When Bayer, a $7 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, acquired a smaller $300 million diagnostic company, CEO Rolf Classon chose to call it a "merger."
He wanted to immediately establish a "power-with-others" relationship with the new organization. I was part of a consulting team who facilitated a multi-day vision, values, and leadership session to help the leadership team create the new direction for the culture and the business.
"We are becoming one company," Rolf told the top hundred people from both companies at their kickoff meeting. He went on to convey that he wanted to set new ground rules for working collaboratively in a new environment in which "together we can create something that never existed before."
This was a decade ago, and was one of the key events that elevated my awareness that some leaders have really keen Conversational Intelligence skills, and when they exercises their C-IQ wisdom, things start to work out when the odds are against them. Most mergers and acquisitions fail. We're lucky if 18% succeed. What Rolf was doing that set his leadership and success apart from many others is that he intuitively knew one of the 5 key conversational intelligence principles that are at the heart of conversational intelligence - and business success.
Principle #1: Transparency... be open and honest about what needs to change
The executives discussed changes that needed to be made in the organization to maximize the new partnership. Then they broke into smaller teams to craft the new vision and values, with the intent of reporting their insights to the larger executive team.
Principle #2: Relationship... share and discover from each other to build relationship
When the executives reconvened, a spirit of collaboration had clearly emerged.
Rolf once again stood before the group and asked, "How many of you have been through a visioning session before?" Everyone raised his or her hand.
"How many of you have left those sessions and returned to the workplace, only to find that nothing had changed?" Mostly everyone raised his or hand. He then declared, "For us to be successful as an organization, we need to realize that we can't create the organization we want without making fundamental changes in ourselves."
Principle #3: Understanding ... go deeper in exploring our impact
As the event unfolded, something magical occurred. Rolf, by his example, taught the executives the true meaning of leadership. "Change begins inside each person. So I want to let you know that over the past few days I have been looking at what I've been doing to unknowingly prevent change from taking place. I've discovered at least sixteen things I want to change about myself! Here are my own top three: my arrogance, my control, and my lack of trust. At lunch, I want you each to think about what change means to you, and what you can do personally to inspire your own growth. After lunch I want to hear from my top executives -- from the podium -- expressing their personal insights."
Principle #4: Shared Success... find common ground
The CEO allowed himself to be as vulnerable as he had ever been in his life when he acknowledged the personal work he needed to do to make this merger a success. As he left behind his flaws so did the other executives, which made room for cooperation and partnership to grow. Rolf continued his talk about the future. He engaged others in conversations about the "big challenges" and the "big picture." The key was creating a shared context for change. By setting the stage in this way, he enabled others to find a common ground on which to build the future.
Principle #5: Truth Telling... it's not just your success - it's our success
By setting the context, you level the playing field. Thus, power and hierarchy become less important than the results colleagues can create through teamwork. It is a field in which all can put themselves into the context of organizational change and define how they can contribute. When you are on the edge of discovering the context of change, you may find yourself thinking about how you can be an inclusive leader.
LeaderShift: From I to WE
Learn to recognize when you're coming from "I" in an unhealthy way. For instance, are you withdrawing and excluding others? Are you defensive and reactive, setting the context for territorialism to emerge? Shift your mindset from "I" to "WE," and set a new context for your conversations. When we shift from I to we in our minds, and listen to connect not reject, we elevate our success even in the most challenges situations. Bayer's Merger and Acquisition was one of the most successful in the industry. Rolf's natural instincts to move from power-over to power-with conversations enabled a new level of connectivity, and collaboration for joining two companies for mutual gain.
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013) Visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-307-4386.