(Curtis admits that he could be better at saying “no” to requests for his time, but it’s getting easier with success.)
As well as a glass ceiling, women who are successful and become CEO’s also face a “glass cliff“(1). If you work twice as hard and are twice as smart as your male counterparts and actually land a CEO position, you face more challenges as a CEO because you are a women(2).
Women CEOs are more likely to be recruited to companies that are in trouble to begin with. Either because the “first string” (of men) passed on the job, or the board needs to show that they’re thinking outside the box and recruiting a relationship-strong leader (i.e., a woman).
Then women CEOs are more likely to be the target of activist shareholders. Boards and CEOs used to be able to ignore them, but now they can create real headaches while owning a minority of the company stock.
Lastly – and this will sound familiar to many women out there – women CEOs get more negative attention from the press. Even when they objectively do better in comparable situations.(3)
What Does the Research Say?
Diminishing, denigrating, and dismissing 50% of the potential brain-power and creativity available to solve hard problems in an ever-connected and accelerating world based on their gender our one’s own ego is
For a long time women were told they’re the problem, they need to change, that they need to lean in – even by other women.
I argue that women’s attitudes and behaviour isn’t the problem. It’s men’s attitude and behaviour that’s the problem.
For example, this research analysed calendars, emails, and sensors attached to people in an office setting. Their hypothesis was that women had fewer mentors, less face time with managers, or weren’t as proactive as men in talking to senior leadership – all factors in determining future promotability. Turns out none of these were true when they analyzed the data.
So the researchers concluded that it wasn’t the women’s behaviour, but how the women’s behaviour is perceived by men. The way that people with the decision-making power perceive them. Which is another definition of bias.
When I shared this with my sweetie – who is a strong and successful woman in her own right and doesn’t need any of my damn help thank-you very much – she gave me the eye-brow. The one that says “thanks for playing, Captain Obvious”. Then we laughed and laughed.
The Bare Minimum
What do we men need to do differently?
First, I want to acknowledge that some people will have stopped reading at this point. Either because they don’t agree with me, or they think it’s not their problem, or they think they aren’t biased against women, or maybe I’m just boring. If you’re still reading and look forward to picking up your game, thank-you.
The bare minimum:
- Don’t be a creep. Don’t stare at her chest, don’t make comments about their appearance, don’t flirt, don’t ask for dates, don’t encroach their personal space, so so so don’t touch her, and don’t make creepy comments behind her back to fellow creeps(4).
Some men never figure this out: the waitress at the restaurant doesn’t smile at you because she likes you. She does it because it’s her job and because she works for tips.(5)
Also, you don’t get credit for not doing these things. Remember, it’s the bare minimum.
The Next Level
But let’s assume you’re not a creep, which you probably aren’t. Here are some other things you might want to watch out for in your own behaviour:
- Don’t interrupt. Let people finish their sentences. You may think it’s just the give and take of a conversation, brain-storming, or debate. At best it’s rude, at worst its verbal bullying. I am guilty of this, especially when I get excited about a topic or issue. I used to wonder why people thought I was obnoxious…
- Stop mansplaining. Don’t explain things to women they already know and didn’t ask you to explain. If you didn’t know what mainsplaining is, start watching for it. Imagine what it’s like to be a woman having her own book explained to her and you’ll understand how oblivious and obnoxious it is. Again, I’m amazed how often I catch myself doing this, even though I’m trying really really hard not to (and no, I don’t get to take credit for not doing something.)
- Don’t hepeat. Don’t repeat what someone else said and take credit. This happens often enough that it has its own word and twitter hashtag.
What are some positive things we can do, to be a good ally and a good leader?
- Set the example and expect others to do the same (see above).
- Start questioning your own bias, and fight to overcome it. This is also a great exercise in better decision-making all around.
- Promote women. Fill the leadership pipeline with people of ability, especially that first critical promotion to management.
- Step on the creeps – you may not be a creep, but leadership means setting the example. You have a responsibility to stop others who are “misbehaving”. If you tolerate creepy behaviour, you are complicit.
- Set ground rules for meetings that include respectful listening (see above).
I hope you found something helpful in this article. If you did, please let me know.
(1) I was listening to NPRs “Secret Life of a CEO” series, which is interesting in itself. I recommend it.
(2) Because it’s never just one thing ever when situations go south. And if you’re a woman, to hell with you in particular, apparently.
