Thrive on Change


This week on Leadership Development News we are going to be talking with Elad Levinson who is going to give us a lot of tips and information. The focus of today is going to be on thriving on change. We all know that change is that one constant; sometimes it’s overwhelming for all of us because there is so much change.

Elad has over 45 years of experience as a leadership coach and organizational consultant. He is a trusted advisor to senior leaders and managers significantly improving their ability to lead in a collaborative and engaging manner. He currently is the Senior Organizational Effectiveness Consultant at a group called 4128 Associates.

He is also is going to teach a course that we are going to talk about from our friends from More Than Sound. The course is called, Thriving on Change and has nine modules and video.

Elad also has been a Senior Organizational Development and Learning Development Professional at Agilent, Stanford, and ICANN the domain organization, and several start ups. He was the first to apply the stress theory to business and leadership at many of these organizations. We’ll be talking with him about the stress theory.

His goals are to bring the art of relationship building and creation intention generation to the science of causing tangible, factual results that increase shareholder value and develop highly adaptable culture supporting the best in human spirit and action.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well thank you. It’s great to have you. We are going to start off a question that we always ask folks just to get a little bit of background on them, is who have been some the key people that you have been influenced by? You have been doing this, it says in your intro here, for 45 years, that’s huge.

Elad Levinson: Well, there was a turning point in my life and I was about 25 years old. I had already been a co-founder of a camp for children in California, so I’d had this experience of being a start-up entrepreneur at 17-21. I was looking at what I wanted to do next. I was working in a alcoholism facility as the employee assistance person. One of the nurses came over to me and she said, I understand you do relaxation training with patients, I think that you would like this. So she gave me a written interview with somebody whose name is Hans Seyle. A lot of people don’t know that Seyle was the father of the Stress Theory. Up until that point, nobody really had used the term stress in the medical or biological sciences.

I read this interview and it changed my life. The interview basically was Seyle saying these three things:

  1. There is something that’s measurable and tangible that we can call stress about which is our reaction to life,
  2. That everybody reacts to stress; the only people that don’t react to stress are dead, and
  3. There are positive stresses and negative stresses. Positive stresses build the immune system, negative stresses tear them down.

Seyle said that perception—how you look at things—has an enormous impact on whether a stress is positive or negative.

I read that and I thought, my god, this person is basically speaking from a scientific, medical standpoint, something that I already knew. That we had so much influence and not really control, but we have so much impact on our own physical and mental health by how we look at things. So Seyle would be somebody that I would say would be right up there.

The second one I would mention would be Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management science is somebody that I have read since I was very early in my career and have continued to read and somebody who has deeply influenced the way I work with people.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Cathy and I are familiar with Hans Seyle and we’ll hear a little bit more about the stress theory. Tell us a little bit about where you are today—what kind of work you do today, the focus, and where you spend most of your time and then that will give us a good feel for where you came from and where you are today.

Elad Levinson: Well, I am one of these people who got recognized as a leader very early on. The Jewish Community Center started mentoring me and promoting me into leadership roles when I was 15. When I was about 17, I began to work a start-up that was a residence camp for children called Camp Tawonga which is still in existence now almost 40 years later. I learned that I had a gift. The gift really came down to that I understood how to motivate people, how to inspire people, and also how to coach and direct their attention towards the most important outcomes.

After working for the Jewish Community Center I started on a career. As I mentioned, I came in contact with Seyle. I developed a stress management course that was Managing Stress to Increase Productivity and began to teach that course. I logged about 10,000 hours of teaching and taught over 25,000 people. It was the first really mindful stress management course in the United States.

As I was teaching stress management, Stanford Hospital heard about my work and asked me to begin to work over there. They hired me as the Director of Management Development and that was a real shift for me away from being a trainer myself to being a leader in learning and development. So what does that mean? It means that I was responsible for 5,000 employees at Stanford University Hospital and also Stanford University delivering training in supervision, management, executive education. Because we didn’t have much of a budget, I had to develop most of the course myself.

I think by the time that I left Stanford four years later, I had developed about 45 different courses that were aimed at supervisors and managers and senior leaders.

One of the things that happened at Stanford was that I was exposed to something that was called Organizational Development. What that means is looking at the organization as a whole system and beginning to think about the organization as your client rather than a classroom. That was a big shift in my thinking because what it did was I began  thinking about systems, whether they were individuals, teams, or organizations.

I then began my own consulting practice. During that it was the heyday of the beginning of the electronics industry. It was a time when there were hundreds and hundreds of start-ups in the Silicon Valley area. So I began to become known as somebody that small to medium sized companies brought in as an outside or external consultant helping them really grow their organizations and face the stresses of being a start-up or a small company.

Then, as I developed competence in working with that particular sector, which was the electronics field, I began to branch out and work in banking and then bio-technology, then pharmaceutical companies. The main thing that I kept on focusing on was seeing that individuals and organizations had a very, very difficult time managing change.

Change and stress are synonymous. Going back to Seyle, what he said was that all changes require an adaptation to stress. So, the central, fundamental need for organizations, is to learn how to work with change. Wherever I’ve gone, and I’ve worked with big companies, Agilent, which was a spinoff of Hewlett Packard, or whether I was an external consultant or internal senior leader, it’s always been the same kind of central idea. If you can help people, not only cope, but thrive with change, that they are going to, as you put it, really begin to move towards that top 10%.

