Nebulosities create a lack of clarity in our communication. They contribute to vagueness and ambiguity. They’re the language of “saying things indirectly.” We may think we’re getting our point across without being too aggressive. Instead, we make it a cloud of words. Often times, they come to a different conclusion.
I heard a story recently I thought I would share with you...
A number of years ago a salesman had gotten lost and drove up to a house to ask for directions. He got out of his car and walked up to the porch where an elderly gentleman was rocking in his rocking chair and an old hound dog lay stretched out near by. As he approached the dog lifted his head and let out a moan. A moment later the dog again lifted his head and moaned. The salesman began to ask for directions when the dog’s moaning interrupted him. He almost got his question out when the dog moaned again.
Finally the salesman asked, “What’s wrong with your dog?”
The old man looked down at the dog and then to the salesman and said, “He’s lying on a nail.”
“Lying on a nail?”, asked the surprised salesman.
“Yep”, said the old man, “It bothers him enough to complain about it, but not enough to do anything about it.”
Doesn’t that seem to be the way with some people? They’ll complain about something, and they just won’t do anything about it.
We don’t need to have the same outlook. If something is bothering you then it is probably bothering someone else too. Take that step to do something about it. You can make change happen.
After spending over 1,000 hours per year with CEO’s I have an observation, companies break in the middle.
Hold a stick with both hands at each end. Your right hand is the CEO, your left hand is the front-line employee. Everything in between is the middle. Now bend the stick…until it breaks.
The break will happen somewhere in the middle. No matter the strength of the branch, it will break with the right amount of pressure. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the middle.
When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to think you know exactly where to take people—they just need to listen to you.
That is a flawed approach.
Our job as leaders—whether in business, in family, or in life—is to take people From Here to There.
Before we can take them There we must first know where they’ve come From. Once we understand that, then we can learn how they got Here. Only then can we help them get to their There. This takes self-reflection and answering questions similar to what I asked Anna. While you may understand what it is holding them back, they need to discover it for themselves.
Reply-all is the easiest and most common way to waste someone else’s time.
Unless used for a purpose, it is inconsiderate and demonstrates laziness on the sender’s part. Reply-all has become more than just an annoyance in business; it is a legitimate time waster.
I encourage the companies I work with to have a communication protocol and a conversation code of conduct. These are simple rules to respect each other’s time and improve productivity while increasing the level of effective communication. Reply-all is often left off and so I wanted to suggest some general rules for the “reply-allers” out there:
1. Only reply to those who need to hear a reply
2. Only reply when you have something to say
3. Do not send attachments to reply all
4. Do not reply to say thank you
If you have reply-all abusers, here is a list of exercises for them following your Intervention!
· Repeat after me, “I will never use reply all”
· Write 1,000 times on the board, ”Reply all sucks”
· Calculate what every single person’s hourly rate is and estimate the number of minutes it takes to read unnecessary emails. Add that up and write a check for that amount to your favorite charity!
Most importantly, be respectful of other’s time. There is nothing more valuable.
Likening critical CEO capabilities, such as giving difficult feedback, to learning the unnatural motion of lifting your back foot first in boxing, he claims "it generally takes years for a founder to develop the CEO skill set." In short, Horowitz insists CEOs are made, not born.
But just because becoming an exceptional leader takes a whole lot of practice, it doesn't mean everyone can become a CEO through hard work. While you invite disappointment if you believe some people are simply naturals at the job, you invite years of wasted effort if you don't also acknowledge that certain fundamental mindsets are a prerequisite for getting started on this long path of learning.
What are they? Experts suggest you need to nail these basics before you can even start to think of yourself as potential CEO material.
1. You're curious and a constant learner.
The first tip-off that a commitment to continual self-improvement is key to leadership success is the fact that nearly every business icon you can think of--from Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey--describes him- or herself as a perpetual learner. But if you want more quantitative backing for this idea, it exists too.
According to The New York Times, research shows that you're more likely to reach the top of an organization if you've had a variety of roles, from finance to marketing, rather than hunkered down and built expertise in just one department where you felt comfortable.
"Evidence suggests that success in the business world isn't just about brain power or climbing a linear path to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one's comfort zone," writes the paper's Neil Irwin.
Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors.Daniel Roland/Stringer/Getty Images
2. You're willing to feel like you're the dumbest person in the room.
Are CEOs smart? Sure, running a company takes a certain degree of intelligence. But for top leaders, the ability to gather and listen to exceptional brains is more important than personal mental horsepower. Great leadership involves enough humility to respect others' gifts and enough confidence to reveal your own limitations and accept their help.
Or as entrepreneur Kevin Johnson cleverly put it, you need to be OK with sometimes feeling like you're the dumbest person in the room. "The average person is intimidated by smart people ... If given a choice to spend a week quarantined with really smart people or people of average intelligence, the average Jane would choose people of average intelligence," he writes.
If you're CEO material, however, you'll put learning and results before ego and surround yourself with the truly brilliant. It's why Johnson is always looking to make a super smart friend. "They make me feel inadequate and sometimes just really stupid, but I am OK with that, because I know that I learn so much from them," he explains.
