How Virtual Humans Can Build Better Leaders – by Randall W. Hill, Jr

 

20140728_2The aviation industry has long relied on flight simulators to train pilots to handle challenging situations. These simulations are an effective way for pilots to learn from virtual experiences that would be costly and difficult or dangerous to provide in the real world.

And yet in business, leaders commonly find themselves in tricky situations for which they haven’t trained. From conducting performance reviews to negotiating with peers, they need practice to help navigate the interpersonal dynamics that come into play in interactions where emotions run high and mistakes can result in lost deals, damaged relationships, or even harm to their — or their company’s — reputation.

Some companies, particularly those with substantial resources, do use live-role playing in management and other training. But this training is expensive and limited by time and availability constraints, and lack of consistency. Advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics are now enabling the equivalent of flight simulators for social skills – simulators that have the potential to overcome these problems. These simulations can provide realistic previews of what leaders might encounter on the job, engaging role-play interactions, and constructive performance feedback for one-on-one conversations or complex dynamics involving multiple groups or departments.

Over the past fifteen years, our U.S. Army-funded research institute has been advancing both the art and science behind virtual human role players, computer generated characters that look and act like real people, and social simulations — computer models of individual and group behavior. Thousands of service men and women are now getting virtual reality and video game-based instruction and practice in how to counsel fellow soldiers, how to conduct cross-cultural negotiations and even in how to anticipate how decisions will be received by different groups across, and outside of, an organization. Other efforts provide virtual human role players to help train law students in interviewing child witnesses, budding clinicians in how to improve their diagnostic skills and bedside manner, and young adults on the autism spectrum disorders in how to answer questions in a job interview.

Our research is exploring how to build resilience by taking people through stressful virtual situations, like the loss of a comrade, child or leader, before they face them in reality. We are also developing virtual humans that can detect a person’s non-verbal behaviors and react and respond accordingly. Automated content creation tools allow for customized scenarios and new software and off-the-shelf hardware are making it possible to create virtual humans modeled on any particular person. It could be you, your boss, or a competitor.

Imagine facing a virtual version of the person you have to lay off. Might you treat him or her differently than a generic character? What if months of preparation for an international meeting went awry just because you declined a cup of tea? Wouldn’t you wish you’d practiced for that? If a virtual audience programmed to react based on your speaking style falls asleep during your speech, I’d be surprised if you didn’t you pep up your presentation before facing a real crowd.

It is still early days in our virtual-human development work, but the results are promising. An evaluation of ELITE (emergent leader immersive training environment), the performance review training system we developed for junior and noncommissioned officers, found that students showed an increase in retention and application of knowledge, an increase in confidence using the skills, and awareness of the importance of interpersonal communication skills for leadership.

A related study showed that subjects found the virtual human interaction as engaging and compelling as the same interaction with a live human role-player. I can say from personal experience that asking questions of the students in a virtual classroom can be exhilarating (and unnerving when the virtual student acts just like a “real” student, slouching in boredom and mumbling an answer). Unlike a live human actor, however, a virtual human does not need to be paid, can work anytime, and can be consistent with all students, or take a varied approach if needed. Virtual human systems can have the added advantage of built-in assessment tools to track and evaluate a performance.

Technology alone is not the answer, of course As I recently wrote in “Virtual Reality and Leadership Development,” a chapter of the book Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent, virtual humans and video game-based systems are only as effective as the people who program them. No matter how convincing a virtual human is, it’s just an interface. If the instructional design behind it is flawed it won’t be effective. So we focus as intensively on what a virtual human is designed to teach, how learning will occur, and how to continuously improve its performance as on the technology itself.

I believe simulation technologies are going to change the way we educate and train the workforce, particularly in the area of social skills. In time, just as a pilot shouldn’t fly without practicing in a simulator first, managers and leaders will routinely practice with virtual humans for the challenging situation they’re sure to encounter.

80-Orli-BelmanRandall W. Hill, Jr., is the executive director of the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and an expert in how virtual reality and video games can be used to develop effective learning experiences. He is also a research professor of computer science at USC

Baseball or Soccer? – by David Brooks

Baseball is a team sport, but it is basically an accumulation of individual activities. Throwing a strike, hitting a line drive or fielding a grounder is primarily an individual achievement. The team that performs the most individual tasks well will probably win the game.

Soccer is not like that. In soccer, almost no task, except the penalty kick and a few others, is intrinsically individual. Soccer, as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, is a game about occupying and controlling space. If you get the ball and your teammates have run the right formations, and structured the space around you, you’ll have three or four options on where to distribute it. If the defenders have structured their formations to control the space, then you will have no options. Even the act of touching the ball is not primarily defined by the man who is touching it; it is defined by the context created by all the other players.

As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” Brazil wasn’t clobbered by Germany this week because the quality of the individual players was so much worse. They got slaughtered because they did a pathetic job of controlling space. A German player would touch the ball, even close to the Brazilian goal, and he had ample room to make the kill.

Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize.

This influence happens through at least three avenues. First there is contagion. People absorb memes, ideas and behaviors from each other the way they catch a cold. As Nicholas Christakis and others have shown, if your friends are obese, you’re likely to be obese. If your neighbors play fair, you are likely to play fair. We all live within distinct moral ecologies. The overall environment influences what we think of as normal behavior without being much aware of it.

Then there is the structure of your network. There is by now a vast body of research on how differently people behave depending on the structure of the social networks. People with vast numbers of acquaintances have more job opportunities than people with fewer but deeper friendships. Most organizations have structural holes, gaps between two departments or disciplines. If you happen to be in an undeveloped structural hole where you can link two departments, your career is likely to take off.

Innovation is hugely shaped by the structure of an industry at any moment. Individuals in Silicon Valley are creative now because of the fluid structure of failure and recovery. Broadway was incredibly creative in the 1940s and 1950s because it was a fluid industry in which casual acquaintances ended up collaborating.

Since then, studies show, theater social networks have rigidified, and, even if you collaborate with an ideal partner, you are not as likely to be as creative as you would have been when the global environment was more fertile.

Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning.

Second, predictive models will be less useful. Baseball is wonderful for sabermetricians. In each at bat there is a limited range of possible outcomes. Activities like soccer are not as easily renderable statistically, because the relevant spatial structures are harder to quantify. Even the estimable statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gave Brazil a 65 percent chance of beating Germany.

Finally, Critchley notes that soccer is like a 90-minute anxiety dream — one of those frustrating dreams when you’re trying to get somewhere but something is always in the way. This is yet another way soccer is like life.

Is Germany’s World Cup Triumph, a Triumph of Management? – By David Bach

 Yale SOM’s David Bach finds five key factors behind Germany’s victory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil—and they’re all about smart management.

“Portugal has Ronaldo, Brazil has Neymar, Argentina has Messi, but Germany has a team!”This tweet made the rounds after Germany’s unprecedented 7:1 thrashing of host country Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Indeed, the narrative that quickly gained hold-even more so after Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final and lifted the cup for the fourth time in the tournament’s history-is that “Die Mannschaft” triumphed thanks to extraordinary team spirit, a triumph of the collective over individual stars.

Yet this narrative is wrong. Germany’s squad was studded with stars. Granted, Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are, respectively, the first-, second-, and sixth-best-paid soccer stars in the world, and Germany’s top-ranked player on the list, Mesut Özil, ranks a relatively paltry 13th1 but Germany had the world’s best goal keeper, Manuel Neuer; eight players who played in the 2013 Champions League final; and four players who ended up among the 10 nominees for the tournament’s best player award. All of them are multimillionaires and many anchor some of the world’s most prestigious club lines.

Germany’s win was instead a triumph of management. Sound management cultivated a deep and broad pool of stars. And sound management forged them into a team with a mission and a plan. Peter Drucker reminds us that the task of management is to “make people capable of joint performance.”2 A key to this, according to Drucker, is a “commitment to common goals and shared values.” “The mission of the organization,” he explains, “has to be clear enough and big enough to provide common vision.” Since “[e]very enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge…[i]t must be built on communication and on individual responsibility…. All [members] have to think through what they owe to others-and make sure that others understand.” Equally importantly, “management must also enable the enterprise and each of its members to grow and develop as needs and opportunities change. Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels- training and development that never stops.”

The mission-to become world champion-was certainly clear enough and big enough. But it was hardly unique. It motivated all teams, or at the very least the ones with a realistic shot at going all the way. For instance, no other team seemed more driven by the goal of winning the cup than Brazil. One might even say that it became an obsession that ultimately did the team in as the players crumbled under immense public pressure. Important as the mission was, it did not set Germany apart. What distinguished “Die Mannschaft” was a combination of five factors: long-term capability development, meticulous planning, an inclusive culture based on open communication and individual responsibility, competitive intelligence, and the confidence to deviate from the plan when circumstances required it.

