The Bagel Story: A Lesson in Shattering Silos

Peter Bregman and Tony VlahosOur Master Classes with career, business and leadership experts have been a huge hit with the ExecuNet community for a while now. Seeking to take it to the next level, this year we’ve added an additional component to our executive education classes. Now, we’re hosting live in-person events with these same experts so that you can sit in the same room with them, hear ExecuNet CMO Anthony Vlahos interview them, and even ask your own questions.

Most recently, Tony and a select group of ExecuNet members — company founders, CEOs and Vice Presidents — gathered for breakfast in Shelton, CT for a truly engaging conversation with CEO advisor and business coach Peter Bregman. Peter regularly contributes articles, is interviewed and leads Master Classes for us, so we know him well and knew he’d be terrific in this format — he didn’t disappoint.

In the course of the conversation, Peter shared a story that I simply had to bring to your attention. I’ll give you the essence of it here, but you will find the whole story, in Peter’s words, paints a better picture. In the story, Peter explains that he was in Vail, Colorado on a ski trip and had some difficulty with a waiter getting his bagel order correct. Curious why the order came out incorrectly multiple times, he got into a conversation with the waiter and learned that the waiter was scared of the chef and therefore couldn’t relay Peter’s request properly because he was afraid the chef would make him sorry.

This transitioned into insightful advice on the dangers of silos. We all understand it’s unproductive for different departments or groups within a company to battle each other, but Peter’s take on breaking down silos was so elegantly put that I found myself marveling at his insight.

One of the first things Peter does for organizations, with the senior leadership teams he works with, is look to see what he calls “primary family” and “secondary family.” Typically, leaders see their primary family as their reporting line. It makes sense since they are the ones who funnel up to the leader’s results, are the ones the leader gives projects, raises and bonuses to, and works with on a daily basis. However, that is a mistake.

Ideally there should be no silos, of course, but if there are, it should be more about across than down. The leader’s primary family should not track down to his/her department, but instead should go across to the other executives at the leadership level, regardless of functional area. “Shifting that perspective alone could double a stock price,” said Peter.

He teaches that the people you tell secrets to, the people you have your primary allegiance to must be the other C-level executives. The people who report up to you must be your secondary family. Although it seems counterintuitive, when this shift happens, leadership starts thinking and caring like a CEO — resulting in a shift in accountability throughout the organization.

Accountability is the one behavior that’s most often neglected or avoided by leaders. But by moving leaders’ allegiances across rather than down we can make accountability a real process, not just a management buzzword, to dramatically improve performance and the results of our organizations.

Watch the video and hear Peter explain this and more in his own words.

We are planning future live events, so if you’d like one in your area, please let me know the location and subject matter you’re most interested in.

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is ExecuNet's president and chief economist. An Arjay Miller Scholar, Mark received his MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Yale University. He joined ExecuNet in 1993, with extensive marketing and new product and business development experience, having served as president and founder of A&M Associates, an investment management firm. Mark's corporate leadership experience includes several senior marketing and financial positions with RCA Global Communications (a GE subsidiary) and American Can Company.

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