Indra Nooyi is the CEO of PepsiCo.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
3. You can know a dream is crazy, but chase it anyway.
How does Elon Musk, leader of some of the world's most long-shot ventures, deal with risk? He doesn't ignore it. In fact, he recently told an interviewer that he's absolutely terrified by the huge risks inherent in pursuing borderline insane projects such as Mars colonization. "I feel fear quite strongly," he reported.
But faced with terrible odds, he doesn't resort to irrational optimism. He acknowledges the likelihood of failure and accurately assesses the long list of risks he's facing, but then he proceeds anyway. "When starting SpaceX, I thought the odds of success were less than 10 percent, and I just accepted that actually probably I would just lose everything. But that maybe we would make some progress," he continued.
This odd coupling of open-eyed risk assessment and a willingness to dare anyway is a hallmark of great CEOs, according to Robert Scoble, who studies CEOs for Rackspace. The ideal CEO, he wrote on Quora, is "assured of the achievability of long-term goals yet nervous about the attainability of near-term milestones. This schizophrenic mindset ensures that an entrepreneur maintains an unyielding belief in the manifestation of their vision while never taking for granted the execution of their startup's most basic tasks."
Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple.Getty Images/Andrew Burton
4. You tend to get obsessed.
Some call this quality passion. Others refer to it as focus. But whatever term you want to use, being a great CEO requires the ability (if not an inborn compulsion) to latch onto interesting questions or problems, shut out distractions, and work relentlessly until you have a solution.
As a young programmer, Bill Gates, for instance, was famed for working at his keyboard until he nodded off, still sitting up. When he woke, he simply looked up, oriented himself for a few seconds, and began working away again. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman pursued his dream of a better surf video obsessively, through months of intense experimentation.
Perhaps Dropbox founder Drew Houston described this quality best, using the metaphor of a tennis ball. "The tennis ball is about finding the thing you're obsessed with," he said. "The most successful people and successful entrepreneurs I know are all obsessed with solving a problem that really matters to them. I use the tennis ball for that idea because of my dog, who gets this crazy, obsessed look on her face when you throw the ball for her."
Do you get a crazy look in your eye when you spot a problem in need of solving?
Meg Whitman is the CEO of Hewlett Packard.Flickr/HP/HP Deutschland
5. You can tell a captivating story.
You want to run a business, not write a hit TV show, so why is the ability to tell a great story so important to success as a CEO? Because humans are renowned for their imperviousness to logic (just look at basically any political discussion, if you need proof). If you want to change minds and convince people to follow you, you're going to need to appeal to emotion. And nothing arouses our emotions as much as a great tale.
"CEOs have to deal with conflicting interest groups," said Scoble. "Customers often want something investors don't. So a good CEO is really great at convincing other people to get on board, even at changing people's opinions."
I used to wake up, stumble over to my phone, and immediately get lost in a stream of pointless notifications. This digital haze continued throughout the day, keeping me from accomplishing important tasks. I was distracted, anxious, and ineffective as a leader. I knew I had to change but could not seem to break free from the behaviors that kept me locked into the same cycle.
This problem is not unusual. Executives across the world stumble through each day in much the same way. Two major challenges are destroying our ability to focus.
Ride share companies are important to cities like San Antonio for many reasons. These include safety, enhanced livability, reduction in traffic, cost savings, jobs and even infrastructure efficiencies. But one key reason ride share is important to San Antonio is the significance to the tech community. For San Antonio to become a tech hub and grow our jobs base, we must embrace technology companies.
By Lynn Brezosky San Antonio Express News
September 24, 2015
Back in 2006, Google and Yahoo thought that they could ignore Tom Cuthbert and Click Forensics, his upstart San Antonio-born click fraud analysis company.
“They wanted nothing to do with us,” Cuthbert remembered Thursday. “They wanted us to fall off the face of the Earth.”
But by 2007, Yahoo and Microsoft had hired Click Forensics, which would later acquire and became Adometry, a company that specializes in tracking the effectiveness of ads.
Last year, Google bought Adometry for an undisclosed sum.
Cuthbert, now a speaker and chairman for Vistage International in San Antonio, an organization for CEOs, shared the story in a workshop, “Disruptive Growth: The Ten Clicks that Rocked Google.” It was held at the San Antonio office of the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs (AEM).
Angel Salinas, who leads AEM’s workshop committee, said Cuthbert, who was his coach at Vistage, was a natural choice for one of AEM’s workshops, which aim to help Mexican entrepreneurs learn to do business in the United States.
“One of the things that we want to try to do at the AEM is provide business experiences or business cases that can help us strategize or plan better,” Salinas said. “So if we can find speakers like Tom to come and share their stories, their insights and their experiences and how to translate that into our world, that’s what we want to try to accomplish.”
Cuthbert’s tale started in 2005, when click traffic at Campbell’s Soup, a client of Cuthbert’s Web analytics company Optimal IQ, showed some strange spiking. Optimal IQ found that there was software generating fake clicks housed in the advertising agency’s server.
“Someone in the ad agency was trying to make the campaign look to Campbell’s Soup better than it was,” Cuthbert said.
Sensing this was just one example of a serious problem, Cuthbert retreated to his hangout spot, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, to think: “How could this become an opportunity?”
He and Chuck Wall, Jason Smith, and Tom Charvet — co-founders of what would evolve into Adometry — started with some market research.
They went to a trade show on online advertising, bought a table and put a sign on it that said “Click Fraud,” just to see how much interest it attracted.