Long-term capability development. The seeds for Germany’s World Cup victory were planted a decade ago. In 2004, a mere two years after losing the World Cup final to Brazil, German soccer stared into an abyss when the team was eliminated during group stages of the Euro Cup, having scored only two goals and failed to win a single match. Two years later loomed the World Cup in Germany and the risk of humiliation at home. It was what change management scholars call a “burning platform” moment that enabled sweeping change. A new coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, and his assistant, Jogi Löw, brought in fresh players, modernized preparation methods to stress physical fitness and mental strength, and emphasized youth and skill over experience. “[Klinsmann] risked alienating fans and players alike by turning aside the more experienced players of generations past in exchange for going younger and faster in a competition with a large amount of pressure,” noted one observer. (Incidentally, Klinsmann did the same in the 2014 World Cup as U.S. coach by leaving popular veteran Landon Donovan at home).3 Löw stuck to this formula after taking over as German head coach in 2006. His 2010 squad was the third youngest of the competition at 25.0 years and this year’s championship team came in at 26.31 years, making it the sixth youngest among the 32 teams-Argentina, incidentally, was the oldest at 28.92 years. The ability to repeatedly replenish and rejuvenate the team was made possible by systemic talent development across the country over the past decade led by the country’s soccer federation. Six of Germany’s starters against Brazil were part of the starting lineup that won the European under-21 championship in 2009 (another player on that team, incidentally, was Fabian Johnson, who played for Klinsmann’s U.S. squad in the World Cup). Capability development has not been limited to players, however. Under Klinsmann’s leadership, the team also developed a second-to-none scouting capability that provides competitive intelligence on opponents (see below), a coaching staff that includes several sports psychologists, and a separate management arm in charge of planning.

Meticulous Planning. Oliver Bierhoff assumed the newly created job of manager for the national team in 2004 as part of the Klinsmann revolution. A former German standout forward who scored the winning goal of the 1996 Euro Cup, Germany’s last triumph prior to this World Cup, Bierhoff not only manages sponsorships and PR, but was also the source of perhaps the most visible manifestation of the team’s ambition in Brazil: the team base, “Campo Bahia.” Germany’s soccer federation and private investors invested about $42 million to build a sports resort specifically for the use of Germany’s national team during the World Cup, a facility that will now become a luxury holiday resort. “The Germans just came in and did their own thing,” explained Guto Jones of the Bahia tourist board.4 With a location chosen to be “within two hours flight of the team’s group games to minimize travel” as well as to “allow acclimatization to the weather,5 the resort has a soccer pitch with the exact 22 mm World Cup pitch grass length and within walking distance of the luxury villas that housed the players.6 In contrast, “teams such as England simply checked themselves into a hotel in Rio-and then faced a daily battle through traffic for training.”7 Fitting every stereotype about German meticulousness, the soccer federation “shipped 23 tons of luggage and equipment for Germany’s stay in Brazil, including mountain bikes, billiards and table-tennis tables, and even dartboards.”8

An inclusive culture based on open communication and individual responsibility. The purpose-built facility not only provided ideal training conditions, it also cultivated the much-lauded team spirit. According to left-back Benedikt Höwedes, “[t]his village has been a major factor in building up the special team spirit in the group today.”9 As a German soccer observer pointed out, “The idea of living together in this way has been very good for team spirit. You have your own space but the players are always bumping into each around the resort. It’s different to a hotel where you just have a room.”10 It was in this open environment, conducive to communication and exchange, that the team grew together. The team itself was of course already inclusive in many ways. It included players of Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, and Ghanaian origin and thereby reflected a modern and much more diverse Germany. The players’ families and partners were part of the team and traveled to Brazil courtesy of the German soccer federation. And when the team learned that the Brazilian hosts would supply buses and drivers, the squad quickly made its longtime bus driver a member of the equipment staff so he could come along. However, all the emphasis on community never replaced individual responsibility and accountability. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s post-game interview after the quarterfinal match with France was one visible manifestation. Congratulated by a reporter on a stunning save in stoppage time that prevented a goal that could have sent the game to overtime, Neuer first credited his defense with taking away Karim Benzema’s passing options, adding that this forced the French striker to aim for the near post-“and if it goes in there it’s a goalkeeper error,” he concluded with a smile.

Competitive intelligence. Beginning with Klinsmann and especially under Löw, Germany transformed traditional scouting into sophisticated competitive intelligence. The scouting team, led since 2005 by Urs Siegenthaler, compiles detailed analyses of Germany’s opponents, develops strategic options, and prepares materials to brief coaches and players ahead of every game. Even though Siegenthaler and his right-hand man Christopher Clemens traveled to São Paulo to watch the second semifinal between the Netherlands and Argentina, the team had long finished compiling detailed dossiers on both teams and how to beat them. According to Siegenthaler, it is a process that takes months and years; the trip to the stadium to watch future opponents live is mostly so people cannot later claim the scouts did not even bother to go function function function function function function function watch.11The raw material for Siegenthaler’s analysis is supplied by 40 students at the Sports University of Cologne and consists of statistics, articles, and video footage of every player and every team the German squad might encounter. American sports fans are of course familiar with such sophisticated analysis and game planning since it is a pillar of American football in the NFL. And at least since Moneyball, the exploitation of large amounts of sports data to gain competitive edge has become an open secret. But in soccer, a game that only this year saw the introduction of goal-line technology and where a referee continues to decide how long 90 minutes actually is, Germany’s embrace of data, analysis, and systematic game planning based on competitive intelligence is radical.

