Raising Other People’s Children

I think it was listening to Tim Ferriss (1) interview a retired soldier who put forth a fully formed definition of leadership that struck me as being both concise and insightful (2):

“Leadership is raising other people’s children.”

I’ve been trying to find a workable, usable definition of leadership (3) for a long time (because I’m weird). I thought, “Hang on, we aren’t parents at work. And the people working with and for us certainly aren’t children.” So I rolled it over in my mind for a while and tucked it away. Apparently it stuck.

Then last week I listened to a TEDTalk where former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford eschews grades and over-parenting in favour of high standards and empathy. She has had to deal with so many children leaving home for the first time who were unable to tie their own shoe laces, let alone function as adults in the world. Also, their over-bearing parents who can’t let go. She describes a chart for successful parenting that looks like this:

Successful Parents Low Empathy High Empathy
High Standards Authoritarianism Sweet Spot
Low Standards Neglect Spoilage

…and it struck me that you very well could lay this chart over a leadership context and get the some useful results:

Neglect looks like high customer and employee turnover, waste, and a poisonous culture. Spoilage results in “happy” but ineffective employees. Think Silicon Valley, where a pool table and crepe bar are supposed to take care of employee moral and increase productivity, but instead results in employees playing pool and gaining weight.

In authoritarianism, the load for all decision making lands on the leader. There is a lack of accountability, bottlenecks, an inability to innovate, be proactive, or even make “common-sense” decisions.

The most valuable quadrant – high standards / high empathy – is also the smallest sweet spot (4)

If you’re not convinced empathy is as important as standards, go and watch the Superchicken TedTalk, where a Harvard study describes how teams with high empathy scores consistently outperform teams with high IQ scores. Teams that are aware of the emotions of its members, give everyone an opportunity to contribute, and where it’s okay to ask for help don’t just do better by a little bit – they do better by orders of magnitude. (5)

So what? Julie Lythcott-Haims gives us a very concrete action: make your kids do family chores.

It makes them aware that they’re part of a team (family) that depend on each other, lets them practice initiative (looking around to see what needs to do next without being constantly told), and prepares them to be independent adults. The kind that can do their own laundry and change the tire on their own damn car. Self-confidence based on lived experience. (6)(7)

Here’s another perspective: think of the mental load a leader (parent, spouse) already has in their role as a leader. Most people get punished promoted for doing good work by getting more work.

If, on top of being competent at their own job/role/duties/chores, keeping their word, creating a vision for the future, and inspiring others, they also have to direct and coordinate action on a day-to-day or even hour-by-hour basis, then they’re not going to do the other stuff very well. (8)

What does this mean to adult leaders leading adults?

  • Hire people that know how to do their own chores. Maybe they didn’t graduate from the best schools with the best grades, but you won’t have to supervise them every moment of every day. You are going to have to dig a little in the interview, but as a hiring manager that’s your job. It’s a learn-able skill. Also, it’ll make doing your so-called “real work” easier to do.
  • Learn to delegate. Very often we don’t get a choice about who works for us. So start giving away the work you shouldn’t be doing. Especially the organizing and planning of, or even better, the stuff you don’t like doing or aren’t very good at. It’ll suck at first (kind of like helping your kids do their homework without actually doing it for them), but it’s worth it.
  • Care: You can’t fake sincerity. So you’re going to have to actually care about people, ask questions, and listen. And you’re going to have to do it before you need it. That means spending time getting to know them, building the relationship, learning what motivates them and what they care about.
  • Train. Train your people. It’s a great way to show you care. But what if you train them and maybe they leave for a better job? What if you don’t train them and they stay?

(1) Choudn’t find the reference, but if you know it shoot it my way? Thanks.

(2) Of course it was an Non-Commissioned Officer (Sergeant & the like), because the best ones have a way of digging gems out of mountains of bullshit.

(3) The closest I’d come until now was “The Leadership Challenge”, which is still an important, original work. I’ll distill it here for you here if you don’t have time to read all 500+ pages: a) keep your word, b) be competent, c) have an idea of where you want to go, and d) share that vision to inspire others.

(4) Professional militaries have recognized this for a while. The U.S. Army Manual of Leadership defines leadership as “providing purpose, direction, and motivation” where motivation depends on trust, relationships, and influence.

The purpose and direction here echo what The Leadership Challenge calls vision and inspiration. The manual goes on to say: “Accomplishing the current mission is not enough—the leader is responsible for developing individuals and improving the organization for the near and long-term.”

(5) Just for giggles I did an online version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, widely considered a test of empathy. I didn’t think I’d score in the top percentile, but I didn’t even get close. That hurt a little. Women in general do better than men on this test, by the way.

(6) Otherwise there wouldn’t be books with titles like “Things Your Parents Should Have Taught You”.

(7) Also stop doing their homework, you’re not doing them any favours. In fact you’re creating an adult that is useless without someone telling them what to do next every minute of the day. If you really care, and you have to, sit down with them and make the work through it out by themselves.

Yes, painful for you too, not just them, but it’s setting the example: you are willing to actually spend your precious time on this because it’s important. Not just because you said it’s important. It’s left for an exercise to the reader about how this translates directly into being a good leader of adults.

(8) If you want to be a better parent, partner, and husband: it’s not enough to “do your share” of the chores, start doing them without being asked. Better yet, take over some of the planning and organizing. That’s an even better example you could be setting for your kids. Yes, I’m especially talking the men here. Again, it’s left as an exercise to the reader about how this translates into being a good leader.