(3) Yes, I know you too can use Google to cherry-pick counter-factual arguments, research, and articles. I’ve read them, thanks.
(4) Think of it this way: the consequence of a bad date for men is a wasted evening. The worst case for a women experiencing a bad date is rape and death. It’s not fair, but you can empathize why some women might be a bit sensitive when it comes to these things. The consequences are wholly disproportional.
(5) Maybe you are that charming. I really don’t know, but I doubt it. Maybe it really is a genuine office romance, but those are usually are really really bad idea. Especially if it’s someone who works for you or you work for them.
The music industry continues to change. Falling album sales eroded by on-line streaming, questions on how artists get paid and make a living, and technology making it easy for anyone to become a producer. It’s another industry that got hit by the internet twenty years ago (remember Napster?) and continues to get sucker-punched over and over again as the technology evolves(1).
With a young step-son who’s been a professional musician since age 15, and is now recording his sixth album, it’s a topic of interest to me personally – how is he going to make a living doing what he loves, in an industry famous for manipulators and scumbags, and keep being that good person I know him to be? He’s a talented guy and decent human being, and I look forward to helping him figure it out where he wants my help.
I got to sit in on The Gathering(2) afternoon’s music panels on Friday, and came away impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of discussions. There seems to be an intersection between artists, brands, marketing, and the people who act as in-betweens.
There are successful artists who have become their own brands (not only making music but also clothing and other products, and doing their own marketing); brands that bring marketing in-house (for example Dr. Dre headphones, who started as a musician(3)); and marketers who love music doing amazing things in the world even though they don’t make music (like Andy Cohn from the FADER).
Turns out music is more than just music. Social justice, innovation and creativity, self-identify, story and narrative, commerce, influence and motivation all get mixed up in a wonderful goulash(4), or maybe a Chili Verde(5). You decide.
Music is unique in the human experience, but it costs money to make it. Surprisingly people want to be able to make music and eat at the same time. Go figure. So music is also commerce, and not surprisingly music also overlaps business and leadership. This became clear to me while listening to the panelists and hearing themes that leadership and business people have been talking about for decades now: values, vision, and people.
Here are some of the things I heard:
Be really clear about what you’re offering, what you expect in return. You can trade your talent and identity for fame and money if you want to, and that’s okay, but don’t expect it to last, don’t expect it to have an impact, and don’t expect anyone to have your best interests at heart.
You can do better than that. There were some powerful stories told on the stage, but they’re not mine to tell. Let’s just say that music not only influences and changes lives, it also literally saves lives(6).
…or as Joe Belliotti put it, “You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful.”
Overused, oversold, and yet so important. What’s the thing that you would be doing even if you had to pay to do it?
Of all the panelists who shared their “vision statement” (and they all had one, it’s de rigueur don’t you know), authenticity was believable, even if it wasn’t messianic: “Feed my family.”, “Take care of the people important to me.”, “Protect my fans, because they got us here.”
“Touch your people every day, because you’ll be sad when they walk out the door.” – Jason White
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this from my own experience: if you think you’re doing this well enough, you’re not. Very few people actually do, many fewer than think they do.
It’s more than likely that you’re just fooling yourself. No shame in that, it’s easy to do. It even has a name: confirmation bias. Take a long hard look at how well you treat your people, and what you tolerate in terms of how others treat them, and do better.
(1) See also publishing, newspapers, manufacturing (robotics), transport (self-driving cars), entertainment (pirated movies), etc. Next up professional services such as lawyers and doctors (artificial intelligence). Time to buy an acreage and some goats and move to the country?
(2) In its fifth year, it brings together brands and marketers. Three years ago they added music, integral to telling any story, which is what good marketing does. Plus I love any excuse to head to Banff despite the tourists – they’ve done a really good job of extending tourism past the summer holiday & winter skiing crowd, and I admire that.
(3) If you haven’t watched “Straight Outta Compton” you should, even if rap isn’t your thing. Good movie.
(4) My mother’s signature dish. That and rouladen. Mmmmm.
(5) What’s in the slow cooker right now, and it’s making me drool. Pardon me if I’m distracted by food.
(6) For one example, check out Paul Brandt’s #notinmycity campaign, imagined and executed by marketing students from Mount Royal University. As an added bonus the campaign has ruffled establishment feathers, which delights me because that’s what’s necessary to drive change.