Confidence to deviate from the plan. One of Siegenthaler’s pre-tournament conclusions was that the climatic conditions in Brazil would make it impossible for left- and right-backs to continuously sprint up and down the sideline, playing crosses on offense and then being back on time to thwart opposing wingers. This led to Löw’s unusual and highly controversial strategy to play with four interior defenders in a line while moving Philipp Lahm, arguably the best right-back in the world, into the defensive midfield. After holding firm through the round of 16 despite tremendous criticism, Löw surprised many when he modified the plan and moved Lahm back to right-back for the match against France and the remainder of the tournament. “I am not immune to advice,” he declared and thereby exemplified the role of management in fostering learning and adaptation that Drucker stressed.

Stars? Yes. Team? Also. But the discernible difference appears to have been superior management-developing talent and brining it together around a shared mission, values, and a plan. After all, in Drucker’s phrase, management “makes people capable of joint performance.” This is precisely what Germany did, and the team’s success could become a case study for the difference sound management can make in hypercompetitive settings.

1  “Top 10 Highest Paid Soccer Players 2014,” Sporteology.com, 12 June 2014.Back
2  Peter F. Drucker, “Management as Social Function and Liberal Art,” in Peter F. Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: Harper, 2001). Back
3  Matt Lichtenstadter, “How Jürgen Klinsmann’s World Cup Squad Decisions Mirror Germany 2006,” worldsoccertalk.com, 22 May 2014. Back
4  Simon Hart, “World Cup 2014: Germany’s self-built home from home, The Independent, 20 June 2014. Back
5  “Campo Bahia,” wikipedia.org (last accessed 14 July 2014). Back
6  Simon Hart, “World Cup 2014: Germany’s self-built home from home, The Independent, 20 June 2014. Back
7  Jeremy Wilson, “Germany’s purpose-built training camp has given them extra edge,” The Telegraph, 12 July 2014.Back
8  Ibid. Back
9  Ibid. Back
10 Ibid. Back
11 “Urs Siegenthaler: Der Mann, der die deutschen Matchpläne vorbereitet,” Lübecker Nachrichten, 13 July 2014. Back

Brave Men Take Paternity Leave – by Gretchen Gavett

“Fathers with even a short work absence because of family obligations are recommended for fewer rewards and receive lower performance ratings,” write Amy J. C. Cuddy and Joan Williams in their2012 HBR article, citing two separate studies. While other research has shown that fathers are held to lower performance standards and are more likely to be hired and promoted than childless men with the same qualifications, these studies showed that effect was reversed when fathers played an active role in their children’s lives. As a result,  “Men are being driven out of caregiving roles,” write Cuddy and Williams.

Many people would like to change that. But there is a long way to go: According to a recent Boston College Center for Work and Family survey, “the majority of fathers take only about one day of leave time to bond with their new children for every month the typical mother takes.” In total, 76% of fathers go back to work after one week or less after the birth of a child, and 96% after two weeks or less.

But research from economists Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, and Magne Mogstad, published this month in The American Economic Review, shows that, when paid paternity leave is made available by law, fathers do use it. Importantly, this isn’t just because the law exists; rather, it’s because when some brave souls take leave, that seems to reduce the stigma and encourage peers to take time off, too.

Using data from Norway, which implemented a law allowing four weeks of paid leave for dads in April 1993, the researchers first isolated how many eligible men took leave across the board. The rise, from 3% prior to 1993 to 70% in 2006, is considerable.

Paternity Leave Taken in Norway

But when they specifically isolated the influence of peers — and in particular, a male coworker or a brother — a more complex story began to emerge. The figure below is similar to the one above, showing that “from 1993 to 1999, program participation went from a little over 50% to over 70% of eligible coworkers.” However, as Gordon Dahl points out, the influence of peers — both direct combined with the snowball effect — accounts for 21% of the total increase in participation in the parental leave program from 1993 to 1999. And as time goes on, the snowball effect becomes more pronounced.

Peers Influence Paternity Leave chart

The top line represents the actual use of leave by coworkers after the first father paved the way; the bottom subtracts the estimated peer effect (derived from a regression discontinuity design based on the cut-off date of April 2013) from the total take-up to show “how much lower leave take-up would have been in each year had the original peer father not influenced any of his coworkers, either directly or indirectly.”

In the end, Dahl says, “coworkers and brothers who were linked to a father who had his child immediately after the reform — versus immediately before the reform — were 3.5% and 4.7% more likely, respectively, to take parental leave.” But when a coworker actually takes parental leave, “the next coworker to have a child at his workplace is 11% more likely to take paternity leave.” Slightly more pronounced, the next brother to have a child is 15% more likely to take time off.

And while any male coworker taking leave can reduce stigma, the effect of a manager doing so is more profound. Specifically, “the estimated peer effect is over two and a half times larger if the peer father is predicted to be a manager in the firm as opposed to a regular coworker.”

Also worth noting: the economists didn’t find statistically significant differences in pay and future employment prospects between fathers who did and did not take leave — though they did see less than a 2% reduction in total earnings.

