1. Why did you want to work as an OD consultant?
I first became interested in the field when I was doing research at AT&T Bell Laboratories. The research project was aimed at determining the factors that differentiated exceptional software development teams from average software development teams. In short, the research determined that the differentiators were all related to “human” and organization dynamics – - things like communication, leadership and teamwork. As I studied these factors further, and began using the results of the research, my work at AT&T Bell Labs moved into more of a consultative role. From there, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Organization Development (OD), and continued to expand my role as an OD consultant and leader of other OD consultants.
2. How do you rank yourself as a leader?
In leadership roles, I believe my biggest strength is as a coach and teacher. Those I have led say I have integrity and that I am easy-going. I have many years of experience as a leader and OD consultant, so I also believe I am considered an expert in these fields. I see myself less as an “inspirational leader” and more of a “player-coach”.
3. What aspects of this field are important to you?
In the field of leadership, I believe the most important principles are honesty, integrity, authenticity and caring for others. OD is a field where these leadership principles are expanded to organizational dynamics. I believe OD is about bringing humanity into a sometimes cold and uncaring world of work.
4. What tools do you use the most as a Leader and OD consultant?
The single most important tool is listening – - true empathic listening. As a leader it is important to listen to followers to get a true sense of what is important to them – - their hopes and concerns. As an OD consultant, listening (which includes observing dynamics) is the only way to effectively diagnose a situation and determine how best to consult/help.
In addition, the critical tools of leadership include: giving feedback, having vision, strategic thinking, authentic communication, inclusion/diversity, influencing, team-building, and coaching.
In OD consulting, additional critical tools are systems thinking, staying grounded/objective, contracting, understanding human behavior and group dynamics, presenting proposals/solutions, and facilitating groups.
5. During the last 25 years, have any of the OD tools/ Leadership Skills changed?
Two of the biggest changes in both OD and Leadership have been: 1) the pace and constancy of change, and 2) the emergence of virtual teams and work. Traditional theories and tools for understanding the human dynamics of change fall short in helping today’s leaders and OD consultants to lead and facilitate in an environment of constant change. And, although many of the basics for building effective teams and organizations remain the same, a virtual environment presents new challenges. Both of these topics are “ripe” for additional study and new research in both academia and corporations.
6. How has your career evolved over time?
I began my career as a software engineer at IBM – - working long hours developing and testing code for IBM’s largest computer system in the early 1980’s. I moved into a leadership role, at IBM, as a manager, in the same functional area where I had worked – - working even longer hours and many weekends. At that point in my career, I realized this field was not where I had passion and not where I wanted to invest all of these long hours. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to move, but I knew a change was needed. Also at this same time, I got married. My wife was working at AT&T Bells Labs, and she encouraged me to interview there. I took a job at Bell Labs, in 1986, initially expecting to do a significant amount of research in software engineering. In the few short weeks between when I accepted a job at Bell Labs and when I actually started, the research leader left the company and took much of her research with her. I was left with a position in a group that did both research and internal training/consulting. This is where I got my first “taste” of being a teacher/facilitator and consultant, and found passion in these roles. I also began moving more and more into human and group dynamics (OD). From there, I began building and honing my knowledge and skills in OD, consulting and facilitation. As the company went through many organizational changes and challenges – - Lucent Technologies forming from AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent merging from two telecommunication giants – - my opportunities to learn and apply OD exploded. This environment was a “playground” for OD consultants. I also took on greater leadership roles, eventually being a Senior Executive Director of the global OD team at Alcatel-Lucent. At the end of 2010, I retired from Alcatel-Lucent and joined my wife as an independent OD consultant, forming Lewski Associates. My work now is a combination of OD consulting, facilitating workshops, and executive coaching.
7.What are the most important lessons you have learned during your OD consulting career?
- Be yourself – - find opportunities and people where you can be your authentic self
- Find your passion and mold a life/career around it
- People are people – - although there are certainly very real differences in people and cultures around the world and in different roles and industries, I believe there are universal human needs, including the need for meaningful relationships and work, a sense of community/belonging, and safety/security for self and family.
- Teams and/or organizations can achieve exceptional results – - although there have been individuals who have done wonderful things throughout history, a team or organization with strong relationships and a common purpose can change the world
8. What challenges you faced as your role of a leader?
The most difficult challenge, for me, as a leader in an organizational setting, is when an individual or team is solely focused “upwards” – - solely focused on pleasing the managers/leaders above them. There are certainly practical reasons for focusing “upwards”, but, in my experience, the benefits of doing so are temporary and not particularly inspiring. When this is happening where I’m in a leadership role, I have difficulty staying grounded/objective, because it is so counter to my own beliefs and value set.