I was watching one of those pseudo-documentaries about the American Navy SEALs on the History Channel the other night(1), and an interesting little tidbit came up during the part where the teams are trying to get their boats past the surf and out into the ocean. If you’ve never seen this exercise (or “evolution” in Navy-speak), it’s actually an entertaining spectacle.
Instructors divide the class into boat teams, each with a student leader. Then there’s all the usual running around with the inflatable dingy carried above their heads, yelling and screaming, push-ups in the sand, and so on. When the surf conditions are just right (the ideal seems to be a combined high-tide and a storm surge, with multiple metre-high waves), the instructors send the boat teams out in the surf. The first team past the surf gets to sit out the next evolution. Everyone else, on the principle that “second place is first loser”, gets to do more running around with the dingy above their heads, push-ups in the sand, etc.
You just can’t get past the surf without everyone working together. You can see a clip of the exercise here: Navy SEAL BUD/S Training – Surf Passage(2)
In the episode I was watching, the instructors noticed that one team was consistently last (and therefore earned their special, unwanted attention), and one team was consistently first (and got the break). So the instructors decided to run an experiment. They took the crew leader(3) from the worst boat and switched him with the leader from the best boat.
The two crews switched results in the race, dramatically and immediately. The last place boat became the first place boat and vice-versa.
Without clear purpose, direction, and motivation provided by somebody, anybody, the team fails and the team suffers for it. Without changing the other members of the team, changing the leadership changes the team’s performance,
When There are Too Many Leaders
I was mentoring at a student civic innovation competition last year. The students were from several different institutions and disciplines (architecture & design, finance, business, marketing, social innovation, etc.) The challenge was to take an under-utilized civic space and research, analyse, and propose a low-cost, community-centred update of the space in a weekend. Then pitch it to a panel of judges.
It’s an interesting human-centred design exercise, and an interesting team-work exercise. Also they don’t get a lot of sleep.
One team ended up going in circles. They were unable to decide on a design, agree on a way forward, or complete the work. In the end it came down to having one too many leaders. Two of the students in particular saw themselves and driving the process forward. What they didn’t realize was that by pushing so hard for “their solution” they were shutting down the creative process, collaboration, cooperation, and frustrating everyone else on the team with their bun fight.
Listening was non-existent and ego ruled. Despite attempts by myself and another mentor, they never really overcame this friction and failed to win in any category at the pitch competition.
What Kind of Leadership Do You Need?
So what? We need to think carefully about the culture, structure, and ground rules of our teams – how they’re put together, how decisions get made, its purpose, and how it’s going to succeed.
In a military context teams need high levels of trust. The ability to resolve conflicts and make decisions quickly, to coordinate effort, and to motivate members (such as promotion up the chain-of-command.) Hierarchy has its advantages, but…
Not everyone is a soldier. Collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and execution are the order of the day. This means everyone pays attention to the other team members(5), everyone contributes, and nobody hi-jacks the process. Leaders need to be comfortable with messy, even uncomfortable conversations while making sure everyone contributes and stays focused on the task. It’s hard and requires a high emotional intelligence, but then good leadership always has.
(1) Don’t get me started on how the History Channel doesn’t have any history on it, although my sweetie and I really enjoy watching Forged in Fire together. As long as you know what you’re in for (not history, but rather entertainment) then it’s all good.
(2) I find the music overly dramatic and unnecessary, but some people like that sort of thing. The camera shots from the drone are pretty cool though.
(3) This is a common feature of military training – assigning leadership duties to the students. It lightens the load for the instructors, trains the students in leadership and accountability, and is invaluable in motivating everyone to do their best to make sure everyone cooperates when it’s their turn. It’s a great development tool in any context.
(4) Nothing wrong with consensus, if that’s what you need. Just be ready to take a very long time to make decisions, and have a very clear process for collaboration, discussion, and conflict resolution.
(5) This is where women have an advantage over men. So if you’re trying to solve a really difficult, complex problem, one way to stack the deck is to have more than one woman on your team.
My partner and sweetie introduced me to the concept of knolling (a method of organizing objects). She is a university professor who teaches a creative design-heavy capstone marketing class. Turns out that knolling is only Bullet #7 in Tom Sachs “The Code”, the rules for being a successful employee at his design studio. It struck me how fundamental these rules were, The Basics if you will, and how important he must believe they are to the success of his company for him to codify them in this way.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every company or organization were this clear on their values and expected behaviours? That they understood what drives their success? Many organizations do, but most don’t. At least not in a living and authentic way.
