Chip R. Bell: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Bell, ChipThe author of nineteen books, Chip Bell‘s newest book (written with Marshall Goldsmith) is Managers As Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. He is also the author of Wired and Dangerous (with John Patterson) and Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service (with Ron Zemke). He has served as consultant, trainer, or speaker to such major organizations as GE, Microsoft, State Farm, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, KeyBank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, USAA, Merrill Lynch, Allstate, Caterpillar, Hertz, Accenture, Verizon, Home Depot, Harley-Davidson, and Victoria’s Secret. He has served as an adjunct instructor at Cornell University, Manchester University (UK), and Penn State University.

Additionally, he was a highly decorated infantry unit commander in Vietnam with the elite 82nd Airborne and served on the faculty of the Instructional Methods Division of the Army Infantry School. His articles on training and learning have appeared in such professional journals as T+D, Training, HR Magazine, Personal Excellence, Workforce Training News, The Toastmaster, Educational Leadership, Adult Training, Adult Leadership, Storyteller’s Journal, and Journal of European Training (UK). Chip’s articles on leadership and mentoring have appeared in Leadership Excellence, MWorld, Entrepreneur, Leader to Leader, Advanced Management Journal, Sales and Service Excellence, Journal of Management Consulting, Customer Relationship Management, Quality Digest, Staff Digest, and Today’s Leaders.

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Morris: Before discussing the Third Edition of Managers as Mentors in Part 2, here are a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Bell: My greatest mentor was Ray Bell, my dad. Here are several ways:

Daddy could be a stern task master and a tough disciplinarian. He was very much a perfectionist when it came to performance. He expected the best, demanded the best and demonstrated the best. However, when the goal was learning, he shifted to a completely different style. His task master side could suddenly became patient, even tolerant…and above all, non-judgmental. When the objective was growth, my most inane question was treated as a query reflecting insight just waiting to happen.

Daddy asked me questions to which he did not know the answer. That always stood in stark contrast with the experiences I witnessed in many of my friend’s parents. My buddies seemed to frequently get questions asked with the slam of a spring loaded bear trap. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” was not really an “I lost my watch” kind of question? But, Daddy never used questions that way. When he asked a question it always meant he was in search of an answer. I came to realize it was evidence of his perpetual curiosity.

Daddy was no comedian! In fact, he was a very shy man. But, he enjoyed a great tease and was as quick to laugh at himself as he was to laugh with others. His humor was innocent and authentic, never contrived or sarcastic. Most importantly, he saw lightness in simple occurrences and enchantment in ordinary events. When he laughed, his expressions were bounteous and unbridled; his declarations of joy were likewise contagious.

Ray Bell experienced life first-hand. But, he also experienced life second hand. When my hard-earned competence was displayed in some public presentation, it was as if he too was on the stage, down the court, or across the field. He was noticeably proud of the accomplishments of his children. And, it never had a possessive “That’s MY boy” credit-seeking dimension. He just seemed to be thrilled to see how it all worked out.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Bell: There were many great people who have influenced my professional development. I was honored to study under many giants in the field of leadership, organizational behavior and change management at Vanderbilt, George Washington University and Harvard. Gordon Lippitt taught me the power of humor in “seeing” organizations; Jerry Harvey and Peter Vaille helped me ground my thinking and writing in solid research and thoughtful analysis; Leonard Nadler taught me how to source the deepest part of myself to create a more substantial outcome and Fred Hertzberg and David McClelland helped me understand the role motivation played in change management. Finally, I learned facilitation skills from Sam Culbert, Ed Schein and Edie Seashore.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Bell: In the military I served in Viet Nam as an infantry unit commander with the elite 82nd Airborne division. In that role I was responsible for planning and implementing combat tactics and inspiring a command to face extremely difficult and dangerous life or death circumstances. I was awarded two Bronze Stars for valor in combat, two Purple Hearts for sustaining wounds from gun fire in combat, two Air Medals for over forty combat assaults via helicopter, and both an Army Commendation and an Air Force Commendation metal. After calling in artillery one night on my own position rather than being overrun by a force ten times the size of my unit, and living through it, I decided to have a great day, every day, the rest of my life. Following a combat assignment, I taught small unit guerilla tactics on the staff of the Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was my first chance to experience the joy of teaching and presenting. Today, I give workshops and deliver keynote speeches.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Bell: Formal education provides a time to reflect and gain clarity of direction. It also provides a cadre of resources that can hoist you up and promote your career. The letters behind my name are not the valuable part; it is the enhanced capacity to use my mind to make larger contributions.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Bell:Follow your passion and the rest will follow. My world opened much wider and richer when I gave up a senior corporate role in a super-fast growing major company to start my own consulting firm. Don’t worry so much about what other people will think–trust your instincts and be courageous. Cultivate as many friends as you can by being generous and trustworthy. Light many fires. Don’t fight battles that should not be battles. Your values are far more important than your stuff.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Bell: Most recently the movie 42 with Harrison Ford about the story of Jackie Robinson. The movie is obviously about Robinson. But, it is more about of the team executive played by Ford. Belief in people and respect for people can unleash amazing talent and performance. I also liked the movie The Magic of Belle Isle with Morgan Freeman. He is a broken down writer more interested in drinking than creating. However, when he helps a young neighbor learn the power of imagination by treating her as an equal he regains his self-esteem and reinvents his life! There are many lessons for organization that view innovation a key part of the success…or even survival!

