Forgive our Sins: An Alternative Leadership Model for the 21st Century

What can big business learn from the Catholic church? Plenty, if Keyspan Energy's success is any indicator. At i4cp's recent Annual Membership Conference, speaker Kenny Moore, former monk, corporate ombudsman at KeySpan Energy and author of "The CEO and the Monk," kicked off his presentation with the sharp wit and deadpan delivery he is known for. To wit: Moore referred to himself in typical self-deprecating style as "a monk masquerading as a businessman." But Moore is especially skilled at mixing the poignant with the slapstick; for example, he talked about his battle with cancer and, more recently, a heart attack, which bolstered his resolve to passionately pursue his goals. Moore invoked the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us," as a preamble to his talk about making the most of life and work.
View a Kenny Moore video »

The Four-Room Apartment Model

In discussing effective leadership, Moore used a four-room apartment model based on a theory developed by Klaus Janssen that illustrates the four states in which people reside. Each room has a door that leads in only one direction to the next, and eventually the path is repeated.
Moore suggested that managers can assist and support employees occupying the various rooms in the following ways:
  • Contentment: "Leave them alone."
  • Denial ("the dark night of the soul"): Don't fix them or "tell" them what they need to know or do. Just listen. Ask questions such as "What do you need to do to take better care of yourself?" and ask what you can do to help. Don't offer advice; they don't want it.
  • Confusion: Bring the confused folks together and focus on what to do now and in the future. The confused actually do want to fix it, so offer help in doing so.
  • Renewal: Limit the amount of good they want to accomplish because they will want to fix everything and heal everyone. Support them in identifying what they want to do and help them accomplish it.

Internal Communication is Key
Internal communication is key to effective leadership, and a huge piece of this is dialogue. As an example, Moore described a program he implemented in his capacity as a corporate ombudsman. He started a series of twice-monthly roundtable discussions with the newly appointed CEO and small groups of employees.
  • Each employee discusses what he or she likes and doesn't like about the company.
  • As grievances are aired, the CEO acknowledges the issue and apologizes for the incident or situation.
  • After the CEO leaves, the employees are asked to write down the name of an unsung hero at work. This unsung hero cannot be in the room at the time and the person should be someone who makes the workplace a good place to work.
  • The CEO later writes a personal note to the employees named on the cards, recognizing their contributions. A gift certificate is also included.

Moore's message that a little bit of effort goes a long way (and often in ways we may never know) included the following points:
  • People support what they help create.
  • Small things matter (such as "thank you"). Just because it's a "best practice" doesn't mean it's best for your team or company.
  • People are looking for more than paychecks. They are looking for meaning.
  • Every business has the potential to be a force for good.
  • Being a force for good is not impossible. And even if it is, at least we can work at it.
  • If you think you're too small to make a difference, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.

Reward employees for less than $5
Following Moore's presentation, attendees broke into smaller discussion groups to brainstorm ways that meaningfully recognize and reward people and cost less than $5. Some ideas that were presented:
  • Tailor rewards to people's wants – sometimes folks don't want public recognition.
  • Spotlight a "star of the week" on the intranet/wiki.
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes.
  • Give a half-day off.
  • Establish a graffiti wall that allows employees to express themselves.

"The Velveteen Rabbit"
Finally, Moore encouraged managers to seek out respected, longtime employees and ask them why they remain with the organization and "what can we do to make this the kind of company where people want to stay?" Do this with three such colleagues, then implement one or two of the ideas that were mentioned.

Moore said that he no longer looks to pundits or gurus for insight and inspiration; he prefers children's books. He closed his presentation with a discussion of being "real," capping this with a reading from the children's classic The Velveteen Rabbit. Pick up a copy and give it a read. You just might be inspired.

View an interview with Kenny Moore, or contact us for more information.

Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.