What are you personal, team, or company bullets/basics/code? What disciplines, processes, and tools drive your success?
p.s. Tom also has a “How to Sweep” video. I would argue that if you or your company cannot thoughtfully and elegantly describe its work in a similar way, you might now know what you’re doing.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
I’m not always a good communicator. Things that I think are straight-forward get bungled in the strangest ways sometimes. Part of my world-view comes from growing up in a German-speaking house-hold in Canada. I like to joke that I learned English off the TV. Me sharing this will probably upset my mother (yes my mother reads my blog, hi Mom!), but isn’t too far from the truth. I often had to translate, explain cultural context, or figure out even in my own head what was going on for my parents. You can imagine as a child I didn’t always get this right. It’s a common experience for first generation immigrant children.
Plus I’m also a bit left-brained, procedural, and rule-following. Again, I joke that with a German father and Swiss mother I had to have my room cleaned up on time. But this isn’t how everyone sees the world, so this also make for “translation” errors. You can imagine the knee-slapping adventures that ensue in a household where my partner and sweetie teaches creative design, my step-son is a professional musician, and his girlfriend is an animator. But they love the project manager me and even find me useful on occasion.
Painting a Picture
“People think people create stories. It’s the other way around.” — Terry Pratchett
The very best communicators tap our emotions this way. Think of the Churchill’s “we will fight on the beaches“, JFK’s “send a man safely to the moon“, or Martin Luther King’s “I have seen the promised land.” No matter what you think of them as historical figures, it is objectively demonstrable that their ability to tap into clear, simple, evocative language tapped into people’s motivations and affected how people behaved.
Why does the brain like pictures so much? We express our feelings or make decisions with words all the time, don’t we? Maybe not.
Depending on how you measure it, 30 percent of the brain is used or involved in visual processing (with 8 percent for touch and 4 percent for sound). The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 9/10ths of the information the brain receives is visual.
In his seminal TED talk Simon Sinek talks about the golden circle (“How Great Leaders Inspire Action”) and how this golden circle corresponds to different parts of the brain. The newest parts of our evolved homo sapiens brain, the outer layer called the neocortex, is responsible for all our rational, analytical thought, and language.
Great leaders seek to motivate. They appeal to the emotional, the visual. This corresponds our limbic brains. Our limbic brains, in the centre and the oldest parts of our brains evolutionarily speaking, are responsible for all our feelings, emotions, and decision making. Our limbic brains have no capacity for language.
The part of us that makes decisions doesn’t use words.
The U.S. Army defines leadership as “…the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation….” You’ll probably notice that two if not all three of these factors are influences applied to peoples emotions, feelings, or even values and beliefs. Getting people to make the right decisions, act in a positive way, and commit to a particular outcome or goal (for whatever definition or “right”or “positive” you care to define) means making an appeal to their motivations.
The Army leadership manual goes on to talk about such airy-fairy leadership responsibilities such as developing future leaders, fostering trust, open communications, and earning respect.
So, providing clear, simple language means more than just using small words. It means understanding others’ motivations and applying influence. It means painting a picture of what the future looks like and why they should care. It means providing direction and purpose that appeals to people’s need to be part of something greater than themselves.
Clear communication means doing the work to be clear.
How about you?
What’s the worst miscommunication you ever had? How do you make sure you’re saying the same thing the listener is hearing? How well do you pay attention to other’s motivations?
Works on Many Levels
This book worked on many levels for me. First, as a primer on international economics by comparing the strategy and tactics of drug cartels with those of corporations. Secondly as a study in critical thinking by describing and analyzing the current state of national and international counter-narcotics effort, assessing its effectiveness, and providing alternative policies where those efforts have failed. Thirdly I appreciated the research methods, and was inspired by them in my writing. So thanks Tom! Great read.
“The best do the basics better” — Eric Frohardt
It was third grade when a teacher at a new school figured out that I might need glasses. On the way home from getting my first pair of glasses I read a billboard out loud from the back of the car. My two younger brothers (who couldn’t read yet) got very excited. We got ice-cream, they liked me, but the glasses where just another reason I was different.
Up to that point I had mostly kept to myself, in retrospect probably because I couldn’t see out past the length of my elbow. Now I could connect with the world, but ironically still socially isolated. Now I knew.
