The Executive Leader Who Minded Her “P’s & Q’s”


The Executive Leader Who Minded Her “P’s & Q’s”

Minding your P’s and Q’s is one of those ancient, English-language expressions that people use from time to time, but no one quite knows where it comes from. We were reminded of the expression just last week when a Denver business coaching client came into our office after another department admonished her to “Mind Your P’s and Q’s!”

As a VIM Executive Coaching service, we might start by stating that the expression most likely comes from a time in the 1600s when writing was a skill of the refined, and the letters “P” and “Q” were rather similar. I like the explanation, because it leads me to the topic of communication and the dying art of meaningful team building.

Those in the Silo

In the 1600s, we doubt anyone would understand the term “silo thinking,” save possibly for the purpose of storing grain. It has taken on a whole new dimension where departments in complex organizations spend more time maintaining silos than sharing.

For example, the R&D silo of a corporation might withhold information to the marketing department about the performance of a motor. Or, the marketing department might create walls around disclosing its plans from the sales department.

In case after case, silo thinking – where some departments actively and intentionally keep other departments in the dark as much as possible, it invariably leads to diminished and often catastrophic results.

Silo thinking is the opposite of team building. While the large organization’s financial team might do all kinds of team building exercises to maintain the integrity of their own department, if they put up huge communications walls to prevent manufacturing or marketing or sales from having an accurate picture of the company’s financial health, all the team building in the world won’t help the team of another department.

Obviously, once silo thinking may be found department to department, it most assuredly affects individual departments themselves; the organization, in effect, begins to turn on itself.

When teams lose their ability to communicate or worse, to try their best to discourage communication, organizations become filled with mistrust. Experts tell us that the patterns for silo thinking are well-entrenched and most often come from the top-down. The executive leaders, trying to maintain their fiefdoms, impose their thinking on the executives below them. It is rather ironic, but given that silo thinking usually results in diminished performance and effectiveness (as well as increased turnover), the executive leaders inadvertently affect their own performance.

Recent organizations that have suffered the near death-blows of extreme silo thinking have included automobile manufacturers, banking conglomerates and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Fighting Silo Thinking

The keys to fighting a mentality rooted in the ancient practice of ensuring people at all levels mind their P’s and Q’s, reside in a practice even more ancient; the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation, striving for authenticity, truth and compassion, responding to inquiries or actions rather than reacting to them, improves team building, fights silo thinking and encourages the overall health of the company or association.

Sometimes the most ancient of wisdom must be used to thwart dangerous trends in the most modern thinking; P’s and Q’s included.

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Bruce Wolk