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Let's Dance: The Three Essential Traits for Collaborative Leaders

"Let's dance!"

As a young executive working for the German media company Bertelsmann, I was part of a team that was asked to make some substantial organizational and technical changes in our New York City office. In mid-December we brought all the employees together for a big holiday party and end-of-the-project celebration. I was attending the party with a manager who had just come over from our German headquarters. Although we had a wonderful band and a large dance floor, no one was dancing.

The party was not going well.

Suddenly my German colleague stood up, reached out his hand to me and said firmly “Debra, dance with me!” I was a bit self-conscious (being the sole couple dancing) but soon people got up and joined us and the party took off. As the song ended my colleague and dance partner gave me some advice I have never forgotten.

He said, “Debra, when you lead, you must lead in all things!”

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Let's agree to disagree

I've been watching a TV series called You Can’t Take it With You in which business guru Sir Gerry Robinson helps bring families together to write their wills. Given the differing values, priorities, perspectives and emotional sensitivity of those involved, it's unsurprising that - if not visible, then just below the surface - there's always a degree of tension or even conflict amongst family members.

What many of the individuals do - like so many of us in the workplace - is try to avoid that tension or conflict altogether, or simply ignore it. If we can’t say something nice, our mothers taught us, don’t say anything at all. Of course, Sir Gerry's task is to help the families tackle these difficult challenges and decisions. Inevitably, tension or conflict becomes unavoidable, and with it the potential for it to get disagreeable or even destructive.

So what is surprising is just how often he manages to pull off a minor miracle and turn conflict into collaboration. From favouritism, to boys versus girls, to judgments about people’s lifestyles to plain old-fashioned prejudice, Sir Gerry has helped negotiate a way through them all.

The typical strategy says Sir Gerry is to avoid conflict and close down dialogue and discussion ("I'm not prepared to talk about it"). Whilst this approach appears to work for many, stubbornness and inflexibility set in. And when tensions bubble to the surface, people already convinced of the rightness of their view become increasingly polarised around conflicting positions and values. The result he says is 'destructive conflict', which is personal, vindictive, and a source of pain.

Other strategies include reducing tensions and stresses by one party simply accommodating the wishes of the other - a one-sided ‘win-lose’ situation. But this simply glosses over the issue - something Sir Gerry won’t accept. Another widely accepted means of resolving conflict is to accept that there needs to be give and take on all sides, involving a series of 'concessions'. A 'win-some, lose-some' strategy.

But Sir Gerry believes that when managed properly, conflict can have many positive aspects and even bring about innovative solutions. His 'constructive conflict' approach works because those involved have a positive learning experience from the event and see that theirs is not a case of ‘right against wrong’ so much as ‘right against right’. By creating the conditions for each party to both speak and listen he ensures they understand both the what and the why of their differences. By opening up dialogue and sharing and assessing the reasons for the conflict, issues can be clarified which results in more possible alternatives and opportunities to solving the problem. A clear 'win-win' strategy.

So how do we manage conflict so that it’s a positive not a negative force? I think it starts with the simple notion that we can disagree without being disagreeable. And that we have to make it “safe” to be different,  to take opposite points of view and to disagree. When people know they can stand up and say what they believe without being castigated, guess what? They will!

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Meet Colin – the new face of Generation C

“Colin is a 20-year-old computer science student living in London with two other students in the year 2020. He enjoys backpacking, sports, music, and gaming. He has a primary digital device (PDD) that keeps him connected 24 hours a day — at home, in transit, at school. He uses it to download and record music, video, and other content, and to keep in touch with his family, friends, and an ever-widening circle of acquaintances. His apartment is equipped with the latest wireless home technology, giving him superfast download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.” Read More »

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Welcome to the Financial Services Industry Blog

It has been said that Cisco became Cisco by helping evolve the financial services industry over the past two and half decades. This has not been a one-way street as the financial services industry has consistently been the largest revenue generating industry for Cisco, including the past five years – even during the global financial crisis. In fact, Cisco is the only network company ranked in the FinTech Top 25 Enterprise Companies serving the financial services industry. FinTech is an annual ranking where the American Banker and Bank Technology News, in association with IDC Financial Insights, rank the revenues of the leading global technology and service providers to the financial services industry.

The financial services industry is going through perhaps its most significant modern age evolution, across all three segments – retail banking, insurance, and financial markets. Dramatic changes in the consumer segmentation landscape, based on the growing wealth and demands of the Gen X and Y crowd, along with business model shifting regulatory requirements, are causing major changes in investment philosophy among consumer-oriented financial institutions. In financial markets, a new ecosystem is emerging, characterized by network enabling FMaaS (Financial Markets as a Service), mergers of major exchanges to establish a virtual global exchange or “Meta Exchange”, resulting in a global inter-connected trading fabric. What does all of this mean? Lots of risk and lots of opportunity.

So why did we create this blog? Who are the people contributing, and what are their backgrounds? Why would you be interested?

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Do you use the word "today" in your emails?

The other day I was reading a blog post from the Guardian’s Mind Your Language Blog and was interested to learn that The Guardian is following in The BBC’s footsteps and has dropped most references to words like "today", "tomorrow", "yesterday", "tonight" and so on from reports on their website. Many of their readers are spread out across the globe and such words will have different meanings for them, depending on which time zone they are in. These national newspapers feel that by including words like “yesterday” and “today” (unless a day is still relevant), they are in fact excluding a large sector of their readers. Read More »

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