Sweet Talk Your Way to Harmony

If you are seeking to persuade someone with whom you disagree, make certain you don’t insult them. Seems obvious, but so often ignored.

It is a lesson that Lyndon Johnson – the Master Persuader himself – applied his entire adult life.

As historian Jon Meacham writes in The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Johnson had been invited to speak at his presidential library at the University of Texas in Austin. The night before he had been very ill, battling as he did with chronic heart disease. Lady Bird Johnson urged him not to make the trip, and so too did his doctors. Worse, bad weather had set in with snow and ice covering the roads from his home in Johnson City to Austin. Johnson, of course, would not be dissuaded and on the way even took the wheel of the car from his driver who in Johnson’s opinion was not driving quickly enough.

Johnson gave an eloquent speech, the last of his life and he even closed with the words he had closed his presidential address to Congress on Civil Rights in 1964 “We shall overcome.” What came next is the persuasion part. Some hecklers in the audience called for President Nixon to be denounced by the committee. Johnson strode to the dais once again.

“Let’s try to get our folks reasoning together,” Johnson said. “And you don’t need to start off by saying [Nixon’s] terrible because he doesn’t think he is terrible. Start talking about how you believe that he wants to do what’s right and how you believe this is right, and you’ll be surprised how many who want to do what’s right will try to help you.”

Five weeks later in January 1973, Johnson died.

Lift up

Rather than criticize the man, it’s better to speak about what you can do together. It was advice Johnson had applied to mentors such as Sam Rayburn and Richard Russell as well as adversaries and allies alike. The Johnson Treatment often had the coating of honey before the dousing of vinegar, if necessary.

Such is good advice, especially now when public discourse is resonates more with defamation than dignity. Reality says that you seldom, if ever, persuade people by belittling them. Better to find common ground.

Experts who work in negotiations find solutions by following these steps.

One, affirm the person’s integrity. This may require biting your tongue. When you disagree with an individual, it’s easy to employ animus. Bad move. Keep the discussion on an even keel. Look at the argument, not the individual. Each side can advocate for their ideas but not impugn the motives of the other.

Two, find common ground. Often people who disagree may share a single idea – make things better. Their approach, however, is oppositional. One may want to spend; the other may want to save. Look for the reasoning behind the strategy. Therein may lie the common purpose, e.g., ensure the future of the organization.

Three, look for one solution. Once you understand each other, look for win-win opportunities. For the saver, identify things that could be eliminated. For the spender, find items that require investment. Split the difference, if need be. Most important, keep talking.

Then do a little dreaming. This technique was a specialty of Johnson. As Meacham writes, when President Johnson met with Governor George Wallace of Alabama in the White House in 1965 he asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He noted that Wallace had begun his career as a “liberal” working for the common man. Johnson challenged Wallace to think about the future, not 1968 but 1988. Would he be recalled as a man of hate or a man who sought to make things better for all men?

The art of persuasion is founded on the understanding that good ideas can become better ones if you are willing to work with people with whom you initially disagree.

First posted on Forbes.com 5.17.2023

Steven Spielberg and John Williams: The Art and Magic of Collaboration

People who work together often coordinate activities and cooperate to get things done. Ideally, however, performance improves when individuals begin to collaborate and share ideas that compound exponentially. That is 1 + 1 = 5 or 50.

Such is the case with director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. The two first met in 1972. Shortly after, Williams scored Spielberg’s first theatrical release, The Sugarland Express. After that, it was off to the races with films such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and most recently, The Fabelmans, Spielberg’s most personal film.

Big question

The two sat down with Late Show’s Stephen Colbert for an interview about their efforts. First, Colbert askedWilliams a simple question: “What’s your job?”

“It’s a wonderful question. It’s very simple. I don’t know if I can give you a simple answer. I think the first answer I can give you is to inform and improve the process of storytelling through music, if I Can. Describe the characters. Describe the atmosphere, the ambiance of what the story requires. My job is to be a collaborator with the director in achieving all these things the atmospherics, emotional content, and so on.”

Later Spielberg added that his efforts could bring an audience to feel emotions, but Williams’s scores take them over the edge. “I can get an audience to the brink of crying, but Johnny’s music makes the tears fall. He takes it the rest of the way without being sentimental about it. Without being maudlin or mawkish.”

