Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We need Nelson Mandela now

Nelson Mandela said: "a leader is like a shepherd … he stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

Many business consultants and writers encourage leaders to lead from the front. The reality is, most leaders already do this. We need to get leaders to take a facilitator's role at least some of the time. Develop the most "nimble" to lead by letting them lead while you provide necessary support and resources. Get out of the way of your best people.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Matthew Alexander, author of Kill or Capture, is on NPR right now talking about his role as a Senior US Interrogator in Iraq. He says something important to all of us -- managers, leaders, parents, and citizens: the number one thing that prevents getting good information is stereotypes. When interrogators stereotyped Arabs or Muslims, they took the wrong approach or couldn't establish the trust necessary to form the relationship that would encourage the Taliban member in front of them to share critical information.

For example, if you believe that all Muslims are anti-US, then you are unlikely to look for areas where you share likes and dislikes. Alexander used these connections to develop trust that eventually leads to the capture of senior Taliban.

By the same token, if you assume all lower-level employees care only about their paycheck or have no loyalty to your organization, you won't look for ways to enable commitment that do not involve compensation. If you believe that they're all stupid, you are unlikely to search for underlying causes for specific challenges your organization faces, and therefore you'll be far less likely to solve those challenges sustainably. And if you believe your children only want things, you are unlikely to form relationships with them that will lead to their self-development.

What stereotypes get in your way to being a great manager, leader or parent?

Management lessons from the 4th grade

In the car today my sons talked about being a safety in fourth grade: safeties are responsible for ensuring children entering and leaving the building before and after school get to their car/bus safely. Here's what my guys had to say:

  1. Captains and lieutenants seemed to have been chosen randomly – and because they were in the position for the full trimester, no one ever got a chance to earn the position
  2. Captains and lieutenants were given the combination to the safety locker (where badges were kept), which led the other safeties to feel as though the school didn’t trust them. Why not give the code to all the safeties?, they asked.
  3. Some safeties seemed to abuse the position, as in, when a safety would do something wrong and another child threatened to tell, the safety might say, “you can’t do that, I’m a safety” as if being a safety granted him/her immunity.
  4. Because everyone became a safety eventually, the kids who were safeties in the last trimester knew they only got chosen because they were left over. And more, this did not demonstrate that school officials saw you as especially capable or dependable, thereby diminishing the honor.

Now I’d like not to get into the debate about how American sports and schools give everyone an award for showing up, but I would like to see how we can take this 4th grade view of the world and apply it to management and leadership:

  1. Are your team leads chosen carefully, with input from the full team? Does your company have specific promotional plans clarifying expectations and ensuring that all employees both have a chance for advancement as well as a chance not to advance? When a promotion is made, is the choice explained well and using more than one medium (or do you rely on the mass email: “congrats to so ‘n so, chosen for his such ‘n such”)?
  2. Do your employees experience themselves as being trusted? If not, can you expect them to trust you?
  3. Do you have systems in place to ensure that team leads use their positions well? Remember: Power corrupts. So does the lack of power. When abusive power leads to powerlessness, corruption spills over into business processes and eventually the bottom line.
  4. Do you provide meaningful opportunities for development, growth, and achievement? People are motivated by different things – some by challenge, others by esteem, and so on. Managers must provide a variety of outcomes to ensure all employees have the opportunity to self-motivate.

What does your 4th grader have to say about management and leadership?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Have you created spaces where hunches can collide?

Steven Johnson tells us that great ideas take years to come to fruition during which hunches incubate and collide with other hunches. Today's managers have to create spaces to allow for both of these. By now you've heard about Google's 20% time (when everyone gets one day a week to work on whatever they want) and another company's (sorry forgot the name) 24 hour period where they work on whatever they want and how these "time off" periods have led to some of these companies' most profitable products or most critical fixes to serious glitches.

It seems as though I have so much work that has to get done in so little time, as does everyone working for me and with me, that I don't know how to give up (or at least it feels like giving up) a day of work.

But beyond incubation time, let's think about the "how" of the colliding hunches. Most of the people with whom I work I rarely see F-2-F. So, how do we create spaces for the collision of hunches when we rarely share a cup of coffee and debate ideas? I've been polishing my virtual management / teamwork skills and I've come to realize that sometimes we have to meet synchronously and visually. Skype is nice because it's cheap, although the slight time delay is awkward. Perhaps we can have a Skype coffee?

