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Interview with Leslie Tucker


Coming into an organization stressed by growth, what do you offer? 

When a company is under stress, people take it out on each other. They tend to bicker and relationships between people break down because there’s not a context big enough for the changes they’re undergoing or the skills to deal with the stress. So they look at each other, point fingers, blame, create cliques and do divisive things that make things more difficult. When an organization is going through change, chances are you’re asking people to do more than they were doing before so they need a high degree of understanding about why. And senior people have the context for that: growth and are inspired by that. But the people at lower levels who are actually doing the work rarely have that context or that commitment.

So how do you do that?

Training and education. Most organizations are embedded in an old paradigm.

Roundstone provides tools to envision a new future and create a bigger base of relationship, coaching people to deal with issues up front, using honest communication. We help them let go of the past, stand in the future and design the present from the future they want to create.

Leaders might talk about moving to a more effective paradigm, but if habitual behaviors or perceptions continue, what can you do?

If you relate to someone like they can’t change, they can’t. Part of what I do with leaders is have them look at each other differently. The first thing is to get the senior team sorted out and expose all the issues that haven’t been addressed, then give them tools to think about the future. There’s something magical about people learning together.  Moving from an old paradigm into the new isn’t personal. It’s social, cultural, conscious. When a team starts to see something new, they start working together to manifest it.

I present a model called “delivering background conversations”. Essentially it’s telling the truth. I talk with them about how to listen and feed back the information. And when a team goes through this process, they are different.

In what way?

They prove to themselves that they can be straight with each other and that the past doesn’t have to continue into the future. When you understand that your team can learn, then you can stop being resigned about the team  you’re on. It’s not about individuals. You have to establish yourself as being a partner,  a committed team player. Most organizations don’t have that.

The CEO must be a part of that commitment?

If he or she isn’t totally committed to the process, I don’t do it.
That will cut down on your work.

Yes. I’m not interested in wasting time. What I do is culture change.

And I’ve built my credibility on producing results. Senior teams always want to know when it’s going to go to the next level and I tell them when they’re ready.  Because if they’re not walking their talk, I won’t stand before the next level of management and put my integrity on the line.

Do you have to start with the CEOs?

Yes, the CEO must be totally committed. Then the executive team. Then we educate and train the top managers. If you want results , that’s how you do it.

What about hard results in terms of productivity? 

Everybody’s here to produce results. That’s what we’re here to do.  I’m committed to results. I’m a businesswoman and I like my clients to make money. To me, business is a game to win at. I’m interested in what you want to win at. Because it’s fun. It’s not fun to be out of business

The whole basis of our work is that RESULTS are at the top of a pyramid. ACTIONS that you are taking today are giving you results, results you like, results you don’t like. If you want different results, take different actions. If you can figure out how to get people to take different actions, you’re going to have a competitive advantage.

In order to act, people need to see OPPORTUNITIES to act. People act based on what they see. An organization acts based on what it sees.

And if you want to open up opportunities, you’ve got to open up POSSIBILITIES. The more possibilities I have, the more opportunities and choices I have. Personally and organizationally, we have  blind spots. You see only what you see, nothing else. So if you want to see more, what do you do? You go to other people for input and suggestions. You open up possibility. If you want to open up results, you’ve got to open up possibilities.

And all this is based on what we call the BACKGROUND OF RELATEDNESS, the relatedness that people have with each other. Optimally it’s based on trust, respect, freedom of expression and a common commitment. I’m not going to open up possibilities with someone I don’t trust. If I’m on a team and I don’t trust one person on that team, I’m not going to express my ideas. I’m not going to to open up possibilities.

If you go into an organization that has an imbedded history of distrust, what’s your next step?

The first meeting would be all about putting it in your face. I tell them that if they continue to do that as a team, they are killing their foundation for results. Because trust, respect, freedom of expression and a common commitment are the foundation upon results are created. If results are disappointing, look at the relationships. Results are always based on your relationships. I show people that, if they continue to do what they’re doing, they will continue to get the results they’re getting. If they’re a company producing a lot of results, it’s easy to say “Well, we’ve been doing it this way and who cares? We’re doing great.” But growth can create a veil of denial.  when growth doesn’t work, things implode and people freak. that’s a lot of what those initial sessions are all about.

What principles do you base your work on? 

Trust, respect, freedom of expression, building a common commitment. It’s also necessary to let go of the past and design the future. Probably the future you’re designing is not big enough. A great leader pulls the future out of the present., showing people “that’s what we want.” But linking it to the context he/she has created. That’s what great leaders do and it shapes new actions.

You’re stating values. If people don’t accept and adopt those values, how do you proceed?

I won’t go any further. Not everybody should work with me and I won’t work with just anybody. I won’t work with leaders if they don’t have the commitment.

How do you sustain the work of an executive team when the members fall back into old behaviors?

We coach people in their use of language and their actions. When I meet with the executive team  and there’s enough trust between us, I will interrupt  – because people learn through specific examples. When people get that kind of interventional coaching, they become aware very quickly.

We work hard to show leaders how much they are under the microscope with their employees. A lot of CEO’s and managers don’t understand the responsibility they have as leaders, that whenever they speak they’re offering their people a future. Leaders often unconsciously undermine the power of their team and the power of the organization then wonder why things are not working out. So I do a lot of specific interventional training.

