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Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Wave Deafness

Monday, June 19th, 2017

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 are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

When I wrote this originally it was aimed directly at entrepreneurs, especially the ones who don’t seem to hear their people very often — if at all.

Coming across it five years later I decided it’s so apropos across the board that it definitely qualified as a golden oldie.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast year I wrote about Tony Hsieh’s approach to employee empowerment, featuring some great quotes from him.

As I said then, the thing that sets Hsieh apart is security.

Hsieh is comfortable in his own skin; secure in his own competency and limitations, so he doesn’t need to be the font from which all else flows.

Entrepreneurs can learn from this.

Startup hiring usually comes in waves as the company progresses.

While most founders will listen to their initial team and first few hires, those hired later often find it difficult to get their ideas heard.

Unfortunately, this behavior often sets a pattern, with the ideas and comments of each successive wave becoming fainter and fainter and those employees less and less engaged—and that translates to them caring less and less about your company’s success—call it wave deafness.

Wave deafness is costly.

Costly in productivity and passion, but even more costly in lost opportunities.

As Hsieh points out, there is no way he can think of as many good ideas as are produced if each employee has just one good idea in a year.

And not just from certain positions. I never heard of a manager, let alone a founder, admit to hiring dummies for any position, no matter the level.

So if you hire smart people and don’t listen to them, who is the dummy?

Image credit: HikingArtist

The Proliferation Of Narcissism

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/you-are-the-center-of-universe/

Have you noticed that people in general are more wrapped up in themselves than ever before?

Whether in words or pictures, they document and share what they eat, where they go, what they do and with whom they do it, not just with their friends and known acquaintances, but with the world in general.

An article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye and, in view of the recent election, resonated.

…narcissism levels have been rising for decades, which means that our world is increasingly self-centered, overconfident, and deluded.

And the next sentence really rang a bell.

Furthermore, these increases appear to be exacerbated among leaders, since those in charge of judging leadership potential often mistake confidence for competence.

Our politicians aren’t the only place where narcissism is running wild.

Narcissists are found at the helm of more and more companies of all sizes, but are especially prevalent in the financial sector and in tech.

In 2008 financial bosses with more confidence than competence brought the global economy to its knees.

Tech abounds with narcissistic founders and very few of them will stand the test of time, as have Jobs and Bezos.

Nor is narcissistic behavior limited to top bosses; it is found at every level of management, as well as every level of contributor — from new grads through the most senior contributor.

And lets not forget kindergartners through college.

We cannot make it alone, but we care too much about ourselves to genuinely care about others. This tension between our desire to get along with others and our desire to get ahead of them represents the fundamental conundrum of human affairs.

Much as I loathe the hype around “leaders,” it’s up to the positional leader to manage the get along/get ahead dichotomy if they are to have a successful organization.

I find it ironic that so many of those who preach the importance of data sets and evangelize data-based decisions, again, especially in tech, manage to ignore the hard data on what type of leader succeeds best.

Unfortunately, our admiration for charismatic leaders comes at a price: perpetuating the proliferation of narcissistic leaders. And while the existence of incredibly successful CEOs, such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (and Rockefeller, Ford, and Disney before them), may suggest that narcissism is a beneficial leadership quality, most overconfident, entitled, and egotistical CEOs are not just ineffective but also destructive — even when they manage to attain a great deal of success. For example, narcissistic CEOs overpay when they acquire firms, costing their shareholders dearly. Their firms tend to perform in a volatile and unpredictable fashion, going from big wins to even bigger losses. They are often involved in counterproductive work behaviors, such as fraud. They are also more likely to abuse power and manipulate their followers, particularly those who are naïve and submissive.

Whether you are a boss or a worker, read the article; it’s short and will provide insights into your own actions, as well as those of your boss or the boss with whom you are interviewing.

Image credit: QuoteAddicts

The Ultimate Hack

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fryandtricky/4010900364/

A colleague commented that he feared tackling a major project he had never done before. He said the challenge was exciting, but it was still scary.

I told him to think about all the stuff he does now that at some point he hadn’t done before.

This is just one more new thing that would soon become old.

Old and comfortable.

It’s how one gains experience and, occasionally, wisdom.

I reminded him that anyone who figures out how to do something the second time without doing it the first, could sell the hack and be a billionaire.

Flickr image credit: fry_theonly

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

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

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.

If the Shoe Fits: Is This You?

Friday, March 25th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAre you really a more competent leader than the woman founder who you beat out for funding or do you just think you are?

Research says it’s the latter, i.e., all in your mind.

Results show that when all leadership contexts are considered, men and women do not differ in perceived leadership effectiveness. Yet, when other-ratings only are examined, women are rated as significantly more effective than men. In contrast, when self-ratings only are examined, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women rate themselves.
From the abstract of a paper by Samantha C. Paustian‐Underdahl (number 5 on the list; the full text is available upon free registration)

Are you the reason this question keeps coming up on Quora?

Is it true that software development has no future once you get to a certain age such as 40, and one should pursue to steer his development career towards management?

Do you pride yourself on being part of the bro culture? Do you agree, publicly or privately, with what White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit?

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

If, in the deepest, most private place in your mind, your response is ‘yes’, then consider that the women you degrade and perceive as troll bait are someone’s sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And that somewhere/somewhen someone will do the same to your sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

And someday, when you hold your newborn daughter or son, know that this world you helped build is the world they, too, will eventually face.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Are you (in)competent

Monday, January 18th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly 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 particular Oldie is one of my favorites; probably because it poked such large holes in all the giant egos back in 2000. And it should do the same thing to the even larger egos walking around today. Read other Golden Oldies here.

