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Archive for May, 2011

Ducks in a Row: Leadership, Influence and Control

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

There is much talk these days among what Jim Stroup calls the modern leadership movement (MLM) that leadership is all about influence.

What I’ve never seen is any mention that influence is about control.

Influence moves you in the direction desired by the leader, essentially controlling your choices.

Also faulty is the assumption that the influence ‘leaders’ exert is always for ‘good’; as I keep saying, assumptions are bad.

In this case the assumption is that a ‘leader’ you like/trust/respect won’t lead you in a direction that encourages you to do something you wouldn’t do on your own if you thought of it.

That is a faulty assumption at best and a destructive one at worst.

To paraphrase an old saying that has served me well in my life, consider the source of the influence sans assumptions before allowing it to affect you.

In other words, listen objectively to the words and consider what they mean.

One trick to doing that is to pretend someone you would never allow to influence you said the same thing. How would you react?

If you would pull back and say, ‘no way’, then it should be ‘no way’ even if the source is someone you like/trust/respect.

Fickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Memorial Day

Monday, May 30th, 2011

I’m not particularly sentimental and, by today’s standards, I’m a pretty private person, at least on-line. Last Memorial Day I wrote about my father and heroes, this year I have nothing personal to offer, but I did find a poem that sums up my attitude to who deserves the credit for the life I value.

It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given you freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given you freedom of the press.
It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given you freedom of speech.
It is the veteran, not the protester, who has given you freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given you the right to a fair trial.
It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given you the right to vote.
It is the veteran, who salutes the Flag, who serves under the Flag, whose coffin is draped by the Flag.
–Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC

As to those who dishonor them by using their funerals as a staging ground to flaunt their ideology I have one simple comment, go to hell.

Because that is where you belong.

Flickr image credit: NCinDC

mY generation: Memorial Day… 2445

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

See all mY generation posts here.

Quotable Quotes: P. J. O’Rourke

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

When I went looking for quotes from P. J. O’Rourke I expected a bonanza considering he is a political satirist, journalist, writer and author. I only found three worth sharing, but those three are excellent.

You certainly don’t have to be a Boomer to relate to the sentiment in this comment.

“I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a ”learning experience.” Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a ”learning experience.” It makes me feel less stupid.”

All you can say about O’Rourke’s view of blame and responsibility is ‘ain’t it the truth’.

“One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”

Finally, O’Rourke does a spectacular job of identifying the real source of human travails throughout history.

“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”

As I said, quality is worth more than quantity.

Image credit: Wikimedia

Expand Your Mind: About Managers

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Great managers hire the best people available—even when managing them is outside their comfort zone. One of the most challenging differences happens when introverts hire extroverts and vice versa, but there is more information available for the latter than the former. That said, here is something for all you introverts stressing over managing those noisy, pushy extroverts you were smart enough to hire despite the discomfort.

You’re a quiet introvert leading or managing others at your company. Odds are, then, you have a couple of not-so-quiet extroverts on your team. So how can you get the very best from these “too talky” types? Know what makes them tick and help give it to them.

Does your manager on a given project constantly touch base to see how things are going? Does it annoy you? Would you be surprised to know that the technique works, especially when managing non-direct reports?

Managers who are deliberately redundant as communicators move their projects forward more quickly and smoothly than those who are not.

Just how much difference does a middle manager make to the success of a knowledge-based company? Especially as compared to the innovators who do the actual work and the executives who set vision and strategy? Quite a bit according to Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick.

Managers accounted for 22.3% of the variation in revenue among projects, as opposed to just over 7% explained by innovators and 21.3% explained by the organization itself – including firm strategy, leadership and practices.

I find it very annoying when excellent advice is so specifically targeted in title language that those who aren’t part of the designated group skip it because they assume it is valuable only to the reference in the title. So as you read the next few offerings ignore the focus and consider how to adapt the information to your own situation.

Have you ever wondered which skills to hone to further your career or to develop in your people to help them grow? Skills that also can benefit people who may not want management, but still want to have more influence?

These C.E.O.’s offered myriad lessons and insights on the art of managing and leading, but they all shared five qualities: Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. A simple mind-set. Fearlessness.

Last today (and my favorite) is the advice to go to the dogs. It’s aimed at entrepreneurs, sales and customer service, but if you embrace it as a manager I guarantee that your group’s productivity, innovation, retention and all around performance will skyrocket.

Is it possible most things we need to learn about business success we can learn from a dog? … They can be brilliant business instructors. … The next time you seek business advice try walking a mile in your dog’s tracks instead.


Image credit: MykReeve on flickr

Assumptions and Reviews

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I was talking with a manager this week who was dreading doing his required annual reviews.

After describing his relationship with each of his people, he went on to tell me what he needed to say and how each would respond.

I asked why he was so sure and he said “because they always respond that way.”

Remind you of your own situations?

How many times have you had a conversation with a manager, peer or subordinate and walked away shaking your head thinking, “I knew I’d get that response.”

I know I have.

But did they respond to the content or the presentation?

I call it AMS syndrome and it infects all of us at various times.

AMS stands for assumption, manipulation, self-fulfilling prophesy and I first wrote about it shortly after starting this blog five years ago.

I wrote about AMS and its effect on managing a diverse workforce a few months later.

A couple of years later I again focused on how assumptions can actually undermine an entire company’s product direction without every being recognized.

No one indulges in AMS intentionally; it’s purely subconscious. It’s driven by experience, not just our own, but friends, stuff we’ve read, movies, TV, etc.

Anything that seeds our thinking with expectations, whether specific or vague; those expectations convert into active assumptions, which causes us to present out content in ways that elicit the exact result we thought we would get, i.e., self-fulfilling prophesy.

This is the conversation I had with my client as well as emailing him the links I’ve included above.

