Go Outwards to go Inwards

I finished reading this excellent book: The Outward Mindset by The Arbinger Institute. Rarely does a leadership book resound so deeply with me. I found myself highlighting large chunks of the book, and I wanted to share some of the choicest passages from the book with you.

The basic premise of the book tells us that we need to change our mindset and see people as, well, people instead of objects or obstacles to manipulate, push, persuade, or overcome. They are people with their own internal needs, challenges, wants, objectives, hopes and dreams. When we see truly see people for who they are and what they want, make our work about serving them, and constantly adjust to make sure we see people for who they are, we create better families, communities, and organizations.

This is far from a “soft skills” book. Getting this right creates a strategic competitive advantage which cannot be replicated. It creates record breaking profits, low turnover rates, and drives real business results. This set of ideas have been used by SWAT Teams, non-profits, and multinational corporations.

This is similar to the premise of Listen & Lead by Richard Himmer which I wrote about in my two previous posts here and here. This books flows nicely from these other linked articles.

I have seen the power of these ideas in over a decade of my volunteering effort with BAPS, and BAPS Charities. While no one has formalized these ideas in this non-profit organization, I have seen its spirit everyday. The results have been breathtaking as a small organization founded in early 20th century India in a tiny village has grown to become one of the largest international India-based non-profits in the world with a host of activities impacting millions and thousands of centres globally.

I would say that if Arbinger really wants to see how deeply the Outward Mindset is embedded in an organization, they should carefully study BAPS.

Here are the excerpts:

In whatever a person does, his or her mind-set comes through, and others respond to this combination of behavior and mindset. This means that the effectiveness of an individual’s behaviors will depend to some significant degree on that individual’s mindset.

Seeing people as people rather than as objects enables better thinking because such thinking is done in response to the truth: others really are people and not objects.

When my mindset is outward, I am alive to and interested in other people and their objectives and needs. I see others as people whom I am open to helping.

Not caring to notice or be moved by others requires something of me that takes a tremendous personal and social toll: it requires me to feel justified for not caring. I find justification by focusing on others’ faults, real and imagined.

Are there people in your life, either at work or at home, whose needs, objectives, and burdens you resist seeing? How about people that you don’t resist—people with whom you are open, curious, interested, aware?
As you compare these relationships, what differences do you notice in how you feel and act? Can you spot any blame in what you tell yourself about others or any self-justifying narratives that you’ve come to believe

The most troubling areas of our lives will be those in which we resist what the humanity of others invites us to see. This is a hopeful truth.

What is the cost of an inward mindset? When people focus on themselves rather than on their impact, lots of activity and effort get wasted on the wrong things.

Think about the times in your life when you have felt most alive and engaged. Who and what were you focused on in those moments—on yourself or on something bigger that included others?

Real helpfulness can’t be made into a formula. To be outward doesn’t mean that people should adopt this or that prescribed behavior. Rather, it means that when people see the needs, challenges, desires, and humanity of others, the most effective ways to adjust their efforts occur to them in the moment. When they see others as people, they respond in human and helpful ways.

This approach to measuring one’s impact requires nothing but a willingness to stay in regular conversations with others about whether they feel one’s efforts are helping them or not.

While the goal in shifting mindsets is to get everyone turned toward each other, accomplishing this goal is possible only if people are prepared to turn their mindsets toward others with no expectation that others will change their mindsets in return.

For all these reasons—as well as because widespread mindset change happens in large measure in response to those who change first—being able to operate with an outward mind-set when others do not is a critically important ability. It is the most important move.

People misunderstand the most important move we are talking about if they think that working with an outward mindset when others refuse to do the same makes a person blind to reality or soft on bad behavior. It does neither. In fact, what obscures vision and exposes people to more risk is not an outward mindset, which stays fully alive to and aware of others, but an inward one.

If you start with changing mindsets, behavioral transformations can happen quickly.

Whether in rethinking community policing or resolving labor- management disputes, when people see situations that need to change, the temptation is to immediately apply a behavioral solution. That seems like the fast approach. But if mindset is not addressed, it is usually the slow approach to change.

We’re not trying to have a homogenized group of people who work in the same way. Everybody works individually, but they work toward a collective solution. It’s about taking difference and focusing together on results.

