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Every Associate A Leader - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine


Creating the foundations of a MetaValues® Driven Culture.

“Every age but ours has had its model, its ideal. All of these have been given up by our culture; the saint, the hero, the gentleman, the knight, the mystic... Perhaps we shall soon be able to use as our guide and model the fully growing and self-fulfilling human being. The one whom all potentialities are coming to full development, the one whose inner nature expresses itself freely . . .”   -Abraham H. Maslow

Nearly fifty years ago, Abraham Maslow claimed that science was selling all of us short. He said we are capable of a great deal more than is generally believed. Today, more and more experts, from Peter Drucker to Frances Hessellbein are agreeing with that idea. While the opportunity this trend implies is awesome, the challenges are equally daunting. The furniture retailer can greatly benefit from understanding the opportunity to outdistance competitors who are behind the curve. On the other hand, to make the most of this opportunity, the furniture entrepreneur must also be aware of the difficulties and landmines that exist in this dawning era. Those two issues are the subjects of this brief series of articles.


The most important thing to understand is what the experts constantly refer to as a “new paradigm” of leadership. “Paradigm” is an old buzz-word, of course. But is definitely a good description of what is at issue. Even though the consensus is growing that workers are undervalued, the truth is that they are not necessarily anxious to accept the new challenges and responsibilities that go along with their new status. As Peter Drucker puts it:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time is written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not the technology, nor the internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time, substantial and growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is unprepared for it.”

As Stephen Covey sees it, “we live in a Knowledge-Worker Age, but operate organizations in a controlling Industrial Age model that absolutely suppresses human potential.” However, if people are really reluctant to manage themselves, how can an organization operate without the old carrot and stick? The answer lies in a new paradigm of leadership.

Because it truly is a new paradigm, the experts are still trying to define leadership in comparison to management! No wonder entrepreneurs and managers are confused! Covey summarizes a few of the latest distinctions between management and leadership that experts are suggesting:
Warren Bennis: Managers do things right, Leaders do the right thing.

John Kotter: Management is about coping with complexity, Leadership is about coping with change.

Kouzes & Posner: Management is about handling “things,” maintaining order and control, Leadership is about a kinesthetic sense of movement.

Abraham Zalezink: Managers are concerned with getting things done, Leaders are concerned with what things mean to people.

John Marriotti: Managers are the builders, Leaders are the architects.
George Weathersby: Management is the design of work and control, Leadership is about the creation of a common vision.

Stephen Covey: Management is about controlling things, Leadership is the art of communicating to people their worth and value so clearly that they come to see it.

I agree that both management and leadership are important. To this list I will add my own definition, which includes a critical third element:

“Management is the art of seeing and working with things as they are, Vision is about seeing things as they ought to be, and Leadership is the art of inspiring and empowering people to make things the way they ought to be.”

As Einstein observed, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” The past is dead; facts are sterile. But Vision is limitless, and allows the human will to propose a better way of life, and to strive to achieve it. To put it Biblically, “Without vision the people perish.” Another way of looking at it might be to say that Management is about things, Vision is about Values, and Leadership is the art and process of getting from Point A to Point C.

In Part One of “Every Associate A Leader” (published in Dec./Jan.FURNITURE WORLD and posted to the Marketing Management Article Index on furninfo.com) I challenged the conventional wisdom that has too often prevailed: “my values are mine and yours are yours.” Although we hear this mantra, no one really operates according to it. While some values are certainly a matter of taste and choice (such as our choices in clothes or food), others are clearly universal and inarguable. Three values are especially transcendent, and have prevailed since before the days of Socrates. These are Truth, Beauty and Goodness. In the business vernacular, the equivalent and more appropriate word-symbols are: Integrity, Excellence and Caring. My premise is that no rational individual would choose to operate in the modern world without deep concerns about these higher values, and how they affect his or her business relationships. Based upon this premise, I have designated these three transcendent values, MetaValues®.

As discussed at length in the last edition of Furniture World, these MetaValues® provide a roadmap and compass to guide us as we operate in the turbulent world of retail. For example, it is difficult to imagine anyone who does not desire, or rather insist upon, the MetaValue of Integrity in business relationships. Moreover, the MetaValue of Excellence is one we all want to achieve, and we expect this attribute of our associates. No one wants junk; we all want outstanding work. Finally, there is the aspect of Caring. We need associates who are caring people. We need associates who care about customers, about each other, and about the community. We need associates who treat vendors with respect, appreciation and caring. When the associates of a furniture store operate with Integrity and perform Excellent work with a Caring attitude, they take retailing to another level.