The researchers note a few important caveats, however: For one, because of their methodology, they only measured peer effect in smaller companies because those employees are more likely to interact directly. Two, there’s not much of a peer effect in companies where the average tenure is 10 years or more; in firms where there’s a lot of turnover, the effect was much greater. These results “suggest the benefit of workplace-specific information is more valuable where there is more job uncertainty.” Peers can provide information and help reduce that uncertainty among dads who are on the fence about taking leave.

Third, there’s no evidence that weaker peer ties have any effect on paternity leave. For example, the researchers were unable to find peer influence between brothers-in-law or in a geographical neighborhood.

Lastly, they found no indication that Norway’s 1993 reform improved gender equality across workplaces in general.

Regardless, these findings represent an important bridge between public policy and organizational (and familial) behavior. As the economists note, “advocates of… public interventions often argue that traditional gender roles in both the family and labor markets can be changed or modified via peer influence.” This study seems to confirm this argument.

As calls for family-friendly work policies increase, particularly for men — and as companies like Yahoo, Bank of America, and PwC instate paid paternity policies — it’s worth keeping in mind that a law or on-the-books rule is just the first step in encouraging dads to take time away from work. Just as important are those fathers who are willing to actually use their paid time off; their actions can set a lasting and meaningful precedent for other men, even many years down the road.

80-gretchen-gavett

Gretchen Gavett is an associate editor at the Harvard Business Review. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenmarg.

Lead at your best – by Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie

Five simple exercises can help you recognize, and start to shift, the mind-sets that limit your potential as a leader. 

When we think of leadership, we often focus on the what: external characteristics, practices, behavior, and actions that exemplary leaders demonstrate as they take on complex and unprecedented challenges. While this line of thinking is a great place to start, we won’t reach our potential as leaders by looking only at what is visible. We need to see what’s underneath to understand how remarkable leaders lead—and that begins with mind-sets.

As important as mind-sets are, we often skip ahead to actions. We adopt behavior and expect it to stick through force of will. Sadly, it won’t if we haven’t changed the underlying attitudes and beliefs that drove the old behavior in the first place. Making matters worse, our behavior affects other people’s mind-sets, which in turn affect their behavior. A leader’s failure to recognize and shift mind-sets can stall the change efforts of an entire organization. Indeed, because of the underlying power of a leader’s mind-sets to guide an entire organization toward positive change, any effort to become better leaders should start with ourselves, by recognizing the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that drive us.1

In this article, we’ll share five simple exercises adapted from our new book,Centered Leadership,2 that can help you become more aware of your mind-sets. Armed with this knowledge, you can start making deliberate choices about the mind-sets that best serve you in a given moment and learn through practice to shift into them without missing a beat. This allows new behavior that improves your ability to lead at your best to emerge naturally.

1. Find your strengths

A surprising amount of our time and energy at work is focused on our shortcomings—the gap between 100 percent and what we achieved. For many executives, this pervasive focus on weaknesses fosters a mind-set of scarcity: a feeling that there are too few talented people in the organization to help it move the mountains that need moving. Many executives we talk to find it very hard to recognize, accept, and appreciate any other view. The same may be true for you. But what if you could move mountains by starting with strengths, leveraging people’s strong desire for meaning?

Try this exercise to learn your strengths. Find a comfortable spot without distraction. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. When you’re ready, put yourself back in these three moments, in turn:

  • As a small child. What form of imaginary play do you like most? What characters or roles do you choose? What games attract you most, and who do you get to be in them?
  • As a young adult. What activities draw you in so entirely that you lose track of time? What boosts your energy, and what does that say about you?
  • As a working adult. Look back to a high point that occurred over the past 18 months. What are you doing? What is the nature of the impact you are having on yourself, others, and the organization?

Looking across these moments, what do you value most about yourself? What would fill you with pride if you heard it from your colleagues and loved ones at a celebration for you? Those are your strengths.

Of course, there is no magic in the act of self-reflection on strengths. The magic comes when we learn to integrate strengths into our daily work—a real challenge, since many executives believe that strengths are the words that come before the inevitable “but” in their performance reviews. It is hard work to shift mind-sets in the face of mounting pressures and worries. We adopt the athletically inspired mantra “no pain, no gain,” as if the shift to “playing to our strengths” was unrealistic, yet we overlook the fact that professional athletes always aspire to play to their strengths.

Some executives will use the greater self-awareness the exercise brings to catalyze a career change—drawing on feelings that may have been percolating. The vast majority find that the simple act of peering through the lens of strengths is a doorway to enhance their power, generating positive emotions and energy. One executive admitted that the process of understanding her strengths—among them empathy and love of learning—and then hearing them confirmed and appreciated by her colleagues brought tears to her eyes. Another reported learning more about a colleague during a ten-minute conversation about strengths than he had in the previous ten years’ worth of conversations about everything else.