Awkward, geeky, lonely, I got lost in books and building plastic models. Then I joined a cadet corps, learned to march and shoot, earned my pilot’s license, forged my mother’s signature on a permission form and took her car for a weekend of parachuting. I spent a summer back-packing in Europe, went to school and learned to program. I built a meaningful career building things that mattered, raised a family, grew up, and fell in love again. It got better and kept getting better.
Always learning, always sharing
I’ve learned a lot over the last 35 years of being an adult, and I like sharing what I know. It’s why I’ve been a business coach the last nine years. It’s been amazing. It’s a really cool virtuous circle. I learn from every client and apply many of those learnings to my life, then often share them with the next client.
And I’ve wanted to write a book since I was that geeky kid, but not just any book that anyone else could write. So when I heard “the best do the basics better“, it hit me: that’s the book! The speaker was talking about physical training and firearms instruction, but the same principle applies to many different things. You know, like being able to see the blackboard…that’s a basic requirement for learning. Or being able to see facial expressions and body language when making friends.
What are the “basics” of a successful and meaningful life? What are the simple things outstanding people do well in leadership? I started writing topics headings, and by the time I finished I had three books worth. And that was just from a work/business/entrepreneur perspective.
So here’s my ask:
What are the process, tools, tricks, routines, or habits do you rely on to make your life meaningful? Reduce friction in the daily grind? Be more effective? Do better? What works for you at the personal, leadership, or company level? What are the simple things that you’ve tried that didn’t work?
Let me know either in the comments, or by email, or however you like. I look hearing from you all…and thank-you.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. But the voice / narrative device was just awkward. I agree with other reviewers that you should skip everything but the last two chapters, where Dr. Jensen speaks with his authentic voice – it’s much more engaging, readable, and memorable.
I did learn and have made part of my daily routine some of the strategies/tactics described, and they work, so worth working through regardless.
Back in November I asked my on-line tribe a question: “In business, community, or volunteer roles, what are the biggest mistakes you see new leaders, organisers, or volunteers make? Or in other words, what should new leaders stop doing?”
I organized them a bit, but didn’t change them. What would you add to their advice?
I would suggest new leaders sit with the existing people and processes long enough to understand them before implementing change. This way, they can make more informed decisions. — AC
Thinking that they know more than an older person because they are the new generation. They need to sit in a position and absorb from others before they pass judgement. — MDP
Myself, when I as a new leader years ago, I thought it was all about “me” and I that had to have all the good ideas… very bad move! — GF
Be organized and focussed while communicating effectively. — TC
Learn to run a goddamn meeting! — EM
Set Clear Goals and Share Them
Made many but I’ll go with when I chaired Josh’s scouts, I didn’t set out clear goals and direction thereby not supporting our fantastic leaders who were investing so much time and effort into our boys. — TC
Not thinking strategically, being too focused on tactics and near-term. Managing instead of leading. Not creating space for authentic communications and relationships. — AK
Thinking they have to “act like a leader” instead of being authentic. They become a caricature of leadership. The main task is to not rely on your positional authority. — TS
Ask For Help
Assuming other people’s needs to do the job they have to without consulting with them. A lot of volunteers get in over their heads and miss the details professionals know to cover. Case in point, twice in the last year we have participate as performers at fund raising events that assumed band’s needs were simple and they were ill equipped for the event….Consult with accredited professionals if you aren’t one yourself. Don’t assume there’s nothing to know just because you don’t know. — SM
Learn to Delegate
One mistake I see both new and experienced leaders make often is to get way too deeply into the weeds and try to know every single detail. They need to stop trying to manage the work and start leading the people. As [AC] mentioned above, take the time to learn and observe, respect the history, but don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions. Stop winging it and have a 90 day plan. Most of all, stop talking and listen. — DS
Pay Attention to the Team
The rubber band phenomena. Moving people/agencies/businesses along is all about the tension – too slow and nothing moves because there’s not enough push to move the stagnant along; too fast and the band snaps, tearing the group apart. Finding that balance of tension – fast enough to move forward but slow enough not to cause things to rip apart – is a delicate one. New leaders need to stop trying to make change happen instantly, take the time to learn about that tension, and then move forward. (I’ve done both too slow and too fast far too many times.) — DR
Not focusing on performance and well-being . . . [of] their teams and direct reports. — AM
My response is a hybrid of others’ responses. I think a new leader might make decisions based on their own experiences pre-leadership. Which is fine, but one has to consider the needs of the many. — KP