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Bell: Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was a best-selling novel about a group of wild rabbits forced to abandon their warren and travel across England in search of a new home. My favorite part is this: during their journey they encounter a group of caged rabbits–pets of a young boy. Opening the cage door, the wild rabbits invite the boy’s pets to join them on their cross-country adventure. “But, who will protect us from the big dog?” they asked, moving to the back of their cage. “And, how will we get food; the little boy always feeds us?” The wild rabbits’ answer was much like Col. Hogan’s answer to Sgt. Schultz’ question on the popular TV program Hogan’s Heroes: “Colonel, why do you keep trying to escape when we treat you so well?” Organizations can cage employees via fear, security, perks, stock options, even retirement benefits. I have often wondered what organizations would be like if every employee were a free agent. A major part of my practice is about freeing people within organizations and helping leaders free their employees by treating them like valuable, independently wealthy full-time volunteers!

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Bell: Leadership is about service, not about power.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Bell: Truth is a search. It is a gerand not a noun. People who find the truth are at the dead end of growth—a place called arrogance, a city of self-righteousness.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Bell: Authenticity is the feature that attracts, invites and includes. It opens doors to wisdom and provides safety to the timid.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Bell: We all live in paradigms. Insight, innovation, and progress come from stepping out of the paradigm to discover, understand, and see!

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Bell: Success is about effectiveness. Even if you could genetically engineer a six-sigma goat, if your marketplace is a rodeo, customers will probably prefer a four-sigma horse!

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Bell: Life has become far too complex for leadership to be defined as a Great Man. It must come from the mining of many minds. Leadership is not about acquiring control, it is about gaining commitment. Since people care when they share, great leaders are those that create partnership, not sub-ordinates.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Bell: How leaders deal with error can say volumes about their commitment to learning and growth. When leaders meet error with rebuke, they send a very different message than those who view error as an opportunity for learning and problem-solving. Are your error-making employees quickly labeled as stupid, evil or lazy? Isn’t it highly unlikely that the person in charge of hiring employees would have said, “Let me see how many foolish, malicious, or shiftless employees I can hire this week?”

Without risk, there’s no learning. But with risk comes the occasional honest mistake. And, it is easier to gently rein in an overzealous, go-the-extra-mile employee than to find one with an enthusiastic attitude in the first place. Fostering boldness is a manifestation of trust. The greater the trust, the greater the freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility. The leader’s job is to coach employees to feel more and more comfortable with more and more responsibility. Great leaders help employees stay clear of what is a “thou shalt not…” law versus what is an “it would be better if you didn’t…” guideline. When honest errors occur, forgiveness is expressed  not just implied. Excellence is celebrated, even when it sometimes fails to yield all of the desired results.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Bell: Sheep are by nature followers. A flock without a shepherd will typically have one sheep that assumes the leadership. It is not a permanent role, like an alpha sheep. The flock will blindly follow the temporary flock leader, even over a cliff! Shepherds become a surrogate alpha-sheep to the flock — leading them to new pastures and protecting them from predators. The leader as a shepherd presumes followers are much like sheep in need of a guide and protector.

Great leaders operate from the premise that associates need neither a father-figure nor a protector. They assume associates are bright responsible adults who need a barrier remover, not a prodder; an advocate who supports, not a boss who rescues. Great leaders find obvious was to “keep out of the way.” That is not an invitation to hands-off abandonment, but rather as a caution never to use more leadership than is needed. If we have hired smart people and given them solid preparation and clear assignments, they shouldn’t need a shepherd to watch over them. Great leaders empower. Empowerment does not mean unlimited license; it means responsible freedom — giving associates the freedom to solve organizational and customer problems and to answer questions on the spot.

Empowerment also means helping people think like owners, coupling take-care-of-the-customer service with take-care-of-the-organization stewardship. That takes ensuring everyone has the most up-to-date information, the best training, and the kind of sincere inclusion that helps employees feel like insiders and not like mercenaries.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Bell: Stories are memorable and rich in their capacity to convey purpose and cultivate acumen. Stories also stir inquisitiveness. It is that trait that inspires and advances frontline employees to give their best. Stories instruct everyone on focus. Stories telegraph a set of mores and values unique to the organization. When Southwest Airlines employees tell stories of retired CEO Herb Kelleher hiding in the luggage bin to surprise passengers as they entered the plane, they are really saying, “We are supposed to have fun.” When Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh tells the story about hating to come to work at a company he founded (and later sold to Microsoft for $265M), what he is really saying is that a great culture is more important than a focus on short-term profits.

Just as great teachers have always used stories to foster learning, effective leaders tell stories to serve as the glue to mold a gathering of people into a partnership of colleagues. If stories are told with consistency, conviction, and clarity, they are heard. If stories are followed by aligned actions and obvious accountability, they are believed. If stories are repeated by those not the subject of the tale, they become a part of the organizational DNA.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Bell: Let’s focus on several types of resistance, one at a time.