So a lot of this is about behavior and language.

Yes, consciousness. You create your own reality. A leader’s work is to broadcast and amplify that idea throughout the company and teach people behavior and language to support that. Doing that on a megalevel creates breakthrough results.

What game are you playing as a business? What game are you winning at? Undermining each other? Spending more money than you have?  You’re winning at the game you’re choosing to play. So how about inventing a new game that will blow your competition away? Because they’re all playing the old game. Invent a new game, for example, that says “we can do it without investing capital.” If I was a senior executive, I would be turned on about that. A leader needs to design the game the company is playing and get everybody excited about it. It’s fun.

So how do you engage maintenance guys early on with this stuff? 

I work with a lot of  hourly guys, union guys, production guys. Initially, they’re limited by the ineptitude of their managers. A great engineer/manager might be a terrible leader.

What happens people who think they just need a better strategic plan?

When we did the vision work in Montreal, we were saying, “first you’ve got to start BEING the vision. Don’t worry about the measures.” Their whole world starts to shift and they get nervous. But I work with people longterm so I don’t worry. I know we’re going to help them because sooner or later they begin to see that that micromanaging doesn’t get people inspired or create breakthroughs. When they finally begin to understand, it’s amazing.

Organizations have their own historical patterns just like human beings do. And if they don’t break their patterns, then they can only get results that that pattern is going to allow. To create a whole new result with a group of people, the only way is with each other.

If your context is focusing on results, then sooner or later you must shift gears to look at exactly how to get them.

We give organizations a lever they can pull, probably the very one they’ve been avoiding. They want to try new policies, new procedures,  new computer systems, anything to avoid dealing  with their people. While  organizations will spend massive amounts of money to make things better, they will refuse to deal with the people who pull the levers, punch the buttons and answer the phones. When an employee answers the phone, you can tell if they’re excited about their organization. And you can tell if they’re not.

How have you coached the managers to get their hourly workers excited about their jobs and wanting to contribute?

We work with the foremen who saw that they are not going to get breakthrough results until they started to get these ideas out to their hourly workers. So they had to let go.  We train them, coach them and give them the tools.

One mill we worked with is now second in the world. When we started working with them three years ago, they were at 88% efficiency. 90% was their goal. They’re  now at 95%. They produced breakthrough results in every measurable area: safety, cost, efficiency, tons per day. If you shift the attitude so people are happy at work and their morale is high, results will follow. If attitude goes down, results will follow.

I’m like a doctor trying to figure out the source of the pain. I listen – interviewing people ahead of time to find out the truth. And I’ll coach the CEO or managers to be open showing them that if they listen, they’re going to grow and learn and end up with a better organization. People trust that I’m going to help them get there  and that’s what they want. That’s what every team wants.

I create safe space and offer tools, then bring people to the water and say “Go for it.”  Then I’ll wait  and watch people. Sometimes senior managers make it all look all nice: “Our team? There are no communication problems at our level.“ But I know that if you go one level below, you find the truth. And it’s possible that the senior level is operating in the dark in terms of what they’re creating below them.

I don’t want people to stay in companies if they’re not happy. I’m a model for people. To say “If you hate it so bad, you should leave. Or make it better. Stop complaining. Talk to your boss, open up and tell him the truth. If you’re not going to do that, then it’s not going to get better. Why live like this?” And people have taken that coaching, jumped off and started their own businesses. Everytime somebody does that, I’m  happy. I don’t work for the CEO. I work for the possibility of the company.

How do you get people to hear the background conversations that are coming up?

We do exercises for listening that seem to work really well – listening generously. We show people that when I communicate with you, I’m giving you an assessment. I do a lot of work with where that assessment is coming from. It’s coming from a history, it’s coming from the input I’ve had. It’s an assessment, not THE TRUTH. So I need to communicate that it’s only an interpretation. And you want to be able to listen to it as that.

I coach people to distinguish content from their interpretation. As soon as you start to speak,  you begin to take responsibility for your part of whatever’s going on. We do a lot of training with people on that. I think that’s the next level of consciousness has to do with communication. You have to say what’s bothering you out loud. You have to get it out. If you don’t get it out, it will destroy the relationship. If you’re my boss and I can’t communicate something to you, then when I’m around you, I’m going to be preoccupied with what is festering inside and I’m not going to be present.

We work with the distinctions of OPEN, PRESENT and CONNECTED. If I’m in an optimal space –  like a car that’s been tuned up – for  a human being, optimal space is being OPEN, PRESENT and CONNECTED. It takes being in communication, being centered, and being here now. Being here. I’m not at the Shelburne Café. I’m not at the store. I’m not at home cleaning the house or worrying about my family. I’m  here with you. I’m more effective when I’m present.

Whether it’s consciousness or communication, you’re trying to help people achieve better levels and it takes time. If you’re in a manufacturing environment, help people make that jump to taking the time to get people to understand and broadcast it? Any resistance with that?

Companies have to make that choice. They have to take people out of the work environment to learn. But once they have the training, they start to communciate. Breakthroughs happen because they took time to deal with relational issues. Everybody’s eventually going to have the same machinery and technology. Who’s going to have the competitive edge? The ones who have focused on their people.

When they’re producing good results, they’re proud. And they’re making money. Everybody’s winning.

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