Without realizing it, too many leaders assume that the role of leadership is to control.

When I try to impose my ideas on others and thereby refuse to allow them to think, I end up getting in the way more than I end up being helpful. It’s not my job as a leader to have the solution to every problem.

Does Leadership Training Work?

Leadership is not a noun. It is a verb. Leadership happens daily, in practice.

At its heart, leadership training is about passing on skills to people so that they can effectively read, listen, influence, inspire, coach, and guide themselves and others.

  • To read yourself effectively, you need to be introspective. To read others, you need to be empathetic.
  • To listen to yourself, you need to create space to let the inner voice speak. To listen to others, you need humility and openness to see the world differently.
  • To influence yourself, you need the tools, strategies, and guides to work on the right things. To influence others, you need to coach them, ask them the right questions to let them grow themselves. You also need integrity, strength, and decisiveness.
  • To inspire yourself, you need a powerful “why”. To inspire others, you need to connect the work with their big purpose.

Can leadership training teach this?

I believe it can plant the seeds for these qualities to emerge in the right people in the right situation. And the more seeds you plant, the higher the likelihood of them sprouting, growing, and flourishing.

A training session can last for 1 day or even 1 week. But it’s up to the person to change their values, mindset, beliefs, and actions. That work is done on a daily basis.

That’s what actually matters.

Frequent Leadership Training is exactly what can help nurture the plant as it takes hold and grows.

Overcoming ingrained habits, mindsets, beliefs, and values can take a long time. Just like losing weight, starting a new diet, you need constant reinforcement, motivation, and recognition to keep going.

So, Leadership Training can work—really well! As long as it happens frequently. As long as one builds atop another. As long as the person has an interest in getting better as a leader.

In those situations, yes it can work.

I’ve led leadership workshops in rooms where the entire audience was completely disengaged. It took everything in my power to connect with their current challenges to make some of them interested in it.

I’ve also been in rooms where eager people who had just been promoted were looking for ways to be more valuable to their organization and their teams, and were committed to being active, engaged, and consistent practitioners in this process.

The later group wins. Always.

Your Thoughts

What has been the most effective leadership training for you? Did it even take place in a traditional professional setting or elsewhere? What was more valuable about it? Share your thoughts below to help others.

How SMBs can embrace Stakeholder Capitalism

In this post, you will see why small & medium sized businesses need to engage in stakeholder capitalism and how to do it.

When you pull back through the political drama of the World Economic Forum, there is one key point that the forum is advancing. It’s this: businesses need to exist for more than just the shareholders. It needs to exist to serve all stakeholders.

This seems hopelessly out of reach for most businesses, when there are more immediate demands that they need to address. Payroll, hiring and retaining key employees, receivables, etc seem much more urgent.

In face of these daily challenges, shouldn’t the owners of the company put their own interests first? Not taking steps to reshape your business can be fatal in the long-term. Especially for small businesses that can feel the effects of any change in the economic climate.

The best way to serve your own interests is to engage in Stakeholder Capitalism.

Stakeholder Capitalism is not about putting the business owner’s interests at the expense of everyone else. It is instead about holding it on an equal footing with all other stakeholders that touch your business.

Now more than ever, founders and business owners of small, medium, or large companies need this if they are to recruit & keep top talent and grow—in good times or bad.

Engaging in Stakeholder Capitalism is the best way to do it to stay competitive and relevant in the marketplace for customers, vendors, and talent.

How to Make Stakeholder Capitalism work for Small & Medium Sized Businesses

1. Expand the business purpose and mission. 

Small businesses often exist to serve its owners, but expanding its mission can mean a shift in actions to improve the business.

For example, a dentist can exist not just to make a living, or as most cliched ads say “to make you smile.” But instead, a dentist exists to improve public health in a community. The scope of activities that the office now stands for grows.

In service of such a larger mission, the dentist is more likely to do more outreach work. It means speaking. It means working with healthcare providers and holistic practitioners to improve health of the community. The goodwill, authority, and trust that comes with acting on such a bigger purpose and mission can grow the business and create a line-up of talented staff that wants to work for such a person. It means using the office in the off-hours to host learning workshops for members of the community.