Gotcha! I see all you readers twisting your arms in order to pat yourselves on the back because you know that even though you could improve at least you’re not incompetent.

Are you sure of that?

Way back in 2000 I read about research that stuck in my mind, an unfortunate reminder to me that I’m not nearly as good/smart/interesting/funny/etc. as I’d like to think I am.

It was done by Cornell’s Dr. David A. Dunning, who describes his research in the field of social psychology this way, “My social psychological work focuses on two related phenomena. First I am interested in why people tend to have overly favorable and objectively indefensible views of their own abilities, talents, and moral character. For example, a full 94% of college professors state that they do “above average” work, although it is statistically impossible for virtually everybody to be above average. Second, I am interested in how people bolster their sense of self-worth by carefully tailoring the judgments they make of others. That is, people tend to make judgments of others that reflect favorably back on themselves, doing so even when the self is not under explicit scrutiny.”

According to the research, “most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well…One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.”

Isn’t that encouraging.

How bad is it? “Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for example, subjects who scored only in the 12th percentile guessed that they had scored in the 62nd percentile, and deemed their overall skill at logical reasoning to be at the 68th percentile.”

However, since the skills that make you competent are the same that you use to evaluate your ability, if you’re good at something you’ll know, right?

Wrong! “Unlike unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study were likely to underestimate their competence.”

So, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The research did find that, “…a short training session in logical reasoning did improve the ability of low-scoring subjects to assess their performance realistically…”

But if you don’t know, why would you get the training? Or should you get it as preventative medicine.

Or maybe, just maybe, you should actually start listening to those around you and really hearing what they’re saying—even if it’s not complimentary, makes you uncomfortable and you don’t agree.

It doesn’t mean that “they” are always right, but if multiple people are all saying (by word or body language) the same thing, it’s very likely that they know something about you that you don’t know.

Listen, learn, think, change.

Golden Oldies: Do You See the Hole or the Whole?

Monday, December 14th, 2015

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly 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. Read other Golden Oldies here

donut

When you evaluate a task or project to you see the whole or the hole?

Most people are adept at seeing the hole, i.e., what needs to be added in order to succeed. What’s missing can include scope, skills, resources, etc.

Unlike donuts, holes don’t enhance your projects. Being sure the hole is filled is important, but it’s also difficult to fill it if you don’t also see the whole.

The whole is the overview of how that particular project fits into the larger picture. Understanding that helps you to identify and address the entire hole, so you don’t end up having to go back and fix the part of the hole you missed or, worse, move on leaving an unnoticeable hole that turns into a sinkhole down the road.

Seeing the whole means taking time to understand not just your own position/area, but the functions of those around you and how they all interact, your company’s competitors and trends in your market.

More work? Yes.

A pain in the wazoo? Yes.

The benefits to you, your team and your company? Priceless.

 image credit: sxc.hu

How Do People Know Their Salary Is Fair?

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/3385894038/

What exactly do people mean when they say they want to be paid fairly?

Generally speaking, people define “fair” relative to themselves and those around them.

Developers working in a small company don’t compare their salaries to the developers at Google or even to their bosses.

The comparison they do typically has two steps.

  • First, they compare themselves to their peers, i.e., similar job, background, title, company, industry and location.
  • Second, they compare their salary with the salaries of those they see as peers.

The comparison is possible because, no matter what company policy says, compensation is never really secret.

As long as salary differences are based on factual points, as opposed to charm, politics, or managerial whim, people will believe they’re being treated fairly.

Because they are.

Flickr image credit: Rennett Stowe

Ducks in a Row: Adam Bryant on Culture of Innovation

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joannaleeosborn/9802436943/

Twice a week Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from a myriad of companies, large and small, across the industry spectrum, for his Corner Office feature in The New York Times.

As with anyone who spends time talking with CEOs about staying competitive the constant theme he’s found boils down to one word—culture.

Now Bryant has distilled the knowledge and insights gathered from hundreds of interviews into a new book, “Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading C.E.O.’s on How to Create a Culture of Innovation”

The six key tenets identified should come as no surprise,

  • A Simple Plan
  • Rules of the Road (corporate values)
  • A Little Respect (embedded in the culture)
  • It’s About the Team (performance and accountability, trustworthiness and dependability)
  • Adult Conversations (frank discussions to work through disagreements and misunderstandings)
  • The Hazards of Email (ease of misunderstanding)

Not new and certainly not rocket science, but worth reading (at the very least read the article).

Good information to help you improve nimbleness and innovation in your own organization.

And a great gift if you happen to work for bosses who don’t see the point.

Flickr image credit: Joanna Lee Osborn

CEOs are Just Like Us Finally!

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gdsdigital/4963409391/Finally!

The news that we’ve all been waiting for—unless you’re a CEO who is paid relative to your counterparts.

According to new research by Charles M. Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, and Craig K. Ferrere, one of its Edgar S. Woolard fellows, the whole idea that a CEO will quit if he isn’t paid more than his peers is, to use a technical term, hogwash.

…contrary to the prevailing line, that chief executives can’t readily transfer their skills from one company to another. In other words, the argument that C.E.O.’s will leave if they aren’t compensated well, perhaps even lavishly, is bogus. (…) “It’s a false paradox,” Mr. Elson said in an interview last week. “The peer group is based on the theory of transferability of talent. But we found that C.E.O. skills are very firm-specific. C.E.O.’s don’t move very often, but when they do, they’re flops.”

Surprise, surprise.

For ‘firm-specific’ read culture and colleagues—the same two things that impact any worker’s success.

Flickr image credit: GDS Infographics (click the graphic to see a large version)

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