Dr. Relly Nadler: This is fascinating.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I think one of the things that I’m intrigued about is the idea that stress and the context of stress will have a very profound impact on leadership. I’m listening and I’m very intently not interfering so that people can get the larger idea. I’m sure as we go through this show I’ll have more questions.

Elad Levinson: One of the things that I’ve really been thinking—part of the thing about being inside organizations and also working with them as a consultant for 40+ years–you get to see trends. One of the trends that I see right now is that leaders are facing a time like never before. That between the volatility, the uncertainty, the complexity, and the ambiguity of the context, that’s the right word Cathy, the context that they leaned in, that they have to evolve.

What business school and management education teaches is not working. Leaders are really not capable of dealing with the kind of stresses that they are facing today unless they begin to develop the kind of skills that you could say are intra-personal; meaning that they are inside the person.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s fascinating, and we to jump more into that because you have a wealth of experience and worked with leaders and especially—Cathy and I know because we are in organizations every day—that the pace of change is just speeding up so much, that people are “on” 24/7. So this intra-personal aspect we want to talk more about it and some of your experiences in relating it with managing stress.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We are talking about the context of stress and executive development, especially emotional intelligence. Elad we were talking about some of the important findings in being able to establish, if you will, growth. I didn’t want to interrupt you but you were talking about how important it is for us to have that growth in order to understand stress.

Elad Levinson: Yes. I mean I think that one of the important issues. Organizations are time starved. In some organizations there is really almost what I would say is a leadership inequality just in the same way that there’s a conversation going on in the culture about income inequality. There’s also a leadership inequality. You’ve got some percentage of organizations that have a world view that developing their people is absolutely critical and that one of the things that follows from the development mentality is that we will take the time that is necessary to train our people. Whether it’s the orientation coming into the company and on boarding, whether it’s somebody who is moving from one position to another; they are going to take the time to make sure that that person is getting coached and mentored.

So their relationship, the time, is very, very different than the organizations which I think unfortunately really make up the majority. Those organizations use time as there isn’t enough, and one of the things that we are going to cut is going to be development. So what ends up happening is that you have organizations who have whittled away, and whittled away, and whittled away, their development budgets and have really looked at coaching and mentoring as something that is nice to do but it’s not necessary.

I think that the outcome of that is what the Gallop Organization has described as 30% of all employees are engaged in their jobs. What does that mean? To me as a senior leader, what it means is that I’ve got people that don’t really care about being there. Yes, they do the job, and they do it in way with mindlessness, and they can’t be counted on to meet a commitment that they had made. They seem to kind of glide through because the organizational context supports the lack of engagement.

So the organizations that I’m studying and that I’m interested in are those that have the development mentality or that want to turn the corner. Maybe they don’t have a development orientation, but they really, truly want to develop it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I have a question for you. One of the things that I’m very interested in is, and you know that certainly many people are focused on, the mindfulness approach. Now we are talking about companies that have a focus on development as an attitude. Instead of linking this to leadership approach, you are linking this to a development philosophy. I just want to clarify that.

Elad Levinson: Well, I think that they really are the same thing, in my mind, Cathy. The question that I would ask if I’m the head of learning and development, is development for what purpose. If I’m working inside of a company I want my development of my people to be tied to the business needs of the organization. So what are the business needs of the organization? Well, one of them is that we see that leaders are not prepared to lead, and why? I think that one of the reasons why they are not prepared to lead is that we have missed a golden opportunity that we are beginning to now focus on which is that each individual has way more capacity than we have tapped. I think this is the reason why mindfulness research and Dan Goleman’s work around focus and attention, and relaxation, and my work around generating and cultivating good will, are so critical to really moving organizations to greater capacity and capability.

The only reason, in my mind, to teach mindfulness is that it increases people and their effectiveness and their efficiency. In other words, it’s going to have a huge impact on how people do what they do and what they chose to do. Did I answer your question?

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You did. I think it’s very important for our listeners to hear those distinctions because if we continue to try to focus on leadership in the absence of the overall growth and development of an organizations capacity as a winning formula, then we are missing the mark in creating the future leaders that we will need to continue to fill this gap.

I just wanted to make sure that everyone is hearing that because we over use the word leadership development, a lot. All people need to develop, all people need to grow. By focusing the word leadership development together, sometimes we do off-track our thinkers that are trying to help us and if we would stay more with your philosophy of development, right, as it leads to the best practices for the entire organization, we also have a better shot at being successful helping them.

Elad Levinson: Yes, and one of the things that really excites me is the notion of, I don’t know if you are familiar with the work of Karl Weick? One of the things that Weick asserts is that at some point mindfulness becomes resident as a trait within an organization when the organization commits itself systems wide to the development of mindfulness.

So instead of individuals kind of carrying / being champions for awareness or self regulation, or the application of mindfulness in relationship building, it becomes a cultural norm. When it becomes a cultural norm, the level or the intensity of the impact that mindfulness has jumps from one +one + one, to now you’ve got a system that is beginning to generate an enormous amount of energy because people are taking responsibility for their own reactions to things.

You can hear the complete interview with Elad Levinson, above.


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