No organization is perfect. We all slip at times. The first Apollo moon mission was exactly on target only 10% of the time. The path was constantly monitored and corrected. This is what a set of Core Values does for an organization. If it gets off course, it will quickly be evident. Absolute Integrity is an ideal, it is the way things “ought to be.” Even so, if we begin to drift too far off our Integrity course, warning bells should go off. Likewise, flawless work and perfection in all of our relationships are ideals that one can only strive to reach. MetaValues show us the way things ought to be.

We can All be Leaders of Vision and Courage
A scientist is an individual who studies the way things are; he investigates and establishes facts. There is, however, more to reality than the facts. Enlightened men and women are grounded in reality as it is, but they also can “see” things the way they ought to be. This art is what we call Vision. Enlightened values, especially MetaValues, inspire us to see things the way they ought to be. In the musical play of the sixties, Man of La Mancha, the relationship between facts and values was clearly demonstrated. The play concerns a visionary poet, Don Quixote de la Mancha.

It seems Don Quixote had a fascination for knights, chivalry, and the idealism of the legend of Camelot. As he grew old, this attraction became an obsession. Finally, he donned a costume of armor and went forth into the world believing himself to be a knight-errant, with a vision to right all the wrongs of the world. Naturally, his family thought him quite mad. They sent the family priest and a physician to fetch him back home. When they found Don Quixote, a lively debate about what is real and what is illusion ensued. Finally the physician pleaded: “You must come to terms with life as it is.” The excerpt that illustrates my point is Quixote's response to this statement. Here it is:

“I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is. Misery, hunger, cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from taverns, and the moans from bundles of filth in the streets. I have been a soldier, and seen my comrades fall in battle, or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them in my arms in their final moments. These were men who saw life as it is, and yet they died despairing. No brave last words, no gallant sayings. Only in their eyes a confusion, and whimpering the question “Why?” I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness. To surrender dreams, to seek treasure where there is only trash, this may be madness. But maddest of all, to see life as it is, and not as it ought to be!'”

If you go along with me this far, you may perceive a few problems. How can an organization get ordinary people to buy into, and own, these MetaValues? And what will it do for your bottom line if they do? These are fair questions. I am suggesting here a set of values that work better and are more effective and inspiring than ordinary values. I further suggest that if you can put MetaValues to work for you, they will dramatically drive your bottom line to new, higher levels. In our last article, Part One, it was shown how the military is forced to draw their leaders from their ranks, the so-called “ordinary people.” The armed forces must somehow imbibe these individuals with their own brand of MetaValues. It cannot be said too often, while you may search for and find a hot-shot executive in another company, he or she will rarely meet the customer. It is the “ordinary” people in your organization who interface with customers on a daily basis. It is these ordinary staff people who sell the furniture to your customers, deliver it, and service it. In effect, as far as your customers are concerned, these “ordinary” people are your organization. Do they reflect Integrity, Excellence and Caring in the way they go about things? How can you be sure?

You can be more confident that your associates are honoring these MetaValues if you do two essential things. First, you must model these values yourself. If you are the owner, the general manager, or a manager of any kind you must operate consistently with Integrity, Excellence and Caring. This attitude will manifest as a continuing balancing act between confidence and love. Second, and this is the most difficult, you must teach others to actualize their own potentials to operate in this manner. In his book, The Eighth Habit, Steven Covey expresses this idea eloquently. He says the Eighth Habit is the continuous striving to find your own “voice,” and to teach others to find theirs. By this Covey means finding your authentic self, and expressing it. Abraham Maslow called this process “Self-Actualizing.” In the first paragraph of this article I quoted Dr. Maslow when he talked about using as our guide and model someone who is a “fully growing and self-fulfilling human being” ... someone in whom “all potentialities are coming to full development, the one whose inner nature expresses itself freely.” This is also a good description of what a Self-Actualizing individual is. The second phase of Self-Actualizing is the empowering of others to follow our example.

