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Archive for October, 2007

Shift happens when a group leads

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

I read a fascinating article on the globalization of Sex and the City (oops, never watched it), i.e., single young females, better known as SYFs, who’ve become a powerful, global demographic in their own right.

…Carrie may still see New York as a spiritual home. But today you can find her in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you’ll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships.

As a friend of mine would say, “Who would have thunk it?”

Ignoring the many issues raised in the article, what fascinates me is Carrie Bradshaw as a leader, not of a new trend, but of a full-scale, global cultural revolution—and doing it in four inch Manolo Blahniks.

Three underlying factors came together to make it happen and in a peanut shell they are increased education/compensation, preferred urbanization and postponed fertilization. In other words, SYFs are better educated and earn more, choose to live in cities, and are having children later if at all.

By the late 1990s, the SYF lifestyle was fully globalized. Indeed, you might think of SYFs as a sociological Starbucks: no matter how exotic the location, there they are, looking and behaving just like the American prototype.

SYFs have ignited what The Economist calls the “Bridget Jones economy”—named, of course, after the book and movie heroine who is perhaps the most famous SYF of all.

The New Girl Order means…means the possibility of more varied lives, of more expansively nourished aspirations. It also means a richer world. SYFs bring ambition, energy, and innovation to the economy, both local and global; they simultaneously promote and enjoy what author Brink Lindsey calls “the age of abundance.” The SYF, in sum, represents a dramatic advance in personal freedom and wealth.

So if SYFs are a sociological Starbucks, does that mean we’ll be seeing books replicating SYF leadership moves?

Happy Halloween, party hardy, and enjoy the SYFers—whether as a participant or as spectator sport—it’s always interesting to have a truly visible cultural phenomenon to wallow or follow.

What leaders DO: Visions of culture dance in their heads

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

One of the toughest things that anybody attempts is to articulate deep felt beliefs in a way that is comprehensible to the outside world.This is especially true when creating a cultural mission statement that can act as a guide for your people when you’re not around.

You want a simple, one-page description of your culture and values, not just for your employees, although each of them needs a copy, but also for every candidate so that they can understand the company before they join.

I could go on and on about how to do it, but I’d prefer to give you a real life example from a client.

KG Charles-Harris is your typical entrepreneurial over-achiever—a father with two young children, CEO of Emanio Inc, a startup in the world of EDI, founder of M3, a non-profit whose focus is to create habits of success in young, black boys—who isn’t part of today’s world of greed and ego and has thought deeply about the kind of company he wants to build.

EMANIO Culture & Values

EMANIO’s philosophy is one of CARE. The basic principle is that any organization – our own, customers or partners – are comprised of individuals. Care for the individual is central to our success. We value collaboration and an open flow of information, cherish good ideas, and strive for quality. Built from a strong focus on individual productivity, our people are self-starters that take great pride in their work and understand how their personal efforts contribute directly to the success of the company as a whole. For a small company, we are tremendously international with people interacting on a daily basis with persons of different cultural, racial and philosophical backgrounds. Acceptance, tolerance and understanding are qualities that are necessary to excel in this environment.

We believe that:

  • We exist in a competitive environment. Only through competing better than others in our market will we create a stable, growing company with a good work environment.
  • We exist to profitably create the best products for our customers. The best product is the one that best addresses their perceived needs, enables them to accomplish their goals and for which they are willing to pay.
  • We function best as an organization when our goals are clearly defined and all activities and results are measured against these.
  • Our employees invest in EMANIO achieving its objectives and we expect our managers to nurture this attitude. Managers are accessible and provide all the information needed for their employees to understand the company, industry and how to perform their work as efficiently and effectively as possible. We foster and work with our employees to help them grow and achieve both personal and career goals.
  • EMANIO has no time or tolerance for “the blame game” or for “killing the messenger.” We recognize that mistakes may happen, but that the real damage is that of covering them up, since this prevents learning and corrective measures. When our people make mistakes it means they are trying and it is management’s responsibility to help them analyze what went wrong and ensure that it is corrected. This is true at every level of the company.
  • EMANIO has no time or tolerance for politics. We believe that control is the primary source of political power in an organization and that there are only two things worth controlling—information and money. Our money is constructively controlled by budgets. But information is the lifeblood of our organization. Therefore, anyone trying to curb or control the flow of information will be viewed as being obstructively political and in violation of EMANIO’s culture.

