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More Thoughts on Leadership

July 27th, 2016 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

I’ve seen many definitions of leadership in the course of my career, but none so accurate as the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US president.

Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.

Simple, right?

But harder to implement.

Years ago, in a personal setting, I was acting like a prima donna when someone I respected turned a mirror to my behavior.

Not only did I think my behavior was despicable, but I also learned of the destructive power of ego.

My ego.

It was a wake-up call for me.

To counteract it in the future, I created a little mantra that I repeat to myself relatively often.

“Ego is the enemy that confuses what I want, and destroys what I create.”

Ego is THE enemy.

More dangerous than laziness, ignorance or stupidity.

More perfidious than cowardice or fear.

And, sadly, more common across society with every passing year.

 

Ducks in a Row: KG on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions

July 26th, 2016 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

A couple of days ago KG sent me a link to an article questioning previous research, which found that bosses asking questions engender positive reactions and asked me what I thought.

But a 2015 study suggests that there’s one glaring exception to that phenomenon. According to the findings, men in leadership positions wind up looking less competent when they ask for other people’s help.

As usual, I found KG’s thoughts well worth sharing. I include mine mainly to add clarity to the flow.

Me: With regards to the “clever experiments” I don’t think a bunch of MBA students, who are often all-knowing and judgmental, are a good guide to managing an age-diverse team.

KG: Possibly, but as I’ve remarked in the past, the general culture appreciates “strong” leadership. See Bush II or Trump as examples. Or Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.

Me: True, but leadership still plays out within each specific culture and doesn’t always travel well. Also, your examples are the top dogs; there are leaders at every level and I don’t believe it plays out the same.

KG: Within a culture, little dogs follow top dogs. If the top dog displays certain behaviors, then the little ones will follow suit — we’ve all seen this in organizations.

The issue is that if it is expected that leaders are more than other humans, then we have a false view of leadership.

It is good for stroking the egos of those who are in leadership positions, but it leaves them exposed and ignorant. It should be unnecessary to appear as a demigod to be an effective leader in any culture.

In certain situations a leader must cut through and make decisions, either with limited visibility or high risk. In addition, there are many situations (especially if the group is in crisis) that a dictatorial style may be necessary. These, however, should be limited both in time and scope, because if they are prolonged they will end up damaging collaboration and initiative.

The truly great leaders, both from history and present day business, are those who are good at asking questions and keep asking questions. Genghis Khan was known for his insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and he was also the most successful military commander in history.

In effect it is our laziness and fear that makes us want to create demigods — beings who know better, with more power and understanding.

We want them to tell us what to do, rather than having to think ourselves, because thinking takes work and research. It is simply easier to hand it over to someone else who “knows better.”

Having done so, we are surprised when our leaders are corrupt, their promises broken and our lives affected negatively.

Can we continue to absolve ourselves of responsibility? Isn’t a leader just another human being with the same levels of fallibility and constraints that any other?

Maybe they are in different areas, but I have yet to meet another human that is good at everything or sees everything.

And even if these people exist, they will still be constrained by their perspective, which is determined by their position in the organization, background, etc.

Only by humbly asking questions, and daring to do so, will a more complete picture emerge.

This is because everyone has a piece of the puzzle, and sometimes this has to be cajoled out.

This is the true art of leaders, because the great ones then make decisions with better information and achieve better results.

Golden Oldies: Entrepreneurs: Limitations

July 25th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

CEOs, their words, actions, and egos, have been fodder for academics, coaches, consultants, pundits, the media and numerous others for decades. I’ve never believed that stardom (at any level) travels well. I wrote this three years ago and since then I believe that egos have gotten bigger even faster than CEO skills have shrunk. Read other Golden Oldies here.

superheroIn a celebrity-driven culture and considering the hype around global startup salvation, you might start believing that founders are, indeed, some kind of superhero, different from the rest of us, and worthy of adoration.

But you would be wrong.

“Throughout history, narcissists have always emerged to inspire people and to shape the future. The ones who lead companies to greatness are those who can recognize their own limitations.” –Michael Maccoby (2000 Harvard Business Review article about the pros and cons of narcissistic leaders.)