Two films dissected

Their second collaboration was Jaws. The score is based on two notes (E and F, with a D, added later). The music became, as Spielberg said, a “character in the film.” It created a sense of anxiety that heightened the tension of an approaching shark. As Williams explains, “Another big issue with us was that if you play this very softly and slowly, you advertise or you advance the thoughts. The shock is there just by hearing the music. There is no shark nearby, but if it speeds up and comes closer to you and gets louder and louder… You’ve got an actor that you can’t see and a threat that by some primordial instinct you are threatened by, as we should be by a great predator.”

And it worked exceptionally well. The mechanical shark, nicknamed Bruce, was often in the shop being repaired. “Johnny sort of saved the movie because he became the shark, and then music substituted for the absent shark, which made it a hell of a lot scarier and more suspenseful than had I had the shark working perfectly,” Spielberg says.

Williams employed a fuller palate of notes — five — for their next effort — Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These became the ones used to communicate with the alien spaceship that arrives on screen at the film’s climax. Spielberg said that he either could have used math or music to communicate. “Music is math in that sense. I didn’t want them putting complicated equations on a blackboard so that music would be the quickest way to the heart of the audience to get them to understand this sort of first contact between an extraordinary extraterrestrial civilization, advanced civilization.”

Relationship at work

It is easy to discern their respect and love for each other when they converse. Spielberg is in his mid-seventies, and Williams is in his early nineties. Yet, watching their conversation, with Colbert there to guide them, you see sparks of creativity fly. They are collaborating the sharing their stories in real-time.

Collaboration is rooted in trust; when you work closely together for decades, trust becomes the bond that holds the relationship together and brings stories to life in ways that entertain, charm, and enlighten.

“I have never not liked something that John has written for one of my movies,” says Spielberg about the 29 films they have done together. “I’ve never said, ‘Oh, I don’t feel that’s right for my movie.’ Or ‘I don’t think we should use this piece of music at this point.’ everything johnny has written has fit like a glove. There’s never been bumps about my disagreeing with something that he has composed. Ever.”

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2023

Why Do Leaders Need to Learn the Art of Reconciliation?

When people disagree, they do so for various reasons – ego, rivalry, and even orneriness. When agreement is found, tensions do not always disappear. They linger. What one party regards as correct may conflict with the “rights” and beliefs of the other. Resentments develop and fester. 

What is needed is a reconciliation, a coming together to resolve differences. Solving issues is often a dilemma, so the new book by Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation, is a welcome resource. Welby knows his topic well. He began his oil business career chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa. After a decade, he felt a calling and became an Anglican priest after being rejected initially. Welby then worked on and studied reconciliation issues throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Welby is now Archbishop Canterbury, the leading cleric of the Church of England.

What is reconciliation?

His background, both civic and cleric, gives him a grounding in personal differences that fester. In conclusion to his book, he offers four perspectives on reconciliation that, while based on his faith, are grounded in the reality of human behavior. “Reconciliation is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well,” Welby writes. “The impact of disagreeing may continue to be disagreement… even a state of well-contained hostility.” But its outcome is “new possibilities of mitigating the harm.” No namby-pamby here. Stop fighting as a means of alleviating harm. 

Welby continues by writing, “Reconciliation offers the possibility of forgiveness, of the victim being liberated from the perpetrator’s control.” Furthermore, Welby argues that “reconciliation is a way of hope because it requires the stronger party to make the sacrifice of choosing to live with the weaker, and not to control, dominate and rule them.” Finally, “reconciliation opens the way to justice and truth. When sacrifice is made, then truth can be told.” And when that happens, “justice and mercy can meet and can be seen to be real.”

What emerges from Welby’s argument are vital concepts relevant to leadership:  stop the harm through forgiveness, sacrifice, and mercy. Justice emerges from these elements. However, implementing these concepts can take time and effort. The challenge is to take the long view. What matters now is less important than what occurs in the future.

What is the leader’s role?

The leader’s role is to illuminate the way by setting direction and bringing people together. Simple, except that you are dealing with people, each of whom may have their ideas of how to do things based on their personal experience. And when things have gone wrong, and people get hurt, achieving unity is much harder. 

Leaders can facilitate reconciliation by making it clear that the power for healing lies within the disagreeing parties. Listen carefully to each party, separately and together. Invite both parties to have a discussion. Underscore the challenges and make no promises. Confirm that only the parties themselves can find a reckoning. Thank them for their willingness to listen. These steps are easy to state but may take a long time if ever, to implement.