One caveat—this can’t be faked. Your people are smart, they’ll know if you, yourself, live by the values you talk about or not. If not, you can count on two things—high turnover and a reputation for hypocrisy.

Corporate culture and social media

Monday, October 29th, 2007

I ran into Len Devanna’s blog today and it had some interesting insight on introducing social media into corporate culture. He quotes Bob Lord, President of AARF, who cites four basics,

Experiment – Just try it. There’s no penalty if you don’t hit perfection on the first try. This is new ground. If you’re trying to break into the enterprise with social media – you’re a pioneer – period. There’s no play book, yet.

Simple – Don’t over complicate things out of the gate… There’s plenty of time for that later. Start small, build an initial offering, perhaps providing the raw basics, and let it evolve.

Be Global – Not in the geographic sense, but rather organizationally. Don’t work in a silo – reach out across groups, find partners to help participate and evangelize your effort.

Social – Be sure to tap into the social network itself… Shape the culture through the voice of the community. It’s what it’s all about.

Excellent concepts, but just as retail stores’ policies are designed to prevent shoplifting by a few, but when implemented negatively impact the majority of honest shoppers, so do HR and legal departments look on the sharing innate in social media with fear and loathing.

This is nothing new, one or the other or these groups are often at the bottom of information control attitudes (especially legal). They want the company to run on a strict need-to-know basis, yet still expect employees to be interested, motivated and vest their future with the company. But it doesn’t work that way. While we are seeing more enlightened HR, legal doesn’t seem to be changing at all.

As Len says, “The truth is, social media is not all that different from email. Recall the concern in the early 90’s as we took hours of training on the proper use of email. Fifteen years later and we’ve managed to survive.”

A bit of leading info

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Read your Google Alerts and good stuff comes your way. It came my way today in the form of a link to The Leadership Hub, which led me to a free download of The Little Book of Leadership. There are some great quotes from DOers as well as super sound bites from Phil Dourado, founder of The Leadership Hub, who is another believer in DOing.

Here’s a sample from page one,

THE 60 SECOND PHD IN LEADERSHIP

Think back to the best boss and the worst boss you ever had.

Make a list of all things done to you that you abhorred.
DON’T DO THEM TO OTHERS. EVER.

Make another list of things done to you that you loved.
DO THEM TO OTHERS. ALWAYS.

And you thought leadership was complicated.

Source: Dee Hock, founder of Visa

And I love this one from Phil,

‘TO DO

OR

TO BE?’

THAT IS THE QUESTION

(Hamlet got it wrong)

Great leaders become leaders to achieve something, not to be someone.
–Phil Dourado

Here’s the final one,

“Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learnt by reading about it.”
–Henry Mintzberg

The Hub looks interesting and I’m joining later today; I’ll pass on more info about it over time and hope that you’ll post your comments about it, too.

Silence IS Golden

Friday, October 26th, 2007

In his comments regarding a truly depressing article on the dumbing down of American kids, Glen over at Life Dev said, “Personally, I think a major problem with our entire society is that it doesn’t allow for reflection. … We’ve grown the mentality that it’s better to listen to someone else than it is to think for ourselves.”

Before you get too depressed by the article check out The Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch,

“In unprecedented work, scientists are discovering exactly how the teenage brain works. Using powerful new brain-scanning machines, peering for the first time into living, working teenage brains, coordinating work across countries and across continents, drawing on pioneering work with adolescent primates and even rats, the neuroscientists are finding that the teenage brain, far from being an innocent bystander to hormonal hijinks, is undergoing a dramatic transformation.
The teenage brain, it’s now becoming clear, is still very much a work in progress, a giant construction project. Millions of connections are being hooked up; millions more are swept away. Neurochemicals wash over the teenage brain, giving it a new paint job, a new look, a new chance at life. The teenage brain is raw, vulnerable. It’s a brain that’s still becoming what it will be.”

But I couldn’t agree more about the lack of quiet time.

My own anecdotal evidence shows that while most people are uncomfortable with silence, others are actually terrified by it. I don’t mean the silence of a sensory deprivation tank, just natural silence; the silence that come from turning off and unplugging from our wired world. No iPod, cell phone, TV, radio, etc.

It’s in silence that

  • your mind can wander unfocused;
  • unconnected scraps can coalesce to form new ideas;
  • you can dig around and learn what actually comprises your MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)™;
  • really get to know yourself; and hopefully
  • become best friends with yourself.