A Fortune article, with heavy input from Zachary First, managing director of The Drucker Institute, does a good job kicking holes in the idea.

Star CEOs grow dangerous when they see their success as destiny, their place at the head of the pack as the only path possible, rendering all of their choices justified. The best leaders might enjoy the red carpet, that’s fine, as long as they understand that being the best fit for the CEO job is a relative status — relative to the needs of the rest of the people in an organization at a specific moment in time.

And fame, no matter how great it may feel, does not equal infallibility.

Steve Jobs is considered a star CEO, but it’s questionable whether he would be if he hadn’t brought in John Sculley, been dumped and then come back.

While it’s not good to believe you’re the smartest person in the room it is far worse to actually be the smartest.

There are many things you can do if you want to stay grounded; here are the basics.

  • Hire people who are smarter than yourself;
  • encourage feedback and don’t dismiss it;
  • listen and hear what you’d rather not;
  • build a culture with sans fear where the messenger is never killed; and
  • don’t believe your own hype or drink your own Kool-aid.

And above all, stay aware.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for KG’s take on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions.

Flickr image credit: Cory Doctorow

If the Shoe Fits: How Old is an Entrepreneur?

July 22nd, 2016 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

Age is more a mental state than a physical one.

I’ve always said that smart people say/do stupid things and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is proof of that.

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” said, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

The problem is that the data the tech world is so enamored with doesn’t back that up.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher, worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.

The term “high growth” is key. 2010′s top two fastest-growing tech startups, according to Forbes, were First Solar, founded by a 68-year old, followed by Riverbed Technology, co-founded by entrepreneurs who were 51 and 33 at the time.

He should also inform the Merage Institute, which awards $100K to the top startup by a 45+-year-old founder (more runner-ups at the link).

  • In 2016 it was iSilla – Movement for people with disabilities
  • 2nd Prize –  SonicBone – Bone Age – Ultrasound Device for Bone Age assessment
  • 3rd Prize – Inensto – Aluminum Air Battery

In 2015 they were:

  • 1st Prize – NiNiSpeech
  • 2nd Prize – A new Hydrogen Energy Storage
  • 3rd Prize – Glasses for AMD Macular Degeneration

Brian Acton was 37 when he founded WhatsApp.

Notice that all of them solve a real problem — a problem of which they wouldn’t be aware if they hadn’t faced it directly or indirectly themselves.

Which meant they had real world experience.

Even Mark Zukerberg had real world experience; he wanted an easy way to engage and keep up with his friends. Remember, Facebook was originally started for college kids.

The reason Khosla is so far off base, is that an entrepreneur can only disrupt that with which she is familiar enough to figure out a better way or see a hole and fill it.

Hence young males created Tinder and its clones to hookup and Match and its clones for something more permanent.

If you look at socially oriented startups, many of their founders, both young and old, saw the need first hand, while volunteering and/or traveling, came home and created a solution that answered that need.

It’s not a matter of age.

It’s a matter of three things

  1. See the need/experience the want/desire what isn’t
  2. Think of a way to solve/provide it
  3. Possess the drive, tenaciousness, guts and slight insanity required to turn an idea into a reality and a reality into a company

And those three things can happen to anyone at any age.

My thanks to KG for reminding me of how important it is to help smash these myths.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Miki’s Rules to Live by: A Quick Reminder

July 20th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

You may find this surprising, but the phones you texted to arrange getting together for dinner are not sentient.

In reality, they are the property of sentient beings whose face2face company you enjoy (or did at one time).

Since you planned a meal with them, I’ll assume you still do and suggest you follow the advice below.

no wifi 46716

Buon appetito or, if you prefer, bon apetite.

Image credit: Anonymous email

Ducks in a Row: SAP’s Smart Hiring

July 19th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/treehouse1977/4664642792/

Some companies look spend millions in recruiter fees and poaching candidates from their competitors; others are more creative.