The theme of everything written here so far points to this premise: A Mission-inspired organization, with leadership driven by the situational fields in which it operates, based upon a mutual commitment to a set of shared MetaValues that empower associates, is the organization of the future. Such organizations may exist in business, government, or in nonprofit sectors. In Mission-inspired organizations it is the quality, and especially the character, of the leaders that drive the performance and produce results. The leader of such MetaValues organizations draws his or her strength from the willingness of associates to be part of a team that disperses responsibility and power across its ranks. In Part One, the US Army was selected as an example because Frances Hesselbein, Peter Drucker and Jack Welch hold this organization up as the quintessential mission-focused, values-based, demographics-driven organization. How does the Army instruct potential leaders in enlightened values and the critical importance of character?

What the Army Knows about Learning
We train in every aspect of retailing. We bring in consultants now and then to talk about values. But what is missing is a commitment by the entire leadership to continuous training in MetaValues along the lines of the military's programs. Who would perform such training in our organizations? Not outsiders, but various levels of management, just as the noncoms and officers do it in the military. In retail, no two such schools could be alike. However, all teaching and learning should have a broad goal in mind, and be organized to facilitate the realization of this goal. The goal of a MetaValues University is to undergird and improve a MetaValues culture. This goal is the starting point of an organizational program devoted to MetaValues training.

I had always imagined that one school is about the same as any other. But then I read about a different kind of school, one proposed by philosopher Mortimer Adler in a book titled “The Paideia Program.” First of all, Adler stated that no one is truly educated in the early years of life, that is impossible. Immaturity is an insurmountable obstacle to becoming educated. Adler claimed that true education takes place only with continued learning in adult life, after all formal education is over. Those ideas got my attention.

Adler noted that another misconception most people harbor is that the only process of teaching is a teacher lecturing, and students learning what they hear or what is in textbook assignments. Then, students are tested to see how much they learn. This kind of teaching, called didactic, prevails in schools and colleges. But Adler says it is the least effective way of teaching. The problem with lecturing is that very little is retained. As Adler observed, if you retested college students a year later in subjects they scored high on, there would be a dismal drop in their scores. About 80 percent of most formal teaching is passive, with only 20 percent being active and engaged. As Adler recommends, an enlightened school would exactly reverse these percentages, so that the mind is taught to think and not to just memorize facts. And, he suggested that two methods are best to achieve this: ardent coaching with supervised practice, and the Socratic method, with questioning and active participation. Good teachers use these, in addition to some lecturing, to effectively teach.

Two Better Methods of Teaching
Common sense compelled me to agree with these ideas. The two preferred methods, coaching and Socratic, do a better job of making people think, and retain what they learn. These are the general gist of the Paideia approach. In practice, teaching and learning is actually a flow back and forth between all three methods. Coaching is better than lecturing because well-formed habits of excellence in performance are more desirable than verbal memories produced by didactic instruction, which is the kind of teaching that helps students pass examinations, but is not generally retained. The third kind of teaching, developing an enlarged understanding based upon Socratic questioning in open seminar discussions, is the most durable of all teaching methods. It is especially effective in developing a deeper understanding of MetaValues. I cannot elaborate further on these teaching methods in these articles. However, there is yet another teaching method which is the very best and most effective.

How do We Train Our High-Level Managers in MetaValues?
As I have indicated, once a MetaValues University has been set up, it should be staffed and administered entirely by associates. Why? Chiefly because the very best method of learning is to teach. Turn your top managers, and yourself, into expert teachers and you will learn MetaValues more effectively than any other method. This is obviously a significant commitment by an organization. However, it is vitally important that the key leadership roles for a MetaValues University spring from within the organization itself. Day-to-day MetaValues training cannot be imposed by outsiders. It's ok to spice things up with an outside expert, but corporate instructors must acquire a thorough understanding of MetaValues and modern teaching methods for grown-ups. It must also be understood that early development of the university will take years of serious commitment, and then will require a long and continuous effort to keep the program alive and relevant. However, the end benefits of such a program are immense and priceless. In the final part to this series, I will explain exactly how the Army applies the principles above, and how the training works. If you adopt a similar program, you will be tapping into the most powerful source of energy, commitment and motivation that has yet been discovered.

The material in this article was in part condensed from Larry Mullins' forthcoming book,  THE METAVALUES REVOLUTION,  and is © Copyright 2004  by Larry Mullins, all rights reserved.

Larry Mullins has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies.  He is President and CEO of UltraSales, Inc.. Inquires can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at lmullins@furninfo.com.