The answer was a lot.
“In our minds, that validated click fraud was a problem,” Cuthbert said. “Some percentage of Google’s revenue was not valid. And hundreds and thousands of advertisers were not getting what they paid for.”
To assess the problem without risking Optimal IQ’s reputation, they created a product under the name “Click Tracy.”
“It’s a small company at this time, we didn’t want to invest a lot of money, we didn’t want to go out on a limb to decide if this was really a big problem.”
But they had to change the name when lawyers for Hearst Corp., which owns the San Antonio Express-News, sent a “cease and desist” letter protecting the “Dick Tracy” brand.
In January 2006, they launched Click Forensics.
The pitch: By sharing data that could be aggregated to run algorithms to find anomalies, online advertisers would be helping their industry learn about click fraud and getting reports on it for free. They had a plan that was not unlike something out of a football playbook, as well as a clear premise.
“We want to help advertisers get what they pay for,” he said.
They launched the Click Fraud Network to start collecting the data.
They enlisted Alexander Tuhzilin, a New York University expert, to help determine when they had enough data to back the assumption that click fraud was wasting a significant amount of advertising spending.
They bought a domain name and started working trade show booths and talking to the industry about the problem.
“We needed data, we needed people on our side and we needed folks to help us focus on the problem,” he said.
Within seven weeks, their network of participating advertisers had grown to more than 1,000, including big-league advertisers in travel, finance and retail.
Click Forensics’ initial click fraud index determined that 13.6 percent of clicks were fake. For the $10 billion-and-growing online advertising market, that meant a lot of money lost to clicks from competitors, people paid to click and especially clicks by bots and botnets.
Six months after Click Forensics released the index, Google published a report on why Click Forensics and other “third-party click fraud auditing firms” were overestimating the problem. But the problem was getting worse, all around the world.
Click Forensics’ next step was creating the Click Quality Council, which comprised major advertisers including Progressive Insurance, Target and Expedia.
Cuthbert appeared on CNBC. Business Week published a cover story on how click fraud was the “dark side of online advertising.”
Click Forensics moved to Austin in 2007 to attract talent and investment dollars. They were things San Antonio lacked at the time and a reason Cuthbert is a founding member and board member of the city’sTech Bloc initiative to make the city more attractive to tech companies and personnel.
Venture capital poured in: $28.5 million over the life of the company. Revenue streams grew. Yahoo and Microsoft came to dinners to talk about the problem. In 2008, Google started working with Click Forensics, too.
“They eventually had to do it,” Cuthbert said. “The industry was calling for it.”
Original article: http://www.expressnews.com/business/local/article/Cuthbert-recounts-taking-on-Google-6528115.php
Executive coaching is hot. What was stigma (“You’re so broken you need a coach?”) has become status symbol (“You’re so valuable you get a coach?”). Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps have coaches. Even President Barack Obama has a coach, if you count David Axelrod. Microsoft ‘s young high-potential leaders get coaches. If elite athletes and organizations think they need coaches, shouldn’t you have one too? Shouldn’t we all?
No. Executive coaching–personal training in leadership from someone who provides it for a living–should be used like a powerful prescription drug that works best under certain conditions. When employed as a cure-all, it is less effective, too expensive and has negative side effects.
Executive coaching is not aspirin. It’s interferon. So when should it be prescribed for an executive? When should it be avoided?
Based on the latest research and 25 years I’ve spent coaching senior executives and high-potential young leaders, here are five diagnostic questions you should ask before making the decision to hire a coach.
1. How valuable is this person’s performance and potential to your organization?
When done right, executive coaching is expensive and time-consuming. It should be reserved for people who are critical to your organization’s success, or will be in the future. In general, this includes everyone at C-level, heads of major business units or functions, technical or functional wizards, and your bench of high-potential young leaders.
Just how expensive and time-consuming is executive coaching? Although there is tremendous variation in fees and arrangements among coaches, be prepared to pay a C-level coach what you pay your top attorney. If this seems excessive, consider that a coach must have the experience and expertise to quickly grasp a leader’s situation, challenge assumptions and choices, and bring credible, fresh ideas to the table. Doing this with your best and brightest is not easy. And given the influence a coach can have on an executive’s decisions and actions over the course of a typical six-to-12-month engagement involving bimonthly meetings, regular phone calls and e-mail check-ins, a bargain coach whose sophistication does not match the client’s is a big mistake.
2. What is the challenge the person is facing right now?
People, relationships, organizations and behavioral change are what executive coaches know best. When an executive is struggling to learn how to best manage herself and engage others, you’ve found the sweet spot for executive coaching.
He might be a chief executive officer trying to figure out how to work with his board chair. Or a regional vice president scaling up to global responsibility, learning how to lead her former peers. Or a technical wizard who destroys teams with his resistance to all ideas but his own.
But be warned: An executive coach is not a consultant. He may have technical or functional expertise. But he should not be used as an answer person, an extra pair of hands or a bolster for a weak leader. He helps executives think through and tackle their own problems. Self-reliance, not dependency, is the goal.
3. How willing and able will the executive be to work with a coach?
The client has got to want to change. A bright, motivated coaching client can step up to most challenges. A bright, unmotivated one will waste everyone’s time and money. Working with an executive who has been pressured into coaching by his boss or human resources department is an uphill battle, though it’s not impossible.