Those in the second category are open to staffing solutions far outside the box — even the standard race/creed/color/gender/national origin diversity box.

It’s called neurodiversity — those with some kind of cognitive disabilities, such as people with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What do you do when you have highly repetitious work that also requires a high degree of intelligence — like software testing?

That is actually a viable description of people with ASD.

Of course, that means hiring people who, for most people, aren’t the most comfortable to be around.

Roughly 60 percent of people with ASD have average or above average intelligence, yet 85 percent are unemployed.

For smart companies, such as SAP, that group is a goldmine of talent and five years ago it set a goal to have 1% of their workforce comprised of individuals with ASD.

Hiring people with ASD isn’t about charity or financial exploitation; it’s about gaining a competitive advantage and partnering with Specialisterne goes a long way to providing the right program.

So far (as of 2013) about 100 people have been hired [by SAP] for jobs including software developer or tester, business analyst, and graphic designer, and pay is commensurate to what others in those jobs earn.

SAP use an analogy that individuals are like puzzle pieces with irregular shapes.

“One of the things that we’ve done historically in human resource management is, we’ve asked people to trim away the parts of themselves that are irregularly shaped, and then we ask them to plug themselves into standard roles,” says Robert Austin, Professor of Information Systems, Ivey Business School. “SAP is asking itself whether that might be the wrong way to do things in an innovation economy. Instead, maybe managers have to do the hard work of putting the puzzle pieces together and inviting people to bring their entire selves to work.”

That approach can benefit other forms of diversity like race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“Innovation is about finding ideas that are outside the normal parameters, and you don’t do that by slicing away everything that’s outside the normal parameters. Maybe it’s the parts of people we ask them to leave at home that are the most likely to produce the big innovations.”

Read the article and then decide what’s best for your organization.

Good bosses won’t have a problem with the approach; the rest will whine and resist.

Flickr image credit: Jim Champion

Golden Oldies: Ducks in a Row: The Seeds You Plant

July 18th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

This one reminds us that there are as many cultures as there are bosses/managers/supervisors/team leaders in the company. All existing, for better or worse, under the umbrella of the company’s official culture. Read other Golden Oldies here

“That culture is like the air we breathe or the water that fish swim in. It has the potential, for better or worse, to affect everybody in the same way.” –Dr. Linda H. Pololi, a senior scientist at Brandeis University

http://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/2544951056/Dr. Pololi was talking about the culture in academic medicine negatively affecting men as well as women, although the women’s situation has a higher profile.

While the information in the article is interesting, as well as unexpected in part, it’s her comment at the end on which I want to focus.

As a manager you set the culture of your own group; it may closely resemble your company’s culture or may be wildly divergent.

The divergence is not always a bad thing—many managers have created great cultures in the midst of toxic ones.

By the same token, toxic mini cultures have been propagated within good company cultures by managers who believe that approach is the best way to manage.

Companies are much like gardens and the cultures within its main culture are what grow therein.

If you equate good culture to flowers and bad culture to weeds the problem becomes obvious.

Flowers are fragile and require more thought, attention and cultivation for them to spread.

However, with no effort on the part of the gardener, weeds spread quickly and if ignored will take over the garden.

There is an anonymous poem that I do my best to emulate throughout my life,

Your mind is a garden,
Your thoughts are the seeds,
You can grow flowers or
You can grow weeds.

With a bit of tweaking you can use it for your company,

Your company is a garden,
Your cultures are seeds,
You can grow flowers or
You can grow weeds.

It’s always a choice, but this choice will affect your employees, customers, vendors and investors.

Be sure to choose consciously, wisely and well.

Flickr image credit: William Murphy

If the Shoe Fits: a Question for Founders

July 15th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mActually, it’s not just a question for founders, but for everybody.

1800 years ago the Babylonian Talmud quoted a favorite saying of the sage Ben Zoma.

“Who is wise?
One who learns from everyone.”

Which brings us to the question: How wise are you?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: How NOT to Close a Company

July 14th, 2016 by Miki Saxon

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/11/17/baverman/18965353/

Move Loot’s co-founders

Last month Zach Ware, managing partner of VTF Capital and founder of Shift, talked about the right and wrong way to close a company.