Unscientifically speaking, perhaps it was silence that fostered the great philosophers of bygone times. First, they were forced to know themselves and knowing gave them the ability to formulate their great ideas. Did the enforced silence of prison nurture Nelson Mandela’s ability to conceive his vision and eventually articulate it to the world?

No matter your age, try it. Unplug and get comfortable—with silence and with yourself.

Make silence your friend and watch your happiness, satisfaction and creativity soar.

Meme—I remember her well.

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Have you ever noticed how often your friends lead/wheedle/cajole/beg/push/drag-you-kicking-and-screaming into trying new things? Especially things that aren’t your thing! Scott Allen, whom I dearly love, over at Linked Intelligence is such a friend. Scott did all of the above and finally got me to start blogging, join the LinkedInBloggers yahoo egroup, recommended me to b5, taught me great ways to use LinkedIn (now I just have to DO it) and now tagged me for the current game of meme. That means I have to come up with seven random things about me that you probably don’t know, would find interesting and that I’m willing to share. The first two are easy; it’s the third that keeps sticking. OK <deep breath> here goes nothing…

  1. I’m a Luddite wannabe. This is pretty hilarious considering that I run my company online and I’m content webmaster for both VC Taskforce and my own company.
  2. I’ve never visited Facebook, MySpace (other than to register my email address after I read that they were being hijacked to use there) or Twitter and my infrequent YouTube visits are the result of links sent by my friends. I’m so far out of pop culture that I might well be from another planet.
  3. I love to talk on the phone. Feel free to call me and say hi (866.265.7267), just please remember that I’m on Pacific time—5 am calls do not float my boat!
  4. My first name is deeply buried; my middle name is Michael, hence Miki. In elementary school, when it was still spelled Mickey, they always assigned me to boys’ gym class, but I was too young to appreciate it. I changed the spelling with the rise of the Mickey Mouse Club (I really do hate that song).
  5. For some unremembered reason I studied cosmetology, but after getting licensed realized that I couldn’t stand working with women all day (I’m older than you think and had nothing in common with the general run of beauty shop patrons back then—for which I’m eternally grateful), so I worked instead for a funeral home making dead people presentable for viewing. Believe it or not, the great State of Colorado required a full cosmetology license to do this.
  6. I sold dune buggy kits, built, and occasionally raced, my own buggy, and even helped in the manufacture. We used layered sheets of fiberglass that were hand rolled to avoid air pockets and ended up a quarter of an inch thick, unlike the Corvettes of that era where the glass was chopped and blown into one side of a mold and then the sides were squished together. I loved demonstrating ours to skeptical buyers. I’d take a hammer and pound as hard as possible on the metal flake finish, and then let them do it. Try that on a Vette sometime.
  7. When I lived in California I had eight aquariums ranging in size from 100 gallons to a custom-built 20 gallon room divider tank that was only six inches deep. I inherited my first aquarium from my nieces. What I didn’t know at the time was that they’re similar to rabbits—they multiply if you’re not careful. When I moved I donated it all to Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.

Of course, the best part of playing tag is when you get to do the tagging. OK, guys, you’re it!

Buddies at b5

And two very cool outsiders

The importance of being heard

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

The other day I was asked, “When do you lead rationally vs. when do you lead emotionally?”

First, let’s define the terms so there’s no confusion in how they’re being used. Rationally refers to communicating and appealing to those who are more cerebral, while emotionally means focusing more on feelings—kind of a left brain/right brain—not that one type is cold and the other overwrought.

People hear in different ways and it’s the responsibility of the speaker to communicate so that all can hear. Over the years, I’ve been told many times by people in so-called leadership roles that having to constantly alter how they present information is hard work and they believe that it’s up to the listener to understand what they’re saying. As you might guess, I have little tolerance for this kind of thinking, especially when it persists after significant educational efforts. What these people never seem to get is that if “they” can’t hear you “they” certainly won’t follow.

It’s not just a choice of rational vs. emotional, it’s understanding your audience and then speaking appropriately. For instance, if you’re presenting plans for a new building to investors, business, the community and the media you might be inclined to concentrate on relative costs and ROI, since you want to win over the money crowd, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the esthetics and ambiance.

First, you need to think about the different viewpoints and craft your presentation to include both types of information, even when it’s stuff about which you don’t care, that way you have it all at your fingertips.