Coachability is important. Look for a track record of unusual growth under the guidance of teachers and mentors. Coachable executives readily share their experience. They are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. They learn from others but do it their own way, taking responsibility for whatever happens. They know how to leverage a coach.
4. What alternatives to coaching are available?
There are many ways to help executives grow as leaders. High-level training, mentoring, reading, job rotation and special assignments are just a few. The most overlooked alternative is attention from the individual’s own manager. As coaching has become more fashionable, I’ve seen too many managers abdicate their own coaching responsibilities, turning a struggling executive over to a professional. Sometimes the problem is beyond what the manager can handle. But often managers hand off executives because they’d rather not deal with messy people stuff.
The manager is already being paid to coach. Don’t incur an executive coaching expense if the problem is within that manager’s capabilities.
5. Are key people in the organization ready to support this person’s efforts to grow and change?
Changing the way you think and act is tough even when you have support from others. But when key leaders above or beside you are indifferent, skeptical or hostile to changes you’re trying to make, things get exponentially more difficult. Coaching works best when key people in the executive’s world stand solidly behind her. They need to provide tailwinds, not headwinds. Coaching relationships in a vacuum of support fall apart before any goals are achieved.
When conditions are right, executive coaching can be one of the best people investments you’ll ever make. But it is not a panacea for every executive development problem. Answer these five questions, and you’ll make better decisions about who is likely to benefit from coaching. And who isn’t.
Douglas McKenna is chief executive officer and co-founder of the Oceanside Institute. Formerly head of leadership development at Microsoft, he coaches senior executives around the world.
By Ron Ashkenas
We’ve all heard the famous bromide that “honesty is the best policy.” But when it comes to performance feedback, honesty often falls by the wayside. Many managers hide behind performance management checklists or water down their feedback with generalizations. And on the other side of the equation, employees tend to position themselves in the most favorable light possible in their self-assessments, and avoid giving constructive feedback to the boss, even when it’s requested. The result is a lack of candid dialogue between boss and subordinate — which not only prevents the organization from improving, but also stymies individual development.
The odd thing about this phenomenon is that everyone knows that performance feedback should be more candid. There are hundreds of articles about the value of candid assessments and most supervisory and management courses include some variation on how to have “courageous” conversations (corporate-speak for “honest”). There also are some organizations, such as GE and (the new) Ford under Alan Mulally, that insist upon it.
Research also shows that employees are far more engaged when they receive honest feedback; and that leaders who rate highest in managerial effectiveness are those who most actively seek feedback from others. Yet performance feedback continues to look like the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone pretends that it’s different than it is.
The reality is that candid, two-way dialogues are intensely uncomfortable and cause anxiety on both sides of the table. The boss, for example, often worries that too much candor might be hurtful or damaging. As one senior manager said to me, “If I tell this person what I really think, it could destabilize her and make it difficult for her to do her job.” At the same time, the boss may also want to be liked by the subordinate and doesn’t want the relationship to deteriorate, especially if they have to work side-by-side. So it’s easier to pull punches than to say something that might damage the relationship.
On the other side of the ledger, subordinates worry that negative feedback will adversely affect their job continuation, career prospects, or earning power — so they may appear defensive or anxious, which makes it even harder to have an honest conversation. And if the manager asks for feedback, many subordinates will try to say nice things as a way of currying favor, or signaling a quid-pro-quo arrangement of “I’ll give you positive feedback if you give me the same.”
The net result of all this angst and (largely unconscious) anxiety is a stilted, pro-forma, ritualistic, and not very productive pattern of dialogue about performance. It’s a pattern that adds little value to the organization or to managers and employees.
Unfortunately, given the powerful nature of the underlying psychological forces, it is difficult to break this pattern. Most people believe Jack Nicholson’s line from the movie, “A Few Good Men,” when he shouted: “You can’t handle the truth!” That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do. On the contrary, given the enormous value that more honest feedback can produce, here are three suggestions that might be worth exploring:
1. Acknowledge and discuss the difficulty of honest performance feedback.
Whether you are the boss or subordinate, initiate conversation about the issue, the underlying psychology, and the value of getting it right. Use this blog post or other articles like it as a way to get the discussion started. The more you can build awareness of the dynamic, the better your chances of dealing with it.
2. Separate developmental feedback from job-security issues such as compensation and promotion.
The easiest way to do this is to conduct these discussions at different times (even if your corporate process wants you to do them together). Doing this allows you to focus the conversation on how you and your subordinate can better accomplish key goals and projects — so the discussion is more work-related than “personal.” Making this explicit division removes some of the emotion from performance assessment and might free you up to be more candid.
3. Like any good skill, you need to practice.
So don’t wait until the formal process kicks in and you’re under the gun to fill out forms and have a high-anxiety performance review. Instead, engage your people (or your boss) in a series of mini-discussions about how things are going and what can be done differently. The more frequently you have these conversations, the more comfortable they will become.
Honest performance feedback is not easy. But learning how to do it well can make a huge difference both for you and for your organization.
Reposted with permission from HBR.
Ron Ashkenas is a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, and is currently serving as an Executive-in-Residence at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He is a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.