Ideas anyone?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Do we need individual leaders or is it time for shared leadership?

"We are part of a culture that glorifies the role of individuals and loves to find the hero in every story, often when achievements are the work of many 'unsung heroes'. I am part of a collaborative research project that connects 20 leadership organizations and 200 individuals who are sharing resources and writing about these questions on a public wiki so please join the fray (www.leadershipforanewera.org). We are asking about the limitations of seeing leadership as the behavior of an individual exerting influence over others, and believe that leadership is a dynamic process through which individuals and groups connect and take action. The situation in Egypt is a great example of the power of collective leadership – and one that shows us that whether we are talking about work places, community life or global issues, we will never reach the scale of change or progress we seek, developing one leader at a time."

Deborah Meehan responding to an HBR article, "Do We Need Leaders?"

Friday, February 11, 2011

Powerlessness corrupts too

"Powerlessness corrupts as much as power does." -- Linda Hill (professor at Harvard Business School)

Have you had (or been) an employee who had no authority but was held accountable? What usually happens as a result? How do people get around that -- either they take what they have to take or they find a way to squirm out of the accountability.

Have you been in this position? Share the outcome or what you did to overcome it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Are we really just horses?

Fewer feet that own more shoes, but basically horses that our bosses can motivate with a carrot in front of us and a stick at our back?

Daniel Pink tells us that carrots and sticks actually demotivate us! What do you think? And how do we implement his ideas at work?

I remember years ago I wanted to increase the sales of a particular product so I ran a contest -- whatever store sold the most each week got a mention in that week's store bulletin, the store with the most sales over the month got an extra bonus to split among the employees and the manager got a bigger bonus for himself, and after 8 weeks the overall winning store got another bonus. Immediately sales went up. But over the course of the contest I noticed that the winning stores kept winning and the losing stores began to see sales drop off. As if, what's the point -- we're not going to win anyway. What should I have done instead?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why lobster's on the menu

When it comes to making decisions, we are not as rational as we think we are. Many of our choices are determined by how the options are presented to us. What choices have you made lately? Watch as Dan Ariely shows us how irrational we all really are:

BTW: lobster is on the menu so that the chicken looks like a good deal!

Ted copy use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How do you communicate with this kind of finess . . .

. . . online? :

In person this works great, but in emails? I don't have the hang of it. Any suggestions?

Go to: thisisindexed.com for more great index cards from Jessica Hagy.

People want to be successful

"People want to be successful, and if you show them the way they will follow." Mike Spracklen, Coach of the Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist Rowing Team

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who picks up trash lying on the floor?

A "rare responsible person", according to Netflix's HR team, the kind of person they look for, along with "self-motivating", "self-aware", "behaves like a business owner". You have to bring in the right people for your company and the job. It's very difficult to create an open trusting culture, one where rules are limited, when there are people in the organization looking for loopholes. And we want a low-rule workplace because we want people to think and for that people have to be treated like adults. People have to be free to make common sense decisions about when to start and end work, when to take a day off, and when a project should be dumped to make room for something better. Managers and leaders cannot and should not be babysitting.

Most intelligent dedicated people chafe under the constraints companies tend to place on employees to prevent the few who cannot be trusted from taking advantage of the company. Yet, as an instructor, I find myself loading up on rules and requirements because every semester some student finds some way to use the creative freedoms I put in place to serve his own ends -- to demand a grade he really hasn't earned, to demand less rigorous learning, to nibble away at the integrity of the learning objectives. How can I strip away the requirements I've put in over the years so that I can get back to the creative freedom necessary for my students -- and me! -- to bring our authentic selves to class and to free our minds for learning?

Can I teach to the "6"? I once heard a singer say that she used to feel demotivated when she sang in nightclubs --she'd be on stage singing her heart out and most of the people would be talking over her, drinking, laughing. What was the point, she thought, in giving it her all when she was just background noise? A human radio. Then her grandfather advised, "sing to the six" -- there are 6 people out in that audience listening. Sing to them. She was able to renew her love of singing.

I need to teach to the 6, and not let those who seek an easy "A" derail my method. Netflix hasn't had any problems laying off people who don't produce at a high level; no one has sued and remaining employees report that they appreciate working in a place that doesn't hang on to deadwood. Can't fire a student, though. And sometimes it seems you can't even give them a B. What happens when the B-students who scream they want an A get fired? I wonder? I'd bet they don't get hired by the Netflix's of the world.