The recognition that it may be impossible is not comforting, but it is reality. Addressing reality is a leader’s responsibility. Directly and conclusively. However, recognizing that some things are beyond us does not mean we do not try. On the contrary, it means we need to make an effort, if not for ourselves, but for those who come after us.

Peace through sacrifice and trust

Justice and peace can come about. President Bill Clinton, who was instrumental in instigating the Good Friday peace accords that ended sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, described his perspective in an op-ed for the Washington Post marking the 25th anniversary of their signing. 

“First, the process was driven by the people. They’d grown weary of the killing and the arbitrary tragedies of nonlethal political violence, and weary of the economic deprivation born of the divisions.” Political leaders, too, put their lives and careers on the line. “Trust was built slowly but surely through years of confidence-building measures, such as prisoner releases and cease-fires.”

 “Though power-sharing has at times yielded frustration and even gridlock,” writes Clinton, “it has given each side the opportunity to make its concerns heard and work toward consensus.”

Justice comes only with acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Reconciliation supersedes justice because it embraces the notion of forgiveness and mercy. Justice is institutional; forgiveness and mercy are personal choices. Both are easy and may never occur. Yet, as Welby argues, we must try to reconcile. Doing so can bring peace to the heart and soul, even if pain and suffering remain. And it is in the suffering that we learn our strengths, what we can take, what we can endure, and what we cannot. Reconciliation, therefore, is the embracing of our humanity.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 4.18.23

Leading with a Spirit of Abundance

What does it mean to lead with grace? 

That’s a question that I have been exploring for the last couple of years, and likely longer, as I write and teach what grace means to us as individually and culturally. My definition of grace is that it is the catalyst for the greater good. Such a definition complements what leaders do because their role is as one who works to do what’s best for the whole. In doing such it involves stepping back in order to allow others to step forward. A true leader does not relinquish authority; she shares it, reserving for herself only the biggest and toughest decisions that only she, and she alone, can make.

Thinking more deeply, however, I think leading with grace comes down to something more basic. It is how you view the outside world, with an open mind and heart, or with fear and trepidation. Big chasm, yes, and while open hearted leaders can, and should, feel fear, they do not let it dictate how they interact with others and more importantly how they lead.

What is abundance?

More basically, you can sum up the duality as abundance versus scarcity. Abundance is a way of looking at the world as bountiful. Scarcity is an approach that focuses on lack of resources. Abundance encourages generosity; scarcity leads to hoarding.

Abundance is an embracing as well as bracing philosophy. It embraces the goodness of others, but it also makes demands upon us to share. It challenges our notions of what it means to be human as well as what it means to lead. As a human we must look at others as kindred spirits, not others. As leaders, we must look at employees as contributors.

Leaders who act with grace believe that in a country as rich as resourceful as the United States there must be resources for the most disadvantaged. They applied a vision of abundance to address a problem of scarcity.

While abundance versus scarcity is a dichotomy. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Abundant leadership should not be an excuse for profligacy, speaking of resources. The servant school of leadership teaches us to husband our resources and to be good stewards of what we have, who we are, and what we want to accomplish. Leaders in business cannot give away the store, otherwise there will be no more business, and consequently they will put people on the street without jobs. There must always be prudence in leadership.

Similarly, those who live with a scarcity mindset need to ease up, too. Rigidity to one belief or another leads to a tunnel vision that blocks influences from the outside world. Leaders can never divorce what they do from reality; doing so leads to assumptions that are based more on gut instinct than data. You need both good instincts as well as good command of data to lead effectively.

Applying resources properly

Organizationally there are at least two kinds of resources, capital and human. Capital includes assets; human includes people, of course. Capital resources may never be fully abundant but capital resources can be. That is, while you may not have enough funds to build another factory or store, you do have the right people in the right places to conduct business in ways that enrich stakeholders. Those with an abundance mindset place more emphasis on human capital rather than financial. That does not mean they ignore finances. It is that they believe that people are the true edge in determining organization success, not just finances.

Leaders who lead with abundance are those who look at employees as contributors. They assume the people have the best intentions until proven otherwise. They lead with a spirit of grace in that they view their role as one whose job it is to make things better. They also demand that everyone in the organization do likewise. Values of respect and compassion underscore a commitment to ethics and integrity.

Leading with abundance is to lead with head and heart, a head to ensure proper guidance and a heart to insure people come first.

This post reflects themes explored in my newest book, Grace Under Pressure: Leading Through Change and Crisis by John Baldoni Savio Republic 2023

First posted on SmartBrief.com 4.24.2023