San Antonio has been my home for more than 20 years. We are blessed with a wonderful city that has a growing economy, great weather and a diverse and lively community.
What we don’t have is a strong vision for the next 20 years. San Antonio lags behind other cities in transportation, higher education and a connected, vibrant urban core. To strengthen the economic base, we need to draw technology companies, attract and retain educated people and diversify our industry footprint.
I became interested in the mayoral race a few months ago when Uber announced they were leaving the city. I wanted our leaders to understand the importance of Uber, Lyft and other technology companies. Services like this are good for our city and enhance the livability of San Antonio. I was mad and so I got involved.
When I first met Mayor Ivy Taylor in March, several things surprised me. First of all, she is an excellent listener. She listens first and speaks later (a trait not often found in political leaders). She seeks to understand and asks great questions. The Mayor looks through a single lens in leading this city, “what is best for San Antonio.” She has no political ambition, no desire to please everyone and dislikes politics in general. She refused to take money from those with whom she is negotiating. I respect that she is neither intimidated nor influenced by special interest groups. I trust that Ivy Taylor puts San Antonio first in every decision she makes.
I wanted to be sure she understood my perspective so I shared my story. My co-founders and I launched a technology company in San Antonio in 2005. Click Forensics was founded here and built to help advertisers get what they pay for. We were solving a complex data problem and needed both funding and technology talent. Despite our best effort, these did not exist in San Antonio at that time. With an investment from a venture capital firm, we relocated to Austin. Over the next seven years, Click Forensics became Adometry and grew significantly. The company gained global recognition as the leader in advertising attribution technology. In 2014, Adometry was acquired by Google. All of this occurred in Austin, not San Antonio.
This experience has made me take a hard look at the city I love most of all. I don’t want other companies to have to leave San Antonio in order to grow. Many young people are moving out after graduation and I want our city to be one that can attract and retain talented and educated young people. We need to make changes that will position our city as a leader in the years to come. Ivy Taylor shares that vision.
Every month, I spend more than 100 hours with 40 CEO’s, business owners and senior leaders. I feel equipped to recognize the traits that make a leader great, and those that make poor leaders. I’ve met the candidates and have an open mind. Ivy Taylor is the perfect leader for San Antonio today and tomorrow. She has a willingness to listen, has a deep background and education as an urban planner and a sound process for decision making.
Dictionary.com defines a politician as:
- a person who is active in party politics
- a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.
By definition, Ivy Taylor is an awful politician. After getting to know her, I’ve found that she is a wonderful leader. San Antonio needs someone to help us become all we can be. We don’t need a politician to lead this city. We need a visionary leader who will listen, lead and get things done. I look forward to supporting Mayor Taylor in the runoff election and working with her to make this city truly great.
When I meet a CEO or executive who tells me they me they are "too busy", they are saying they are not doing the things they should be doing. Priorities are driven by others, their day is chaotic and "less important" things such as exercise, family and time to focus hit the back burner.
Too busy means unproductive, unfocused and ineffective.
In a one-to-one yesterday with a Vistage member, we took time to process this issue. I've listed a few of the bullet points that came out of that meeting. If you are experiencing excessive busyness, maybe we need to talk.
Share calendar with direct reports
Get a printer in your office
Schedule everything! (workouts, recurring meetings, lunch dates, reading, projects, research, emails)
Keep Monday and Friday as interaction day. Reduce or eliminate meetings on these days.
Use meeting best practices (read Death By Meeting) - agenda, purpose, outcome, time limit, recap
Schedule routine one-to-ones (121’s) with direct reports - more here
Consciously manage distractions (see below)
Consider what are you doing that someone else could or should be doing
At its core, business is simple. It is about serving others. People make it complicated. Re-focus on the basics: serving your employees, customers, and communities then abundance will follow.
Imagine if . . .
- Everything your employees did had meaning and purpose for them and your organization.
- Employees always knew what to do and where to focus their efforts because of common purpose.
- Employees had simple, understandable rules to guide them towards common purpose.
How much more engaged and productive would they be? How much more successful would your organization be?
No Purpose, No Will
As the name implies, the Crank Machine has a handle which can be turned or “cranked.” The hardship: this particular handle is connected to nothing but pulleys and brakes, making the turning of it more difficult. Think about the toughest spinning class you ever attended and then some. With a stationary bike you don’t go anywhere, but you can achieve an effective and balanced workout. The Crank Machine was tied to nothing productive. As a form of punishment, prisoners were compelled to turn it up to 15,000 times a day in their jail cell.
The Crank Machine’s sole purpose was to break the will of prisoners – to extinguish their purpose and engagement in life.
Stop Breaking The Will Of Your Employees
Do you hold weekly business update meetings no one finds valuable, but fail to rework them for the benefit of attendees? Have you asked for such meeting feedback?
Do you request weekly work updates from your employees? Or worse, daily updates? While your intentions may be good and have business value, do your employees perceive the reports as simply a way to make sure they are working when not supervised?
While my Crank Machine example is admittedly extreme, modern organizational tasks perceived to have little or no value can have the same, negative impact on employees. The very act of doing such work could demotivate and punish someone wanting to make a difference in your organization.
Studies show nothing is more disengaging than doing work without perceived value, even if you are paid well for it.
