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.

Don’t Piss Off the Quartermaster

crew_quartermaster_coins

“There are two people in the unit you never want to piss off: the quartermaster and the pay-clerk. No beans, no bullets, and no cash for the bar.” — Sergeant B. L.

This can also be told as: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, isn’t nice.” I’ve heard told as dating advice in that context, but it also has a leadership application.

The so-called “little people” have power. Yes, I’ve heard them called that, and it made me wonder what kind of person they are. The bottom line is that you depend on everybody on your team to get the the job done. If people who work with or for you perceive a sense of entitlement, privilege, or power over will do two things for you:

  • You’ll have people working with or for you that don’t have anywhere else to go, so they have to put up with your shit. If you treat people poorly, you’ll have poor staff.
  • You’ll get your coffee spit in, if you can get a coffee. Or your project will get sabotaged, you’ll only get what you can force out of people. If that’s your jam then go ahead. Personally I don’ t have the energy to lead that way.

If your boss / client / supplier / peer has an executive administrator, then I strongly invite you to nurture an authentic relationship with them. He or she is your boss’s gatekeeper. He can make your job much harder if you give him reason to. Like, for example, mocking him for being a guy secretary.

Things you might want to consider when interacting with any administrator:

  • Respect their desk and supplies. Don’t borrow their stapler without asking. It’s their desk, treat it with the respect you would for anybody else’s. Their office supplies are not public property. Do you go through your boss’s desk looking for a three-hole punch? No? Don’t do it to her admin either.
  • Respect their personal space. Don’t lean on their desk and tower over them. At best it’s an obnoxious power play. That’s how they’ll perceive it, even if that wasn’t your intention. Remember that communication is what the listener does: if somebody thinks you’re being creepy, it’s because you’re doing something creepy.
  • Look them in the eye, not at their cleavage. This one is so obvious, but there are still men who do this. Yes, they can tell. Even when you think they’re not looking. If you’re lucky they’re just laughing at you behind your back because you think they can’t tell.
  • Be nice to them all the time, not only when you need something from them. You know when people are sucking up to you just because they need something from you. That means other people can tell when you’re doing it to them.
  • The best and fastest way to build a relationship with somebody is to learn their name. If it’s your first day, learn the boss’s secretary’s name, and as many of the other administrators as you can.
  • Be nice to all of them. They talk to each other. I’m not condoning gossip here but they do compare notes. Who’s good to work for, who isn’t, who’s an asshole. If you’re polite to one and not the other, you’re not polite.

Your boss’s administrator has tremendous influence. A good receptionist/administrator is worth their weight in gold. Treat them with respect and that’s what you’ll get in return.

Five Skills You Need To Be an Effective Manager

Good advice from Ian Beacon on “4 Steps to Effective Performance Management“. I’ve added one.

  • Manage your own work-flow, including knowing how you add value to your organization. I recommend (in ascending order of depth and effectiveness) “Eat That Frog” by Brian Tracy, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
  • Manage the performance of your team, including setting the vision of your organization (or interpreting it for your team), setting your own and other’s goals, and regularly spending one-on-one time with all of your direct reports
  • Identify, reward, and learn from your top performers – figure out what they’re doing that is so successful, duplicate them, and promote them. And no, the difference between a 3% and a 4.5% raise doesn’t cut it
  • Address and resolve poor performance – yes, this is hard. If you can’t learn how to do this then stop fooling yourself and stop being a manager. You’re certainly not fooling anybody else. Remember that the lowest performing member of your team is setting the standard for performance for the rest of your team. Scary when you think about it that way, isn’t it?
  • Encourage continual feedback – also known as open and honest (but not derogatory) communication. See the previous bullet.

The Richest Man In Asia Wants You To Know This

 In summary: relationships are important, learning is important, have a plan, be disciplined, learn to sell. Worth the (short) read:

5 Things the Richest Man in Asia Wants You to Know

On Being Nice to the Waiter (and Everybody Else) (All the Time)

pork and beansThere’s a saying that “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, isn’t nice.”

My first sergeant said it differently: “There are two people in the squadron you never want to piss off: the quartermaster and the pay-clerk. No beans, no bullets, and no way to pay your bar tab.”

That man had his priorities straight. 

He had a point: everybody is important. Everybody can and will contribute the company’s (squadron’s) success. We all depend on each other. We can’t do everything ourselves, so corporations (teams, squadrons) organize by task and specialities. With that comes the need to cooperate, collaborate, and communicate.

I’ve actually heard executives call employees in their company “little people”. Why is beyond me. Everybody on the payroll should add value to the company, and it should be clear how they do it. If they don’t it’s because the same executives haven’t designed their own organization properly.

It’s the “little people”, if you say hello to them in the hallway (better yet learn his or her name) who will let you into the building when you forget your swipe card, who will find a coffee for your client after hours, or who will help you get home when you’ve lost your wallet.

This happened to my father (losing his wallet) on his first business trip to Western Canada. No identification, no credit cards or gas money. It was the front desk clerk, whom he’d been pleasant to when he checked in, who helped him get home. Nice guys don’t finish last. They get things done because they’re nice.

