I once accompanied an eight-year-old Princess, a toddler dressed as a bumblebee, and a small Ninja on their ‘trick or treat’ rounds. One neighbor opened his screen door a little too wide and bumped the (highly padded) bumblebee off his front porch. Without missing a beat, the man said: ‘Oh … a Ninja, a Princess . . . and a lawsuit.’
That’s what I love about Halloween. The kids – the costumes – the fun and humor. But Halloween has another, darker side. It’s also about spirits, goblins, and hauntings. And that’s pretty frightening. Especially if you believe in ghosts.
Not only do I believe in ghosts, I’ve seen how they haunt organizations around the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if your company were haunted. In fact, I’d be surprised if it weren’t!
I even wrote a (almost true) story about a young woman chasing a ghost through a parallel universe located in the ventilation system of her company offices. For my ghost story I created some pretty weird characters: a magpie who hoards information, a Martian who has retreated into silence, a 400-pound pig in an admiral’s uniform who tries to lead without communicating, and the three-year-old head of IT who speaks ‘dribble’ – to name only a few.
Maybe they’re not all that weird, since these characters behave just like people I’ve actually met. The magpie, for example, thinks knowledge is like gold, and the more he keeps it to himself, the ‘richer’ and more powerful he will become. The pig is the prototypical ‘command and control’ manager whose role in life is to protect people who are unable to absorb what’s really going on within the organization. Let them in on what’s really happening, he believes, and they would panic, freak out, and defect like rats. The Martian tried to give his opinion when he first joined the organization, only to be told it may have worked on Mars, but that’s not the way we do things around here. And the ‘techie’ is brilliant – but unintelligible to the rest of the organization.
All of these characters are haunted by business practices that worked for them in the past. When these (and other) out-dated beliefs and behaviours prevail in today’s real-life workplace, the result is wasted talent and brainpower. In turn, this results in billions of dollars in lost ideas, in not sharing best practices and lessons learned, in a lack of innovation, and in employees’ not having the information needed to do their jobs. Now that’s scary.
Collaborative leadership is one of my most requested speaking topics. When I speak to leaders, I always include a section on the body language of collaboration, and I always use my ghost story to illustrate the ‘human side’ of collaboration.
Here’s how the story ends: The ghost can only be exorcized when everyone learns the ‘new rules,’ the first of which is: Knowledge is not like gold; it’s more like milk. Hoarding knowledge may have been effective at a time when it had a longer shelf life. But today, when knowledge is old 30 minutes later, holding onto it doesn’t make sense. What the hoarding magpie has to learn is that there is nothing less powerful than hanging onto expired knowledge. And nothing more powerful than building a reputation for knowledge sharing – fast and early on, while the information is still useful.
Another rule: Nobody knows everything, so nobody can win alone. Finding innovative solutions to organizational challenges is a team sport. Creative collaboration is fed by access to information and nurtured in an environment of trust. It thrives on the combination (and collision) of ideas. And you never know who has the most to contribute. It is not only the expert whose opinion is valuable. Sometimes the ‘stupid question’ of a novice or the ‘wild idea’ of a Martian is the very spark needed to stimulate group creativity.
I hope you have a happy Halloween. Just beware of ghosts in the workplace. And watch out for small bumblebees on your porch.
Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.
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