So, how do you eliminate wasteful, non-value added work in your organization and benefit from deeply engaged, self-managed employees? Keep your business simple, maintain common organizational purpose and follow the ants.
Let The Ants Lead
Did you know highly organized ant colonies – sometimes numbering in the billions – have no leadership? Despite this, ant colony organization is so advanced, effective and purpose-driven that notable companies like Southwest Airlines, Air Liquide and others have used their pattern of behavior to solve complex business challenges.
Ants are self-managed. They use triggers and interactions in their local environments to independently guide their work decisions. This is possible because all ants embrace a common purpose and follow a few, simple rules.
When building their nests, researchers discovered three, main rules ants consistently follow:
- They picked up grains at a constant rate, approximately two grains per minute
- They dropped them near other grains, forming a pillar
- They choose grains previously handled by other ants
It can be deduced from the research that ants self-manage themselves based on the rhythms and connections in their environment. In a human equivalent, these connections could be the rate others are working nearby and what is seen/heard in their area. Providing there is common purpose for every person involved in the task, no defined leadership is needed to accomplish it. Successful examples of this self-managed model can be found in thriving organizations like L.W. Gore & Associates, Zappos, The Morning Star Company and Treehouse.
Discover Your Organizational Purpose
To create an environment which fosters a high level of self-management and engagement, employees must be aligned under a common organizational purpose. A simple way of discovering this purpose would be to ask the following questions:
- Why does my organization exist?
- Why was it started in the first place?
By flipping the questions around, you can gain a powerful new perspective on your common organizational purpose:
- What would happen if my organization disappeared today?
- Would it be missed?
- Would my customers struggle? How?
- Would my market struggle? How?
- Would life go on without missing a beat?
By answering these questions and having your employees do so, too, you can gain useful insights into what is really valuable work – that which serves your employees, customers and community – and what is simply wasting time and disengaging your workforce.
Let your organization evolve from employees with a common purpose. Go back to the reason your organization exists in the first place – its purpose – and focus only on work which feeds that purpose.
How far off is your organization from this model? Please let me know in the comments area below.
Also, check out my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love (Second Edition) at LouisEfron.com.
by Leslie Pratch
Effective leaders must meet challenges and resolve them productively, day after day, for many years. They must constantly adapt to the unforeseen--and must mobilize, coordinate, and direct others. But when hiring executives, how do you know which candidates possess such abilities? When they all look good on paper, how do you make a choice?
Given the frequency of CEO turnover, and the frequent cases of CEO failure after long, successful careers in the same place where they became CEO--think David Pottruck at Schwab or Doug Ivester at Coke--it's clearly not that easy. But it can be done by including an analysis of executives' readiness to acquire new skills and strategies for coping with complexity and change--in other words, their active coping mechanism.
ACTIVE COPING IS A STYLE OF APPROACHING LIFE, BAKED INTO WHO YOU ARE
How a person approaches life's challenges develops as a result of their nature and their nurture. Some people run from problems, some lash out at others, and some passionately wait and hope that problems (or even opportunities) will just go away.
Active copers, by contrast, are built to be capable and eager to deal with whatever obstacles and opportunities they face. Active copers continually strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties, rather than passively retreat from or be overwhelmed by frustration. They move towards the problems and opportunities with open arms and open minds.
An active coping style lets a manager go further and faster more surely. Consider an analogy with a car: We can get where we need to go driving an ordinary, inexpensive car, and we can make it through life with a less than optimal coping style. But to drive on curvy, treacherous roads in dark and foul weather, we need a superbly engineered car, and that car will also get us farther, faster, with less likelihood of accident or breakdown in other situations. A strong framework of coping enables a leader to survive the rough spots and to perform better than others would in ordinary times too.
In business, unexpected events occur, for which no playbook has been written. Active copers do not lose their footing in such cases, but rather thrive on the opportunity to seek out information about what is happening, rally the right team, and learn as part of the process of steering towards success. With each new challenge, active copers ask: What really is going on now, and what is the best way for me to deal with it? What can I learn from this event? How can I use this event to strengthen my commitment to the ideals that I pursue?
SKILLS AND TRAITS ASSOCIATED WITH ACTIVE COPING
I’ve found in my 17 years working to evaluate executives that active coping is an attribute of a healthy personality structure. This means that the “activity” is not always overt and observable; sometimes it takes place internally, in decisions made, visions developed, and conflicting drives resolved. An active coping stance, however, often gives rise to certain observable traits and skills. These should be sought out in anyone being courted to run a business. They include:
Awareness. Active copers are able to see reality, including their own needs, capabilities, and limitations.
Courage. Active copers are brave. They seek out new experiences; they are not intimidated by challenges.
Resiliency, toughness, and the ability to learn from experience. Active copers, like all humans, make mistakes. Life is too complicated to anticipate every possible contingency. Active copers regroup and recover.
Energy, fortitude, and the willingness to persevere. Active copers summon the energy to continue to move forward even under the most trying circumstances.
Resourcefulness. Active copers invent solutions to problems by creatively pulling together the resources they have at hand or by developing new ones.
Decisiveness. Active coping gives a person the fortitude to handle conflicts among competing goals. Making a choice means giving up an alternative. Active copers face that loss and move on.
Executing a plan. Active coping involves planning. Active copers anticipate, strategize, and weigh the risks of potential actions. Then they act. Active coping combines introspection and action.
