The value of forum explained in two cartoons

Andrew Miller, a member of a Harvard Business School Alumni Forum in Toronto, shares two cartoons and his interpretation of how they explain the benefits of forum.

In the first Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, an artist’s vision is obstructed and distorted by a fly on his glasses.  The forum reading: My peer support group helps me identify underlying assumptions, beliefs, and biases that color my vision and distort my perception of reality.  The forum doesn’t help so much with the technical, fine details of how I do my work or live my life; it doesn’t tell me how to use paint or a brush to create my masterpiece, but at a deeper level, the forum helps open my eyes to new perspectives and possibilities and brings greater clarity to my thinking.

In Gary Larson’s second cartoon, an airline pilot is surprised to see a goat way up high in a cloud bank.  The forum view: Sometimes I get so wrapped up in an issue that I lose perspective – it becomes overwhelming with emotions and information and ideas whirling around.   It’s easy in a busy life to get spun around and lose sense of direction.  Forum helps me get my bearings – gets my head up and over the clouds to see things more clearly.   Forum helps me see my path and chart my course with greater clarity.   Forum discussions help me from crashing and burning.

Confirming and Committing to Your Forum’s Operating Principles

Most forums have a constitution or set of norms that includes principles the forum intends to follow.  Sample guidelines include:

  • I will respect confidentiality.
  • I will be present in the moment.
  • I will stay around when times get tough.
  • I will speak my truth.
  • I will not blame, shame, or fix others.

To confirm your forum’s principles, and to help everyone commit to them, consider taking up each of your principles (perhaps one per meeting), and asking:

  1. Personal interpretation: What does the operating principle mean to you and what, if anything, do you want to improve on with regard to practicing the principle?  (Each person up to 1 minute)
  2. Sharing of best practices: How have you overcome challenges in practicing the operating principle or coached others to do so?  (volunteers)
  3. Compliance to date: Are there any red flags that you think need to be addressed now regarding our forum’s compliance with the operating principle? (volunteers)

These conversations can help your forum truly make your principles more than just boilerplate text, and can improve your forum’s effectiveness in practicing the principles.

What I’m most ashamed about myself

A Forum member told me that he tried a different presentation approach at a recent meeting:  He simply discussed “the five things I’m most ashamed of about myself.”   He reported that it was quite difficult, but the other members quickly dove in with their own issues, and it helped bring the forum closer together.

Obviously it takes a while to build enough trust to do this kind of presentation, but the member found it quite helpful.

Are you and your forum ready to tackle this presentation topic?

Bob Halperin

Attending your Forum meeting virtually – the right way to do it

Sometimes when you can’t join your Forum in person, you might actually be available for some or all of the meeting, just not able to get to the meeting venue on time.

If remote participation is the only choice, do it the right way:

–          Establish a video, not only an audio, connection whenever possible (e.g., Skype, WebEx, Google Hangout).  Even if you can’t see everyone else, your Forum mates will value seeing you

–          Ask the moderator to give the speakerphone or computer a “seat” at the table, so you can be easily called on

–          Maintain focus – refrain from any distractions just as if you were physically present (no checking email or working on non-Forum business)

–          Remind the moderator to actively control the flow of the meeting to ensure you can get into the conversation

–          Ensure that you are in a quiet, private location with no interruptions

–          If you can only attend part of the meeting, give priority to the Updates portion, being present to share your own significant issues and hear from other members.

And what’s the wrong way to participate virtually?  It’s the way many of us attend conference calls: in a distracted, multitasking mode with our minds only half on the call.

If you can be fully present, following the guidelines above, your Forum will appreciate the extra effort you made to engage with the group.

 Bob Halperin

The challenge (and opportunity) of members with previous Forum experience

You are joining a Forum for the first time and are excited to learn that one or more other members have significant Forum experience, perhaps in YPO or another organization.

Of course, it can be great for a Forum to benefit from the wisdom that comes from previous experience, but proceed carefully.  Sometimes the more experienced member may assume that what worked before will transfer automatically to his or her new forum.