“There is absolutely no reason for a company to shut down overnight. That’s a result of a selfish set of decisions a founder made.”

Obviously, the founders of Move Loot weren’t listening.

They not only shafted their people,

The mood at the all-hands meeting was tense, and employees asked management to give them the heads up if things were going badly. They were told that the cuts were the move they needed, the person said of the meeting. “Three weeks later is when the hammer dropped on everyone else,” they said.

They shafted their customers

Customers have accused Move Loot on Twitter of taking their money and failing to deliver items. Other sellers remain frustrated that the marketplace closed with no warning, leaving them in a lurch when trying to move out. The phone number that it had given out on Twitter for customer support now has a voicemail saying that phone support is no longer available.

As for their investors, I have no sympathy for them. Who gives four kids, with little-to-none business, let alone operational, experience combined, $22 million dollars with no built in accountability?

Founders owe it to all their stakeholders to be responsible.

If you recall, the three most successful startups in the world, Apple, Google and Facebook, all brought in seasoned management talent in order to give the founders time to gather experience and learn.

Contrary to Silicon Valley’s attitude, running a company takes skill; it isn’t learned from a book, but from experience, as opposed to throwing it at the wall to see what sticks.

Or in Valley lingo, ‘move fast and break things’.

But, as some ex employees point out,

 “At some point you realize how expensive it is if you break things every day. There has to be a little discipline.”

Of course, that would involve not only taking responsibility, but acting responsibly, too.

I heard a great line on a Bones rerun.

There’s a major difference between an entrepreneur and a con artist: an entrepreneur believes in the dreams he’s selling.

But then, so do pathological liars.

Image credit: Move Loot (via USA Today)

Should Electric Cars Make Noise?

July 13th, 2016 by Matt Weeks

Matt posted a hair-raising lesson on LinkedIn about electric cars, distraction and gratitude. He wanted to share it here, also.

matthew weeksThis is a gratitude post. No fancy photos and no clever links. Just a shout-out to the universe for allowing me to be around and complain.
I have friends with cancer. I have relatives with dementia, heart disease, mood disorders, I have people in my life with serious injuries to recover from, life disasters, and more. So I don’t have much to complain about that rises to the level of those “legit” complaints.

Today I got a kind of a wake-up call at lunch. I was hit by a car.

While walking. I was coming back from lunch, crossing the street with the light, in the crosswalk. And for some reason my phone was in my pocket— an unusual thing when I’m taking a break or walk during the day. So I had all my wits about me and was presumably paying attention. I was in my suit (I wear suits at client sites, which are typically hospital systems, clinic systems or other large healthcare organizations), and was walking leisurely, not too fast. It was a warm day and who wants to sweat in a nice suit, right?

A gentleman was in an electric car. First alert—people, electric cars make no noise. So you have no warning in your blind spot as a pedestrian or bike rider. A cute little BMW i3 I think. Kind of like one of those tiny smart cars. Same shape, flat short hood. He was on his phone texting or otherwise looking at the screen. His light was red. Mine- green with the white “walk” sign just starting to count down. He swung around and zipped right into the crosswalk to make his right turn… into me. He never saw me until I was on his hood. I was two steps off the curb. I never thought to look again over my left shoulder. I had the light. There were about four or five others ten feet in front of me in the crosswalk, and if he had come 10 seconds earlier he would have hit that bunch of people, including an elderly woman and someone with a dog on a leash. The dog would have been roadkill for sure. I don’t want to think about the slow-moving elderly woman.

Why do I write this? To say “I’m grateful to be alive and grateful to have all of you in my life.” And also to say that my complaints don’t add up to a hill of beans compared to the others with real issues including the big C, and all the rest. Working lately in healthcare has given me great new perspective about how precious good health is. We take it for granted. We think we are immune from the statistics.