These are the kinds of traits active copers show and business leaders need to have for dealing well with fast-changing and always uncertain situations.
--Leslie S. Pratch is the author of Looks Good On Paper?: Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance, which was released July 1 byColumbia Business School Press.
by Ron Ashkenas
When a company’s planning and decision-making process involves a lot of meetings, discussions, committees, PowerPoint decks, emails, and announcements, but very few hard-and-fast agreements, I call that “decision spin”. Decisions bounce around the company, from group to group, up and down the hierarchy and across the matrix, their details and consequences changing as different stakeholders weigh in. Often, the underlying problem isn’t an inability to make decisions – it’s a tendency to avoid conflict.
Decision spin doesn’t prevent decisions from being made altogether. But they often don’t stick, because people hesitate to express their disagreements during the discussion. There is a lot of head nodding, smiling, and camaraderie — which is undermined later when participants don’t follow through on the decisions that they didn’t really buy into.
Decision spin can be incredibly frustrating at all levels of the organization. It also has a huge impact on cost, productivity, and customer service. For example, when managers at one company I worked with couldn’t agree on the best way (or the few best ways) to configure their sales management software, they ended up with dozens of variations, which not only increased licensing fees, but also made it much more difficult to coordinate sales across divisional or geographic lines. Similarly, when another company needed to reduce its expenses, the pain was spread like peanut butter across the different cost centers because the senior management team couldn’t reach a decision about where to focus — which meant that areas with growth potential lost as much muscle as those with less opportunity.
From the outside, of course, this kind of behavior looks silly. Why can’t managers — even at a very senior level — have open, honest and candid debates, work through their differences, and then reach agreement? That’s what they’re paid to do. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, for two reasons:
One is that managers are people and have a very human desire to be liked. They want others to think well of them and not feel that they’re difficult to work with. They want to get along and seem like team players. So even when they disagree with something, they often hold back on expressing it too vociferously so as not to get into a fight. In fact, many managers I’ve talked to are afraid that disagreements might turn into uncomfortable battles that will damage or destabilize relationships. So they unconsciously pull their punches to keep things calm.
The second reason for avoiding conflict is that many managers lack the skills to engage in it constructively. Perhaps because of the psychological issues described above, these managers don’t get a lot of practice at conflict, or they’ve never been trained in conflict management. As a result, they miss some of the basic principles and tools necessary to engage in positive conflict, such as defining the overarching goal to be achieved, identifying common ground, focusing on the problem instead of the person, objectively listing points of agreement and disagreement, listening more than talking, and shifting from debating to problem-solving. While none of these principles are rocket science, they’re also not necessarily skills that everyone is born with. And in the absence of these skills, it’s easy for business conflicts and disagreements to quickly escalate into interpersonal tensions — which triggers the avoidance syndrome described above, and a continuation of decision spin.
Breaking this kind of cycle is not easy, particularly if it’s deeply engrained in the culture of your company, and in the emotional makeup of key senior leaders. However, if you want to address it — from wherever you are in the organization — here are two steps that you can take:
First, convene your team, or a group of colleagues, and talk about whether decision spin is an issue. If it is, discuss some real examples, how they played out, and the consequences for the company. Consider whether these are isolated instances or part of a recurring pattern, and what the payoff might be to reduce some of the spin. The key here is to avoid abstractions and build some awareness and alignment about the need to make improvements.
Once you’re in agreement that decision spin is worth attacking, work with your team or your colleagues to develop some ground rules for constructive conflict. These might include giving everyone two minutes to share his or her views; appointing someone to write down pros and cons of an issue; reminding everyone that disagreements are not personal attacks; setting a time limit for debates; or agreeing that decisions don’t get changed unilaterally. Obviously, this is not the same as full-blown conflict management training, but it’s a way to get started — and if you experience some success, it could create the readiness for additional developmental work.
Companies can’t afford to let decisions spin around with no resolution. Shortening that cycle, however, requires managers to understand that conflict should be embraced, rather than avoided.
By Gail Angelo
Do short deadlines and fast-paced environments give you an adrenaline rush?
Chances are you’re an urgency addict.
Long-term states of heightened adrenaline, however, take their toll on overall health. People who overwork themselves have an increased sense of anxiety, rarely feel rested, are often impatient and are generally less effective workers. Responsibilities start to fall through the cracks.
Most importantly, urgency addiction takes its toll on relationships because it is distracting. The ability to be present and engage with teams, customers, colleagues, and even family and friends diminishes.
To shift yourself out of an urgency mindset, you need to focus less on being the best at something and learn to focus on being the best to someone.
Recently, I had the opportunity to coach John, a senior level executive of a multi-million dollar organization. John was suffering from urgency addiction. One clear indicator was his recent physical. The results were not glowing. He was worn out, less than fully engaged and had this nagging feeling that something was missing. Leading just wasn’t fun anymore.
After conducting an initial session and 360 degree feedback process, it was clear that John’s zest for life and leadership had waned. He felt like he was dealing with one crisis after another and his days were an endless stream of meetings. It was difficult to find white space in his calendar. In his mind, everything was urgent.
John began the coaching process reflecting on two questions:
1. What is the story you hear yourself telling most often about your life?
2. What is the story you want to be telling?
John heard himself saying that he was stuck in doing and not leading. He was not aligned with his values around leadership and relationships. He missed feeling more deeply connected to his teams and his family as well as to the underlying purpose of his work.