9. What are the biggest challenges you faced in OD consulting?
In my OD practice, I find the biggest challenges when I am in the role of an executive coach and the client (the person being coached) is not interested in having a coach. An example of this is when a client has been told, by their manager or HR, that they must work with a coach. Philosophically, I believe it’s not possible for an individual to change/improve, unless they want to change.
10. Can you give us maybe some examples of issues that you’ve helped companies confront and overcome?
- I’ve done a lot of work in the area of mergers and acquisitions. There is a very low success rate for corporate mergers. The most common failure is when there is not enough attention placed on the integration of the two corporate cultures. I’ve learned a lot in this arena through many examples of unsuccessful or partially successful integrations.
- My biggest success stories have come in the area of team-building with senior leadership teams. In many corporate cultures, the “road” to senior leadership is often very lonely and internally competitive. Many teams of senior leaders have “forgotten” how to collaborate and are skeptical of the benefits of teamwork. It is very rewarding to have them rediscover these things, as well as being a huge boost for the organizations they lead.
11. If somebody wants to get into organizational development consulting, what piece of advice would you offer them?
This is a great question, and my answer may not be very inspiring. In my experience, as a leader who hired OD consultants and as an OD consultant myself, it is critical for OD consultants to have had some years of experience in organizational life and as a leader. Without this direct experience, I have found that OD consultants are either too academic/theoretical or too “soft”. This organizational experience, I believe, can be in almost any field, function or industry. Then, on top of this experience, the OD consultant needs a good foundation of the theory and principles of organization behavior, change, personal growth, systems thinking and consulting skills. This foundation can be learned via traditional degree programs and/or from other OD professionals as mentors. The third ingredient is less tangible. The best OD consultants have a passion for their work and are able to maintain objectivity with their clients.
12. Is there one or two big ones around skills that they should have or steps that they should take that they can start right away?
As I mentioned above… it would be getting experience in the corporate world. If someone has their “eye” on a future OD career, the foundational learning could be done in parallel, which would give the real-time case studies to enhance the learning.
13. We see that after long years of working with different organizations you finally decided to work as a standalone consultant any particular reason for that?
The reason I stayed in the corporate world was because I was enjoying the work, and I felt I was still learning and growing as a leader and OD consultant. The reasons I chose to become a standalone consultant were two – - 1) I started to feel less enjoyment/passion in the corporate world, and 2) The financial situation was perfect. I reached a milestone where I would receive a retirement pension from Alcatel-Lucent, and I felt I had a huge network of potential clients.
14. What was your inspiration behind your publications?
Another great question – - and, again, my answer may not be too inspiring, but it will be very honest. I have never been very inspired to write or publish. The few items I have published were done with very little effort and with a lot of help. I have learned a lot from other’s writing, and I believe it’s a very important way to support the future of any field. It’s just not for me. I much prefer to pass along my experience and my own story through the workshops I design and deliver
15. Switching from Computer Sciences in bachelors to organizational development in masters. Reason for the drastic change?
Like many 18 year-olds, I never put much thought into the decision to study Computer Science. I was very good in math, and, when I was entering the university in the mid-1970’s, Computer Science was a new and growing field. Mostly, at that point in life, I wanted to be a baseball player. I played baseball at the University, and held onto that dream until my last year. At that point, when I realized I would not have a career in baseball, I completed the degree in Computer Science and received an offer to work at IBM. Looking back on it, my time at IBM and then my early days at AT&T Bell Labs were crucial to my eventual success in OD. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this experience in the corporate world, and as a leader, is critical. The switch to OD came about when I found my passion. Once I did, I shaped and molded my career path to learn and do more of it. In an odd way, OD brought me back to much of why I enjoyed (and still enjoy) playing and coaching baseball. OD is about creating an environment where a team can succeed in achieving a common goal, while, at the same time, each individual can grow and develop in their role – - all of which is aimed at defeating the competition.
Frank Lewski Bio
Frank is an experienced organization and leadership development consultant, coach and educator. In practice since 1986, Frank’s experience with corporate organizations, non-profit groups and academia includes work with senior leaders and teams from diverse functions and cultures. In addition to the U.S., Frank has worked with clients in countries around the world, including Canada, China, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Poland, Russia, UAE, and Ukraine. He currently splits his time between consulting projects to address complex organizational challenges, designing & teaching/facilitating advanced leadership, communication and organization development programs, executive coaching, and offering his expertise to non-profit organizations.