As a society, we live careless lives, are overweight, out of shape, putting toxins in our bodies. We think we are unaccountable for the way we treat our bodies. We think we are invincible, or we are just lazy about it. We walk around with our noses in cell phones indoors and out. We don’t notice our surroundings, much less appreciate them. Things like a gorgeous sunset. We’re too busy flipping posts in Facebook and Instagram and SnapChat and Pinterest and email. Liking a post. Making a post. Reading drivel. Is this drivel? Perhaps.

If you want a reality check go work at a healthcare company or volunteer at a hospital or clinic system. That’s where the people with legit complaints are. And they can’t just “solve” them.

Funny thing about this accident. 40-some odd years ago I ended up on the hood of a very nice woman in Palo Alto. I was riding my bike and had headphones on (not unlike many bike riders-especially commuters- today). She did not see me and as she exited a driveway without looking both ways, I ended up on the hood. I thought for sure she would pause and look both ways. Bad bet. She was distracted and was looking elsewhere. In a hurry. Luckily I was a bit more agile than I am today, and a lot more durable, and kind of bounced off and slid to the other side of the car, like a stunt man in a cop movie. She was more terrorized than I was. I was probably too young and stupid to understand what had almost happened.

Fast forward to today. Not as young, not as durable (probably only a bit less stupid) I looked to my left just in time to see this little car with the driver just looking up with a terrorized expression and no time to slam on the brakes in time. I was able to jump up and get just enough elevation to put my butt on the hood and break the force of the impact with my arm on the upper part of the hood.

The good news is that these cars are made of thin aluminum and it crushes like tinfoil on impact. So I left two nice big dents on the hood, kind of bounced off and ended up staggering away. I think my wallet took the blow instead of my hip or rear end. Thank you VISA and MasterCard. “Priceless” padding. :) I was in one of those adrenaline induced states where I was more worried about falling on the pavement and ripping my suit. My coffee was gone. No way to save that. I looked at the coffee spot on the concrete and had this terrible vision of what if that was blood. The mind does weird things.

After gathering myself and determining I was a) still alive and b) in one piece and c) okay enough to be mad but shocked enough to be happy to be in one piece, I was asked for my insurance information…. apparently mister wonderful was going to try to make a claim. There were about three people left around us, asking if we should call 911 and at that point someone made the point that they saw him run the red, looking at his phone and that he hit me in the x-walk. I declined to give my info and allowed as how I was walking back INTO a healthcare clinic and that he should be happy that I was not more banged-up and asking for treatment. I just wanted to get back to normalcy. Probably still in shock.

He took off, I came back to the office and sat down to assess how lucky my life is, to be able to complain about distracted drivers. And to be walking around to talk about it. And to warn my friends and family about electric cars at intersections… you can’t hear or see them coming when they zip around corners.

On a bike I guess I would have been more vigilant, but as a pedestrian I had this kind of invincible feeling of being protected walking with the light and the “Walk” sign inside the crosswalk. That’s not so. Be vigilant. And thank you Sensei Mirko and Senpais David and Jessica and friends for the recent agility work in jumping and spinning this week that probably got my body primed to jump up and turn around to break the impact. Not Kevin Durant elevation but just enough to get up over the bumper and onto the hood with my rear end and upper body. Note to self— practice jumping more. And look both ways twice at busy intersections.

My daughter is learning how to drive this year. I am her teacher. This is a great example of what distracted driving can do. I am not 100% guilt free in that department. I’m taking the pledge to stay off of phones 100% while driving except for bluetooth and headsets in one ear. Just too much at stake and just so many times to dodge the bullet. And maybe the Universe was sending me a reminder message today.

And to my friends with legit concerns… prayers to you that you come out of your battles and win the war. We’re only here the better part of 100 years give or take. It’s not fair what’s happening to you.

And now I’m leaving the office and driving out to watch the sunset. :)
No Instagram post. Just taking it in and enjoying it. I’ve posted my share of pretty sunsets. This one is just to look at. I encourage you to do the same, to honor our friends and family that have bigger problems than the rest of us. We can all enjoy the same sunset in sync from wherever we are. No Instagram/snapchat needed. We are the lucky ones. ‪#‎gratitude

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