We had a chance to sit down with Craig Weber, CEO and founder of Weber Consulting Group, about leadership and how it effects the performance of teams. Below is a little more about Craig as well as a hasty transcript of the interview.
Craig Weber is the author of the groundbreaking book, Conversational Capacity: The Key To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure Is On (McGraw-Hill, 2013), and the founder of The Weber Consulting Group – an alliance of experts committed to helping people build more resilient, healthy, and agile organizations. Craig helps an eclectic range of clients improve their performance by treating dialogue as a discipline.
His unique work is the result of his formal education – in Organizational Development at Brigham Young University in Hawaii and Organizational Psychology at Columbia University – combined with nearly two decades of in-depth consulting experience with a wide range of teams and organizations.
Famous for his sharp, inspiring, and engaging style, Craig is a sought after consultant and presenter. In 2012 he was awarded the prestigious Vistage International Speaker Of The Year award, and in 2015 he was named the TEC-Canada Speaker Of The Year.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step out for minute. And he’s going to join us here in a minute. In the meantime get your calls in at 844-814-8144 is our 24 hour call in line. 24 hours. That means call in now, call in later. Doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to get the experts on here to answer your questions. Guys, any time you have a group of people… you’re paying a group of employees that are real smart. Hopefully smarter than you are even. It doesn’t do you any good if, you don’t know how to harness all that brain power and ensure that they are actively working on solving some of your problems. “Conversational Capacities” a book we’ve talked about before. It’s on our essential reading list. Go there from Texasbusinessradio.com. Buy the book. It’s something that you need to read. Craig Weber is the author of it and a friend of the show. Craig Weber is here all the way from Los Angeles, California. He decided to come to Houston here and slum a little bit in our weather. Craig welcome back to the show.
Craig Weber: Thank you very much Matt. Great to be here again.
Matt Register: So we were talking right before the break about some of the different problems that CEOs end up having to tackle. Some of them are quite routine, some of them are not. Some of them there’s a rulebook for, some of them there’s a roadmap for. Some of them there are not. And it’s the ones that are not that is where a lot of the CEOs get into trouble. Talk to me a little bit about that, because I find that as a student of leadership for my whole career. I find that as very much the differential between leaders and managers. Right?
Craig Weber: That’s a great way to frame it. The differences with leadership and management. And I think the kind of problems you’re facing, kinda determines the way you need to approach them. And I like your idea of how do you harness people, so they’re thinking together around these really tough problems you’re facing. There are some problems where that’s not really a critical factor. And so my colleagues and I kind of refer to a continuum of problems you could say. And at one end of the spectrum we could say there exists routine problems which aren’t routine in that they happen regularly. It’s that we have a routine for dealing with them. A process a protocol, an expert we can call. So, they can be difficult, scary, painful, expensive. But the upside to a routine predicament is we know what to do about it. At the other end of the spectrum we’ve got an adaptive challenge. Where there is no easy answer. There’s no protocol. There’s no clear way forward. That’s much messier territory and I think that’s where our conversational capacity becomes really key because you need to harness people to kind of think together, to make sense of the problem.
Matt Register: Well, no doubt. And in fact if you have a complete road map for how you deal with the problem. You’re on the far end of the spectrum. You can indeed hire a monkey to solve that problem right. I mean there’s nothing that requires complex thought. Its leaders are paid to solve complex problems, right? With imperfect information, incorrect information, incomplete information. Right? And that’s where we get into some of this that you’re talking about. Right?
Craig Weber: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right because the farther you are over on the routine side of the spectrum you’re more in the realm of management right. People who are good about identifying a problem and applying the correct solution to it. The farther you go on the adaptive side of the spectrum the more leadership is required to address the problem. And so the first challenge I think is to recognize where on this continuum between routine and adaptive. The problem we’re facing fit and that how do I make sure I’m getting my people thinking together to address it. Well if it’s fairly routine apply the appropriate resources and move on.
Matt Register: It’s quick and easy and you’re done, right?
Craig Weber: Absolutely. And so we talked about during the break the basic distinction is a way to think about this as in a routine predicament. The choice is pretty much made for you. Right? You’ve got a protocol, you’ve got to process, you’ve got an expert. If a car breaks down on the way to work I call Triple-A. I know what to do. I just sit and think about it. In a adaptive circumstance, you’ve got to make choices and there, and like I say often, with incomplete information, sometimes erroneous information. You’re often not even clear on the nature of the problem you’re trying to address. Much less the solution. It’s fuzzier territory. And so the fundamental distinction is in a routine predicament. A bias for action is appropriate. You should get moving in a adaptive context a bias for learning is key. That doesn’t mean, as you pointed out, that action isn’t a part of the learning process. But that learning piece is really key because we are trying to get people to think together, reason together. To make sense of the situation we’re in and how best to deal with it. And that’s where a conversation capacity becomes really important. That ability to have balanced, open, learning focused dialogue about really difficult subjects and in really challenging circumstances.
