02 February 2006

Thinker: Fernando Flores.

For many years the Chilean thinker Fernando Flores has aimed his enormous intelligence and iron character at the problems facing human organizations--especially companies that don't work. This Fast Company profile on Flores gives a view into his relentless methods of drilling past initial layers of doubt and distrust to uncover the real problems that plague businesses. Years of political imprisonment in Chile did not break Flores's resolve; it's not likely that a fratricidal executive suite will.
Fernando Flores is pissed off. He has had enough of the bullshit. The 55-year-old philosopher, former Chilean minister of finance, former political prisoner under Augusto Pinochet's rule, has flown halfway around the world, from California to Holland, to transform two executive teams -- 32 leaders in all -- of a global construction giant. These are people accustomed to building on a grand scale. But right now, building is their problem, not their business: Their world-class reputation for being brilliantly managed, it turns out, consists only of hollow words -- words that have little power and less value.

Flores knows about words and how they translate directly into deeds. He knows that talk is never cheap -- he often charges more than $1 million for his services, a fee that is linked directly to specific promises of increased revenues and savings. He also knows that talk is the source of these executives' failure. Their words work against them -- which is why they can't get anything to work for them.

Talk all you want to, Flores says, but if you want to act powerfully, you need to master "speech acts": language rituals that build trust between colleagues and customers, word practices that open your eyes to new possibilities. Speech acts are powerful because most of the actions that people engage in -- in business, in marriage, in parenting -- are carried out through conversation. But most people speak without intention; they simply say whatever comes to mind. Speak with intention, and your actions take on new purpose. Speak with power, and you act with power.
Many of us in the business world know the frustration of working in environments where the talk goes one direction and the "walk" goes another. Flores offers an antidote to this sort of dishonesty.

“Great work is done by people who are not afraid to be great.” -- Fernando Flores


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