Get Them as Spurred as Angry Birds

Why are online games so addictive? And what can we learn about motivating people from them?

Here’s why all jobs should mimic angry birds

The Golden Circle

One of my favourite business video, by Simon Sinek – “Start with Why”. This truth is applicable to sales, marketing, persuasion, vision, brand, and leadership. It’s what drive behaviour, and where decisions come from.

In my humble opinion, if I may add to what Simon says, if you can figure out your “why”, everything is easier. If you can’t explain your “why” to your grandmother or your eight-year-old, then you probably don’t really understand it.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

 

They’re Not Going To Stop Looking At Their Phones

If you’re hiring, sooner or later your going to hire somebody from a different generation. You need to understand what motivates them.

4 Truths About Managing Younger Workers

Creating a Workplace to Thrive In

Peter Economy (yes, cool name for a business writer) describes a seven ways to create an extraordinary workplace. I totally agree with expressing gratitude, and the “frequency over size” idea is also great.

You could apply that one to measuring progress towards goals, giving feedback, and many other leadership activities.

Can You See It? – Setting Goals That Get Done #2

Child pulling down grandfather's hat
If you can see it, you can do it

Part Two of  Series that begins with Setting Your Intent (and Deciding What You’re Not Going To Do)

Visualize Your Goal

The part of your brain that makes decisions and drives all human behaviour has no capacity for language. So, if you want to motivate somebody, including yourself, you could literally draw a picture. Tell a story. Use concrete language. Have a tangible outcome.

Use all your senses. Imagine success. See, hear, feel, taste, and touch it, as if it is real to us already. When we know what success looks like, our brains starts filling in what we need to do to get there. Athletes have used mental rehearsal for years, and the performance improvement they get from visualization is almost as great as actually physically practicing.

This is where setting SMART goals get it right, mostly. The “S” in SMART stands for specific. But you can set very specific but intangible goals. Like (and I wish I was making this up, but I hear this all the time when coaching executive teams) “Increase EBITDA by 10%”.

Would everybody in a company be able to get excited about this? Would they even understood what it means? It’s certainly specific enough, but it doesn’t say anything about the why or the how, which are also important.

Here’s a personal example. When I was trying to quit smoking for the 99th time, what finally got me over the motivation barrier was imagining going for a hike in the Rockie Mountains with my grand-children. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but I a) wanted to be around if and when they do show up, and 2) wanted to be able to carry them, not an oxygen tank. I can see the picture in my head. I can even show you on the map which trails I’d like to take them on first.

So if your have to set a financial goal, perhaps describe what the money you hope to earn will allow you to do, instead of just imagining the money. Maybe don’t get trapped by being specific about the amount of profit (or growth, or weight you’re going to lose). Instead fixate on what the specific outcome will allow you to do.

If you can draw a picture or describe the outcome to somebody else in a concrete way, then you’re there.

Next: Imagine the Milestones

Stop Motivating Me…

Start with values, meaning, and a higher purpose first. Link what I’m doing to that. The rest will follow.

Message to my Manager: Stop Trying to Motivate Me

The Beauty of Our Humanity – Ten Things I Know to Be True #11

When I came to New York city, and saw the iconic skyline, I made the off-handed remark that it didn’t seem to me to be any bigger than my hometown downtown of Calgary.
Since then I’ve learned how wrong I was.We’ve spend five days exploring Manhattan Island, and we haven’t made it past Midtown yet. New York isn’t a city, it’s a collection of cities, all jammed up against each other. And then last night we popped out for the subway down the street from *the* most famous jazz club in the world, the Blue Note. And I had the privilege of watching three musicians who made me literally cry for joy.
Tonight I learned that we human beings connect with more than words or noise. I watch three people connect on  a level so deep and profounditseemedtometo be a religious experience. They used music but also sight, being seen, body language, and facial expressions. They used trust, experience, and focus to create something transcendent. They expressed joy, friendship, and love with every movement, glance, and smile.

I understood why “evolution” seems such a weak word. A coughing, sickly word without energy or mass, without the emotional weight needed to inspire. That such a deep connection, unity, intimacy,  “couldn’t” (but did) happen by natural selection. That we have no sense of the deep time, age, scope, and scale of the universe, nor do we realize the rarity and beauty of our place in it.

This misunderstanding is our arrogance on display. The expression of connection and intimacy I witnessed last night, that is our beauty.

Future-Oriented Feedback

Look forward, not backwards
Look forward, not backwards

The point of giving feedback is to encourage the behaviour you want to see repeated, or something you’d like change in the future. Try not to dwell on the past.

Especially when giving corrective feedback. Unless you’re just trying to make somebody feel bad.  Otherwise ask them what can be learned, and what they’d do differently next time. Staying future focused gives them a much better chance of doing things differently next time, rather than thinking about and then repeating their past mistakes. 

And if you have to give corrective feedback, let them come up with the solution / correction / change. It’s much more powerful if they own it, even if it isn’t exactly what you’d do in the same situation. Even if you think their solution is less effective than yours. Their poor solution enthusiastically implemented is better than your better solution dictated

Start With the “Why?”

You must inspire people to drive business executionDan Pink argues that three surprising things motivate people: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. In business execution, I argue, you need to start with the purpose.

That’s what I wrote for this month’s article at RESULTS.com – You must inspire people to drive business execution. Check it out and let me know what you think?

Question for the Comments:
What is your purpose for working or running a business, beside just making money? How do you inspire people?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Why Are You Hiding Your Values
Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild
What Do You Want to Be the Leader Of?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com