Matt Register: Well, in your book “Conversational Capacity”… what I got out of the book was, you know, you have a lot of folks, that have a lot of brain power. That if you do not have the correct atmosphere in your organization, they’re going to be afraid to speak up, afraid to give their opinion and you’re paying them for their opinion. Right? You’re not paying them to be a smart guy that doesn’t saying thing in the room. You’re paying them to bring value to your subject. When you have a problem that is an adaptive problem. That something that there is no book for, that you’re trying to identify the situation. As a leader you need to get all the input of information you possibly get and make a decision and go execute as quickly as possible. Got it. I’m a former infantry officer probably biased for for action, probably other scenarios where you could take a little bit more time. But that’s what I’m used to. Am I wrong?
Craig Weber: I think you’re absolutely right. I think the key is in an adaptive context, sure, you want to jump in and take action. But you want to see that as a part of the learning process. So Kurt Lewin the great social scientist once said “The best way to understand any problem or any system is to try to change it”. And so get in there provoke the system and see what you learn and keep going. So there’s this idea of action reflection learning that’s constantly going on in adaptive context. So a good friend of mine Frank Barrett who wrote a wonderful book called “Yes To The Mess, Surprising Lessons in Leadership from Jazz”. He talks about this notion, that in jazz performance, they’re constantly learning as they’re going. So it’s as learning an action as partners in the process.
Matt Register: No it absolutely makes sense. So tell me a little bit about your consulting practice because you’re a consultant by trade. You’re a speaker. You’re here to talk to a bunch of CEOs but Weber Consulting is your company. Tell us a little bit about what they do and who they do it to.
Craig Weber: Yeah it’s sort of an alliance of people who team up on various projects and work independently much of the time. But all of our work centers around this notion of helping organizations. Whether they be government agencies, community groups or businesses pull together around those adaptive challenges. And so my work focuses on conversational capacity. In helping people have those rigorous balance learning focus conversations under pressure. I have a good friend who’s also part of the Alliance Chris Sodor, who does systems thinking. Which is really useful and adaptive context as you mentioned. We’re just trying to figure something out. So let’s see if we can use systems thinking to figure out where is the high leverage choices. Where are the smart choices in this decision or in this predicament. And then Frank Barrett the gentleman I just mentioned his work around jazz and leadership is really important. Have an affirmative bias. Believe you can do something. Learn as you go. The idea of provocative competence. So we’re often working with organizations like Boeing or the CDC to help them kind of pull together and deal with really messy challenging problems in a more effective cogent way.
Matt Register: Well I tell you what you know growing up in an organization where failure is generally not an option, right? And pressed with very unique challenges that haven’t ever been tackled before necessarily. You know that ability to think a little differently. Right? Than your standard middle manager has been something that’s been furring to me in my career. Right. And something that I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of people have changed. Talk to me a little bit about when you get involved as a consulting group with a company. You get brought in because they have a problem they can’t figure out. Or do you get brought in to help them learn how to deal with problems before they pop up.
Craig Weber: Both actually it’s funny you bring that up. I always say there’s two ways I tend to be used by a client. One ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Right. Second I’m a fence at the top. So, I see some organizations who proactively recognize we’re moving into some messy circumstances and we want to skill the team up to better deal with those circumstances. Others have already got themselves in a bit of trouble or trying to claw their way back to a higher level of performance. So I kind of get used on both ends.
Matt Register: Well that’s good. It’s not like we can think of any industries right now that are faced with fundamental shifts in how they operate and have problems like this to deal with it. It’s happening on a daily basis and we were talking during the break about a couple of those industries that have, you know, technology coming in disrupt all of it. Right? And they have some of these happening right away. Craig Weber, CEO of Weber Consulting Group, WeberConsultingGroup.net. Is that the easiest way to get in touch with you if somebody want to?
Craig Weber: The Web site is a fantastic way to do that. Yes has a lot of articles on there about this subject and others. So if people are interested and want to learn more there’s a lot of stuff you can look at and rate.
Matt Register: All right. Wonderful Weberconsultinggroup.net. Guys don’t take notes. We’re going to have links to everybody we’re talking to right there on Texasbusinessradio.com. “Conversational Capacity” is the book. It’s right there, as well it’s on Amazon where books are sold. However, it is there on our central reading list. Right there on Texasbusinessradio.com as well. So, go there, get the book, you’re going to enjoy it. It’s going to teach you how to unlock the power of all of these high dollar guys you have on the payroll. You’re not getting the value out of them, you’re wrong. You need to. But we’re going to go to a break we’re about out of time. Craig Weber thanks very much for joining us all the way from Los Angeles.
Craig Weber: My genuine pleasure. Thanks for having me back.
Matt Register: Yeah no problem. He’s going to be talking to some group CEOs here in Texas over the next couple of days. We always love to have guys like this and they bring a wealth of information here for a national advisory showcase segment. Go to the Web site, texasbusinessradio.com. We’re gonna pay a couple of bills. We will be back, right after this.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.