John used the following strategies to move himself out of urgency addiction and into purposeful leading:
1. Pay attention to intention
John took time to explore what gave his leadership and his life purpose and meaning. He clarified his purpose, core values and strengths. He asked himself and others how these elements were manifested in his leadership. He then made changes accordingly.
2. Create space for:
John started setting aside 15 minutes a day for reflection, increasing it over time to 30 minutes. Reflection provides the opportunity to understand how the events of our lives shape our future and impact others. It supports our quest for discovering purpose and meaning. Reflection moves us from the mental model of being right and smart to leading with purpose and wisdom.
Addiction to urgency can leave us in a state of stress. When we’re stressed, it’s important to take care of ourselves so that we can make clear-headed decisions. John became more aware of what he ate. He hired a personal trainer. He ensured he was getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights. As importantly, he began to think about things he used to love to do. He started incorporating more of those things into his daily life. Sometimes it was just a simple, leisurely cup of coffee with his wife or a trip to the beach to relax and recharge.
Focusing on others without distraction helps strengthen trusted relationships. John came to realize just how often he was in conversations waiting to respond versus listening to understand. When he was more present in his interactions with people, the quality of those interactions and relationships grew.
3. Delegate for better team engagement
The engine of team engagement is a clear purpose, a feedback mechanism and the opportunity to build on strengths. John was a micro-manager. His leadership team felt both deflated and defeated. He re-assessed how he was delegating, then shifted his focus to delegate artfully based on individual and team strengths. He thought about opportunities for individual and team growth and exposure. These steps resulted in a stronger, more engaged team and greater capacity for him to lead more effectively.
When everything feels urgent, we are engaging an aspect of the brain that triggers our fight-or-flight response. Studies show that focusing on our breath results in a physiological relaxation response to the body and clearing of the mind, leaving us free to make clear decisions. John began to practice breathing at various times throughout the day with a marked difference on how much more energized and relaxed he felt.
5. Enlist an accountability partner
In this case John enlisted one of his trusted advisors. He was transparent in what he was doing, where he was struggling, and the type of support that was helpful.
The transformation for John and his leadership team was remarkable. The team gained a legitimate voice in the long-term direction and strategy of the organization. There’s been a surge of creativity and innovation on the team. John is more fulfilled as he learned how to cope with his urgency addiction and a better leader to his team. He is living into the story he wants to tell.
Gail Angelo is a leader of leaders: equipped with an extraordinarily intuitive, yet practical approach that enables those she works with to move from wishing and hoping to doing and attaining - from boring to bold - Gail empowers her clients to act as the owners of their leadership goals. Her experience and powers of perception allow her to help executives identify their true strengths, eliminate negativity and create strategies with clear action steps that lead to success and fulfillment for her clients.
By Roger Martin
At some point in the formulation of a strategy, its creator must review his or her work with the leader, either by choice or by procedure.
If the strategist is a CEO, the reviewer is the board (or a committee thereof). If the strategist is a business unit head, the reviewer is the CEO, and so on down the organization. Regardless of the specific players, the process looks much the same; typically, we wait, and wait, and wait until the strategy feels iron tight. Once it is ready, we go in to the meeting with a perfect slide deck and lots of points in defense of our view.
The goal is to get a big gold star for having produced a wonderful, perfect strategy. Anything less is a disappointment. The creator and the reviewer both know that this is the desired outcome — and they know that the other knows it too. Hence, the creator presents as if everything in the strategy is obviously and unassailably true. And the reviewer most of the time provides the gold star or offers minimal and easily incorporated feedback on small aspects of the strategy. He or she knows that if any criticism is levied or shortcoming pointed out, the creator will be dismayed, if not entirely disillusioned.
This approach to strategy review has the unfortunate effect of rendering the leader in the review position almost useless. If they give the gold star, they have added absolutely nothing of substance to the strategy. And, even if they offer reservations and feedback, the timing of the conversations renders those all but useless too. As W. Edwards Deming taught the production world, inspecting outputs at the end of the production line is the most ineffective way to improve quality.
If these leaders are in their positions legitimately (and if they are not you have a much bigger problem), then strategists should want to use the leader’s judgment and experience to the maximum to improve the strategy. That means going to the leader early and often. Don’t want until your strategy is so polished that you don’t want anything more than a pat on the back. Instead, construct a more productive series of interactions on strategy:
- Go early with the framing of the strategy challenge that you want to tackle. Ask your leader whether there is a different way he or she would frame the challenge that you should be working on.
- Go back with the possibilities you generate. Ask your leader whether there might be different possibilities he or she would consider or ones on your list that he/she sees as unacceptable on their face.
- Return a third time when you have reverse-engineered the possibilities to determine what you believe would have to be true and have identified which of those things that you feel are least likely to hold true. Ask the leader whether there are additional conditions that would have to hold true and about which are they most skeptical.
If you do these things, three great things will happen:
- You will get insights along the way that will shape and improve the way you are thinking about the problem at hand;
- You won’t be sent back for time-consuming and expensive rework at the end of the process;
- You will have a leader who is enthusiastic about the outcome because he or she genuinely helped to shape it.