They get things done when things go wrong because they’re always nice.

Laptops in Meetings? No. Just No.

When I see a laptop in a meeting I assume you’re cruising for porn.

Okay, that’s little extreme. I know you’re probably not cruising for porn, but I think it. You’re probably doing email, or writing a report, or something half-assed productive, maybe. But you’re not paying attention to the meeting. And that pisses me off.

If you’re not contributing to the meeting and not paying attention, then you’re wasting  your, my, and the organization’s time. And the time of everybody else in the meeting. Because we have to go back and repeat things just for you when you should have paid attention.

Your message to everybody in the meeting is “I have to be here, but I have more important things to do. So f*** all of you, I’m going to do the more important stuff in front of you now.” And that’s the generous interpretation that assumes you’re doing something work-related. Probably because you can’t manage your time well enough to get it done before the deadline.

So, to summarize, when you bring a lap-top to a meeting, and you’re not the assigned scribe or doing real-time research in support of the meeting, then I’m going to assume one or more of the following:

  • You can’t get your work done in the allotted time
  • You don’t respect me or the people who you’re meeting with
  • You think this meeting is a waste of your time (which may be true, so then why are you there?)
  • You waste company resources – your salary – by showing up to company meeting and not contributing anything because you’re too busy playing on your machine
  • The work you’re doing is of inferior quality (I believe multi-tasking is evil, but that’s a separate topic)

Please don’t do it. If other people in the room don’t think you’re listening, you’re not. You’re just damaging your relationships with them.

Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business. 

One Email Outta Do It

Fourth in a series about communication and change management.

http://flic.kr/p/diquZA
Face to face communication is always best

I love email. It’s fast, it’s easy, its’ cheap. It also provides us a record of what was said. Sometimes it’s important to have a record.  Also I don’t have to ask people how their day’s going, or remember their kids kids’ names. But maybe that’s just me.

So what’s the problem with email? Words themselves make up only as much as 40% and maybe as little as 7% of communication. Words themselves are only a small part of what’s being communicated. So for trivial or strictly objective communication (“Where are we having lunch?”, “Please send me the numbers for the third quarter.”) email works just fine. After that, the chance of mis-communication goes up.

The more complicated the message, the greater the chance for mis-communication. The more emotionally laden the communication (“I think you have an attitude problem.”) the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding. The more people involved, or the less time people have worked together, the greater the opportunity for misinterpretation. Add all those together and the chance of added drama, resentment, and wasted effort is almost certain.

My experience, both as a manager and as a facilitator, is that mis-communication is really easy. You have to work really hard to *not* mis-communicate. Yet we often choose on one of the worst ways to talk to others about complicated, potentially emotional issues with people we don’t really know that well – email.

Fix #4  Talk to a Human

Talk face-to-face. Wash , rinse, repeat.

Mark Hortsman has an amusing saying (I paraphrase): “I’m glad to hear you want to work with people. All the jobs with trees and dogs are taken.” As managers and leaders we manage and lead people, not email. If our jobs were to manage email I wouldn’t have to write this blog post.

Keeping a record isn’t going to engage and influence people to change behaviour or create enthusiasm. Repeated human interaction, building relationships and trust, is the only thing that does.

Phone calls are better than emails for engaging human beings. Video-conferences better than phone calls. In person meetings better than video-conferences. One-on-one, face-to-face meetings are better still. Regular, repeated contact.

If you need a record of agreement, write it afterwards. First pick up the phone, walk down the hall, learn to speak publicly. Tell stories, have a vision, be passionate. Email is efficient  but it’s ineffective. If you’re a manager of human beings, learn to manage human beings. If you’re a manager of trees or dogs, carry on.

Predicting Success

Predicting Success

Predictor of business execution success

Check out my latest article for RESULTS.com “Predictors of Business Execution Success”. It’s a gooder.

Focused Feedback

https://secure.flickr.com/photos/mikeriela/7611385110/
Focused Feedback: Timely and Specific

Some of us have met, or even worked for, the boss that thinks they’re great at giving feedback. The particular self-delusion I’m thinking of is the “Hey, great job” variety, perhaps even accompanied by a pointing / clicking gesture.

This kind of generic, blanket praise is nice, but also totally ineffective. Effective feedback needs to be focused.

By focused I mean actionable and timely. Tell them exactly what behaviour is good (or bad) so they now exactly what to repeat (or change), as soon as possible. Feedback is useless if the target of your feedback doesn’t know what to do with it. A general “good job – keep it up” is meaningless unless it’s tied to a recent, repeatable action.

For example: “Scott, you did a great job getting all those videos recorded before the start of the conference. Having that is going to make the conference so much better.”

Another Quick Way to Improve Your Leadership Skills

Pay attention.

Like, all the time. At least when other people are in the room. Put away the phone, the laptop, stop tapping your gosh darn pencil. It’s just freaking annoying. Look at the person who’s talking. Better yet, turn you’re entire body to face them, like somebody’s who’s actually interested would do. Maybe take some notes.

It’ll make you look like a great communicator. It’ll also build the relationships you’ll need to persuade and influence people when you need it. Like leaders do.