To be sure, everyone has weaknesses to improve. But deliberately shifting to a focus on strengths is a far more inspiring approach; you’ll raise the odds of lighting up everyone around you and unleashing enormous energy for creativity and change. Fabrizio Freda, the CEO of Estée Lauder, told us: “You need supertalented people who know they need to do fantastically well. And when your leadership team takes the same attitude, you create a culture where each one can give his or her best. . . . In particular, you have to find the strengths of each individual and of the organization—and then you can create magic.”

2. Practice the pause

We all face challenges at work: impossible deadlines, missed budgets, angry customers, sharp-elbowed colleagues, unreasonable bosses. When the upset caused by any of these experiences threatens something at stake for you, you are likely to suffer an “amygdala hijack”—that moment when your brain sends cortisol and adrenaline coursing through your body to help you defend yourself. You may lash out in anger, walk out on your colleagues, or simply stop in your tracks.

Instead of that “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction, what if you could pause, reflect, and then manage—creatively and effectively—what you’re experiencing? Here’s a tool to help. Recall an upsetting thing that happened recently but still carries an emotional charge. You were not at your best; you felt fear or anger in the moment, along with unpleasant physical sensations: a racing heart, a knot in your stomach, or even nausea. Put yourself back in that moment now. As you do, keep in mind the metaphor of an iceberg, where little is visible above the surface.

  • In this moment, notice the impact on yourself. What are you doing or not doing? What are you saying or not saying? How are you acting? What effect are your words and actions having?
  • Below the waterline. What are you thinking and feeling but not expressing? What negative outcomes are you most worried about?
  • Deeper still, look at your values and beliefs. What is most important to you? What belief do you hold about this situation, about yourself, and about others?
  • Even deeper, examine your underlying needs. What is at stake for you here? Are you aware of any deeper desires and needs?

Surprisingly, perhaps, we most often create the outcome we fear. Worried about losing control? When you snapped at your team, you just did. Worried about being heard? When you argued defensively, people turned away.

Pause and ask, “What did I really want for—and of—myself in that moment? By noticing when our attention is focused on needs that we want to protect, and redirecting it instead toward the experience we want to create, we open up access to a greater range of behavior.

A senior executive, for example, was involved with a large operational-change effort. He had been at a team meeting to discuss safety standards, and things didn’t go well—he had not created the outcome he wanted. He had hoped for a learning session that generated solutions and empowered the local general manager leading it. Instead, he had remained largely quiet and offered broad-brush advice based on his own experience. The meeting felt like a surface-level discussion or, worse, a top-down audit.

Examining his own motivations, the executive saw he was leery of destroying the general manager’s confidence by speaking; he wanted people to rise to the challenge and learn. But he also wanted to preserve group harmony and be liked. By avoiding conflict and not taking a stand, he was creating the outcome he feared—a vicious cycle of inaction, disengagement, and defensiveness.

With this recognition, he could begin to shift. When he felt this same tension rising, he practiced pausing, thinking about his intentions, and then constructively voicing his concerns or asking a question. His example prompted others on his team to do the same, opening the door for more learning-focused interactions—his initial goal.

Further, to help teammates increase their self-awareness, he instituted a “check-in” at every meeting’s start. During this step, colleagues would each briefly describe something happening “under the waterline” for them: say, a stressful project deadline. This ritual helped all team members to pause, reflect, and better understand their own mind-sets and those of colleagues. It sparked more honest, productive conversations and encouraged teammates to trust each other—a key factor, as we’ll see.

By figuring out how to pause and reengage our “thinking” brains (the parts governing executive functions, such as reasoning and problem solving), we can make the shift from a mind-set of threat avoidance (a fear of losing) to one of learning and of getting the most out of the moment.

3. Forge trust

Senior leaders need a community of supporters to achieve audacious goals, for communities are built through shared objectives and mutual trust. Yet not everyone views trust in the same way, so as leaders we must learn what others value if we want to inspire trust. At a minimum, the effort leads to greater understanding.

In fact, simply recognizing and embracing the differences in how people perceive trust can strengthen it. Once we are aware of our own—or others’—profiles, we tend to adjust our behavior subconsciously. When we do so deliberately as well, the results are quite powerful. After all, it’s our behavior that instills trust in others, not our intentions.

Take this test to see what aspects of trust matter most to you. For each of the elements below, score yourself from 1 (I rarely do this) to 7 (I regularly do this):

  • Reliability. I don’t make commitments I can’t keep; I always clarify expectations and deliver on promises.
  • Congruence. My language and actions are aligned with my thinking and true feelings.
  • Acceptance. I withhold judgment or criticism; I separate the person from the performance.
  • Openness. I state my intentions and talk straight; I’m honest about my limitations and concerns.