Resistance #1: “They Don’t Care What We Think”

This change pest generally contains an element of truth. Most organizations have historically been long on pronouncement and short on participation. And the more top-down “now-hear-this” decisions are made, the more the “we-they” schism is developed. There is a magical effect that inclusion has on all relationships — especially when change is needed. Employees reward with their commitment those organizations that treat them like partners.

Effective change manage requires broad based inclusion or participation. The ancient adage “people will care if they share” has great truth. While few employees expect any organization to “let us run the place,” they do expect to be trusted enough to be asked for their input on those areas which matter to them and where their input has value. With participation comes creativity and commitment. Sustainable change will only occur if it has a widespread “we” approach. It is difficult to feel “victim” when one has a hand in crafting the outcome. Through inclusion they share control.

Resistance #2: People who ask “What’s In It For Me” are not inherently selfish. However, they clearly choose where to put their efforts based on what they perceive as worthy of those efforts. Effective change management requires reassuring them that there is a clearly perceived link between their effort and some outcome people believe has emotional worth. Worth comes in many forms…economics, affirmation, growth, status, power. However, the root of worth lies in the degree it has emotional grounding…it matters deeply to the person. Smart organizations help employees see the direct link between required change and competitive survival. They help employees to understand that a winning organization is one which is adaptive, responsive, and perpetually in sync with the needs of its marketplace. This requires associates who are anxious to grow, hungry to improve, and enthusiastic about retaining an edge of excellence. It helps people see the “what’s in it”
for them benefits of the change.

Resistance #3: “This Too Will Pass”

Organizations have been weathering monumental change for a long time. And, given the short term attention span of most organizations, employees have typically seen many change efforts come and go. The by product is twofold. First, employees experienced with what the late Ron Zemke calls the BOHICA syndrome (“bend over, here it comes again”) have developed great facility at stoically resisting until it all blows over.

“Just wait,” they tell newer, more naive employees, “The shiny will wear off on this ‘management by bestseller’ effort. Before long, there will be another banner and another battle cry trumpeting the newest quick fix.” Second, as employees’ cynicism
gets more embedded, their attitudes become more callused. The more energy an organization devotes to convincing, the more energy its people devote to contesting.

The effective change management antidote to the BOHICA [i.e. “Bend over! Here it comes again”] syndrome is to take actions which in time convince even the most ardent troublemaker that the change effort is not going away. That is why the change initiative most have relevant anchors. It means that it must not be perceived as an add-on effort. Effective change management suggests that the change is deliberately hard wired into the norms, values, mores, and symbols of the organization. Relevance occurs when the anchors are those that capture the attention of employees and are deemed important. More to the point, they are trusted and respected. When the incentive system is altered to reflect the change effort, when change champions are the people getting the best assignments or promotions, or when executive leadership frequently asks for status reports on the change efforts, such actions telegraph relevance.

Often change efforts fail to be sustained because they are seen as a project or program…something outside or separate from the normal flow of work. Therefore, sustainable change must be imbedded in the folklore, language, and rituals of the organization. For example, if change is needed, but not anchored in the organization’s rewards system, it will probably not last. If change is needed but not an integral part of the person daily work patterns (i.e. a topic on the agenda of almost every meeting or wired into the standards of the organization), it will not be sustained.

Resistance #4 “Psst…Have You Heard That…”

There is an old Peanuts strip which has the teacher asking Lucy, “What is 3 + 4?” Lucy did not know the answer. The teacher tested Lucy again, “What is 4 + 8?” Again, Lucy came up blank. A third time the teacher asked, “What is 5 + 2?” In desperation to save face in front of her peers, Lucy answered, “I don’t know. But, I can spell ‘Mississippi!!”

Rumors and myths get started that way. Rarely are rumors fueled by malicious intent. Usually they begin under the kind of pressure Lucy felt. When people are expected to know but do not know, they often save face by concocting what they believe the truth to be. And, few things derail worthy change like a falsehoods fervently believed. As the anxiety of change increases, people will “spell Mississippi” when they can’t do the math.

Effective change management requires extraordinary communication. Any change effort fuels rumors and myths. The best remedy to erroneous information is through communicating…both in terms of the information disseminated as well as the feedback sought and given. As people get the information they need, their resistance is quelled as they develop perceptions of the future which are less painful than they imagined. Communication must take many forms, must be constant, and above all, must be candid and frank.

Resistance #5 “They Don’t Walk the Talk”

Effective change management requires consistent models — actions by those seen by employees to have the greatest influence. In most organizations, the influencers are the leaders, particularly at the very top. People take their cue as to a change effort’s importance by the manner they witness leaders acting consistent with the needed change. People are leader-watchers. This means all the actions, behaviors and priorities of leaders must be consistent (over time) and congruent with the change effort. People don’t watch mouths, they watch moves…observation counts far more than conversation. Behavior is far more important than platitudes.

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Chip cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

The Chip Bell Group link

His Amazon page

YouTube videos link

LinkedIn link

Twitter link

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