Research Cycle

 Vol 4|No 2|December|2007
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Chapter Four
Kissing Ask

By Jamie McKenzie

Pretty bad pun -— kissing ask!

But it captures an important aspect of organizational life. Too much energy and time is devoted to boss pleasing activities that are unhealthy, unproductive and sometimes even illegal. Some bosses invite ego massage and resent criticism or the doubtful questioning mentioned in Chapter One.

This chapter stresses the value of replacing boss “kissing” with intense, skillful questioning aimed at bettering performance, pleasing the boss by stressing results rather than massaging ego. Teams that prize challenging, confrontation and differing are more apt to develop the agility and versatility required by difficult times.

This is not an endorsement of endless bickering and squabbling. While the dialogue might prove contentious at times, the disharmony must ultimately be resolved and translated into action plans tempered by the heat of full consideration. Tough questions should be seen as a crucial part of forging such plans.

This is a sample chapter from Jamie McKenzie's new book, Leading Questions.

Click here for a Table of Contents and more sample chapters.

“The CEO (or superintendent) has no scruples!”

The old story of the little boy calling attention to the emperor’s state of undress must be revised for modern times as naked ambition, greed and unbridled desires inspire some leaders and their teams to cook books, fudge numbers and substitute the appearance of progress for the real thing. As mentioned in the previous chapter and outlined in the Rise of the Rogue Executive, leaders of companies like Enron leave little room for dissent and have little appreciation for whistle blowers.

According to Melissa Kantor in a January 22, 2007 letter to the New Yorker commenting on Malcolm Goodwells’s article about Enron’s puzzling accounting challenges, “Open Secrets,” accountants and employees of Enron had much to lose by challenging the accounting practices being used to inflate Enron’s prospects.

The members of such teams often feel obligated to participate in whatever charade management has directed, producing the desired image of results regardless of ethical issues. Fraud and deception can become routine.

How can an organization avoid fostering boss-pleasing behaviors?

1. Step One — Granting Permission

The effort starts at the top. Leaders must encourage challenging and questioning across the organization with their actions as well as their words. It accomplishes little to pay lip service to the notion while punishing those who speak out. Each time someone shares concerns in a challenging manner, the team will be watching to see if the questions are greeted with appreciation or derision. When promotions are made, who is moved ahead - the challengers or the kissers?

Can top leaders tolerate such behaviors? More importantly, can they learn to orchestrate, manage and empower dialogue that is contentious and spirited but aimed at shaping smart plans? Tolerating is not sufficient. We are not looking for occasional dissent. The goal is to elevate constructive contention and challenge to a prized level.

2. Step Two — Institutionalizing the Practice

While the word “institutionalize” has irksome connotations, in this context the focus is on establishing routines so that questioning is fully blended into the daily practice of the organization where it belongs. A team would apply the techniques outlined in some detail in Chapters 7 and 8, “The Spirit and Courage of the Serial Questioner” and “Growing a Culture of Intense Questioning.”

3. Step Three — Walking the Talk

Once the team has embraced the value of questioning and has launched the organizational development required to develop the requisite skills and attitudes, top leaders must demonstrate by their actions, not just their words, that kissing ask is valued highly. In almost any workplace, the workers are likely to greet the proclaimed goal with early skepticism. This skepticism is natural, but it must eventually shift to trust in order to see questioning thrive.

4. Step Four — Celebrating

As the crew starts to show prowess with its challenging behaviors, the group and the top leaders must mark the successes so that everyone involved knows that the behavior is prized. Acknowledgment is essential to keep the momentum growing. An array of rewards is also required, ranging from praise and public recognition to concrete benefits in the form of bonuses and laudatory performance reviews.

This book ships November 2007.
Place your order at

A cartoon in every chapter. Click on sample below to enlarge.


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