Consider the case of the CEO of a large bank who was dissatisfied with how his company had changed: what had once seemed to be a collaborative environment now felt like the opposite. Executives reported an atmosphere of defensiveness, bureaucracy, and pervasive mistrust. These feelings reinforced a “silo” culture that made it harder to collaborate on launching new products.

The senior team used the exercise above to spark a broader discussion about trust and the company’s culture. Fairly quickly, the team recognized that the bank’s moves to become more focused on key performance indicators (consistent with reliability) were the source of the tension. Digging deeper, the team learned that the big emphasis on performance had, over time, discouraged managers from raising concerns about the implications of the program for employees and customers. This, in turn, lowered the quality of debate in meetings and encouraged defensive and bureaucratic behavior.

Consequently, the changes were widely seen to be in opposition to acceptance and openness, trust elements that mattered dearly to employees. People were concerned that openness with customers was being sacrificed to “making the numbers.” This realization spurred the senior team to find areas where reliability and openness could be seen as complements, not opposites—a shift in mind-set and, ultimately, behavior that helped the bank to improve the customer experience significantly.

When you shift your mind-set from “trustworthy people are a scarce resource” to “I can inspire almost everyone to trust me more,” your community of supporters will expand effortlessly.

4. Choose your questions wisely

What propels leaders to carry out unprecedented, audacious visions? Fear? Foolishness? Ambition? A sense of duty?

Hope. Leaders we admire tend to use fear as fuel for action, but they favor hope. Fear is of value because it gets our adrenaline flowing, sharpens us, and makes extraordinary contributions possible. But it’s easy to succumb to fear and feel overwhelmed by downside risks. Fear spreads through an organization like a contagion. Without the counterbalance of hope, fear paralyzes. So how can we find the right mix of both? Start with the questions we ask.

Try this exercise. Find a discussion partner and ask that person to discuss his or her most pressing work problem with you. However, at first use only these questions to guide the conversation:

  • What’s the problem?
  • What are the root causes?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What have you tried that hasn’t worked?
  • Why haven’t you been able to fix the problem yet?

In a few minutes, stop, thank your partner, and ask for a redo. Restart the discussion, using these questions instead:

  • What would you like to see (and make) happen?
  • Can you recall a time when the solution was present, at least in part? What made that possible?
  • What are the smallest steps you could take that would make the biggest difference?
  • What are you learning in this conversation so far?

Five minutes in, stop again and debrief your partner about his or her thoughts and feelings during the first versus the second discussion. What did you notice? What were his or her underlying mind-sets? What were yours?

The difference is tangible. The first set of questions, great for solving technical problems, often prompts defensive reactions and leaves participants feeling drained. By contrast, participants report feeling animated, curious, and engaged the second time around.

We tend to use the first set more often. These problem-focused questions work well for technical, linear issues that have “right” answers. As we move up the ranks as leaders and the challenges become more complex, our problem-solving instincts can lead us astray. By contrast, when we develop solution-focused instincts, we empower and engage others, deliberately infusing hope. Remember that employees with problems already feel fear. Problem-focused questions only fuel it.

A plant manager we know used this approach to spark better ideas and improve accountability on the front line. He created a pack of cards that shop-floor supervisors could use with line workers in daily operational problem-solving sessions. On one side of the card, the problem-focused questions; on the other, a solution-focused translation. The supervisors quickly found that using both sides of the card brought markedly better results than the traditional questions alone—and that the range and quality of solutions improved dramatically.

The plant manager’s message was simple, yet powerful: look for problems and you’ll find them; look for solutions and people will offer them. By choosing our questions thoughtfully, we can shift our mind-set from “my organization is a problem to be solved” to “my organization holds solutions to be discovered.”

5. Make time to recover

Who wouldn’t want to work in high-performance mode nonstop? A desire for achievement and competitive success urges us on—often past our physical and mental limits. Professional athletes build in time to recover, but executives rarely do. Why not? The limiting beliefs are well accepted: commitment is noticed through hard work and suffering; only slackers take time off during the day. People tell the story of a hospitalized colleague with awe: “He worked so hard he collapsed, in service of the company.” Hero? Not really.

If that young executive had the self-awareness to shift his mind-set from managing time to managing and balancing energy,3 he might have remained in good health. The solution is simple: find ten minutes twice each day (morning and afternoon) to recover, stepping back into a zone of low but positive energy to recharge. Consider all four sources: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual activities can each fuel you. Schedule recovery activities, and stick to them until this is your new normal. Here are some examples we’ve observed:

  • Physical. A Brazilian exec walks up a few flights of stairs quickly—more flights if she is agitated or upset—and then she slowly walks down, giving herself the time to reflect and come back to center. An Italian senior manager has an afternoon coffee, walking to the lobby café instead of the coffee stand on his own floor.
  • Mental. When a US CEO needs to recharge his energy levels, he consciously seeks out conversations with employees, so he can learn something new.
  • Emotional. A Mexican company vice president chooses to recharge by reaching out to friends regularly to send thanks and love. A Swedish entrepreneur reviews an e-mail folder where she keeps compliments, thank-you notes, and warm greetings.
  • Spiritual. A technology executive turns her chair to look out the window, meditating on nature and life in the form of the oak tree that fills her view. A pharmaceutical executive brings an empty chair, representing patients, to important meetings, to remind everyone why they are there.