And if this works at the level of a dentist, it can definitely work for larger businesses.

Is your mission and purpose centered around your needs, or is it an expansive vision that incorporate all stakeholders? The first step of stakeholder capitalism begins with growing that.

2. Re-map the value. 

This means looking at value creation in the organization with a fresh lens. While previously the dentist generated value when she was working on a patient, now the dentist is generating value when she is also engaged in education, outreach, or taking a leadership position in her community to improve public health outcomes.

She is becoming the hub of these activities and conversations in her community, and she is emerging as a leader in it through the sole virtue of her accommodating the dialogue.

This can be scary at first. But as the hub of creating greater health in her community, she is going to attract more customers, more media, and better talent to work with her clinic.

Have you looked at exactly what parts of your business generate value for stakeholders? How would it change if you embraced a bigger vision?

3. Engage others in the conversations

Whether it be vendors or employees, stakeholder capitalism is an inclusive model of growth. Management and the workforce are removed from one another. But stakeholder capitalism demands that everyone becomes an active participant in the conversation on how to create greater value.

Demanding that from employees and creating that for vendors and customers is where the magic happens.

After screening for technical skills, and overall personality fit with the business, also understand their alignment with your bigger mission & purpose.

Help vendors understand your greater vision and back it up with news at every interaction with the vendor. This is about walking the talk. This is likely to galvanize both vendors and employees to step up and find greater ways of contributing to this broader vision, while enriching themselves in the process.

A dentist who is on a mission to not just get patients in chairs, but to improve public health in her community is likely to develop a closer relationship with her vendors and employees. Vendors are likely to spotlight her in their trade publications (expanding her reach further), but also make her an example for others to follow.

This type of leadership gives even small businesses an unbeatable advantage – even in hard economic times.

Have you involved your stakeholders in a conversation about your bigger vision? How can you involve them more frequently?

4. Adapt Incrementally

Finally, evolve your mission, purpose and change the business when time comes. This is supposed to be a co-creative process. When you engage in dialogue with other stakeholders in the service of your mission, try to understand their pressing needs, wants, and desires. Understand what is most important to them.

A dentist might find that her patients struggle mostly with diet and nutrition in order to keep their dental health sound. Her next steps might involve partnering with a nutritionist or dietitian or even a meal-prep company and providing another level of service to her stakeholders.

This can lead to untapped revenue potential while also serving her stakeholders in greater ways than ever before.

The Business Roundtable, leading executives from across the world are embracing this. Now is the time to do the same for your organization, whether it be a small, medium or fast-growing business.

Have you engaged in a dialogue with your stakeholders to understand what other things they are looking? Have you tried serving those needs? Stakeholder Capitalism is not a seasonal trend, but here to stay.

A Practical Guide to AI Strategy in Healthcare

Most healthcare organizations want to use AI for operational efficiencies. This is missing the mark to think about deploying it strategically. No wonder senior management and other staff are often skeptical.

I want to put forward a practical outline on how to think about healthcare innovation (including AI) strategically. Not just as “tech” to throw at a problem. Not as a shiny buzzword that means nothing.

The MIT Technology Review & GE Healthcare published “The AI Effect” to talk about the changes taking place in healthcare as they use more artificial intelligence. It is a survey of 900 healthcare professionals.

Let’s understand what the report says, and try to dig deeper and find more constructive ways to resolve some big challenges.

The primary case they put forward is that AI is “is making health care more human.” The report states that AI is all out to disrupt healthcare. It talks about all the progress it has made already and will continue to make. It talks about all the ways it will continue to bring massive changes to the healthcare industry as a whole.

Despite this, the real data and stories don’t always paint a rosy picture. The most public of this is of course IBM Watson’s implementation. The stories on it show repeatedly that the return on such a solution was underwhelming. (See here, here, and here)

I believe there is a structured way of approaching this problem to get the greatest benefits from AI in a healthcare setting.

I also believe that one-size-fits-all is not the right approach as you think about AI in your specific situation.

Let’s go back to the report. Some key survey results taken from the report are as follows.