I got this email from him today, “I’ll be damned, you were right. Reviews went great. Thanks!”

Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

Entrepreneur: a Different Kind of Entrepreneur

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

During the original dot com boom a young woman told me that there had been no startups before the Internet and that all startups involved it.

Once again it seems as if all the focus is on web startups that sell, or help sell, stuff to consumers.

But there are other kinds of entrepreneurs, some start companies, while others innovate inside the system—and the system isn’t always a company nor is the end result a product.

Sometimes it’s people.

Dr. Carnell Cooper, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, is such an entrepreneur, although I’m sure he doesn’t think of himself that way.

Those who treat young victims of violence know that there is a high probability that the same kids will be back again and again and that one of the next incidents is likely to be fatal.

Dr. Cooper knew that, but he believed there was a way to break the cycle.

In a country where violence remains a major public health issue and homicide remains the 15th leading cause of death and the leading cause of death among African-American males ages 15 to 34, the work of Dr. Cooper and his colleagues has resulted in an 83 percent decrease among participants in repeat hospitalizations for violent injuries, a 75 percent reduction in criminal activity and an 82 percent increase in employment. He created a hospital-based violence intervention program that has helped more than 1,500 victims of violent crime and their families.

According to Mark Suster, an entrepreneur turned VC, a successful startup needs to solve a real problem and “win the battle for share of mind.”

Granted, Suster is referring to Net startups, but there’s no question that the problem Dr. Cooper is addressing is very real. Nor is there any question that its impact is wide-spread, its cost enormous and its impact on our GDP substantial.

Dr. Cooper started his program in 1998, ran out of funding in 2001 and has subsisted on grants ever since.

He found a real solution to a real problem, but still can’t capture mindshare.

Will Americans ever accept that we have problems that can’t be solved with an app? And that the solutions that do work should be funded even if they don’t offer an obvious 10x return?

Image credit: University of Maryland Medical Center

WW: Looks are Deceiving

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Image credit: Idea Elevator

Ducks in a Row: Sharing Information Yields Innovation

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Think about all the information that comes your way, especially if you are an executive.

It’s usually shared at peer level and (maybe) one or two levels down.

But full sharing of that information should be embedded deeply in your company’s culture.

In fact, when information, particularly competitive and market intelligence, is widely disseminated throughout the organization it juices innovation and boosts productivity.


Because increasing the number of people with access to the information increases the odds for breakthrough thinking and reduces the risk of wheel-spinning.

  • An article on a competitor’s product can spark an engineer’s original design idea;
  • gossip about changing industry dynamics can prevent a stumble in marketing;
  • an investment report on a new service offering can suggest an innovative sales approach to a desirable customer.

Highly visible industry developments circulate swiftly and prompt immediate strategy meetings and fast responses, but the rest of the information often languishes; instead, it needs to be easily accessible by everyone.

Think about it, everybody in your company picks up valuable industry intelligence along with potentially valuable gossip.

  • CEOs receive strategy reports by investment firms, management consulting companies, along with high level information and gossip from the Board.
  • Managers receive reports from hired industry experts and publications.
  • Marcom and others interact with the media.
  • Salespeople gain information from customers.
  • Engineers and others observe competitive equipment at trade shows.
  • Admin and other support people hear and overhear stuff, often because they are ignored by those at higher levels.

People talk—at tradeshows, networking events, industry conferences and seminars, as well as at social events, bars, restaurants, etc. Most people spend at least part of that time talking about business-related topics.

Unfortunately, some managers derive their power through information control.

Smart managers make sure that the information is shared, up, down, and horizontally, by using internal blogs, intranets, wikis, etc. Further, they actively work to encourage everybody to read and discuss it.

Since the goal is to encourage everybody to share everything, no matter the source, all posts should include attribution; a public thank you to the person who took the time to share it.

Whether formal (reports, white papers, news) or informal (conversations, hearsay, gossip) the content needs to be accurately assessed and valued.

There is no way to predict what bit of knowledge will spark the creative process, so be sure that your people have full access everything available in an easily searchable format.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Positional Deafness

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

3740791077_0de85962b9_mI’ve written several times referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and it’s come up in numerous conversations I’ve had.

Each time I hear that Gladwell’s premise is flawed and that if a person is determined enough they will succeed blah, blah, blah.

They claim this holds true whatever the location, including gang-ridden inner cities or third world countries; work hard enough and you will overcome.

My typical response to their rhetoric is “bullshit.”

A few days ago TechCrunch published The Chilling Story of Genius in a Land of Chronic Unemployment; a comparison between Ibrahim Boakye and Max Levchin.

It is elegant proof of what Gladwell says, as well as a warning call to the stupidity of wasting our world’s human resources.

On a much smaller scale managers waste their human resources every day through “positional deafness,” i.e., only soliciting and/or hearing thoughts, ideas and suggestions from those at X level or higher.

I’ve never understood why managers expect workers who were consistently ignored and shut down to suddenly start contributing because they receive a promotion.

  • Nobody suddenly develops a brain as a result of being promoted.
  • If they were good enough to promote then they should have been good enough to listen to in their previous positions.
  • If they can’t contribute in the position for which they were hired, why hire them at all?
  • Even new grads hired for their potential need to be heard; they are like eggs and like eggs they must be cared for if they are to hatch.

Managers afflicted by positional deafness often experience high turnover and lament the lack of loyalty, especially in “more junior workers.”

But the term ‘junior’ is very subjective; for some managers it refers to those with just a couple of years of experience, for others it’s a level within the company and for still others it’s relative, with the baseline how long it took them to finally be heard.

It’s easy to know if you suffer from positional deafness, just consider the sources of your input over the last quarter and what you did with it.

Better yet, ask the people you trust to tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waiferx/3740791077/

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