Of course, managing energy isn’t necessarily a solitary activity; we’ve seen leaders inject recovery practices into daily business routines. For example, the CFO of an aerospace company found that a weekly meeting he chaired was draining. To energize his team, he changed the format, starting each discussion with the prior week’s notable lessons and achievements. The new format was a hit: weekly attendance went up, the meetings’ substance improved dramatically, and what had been a pure number-crunching exercise began to generate new ideas the company could use. The meetings were more fulfilling for the CFO, too. “I finally feel like I’m a thought partner to the business,” he told us, “rather than a cop.”

As you reflect on the mind-sets that limit you, consider a shift to “practicing recovery regularly helps me spend more time in high performance.”

In our work with executives, we’ve found that tools, practices, and exercises like the five above help leaders understand—and shift—the mind-sets that govern their actions. Trying to change our behavior (what is seen and judged) will fail—the old, hard-wired patterns return when pressure mounts—unless we have first addressed internal patterns with conscious effort.

To make change stick, unwire and rewire from the inside. Start with self-awareness: seeing yourself as a viewer of your own “movie.” Once you see the pattern, you have a choice whether to change. Owning the choice creates enormous freedom. And as you exercise that freedom to change your mind-set and practice new behavior, you role-model a transformation—creating what does not exist today but should. And isn’t that what leaders do?

About the authors

Joanna Barsh is a director emeritus in McKinsey’s New York office, and Johanne Lavoie is a master expert in the Calgary office.

This article is based in part on the authors’ book, Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact (Crown Business, March 2014).

How Germany’s 14-Year Plan Destroyed Brazil – by Brendan Greeley

Brazil certainly underperformed on Tuesday and throughout the World Cup. Its wins have all been lucky, barely, or both. But Brazil didn’t just fall apart against Germany (although it certainly did fall apart). Germany beat them with the precise and inspiring soccer it’s played all month in Brazil. This is not an accident, a golden blessing of a generation of talented fussballers. It follows a 14-year plan to find all the kids among 80 million Germans who can really play soccer, train them young, and get them attached to a professional team.

All countries do this, kind of. Belgium does it really well. After tonight’s game you could argue that Germany does it best.

In the 2000 European Championship, Germany didn’t make it past the group stage. Imagine the anger and soul-searching in New York if the Yankees finished last in the American League East. So the Deutscher Fussball Bund, the organization responsible for Germany’s national team, came up with a plan. Traditionally in Europe, club teams had been responsible for their own talent development. Some, like Barcelona in Spain and Ajax in the Netherlands, have become known for their youth academies. But the DFB decided that talent was too precious to leave unfound, and so in 2002 launched a national program to find all of it.

The Guardian wrote a great piece on the German program last year, or you can read the DFB’s own chest-thumping self-assessment from 2011 (PDF). Germany’s standardized national program starts teaching the same skills to 6-year-olds all over the country. It’s run in every town by coaches who have to get a license from the DFB. Then by age 8, as training continues, scouts are watching for the kids good enough for the club programs.

This spring I watched my German godson, Paul, play a soccer game with his youth team. He’s 8 years old. German kids at that age don’t play herd ball. They play their roles, make clean passes, and pick their shots. None of this is left to chance. His youth club, TV Rodenkirchen, is part of the national program. And standing on the sidelines—for a league game between 8-year-olds—were professional scouts.

Every professional club team in the first and second division of Germany’s Bundesliga now has to fund its own soccer high school. Between 2002 and 2010, the amount that professional club teams spent on youth development almost doubled, to about 85 million euros a year. We can already see what this spending has helped create. Last year’s Guardian article listed them:

Joachim Löw, Germany’s coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players—Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gündoğan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) … the list goes on.

Müller, Kroos, Schürrle. These are the guys who scored five of Germany’s seven goals on Tuesday. And Germany’s talent machine is only now just starting to produce. A 6-year-old German in 2002 is still only 18 now. (My godson is pretty good, actually.)

We love the World Cup, in part, because it offers us a clear contest between nations with winners and losers. Except with an actual war, this clarity is hard to come by in international relations. Some nations get lucky. Did Argentina deserve its Lionel Messi or Portugal its Cristiano Ronaldo? But a national soccer team is a kind of mobilization, the end of a long plan, sustained over decades, with many moving parts, to find and train talent.

Germany was not blessed with Leo or Ronaldo. But sustaining a complex national plan over years, and committing to it as both a metaphorical and literal investment? Perhaps we should not be surprised that Germany has done this very, very well.

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Greeley is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.