  • 79% will increase budget of AI Applications.
  • 72% of respondents to this survey show interest¹ in implementing AI.
  • 74% of health-care institutions are developing or planning² to develop AI application algorithms.
  • 93% agree that AI has improved the speed and accuracy with which patient data is analyzed and shared.³

These numbers need greater context. Let’s try to understand the deeper meaning of these numbers.

¹ Interest is one of those nebulous words that mean nothing. As a publication that focuses on technological innovation, of course “interest” suggests “72 percent of leaders ARE implementing AI”. But anyone who has ever sat in an office to actually get a sale understands that “interesting” can often be double-speak for “we’ll let others do AI in healthcare first because we’ve got more important things to do right now.”

² Planning is another word that means little. Organizations “plan to” become the leader in their field. Very few manage to do so. This is similar to me “planning to” become like Bruce Wayne.

³ By how much? What are the quantifiable benefits here? This kind of abstract language is what makes deciphering a lot of these reports so frustrating.

This tension plays out nicely in the next section which talks about the challenges.

  • Less than half (~45%) of respondents believe that AI has helped increase consultation time and time to perform surgery and other procedures.
  • In contrast, more than 1/2 of respondents planning to deploy AI raise concerns about medical professional adoption, support from top management, and technical support.
  • Integrating AI applications into existing systems is challenging for 57% of respondents.

The one silver lining here is that 79% indicate that AI has helped avert health-care worker burnout. While the above numbers are promising, there is a distinct lack of strategic thinking about the benefits of AI in a healthcare setting.

The report briefly summarizes all the challenges in a short section as follows:

“Among those was skepticism about the provable benefit and overall cost of AI as top factors hindering its adoption. Hospital administration is generally more skeptical than medical staff. Another hurdle is the disruptive impact that AI has on existing processes; a third is the difficulty of integrating AI applications into existing systems.”

The Juice is in the Details

The juice is in the details. What do you invest in? How does it deploy? What is the process used to deploy it? And how do you think about it in a structured yet holistic manner? Is AI even appropriate or are there lower hanging fruits available?

I want to propose a 5 Step Process for medical professionals to think about Artificial Intelligence within their healthcare organization. This is about elevating the case for AI in healthcare as a matter of sound business strategy.

The Five-Step Process to Build Strategic Healthcare AI & Innovation Cases

First, Start with Organizational Challenges & Values

Ask yourself, what are the key challenges facing the organization right now? Is it doctor burnout and turnover? Is it frivolous lawsuits? Is it long patient wait times? Is it increasing costs? If so, where?

In short, which issues are having a strategic impact on the organization itself?

Compare and contrast this with the organization’s principles, values, and priorities. Perhaps long wait times are not important after all to its stakeholders if you compete on being a low cost provider. Perhaps perfect diagnosis is not as important as giving people care that is “good enough” (no, not every case is a life & death situation and sometimes good enough is well…good enough to let the patient’s body heal itself).

A deliberate approach to healthcare innovation in your organization starts with asking: what do people we serve need? As leaders & decision-makers, this means understanding the needs of patients, as well as needs of providers themselves.

This is not about “healthcare innovation” it is about “healthcare innovation for you and your organization.”

Second, Understand Root Causes

It is surprising how few organizations in healthcare settings properly map out the root causes of a problem or situation. Solving the top-layer problem can leave a deeper issue to fester and metastasize. Getting to the root of an issue is key.

I talk about a root causes analysis in my Principles of Organizational Breakthroughs: A Practical Guide for Leaders which you can download by signing up for the Clarity Weekly newsletter.

In brief, get to the root causes of the organization issues and priorities. Understand both the quantitative and qualitative manifestations of these root causes.

For example, Dushyant Sahani from the University of Washington Medical Center makes the case of using AI for smarter scheduling so that more patients can be seen every day by doctors.

But perhaps the issue isn’t scheduling of doctors’ time. But perhaps the issue is under-staffing of doctors in the first place. In which case, “smart scheduling” is likely to cause greater burnout.

For such an issue, you can collect real data on what it costs to hire a doctor, and what it costs the organization when they burnout. Using this as a comparison to the benefits of AI will create a better case and lead to a better outcome.

