A few weeks ago, we spoke with a TED* Practitioner who is president of an industrial company (read more information about becoming a TED* Practitioner). He has made TED* a cornerstone of the company’s corporate culture and has personally trained everyone – from shop floor to the executive staff—in the TED* framework. He “walks his talk” when it comes to being a Creator, Challenger and Coach and clearly sets a “tone at the top.”

We said to him, “You certainly set the tone at the top by the way you spread TED* throughout the organization.”

In the business world, the phrase “tone at the top” comes from the corporate accounting scandals (such as Enron and WorldCom in the US) and refers to the attitude in the company to prevent fraud and other unethical behavior.

In short, the tone at the top refers to leaders who create high codes of conduct and live by them.

Set the tone at the top.(1)

We can “set the tone at the top” by using TED* in all areas of work and life:

  • Meetings – We can begin meetings by being clear about the intended outcomes. We have noticed that most agendas are problem oriented and focus on what the group doesn’t like or want.   Setting the tone at the top means each meeting begins with the Outcome Orientation. “What is the outcome we want for this meeting? If we had that outcome, how would we know it?” are powerful “tone at the top” questions.
  • At Home – Spouses and parents can set the tone in families by also focusing on outcomes. David has a friend who shared with him a story about a particularly drama-filled period with their teenage son. Rather than falling into the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ with him, they instead stayed in a Coach role and asked questions to help the son clarify what he wanted and how he could go about meeting his needs in healthy and fruitful ways. (Of course, there were also a few times in which they had to step in and a conscious, constructive Challenger with him as well!) Not just talking about TED* but actually putting the concepts to work sets the tone at the top.
  • Decision-Making Conversations – Any time we are in a conversation related to making a decision (e.g. where to go for vacation; what kind of food we want in dining out; how to rearrange the furniture in a room; etc.), setting outcome criteria at the top can reduce the amount of “debate” that can often accompany day-to-day decision making in our relationships.

And, finally, we can begin each day “at the top” by setting our intentions for the day, staying focused on the outcomes we want to create, and to choosing our response to the situations that arise throughout the day.

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