The more experienced member might ask:

–          My old Forum was happy with a more “flexible” approach, but is my new group also ready to deviate from “standard” process?

–          Does my new group need more time, whether length of meeting, or length of individual segments?  Do I need to be more patient?

–          How can I truly model best practice, being the first to share, withholding judgment, raising issues or concerns in the most constructive manner?

And newer members can consider:

–          Has the more experienced member fully listened to the concerns and questions raised by the novices?

–          Are we comfortable introducing a more complex or challenging protocol, or do we still need to learn the basics?

–          Can we leverage the “expert” more effectively, not by listening to theory, but by asking him/her to demonstrate and lead some meeting elements?

Bob Halperin

I’m really, really busy. Is now the right time to join a Forum?

Ironically, if you are so busy you don’t see how you can take on another obligation; this may be exactly the right time to commit to a monthly Forum meeting.

How can that be?

Many members share that it is the four hours they invest in Forum each month that helps them maintain the right priorities, focus, and balance during the remaining 29½ days of the month.

Consider this story: A member says to a fellow member, “I can’t make it to the next meeting due to my overwhelming commitments.” The other member responds, only half-jokingly, “Well, then it’s even more important for you to attend, and you should be the presenter!”

When the harried member shows up, he or she will find a group of peers who are often equally stressed over their many professional and personal obligations.  And he or she will learn from the experience of other executives who are also trying to make it all work and hold it all together.

The worst decision may be the opposite of what you think at first: NOT joining or NOT showing up at your monthly meeting.

Bob Halperin

Parting the Curtain

The writer Eudora Welty could have been speaking about Forum when she wrote:

My wish, my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.

May you continue in your Forum to “part the curtain,” sharing your toughest challenges and highest aspirations with each other.

Bob Halperin

Moral Humility and Your Forum

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria has spoken eloquently about the need for executives to cultivate a sense of “moral humility.” (See his TEDx talk here)

What gets managers into trouble isn’t that that they lack knowledge of what’s right and wrong or that they have not had enough ethical training.  Instead, they go off course because of “moral arrogance.”  They think to themselves “I would never do what Jeff Skilling or Rajat Gupta or Dennis Kozlowski did.” They believe that they know better, that they would never succumb to the pressures that have lured other successful executives.

Where does your Forum come into this equation?  Forum is the confidential, safe place where you can talk about tough moral quandaries, about choosing between right and wrong, or even choosing between right and right, situations in which some stakeholders will gain and some will lose.  These are often issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to discuss with your boss, peers, or subordinates.  And close family members may not understand the business context or pressures you are facing at work.

The Wall Street Journal has written that “[business] schools should do more to ensure that the dialogue [about ethical behavior] develops into an ethical support structure after graduation.  Alumni often mention that the hardest decisions they make occur when job demands conflict with their values.  And, importantly, that they are isolated when making them.”

With Forum, you are not alone in making the toughest ethical decisions.  You have a place where you can learn from others’ experience and cultivate your personal sense of moral humility.

Bob Halperin

Bragging about Forum participation to your boss

Alumni Forum members sometimes feel they need to hide their forum participation from their boss or others at work.  In fact, the opposite is almost always the case.  Forum is an investment in your personal and professional development that makes you a better employee, executive, and leader.  One forum member commented:

Forum has helped me in business in many ways.  It’s been a terrific resource for those hard multi-faceted decisions that involve money and markets but also people and reputation.  Forum training has also given me an additional set of communication skills around listening and getting to the core of an issue inside the company and with customers and vendors.”

For a fraction of the cost of an executive education program, corporate training program, or executive coach, Alumni Forums provide fresh perspectives in a structured, disciplined way so that you can efficiently and effectively address important business and professional issues.

If your boss wants more information, give them a copy of Mo Fathelbab’s book, “Forum: The Secret Advantage of Successful Leaders,” refer them to the Alumni Forum website, or give them a copy of this one page information sheet.

Bob Halperin