During the presentation a money person suggests that construction costs could be lower by using smaller windows and lower ceilings and you know that this won’t fly with the community and business interests, since they’re concerned more with how the building will look and feel.

If you’ve done your homework, then you can show that higher ceilings and larger windows have been proven to increase worker productivity and the improved ambiance means higher rents.

Each group will focus on the information addressing their primary interest with the rest being relegated to backup position, but the important thing is that each heard something positive that directly addressed their concern.

Doing this is a habit you can cultivate and the fastest way to do so is to make yourself hyper aware of that to which your reaction is “who cares,” since that’s the information/viewpoint you’re most likely to skip.

None of this is rocket science. It only requires self-awareness that’s backed by a passion to be heard. It’s also not a guarantee that people will agree and follow, but they will hear you and that’s where you need to start.

What leaders DO: get moving

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

While Lao Tzu provided my all-time favorite summing-up of leadership, it’s Goethe who is the basis for my leaders DO attitude.

He said, “What you can do or think you can do, begin it—boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Isn’t that a terrific thought? Whether you’re effort is focused on leading yourself or leading others to a new/different/enhanced outcome you need to DO, if you only think and plan and then think some more you could easily end up doing nothing and going nowhere.

No, you’re DOing won’t be perfect, you’ll make mistakes, need to backup or go around to avoid a hurdle, but guess what? Even if you had thought and planned for years your DOing still wouldn’t be perfect.

Just as living organisms grow and change, plans need the same ability. Trees bend in the wind so that they won’t break, just so your plans require enough flexibility to deal with the winds of society, change and outside events.

Flexibility doesn’t mean selling out the focus of the plan, i.e., your purpose; it does allow you to shift to avoid a head-on collision that could destroy everything, thus accomplishing nothing.

Nobody is prescient, that’s why even though smart companies do their long-term plans in detail, they know that they’ll shift, be tweaked and change over and over in response to many factors, both global and local.

So why plan at all if it’s going to keep changing? For the same reason you use a map when going from one location to another. Sure, if you want to drive from San Francisco to Cincinnati you could just head east and ask along the way, but that wouldn’t be very efficient. It’s better to plan the trip even though you know that you may need to change course due to construction, storms, detours, etc.

So the next time you’re wondering if you should keep planning or get started, remember Goethe’s words and start DOing.

Avoid isolation

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a CEO is losing touch with what’s really going on in his organization or business. CEOs who limit their contact to only C-level execs or even D-level are asking to lose touch with their company.

Others go to great lengths to stay in touch.

“Many CEOs talk about spending time on the front lines. But few take it as seriously as Arkadi Kuhlmann. In early September, the CEO of Internet bank ING Direct USA traded the quiet, spacious, warehouse-chic digs he shares with three other C-suite members for a noisy corner desk in the call center.

Kuhlmann’s new “office”–an oval table at one end of the vast open room, complete with file cabinets, two halogen floor lamps, and a cubicle for his assistant–has energized the Wilmington (Del.) call center staff, say the floor’s supervisors. And of course, it keeps him close to customer issue…. Trips back and forth to his desk–he passes at least a dozen customer service reps on the way–also give him the chance to make impromptu pep talk…. There are other, symbolic reasons for the move. Kuhlmann, who also sat in the marketing and lending departments, believes “nesting,” or decorating desk space, can encourage territorial, silo thinking. Uprooting himself is a way to remind employees that to stay innovative…”

Staying in touch is a major reason to practice management-by-walking-around, just remember that you’re there to listen, not just give pep talks or suggestions on how to do the work.

The more you really listen, without clarifying/excusing/refuting, the more you’ll be trusted and the more information people will share with you. However, if you retaliate in any way, i.e., kill the messenger, even once, then trust is broken and fixing it is very unlikely.

This doesn’t mean that you condone untruths or political manipulation, but it does mean that you deal with it in a careful, considered manner, not instantly reacting or with an off-the-cuff comment.

Everyone should think before talking or emailing, but as you climb higher in your career “should” changes to “needs to” and that changes to “must” when you’re at the top.

Birth order—powerful or powerless?

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

In answer to a September question of whether leaders are born or can they be taught I responded, “Does it matter?”

Ongoing research has opened the possibility that it’s not genes, but birth order that may make the difference. It’s a long way from being proven, but anecdotal stories and recent studies lean toward at least some credibility.

