and chronicles how the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, used unconventional methods to assemble a competitive team with minimal financial resources.

As a movie, we both gave it a thumbs up. But what we really got excited about was the lessons for organizations found in the storyline. As the film unfolded, we nudged each other and nodded with recognition at the tension created as change and innovation battled tradition (which always has the home field advantage).

Others have noticed the management lessons that can be distilled from “Moneyball.” Forbes touted the Moneyball hiring tips. A Fast Company article mentioned the importance of “straight talk” (or in our terms, authentic conversations) and the need for managers to quickly make changes when people are undermining results. A Harvard Business School article reviewed the art of analytics and management.

But what we noticed was Beane’s perseverance in charging ahead with his unorthodox strategies in the face of skepticism and scorn.

A New York Times article characterized Beane as an “innovative visionary in a field clogged with myopic traditionalists” who “boldly discarded conventional wisdom.” But baseball traditionalists scoffed at the renegade manager, and many accused him of arrogance and worse. In the movie, the baseball manager is frequently butting heads with people who advise him to abandon his crazy theories because “the system has worked this way for 150 years.” How many times have you heard “we’ve always done it this way” or “we already tried that” when people want to make changes at work?

In the end, the changes implemented by Beane strengthened the Oakland A’s team and lead to remarkable results, even though the film didn’t have the proverbial happy ending. (Spoiler alert: The A’s still didn’t make it to the World Series).

As so often happens with innovation, Beane’s techniques were soon introduced and adopted by other baseball teams, eliminating the stealth advantage he once enjoyed. And we can  draw some conclusions from that, too —  it is a lesson on the need for attending to an organization’s resiliency, flexibility and constant re-invention.



She got fired over the phone, and sent an email blast to the organization announcing what had happened. The New York Times story on former CEO Carol Bartz abrupt dismissal from Yahoo said she did something that executives rarely do in that situation. “She told the truth.”

After word got out about her “I’ve just been fired” email, the national argument began: Was her action was a bold act of authenticity and transparency? Or a reckless, unnecessary act inspired by spite?

 Many said Bartz’ actions were consistent with her direct style, and she was applauded for her refreshing honesty.  Some hoped her truth-telling would become a trend, and held her up as a shining example of how things should work.

Others excoriated her for putting the company at further risk. One expert complained she made women managers look “too emotional.” And more than a few characterized her behavior as generally unprofessional.

The Times article contrasted her dismissal with some leadership changes going on Bank of America, where a carefully crafted press release, vetted by the legal department, explained with an upbeat tone that the bank was “de-layering.”

And we can’t help but wonder — why the spin when everyone knows what “de-layering” really means? Who really believes that executives leave lucrative positions of power because they need to urgently pursue new opportunities, or because they can’t wait one more minute to “spend more time with their loved ones.”

We are among those who applauded Bartz’s transparent style and we’d love to believe that this kind of honesty is a trend. It would benefit our organizations, our culture and our society. We agree with the assessment of Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor with expertise in organizational behavior, who says that telling the truth “helps you improve.”

When organizations insist on putting out a story that everyone knows is sugar-coated, they are telling the world that we can’t believe what they tell us. And that can’t be good for anyone.

It gets our attention — again — that telling the truth in an organization is a radical act.