Third, Create Options to Solve Root Causes

Is AI the right solution to solve these underlying root causes? If so, proceed further with understanding how to do it. If not, you have to use good old-fashioned Human Intelligence before deferring to anything Artificial.

Perhaps software is the right solution. Perhaps it isn’t.

To extend the example further, if the root cause is doctor burnout, a smart scheduling piece of AI won’t help. What would be the most effective ways of dealing with doctor burnout? Reducing patient workload? Would it be reducing the paperwork? Would it be a better match of a patient with the doctor’s interests and qualifications? Or would it be something else entirely such as allowing for greater doctor involvement in management?

Each of these questions points to a different solution. Some powered by Artificial Intelligence and some powered by Human Intelligence.

Fourth, Understand Second-Order Consequences

This is where people have been failing. As it mentions above, “integrating AI applications into existing systems is challenging for 57% of respondents.”

As a medical professional leader, it is your responsibility to think through the ripple effects of implementing such a change throughout the organization and understand the soft costs and cultural challenges ahead of time.

You need to create action plans and contingency plans as these second-order consequences play out in your organization. What will you do with them?

In the case of doctor burnout, say you choose to introduce AI tools to reduce paperwork. If so, how will non-medical professionals interpret this change? What would be the training time required to onboard everyone on this new platform? Does it impact other staff in the organization who have to interpret this data? How so? What is its accuracy?

This is the time to involve all stakeholders in the discussion and foresee issues.

This is sometimes overlooked.

Dr. Rachael Callcut says that “It’s challenging working to move the field forward in a transformative way with artificial intelligence. There has to be alignment in vision, commitment to exploration, and mutual excitement. Everyone involved needs to be willing to push forward into a sometimes unproven space. If we are afraid to fail on a project and thus, don’t take it on, the opportunity to change the future will pass us by.”

The very reason this happens is because leaders in one silo don’t involve everyone. It is hard to have mutual excitement about anything where you feel something is being pushed down your throat with a change. Involving stakeholders early in the process goes a long way.

An aside: I often notice a negative or adversarial force at play between medical professionals (who are used to giving advice for living) and staff, administrators etc who have to run the organization. I believe for any successful decision and subsequent implementation, medical professionals need to let go of “doctor-knows-best” and administrators at the same time need to engage with doctors earlier in the process. They also need to assist medical professionals in thinking through these 2nd order consequences more thoroughly.

Finally, Decide & Execute

Only after going through this exercise can you make an informed decision about AI in your healthcare organization. This also makes selling internally a lot easier if you have involved different stakeholders in finding root causes of the organization’s major concerns and mapping out the second order consequences of the options you have on the table.

What do you think?

There are major innovations possible in healthcare in the coming decade. But we need a systematic and strategic way of thinking about it.

What nuances, caveats, or other points would you bring to make the discussion of healthcare more strategic, systematic, and practical?

How to Lead: Be Interested, not Interesting

Last week, we learned that great leaders are those that can create psychological safety within their teams. These teams outperform others where psychological safety is lacking no matter how talented, creative, educated, etc the individual team members are. We learned that it is important to create trust & respect in team members, and this in turn creates a feeling of safety. You can read more about this here.

This week, we will go into what it takes to actually create this psychological safety. My proposal is contrary to much of what pop culture portrays as leadership. There are images of high powered corporate CEOs and world leaders. YouTube videos and articles on the Internet talk about how to be charismatic, how to persuade people, how to convince others, etc.

Learning these skills have been akin to getting superpowers. The quality of relationships has gone up substantially for me, and I hope you can get something similar out of them.

Continue reading “How to Lead: Be Interested, not Interesting”

The Future of Work

During this past week, I had the privilege of being one of the 100 people invited to the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland to discuss the Future of Work. The event is an intimate gathering of roughly 600 people: leaders of tomorrow and leaders of today including billionaire entrepreneurs, world leaders, and cutting edge researchers, and brilliant thinkers.

To qualify for this all expenses trip, more than 1,300 people wrote an essay. I was one of the 100 whose essay and ideas were picked. I wanted to share this essay that discusses what the future of work will be.

I was trying to answer how I plan on being economically relevant in the future as computers increasingly take over the work of so many humans. Here’s my essay below.

Continue reading “The Future of Work”