“For a long time, researchers have tried to nail down just what shapes us–or what, at least, shapes us most. And over the years, they’ve had a lot of eureka moments. First it was our parents, particularly our mothers. Then it was our genes. Next it was our peers, who show up last but hold great sway. And all those ideas were good ones–but only as far as they went.

The fact is once investigators had strip-mined all the data from those theories, they still came away with as many questions as answers. Somewhere, there was a sort of temperamental dark matter exerting an invisible gravitational pull of its own. More and more, scientists are concluding that this unexplained force is our siblings.”

A companion article looks at the possible effect of birth order on our professional lives.

“It’s not clear whether such behavior extends to career choice, but Sandra Black, an associate professor of economics at UCLA, is intrigued by findings that firstborns tend to earn more than later-borns, with income dropping about 1% for every step down the birth-order ladder. Most researchers assume this is due to the educational advantages eldest siblings get, but Black thinks there may be more to it. “I’d be interested in whether it’s because the second child is taking the riskier jobs,” she says.

Black’s forthcoming studies will be designed to answer that question, but research by Ben Dattner, a business consultant and professor of industrial and organizational psychology at New York University, is showing that even when later-borns take conservative jobs in the corporate world, they approach their work in a high-wire way. Firstborn ceos, for example, do best when they’re making incremental improvements in their companies: shedding underperforming products, maximizing profits from existing lines and generally making sure the trains run on time. Later-born ceos are more inclined to blow up the trains and lay new track. “Later-borns are better at transformational change,” says Dattner. “They pursue riskier, more innovative, more creative approaches.”

Parents vehemently deny that they have favorites, but

“While the eldest…has it relatively easy—getting 100% of the food the parents have available—things get stretched thinner when a second-born comes along. Later-borns put even more pressure on resources. Over time, everyone might be getting the same rations, but the firstborn still enjoys a caloric head start that might never be overcome.

Food is not the only resource. There’s time and attention too and the emotional nourishment they provide. It’s not for nothing that family scrapbooks are usually stuffed with pictures and report cards of the firstborn and successively fewer of the later-borns—and the later-borns notice it. Educational opportunities can be unevenly shared too, particularly in families that can afford the tuition bills of only one child. Catherine Salmon, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., laments that even today she finds it hard to collect enough subjects for birth-order studies from the student body alone, since the campus population is typically overweighted with eldest sibs. “Families invest a lot in the firstborn,” she says.

All of this favoritism can become self-reinforcing. As parental pampering produces a fitter, smarter, more confident firstborn, Mom and Dad are likely to invest even more in that child, placing their bets on an offspring who—in survival terms at least—is looking increasingly like a sure thing…Firstborns do more than survive; they thrive. In a recent survey of corporate heads conducted by Vistage, an international organization of ceos, poll takers reported that 43% of the people who occupy the big chair in boardrooms are firstborns, 33% are middle-borns and 23% are last-borns. Eldest siblings are disproportionately represented among surgeons and M.B.A.s too, according to Stanford University psychologist Robert Zajonc. And a recent study found a statistically significant overload of firstborns in what is—or at least ought to be—the country’s most august club: the U.S. Congress. “We know that birth order determines occupational prestige to a large extent,” says Zajonc. “There is some expectation that firstborns are somehow better qualified for certain occupations.”

I find this especially interesting. It seems to me that first born would also have the highest sense of entitlement, which might explain at least some of the recent scandals where self-image preservation and ego were motivating factors.

The research is a long way from being proven.

“The most vocal detractors of birth-order research question less the findings of the science than the methods…. “I would throw out all the between-family studies,” says Bo Cleveland, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University. “The proof is in the in-family design.”

But to my mind the more burning question is whether you’re locked into the pattern and I for one refuse to believe that any of us are unalterably predestined for a certain role or specific behavior patterns.

Being aware of the research means that you can measure it’s applicability against the traits that you don’t like in yourself. The downside is that it provides a built-in excuse for not changing, if that’s what you’re looking for, whereas the upside is a leg up, allowing you a short-cut to identifying the underlying factors of your own actions.

Additionally, as a parent, studying the research can help you short-circuit them within your own family. Although I’m certainly no expert, logically it would seem that being very conscious of your own actions (and not rationalizing them) and how they affect each of your children would help; also spending more time and energy doing for the younger siblings what is done for the eldest could make a difference.

Whether for yourself or your kids, you need far more information than is available here or from the articles, but it’s a starting point. How far you want to take it and how much energy you want to expend is up to you.

As always, it’s your choice.

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