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Entrepreneurs: What Leadership Looks Like

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

KG emailed me this cartoon and asked what I thought.

leader-bossI responded that I had a better image of leadership, only mine was drawn with words.

I’ve shared them here before, but a reminder never hurts.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.

The next best,
the people honor and praise.

The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate—

When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

To lead the people, walk behind them.

–Lao Tzu

Now that’s what I consider a beautiful image.

Image credit: Anonymous via the Internet

Ducks in a Row: Lars Dalgaard on Being Human

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eiriknewth/474679387/This great leadership information from Lars Dalgaard, general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, is applicable to every boss, whether startup or Fortune 50.

The biggest thing in my life is really daring to be human, and that’s the approach I take to the working world. We could all be so much more human, but we don’t allow ourselves to do it. I think it’s because we’ve been brought up thinking that when you’re in a business role, if you show any emotion, then that’s the opposite of being tough.

The funny thing is that you’re actually a stronger leader and more trustworthy if you’re able to be vulnerable and you’re able to show your real personality. It’s a trust multiplier, and people really will want to work for you and be on a mission together with you.

Dalgaard’s approach is the opposite of so many of today’s bosses, who act as if every day is a tough mudder experience.

To them, being vulnerable is the same as being weak — and weak loses.

Worse, by acting on that belief they, in turn, force the attitude on their people.

The end result often turns a workplace into a warplace, with X% of your people trying to out-tough each other and the rest running for cover.

So give them, and yourself, a break by recognizing that you’ll go further, and have more fun getting there, by being, and showing, that you are human.

Flickr image credit: BK

If the Shoe Fits: Which Kind of Leader are You?

Friday, October 17th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn an interview Robert Herjavec said,

If you can’t inspire the people around you, you are going to fail. If you can’t inspire the people around you, you should go sell real-estate, because that is probably one of the only businesses where you could make a lot of money working completely on your own. But I think if you want to build a great business, you’ve got to bring other people along, and nobody wants to be managed. People want to be led.

His comment reminded me of a post from a few years ago that I believe is worth repeating.

Ducks in a Row: Leadership or LeadershIt?

If you truly want a culture of innovation, then you also need to create a culture of leadership.

Last week I commented that if the ‘i’ in leadership is capitalized it changes leadership to leadershIt.

Whereas leadership can be a great motivator, leadershIt is a guaranteed demotivator.

Visions and other leadership functions done with an eye to self-aggrandizement aren’t likely to resonate whether done by positional leaders, leaders in the instance or those who aspire.

Last year I wrote

Because initiative and leadership are synonymous, leadership needs to be pushed out of the corner office and spread throughout the organization; doing so will encourage growth, creativity and innovation.

If leadership is the fertilizer then culture is the water, without which nothing will grow, and people are the seeds from which ideas come.

By spreading leadership evenly through out your company garden and watering regularly, leaving no unfertilized or dry patches in which a seed will be stunted or die, you assure yourself a bountiful harvest that will be the envy of your competitors. (Two follow-up posts have more on this topic here and here.)

This isn’t a new idea, just a new way of phrasing it; Lao Tzu said it best 4000 years ago, “To lead the people walk behind them.”

The one thing that remains constant in all these discussions is that you always have a choice—this time it’s between leadership and leadershIt.

Image credit: HikingArtist

All You Need to Know to Be a Great Boss

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_Tzu

Many in the business world turn to Sun Tzu’s Art of War for guidance in their business dealings and as a basis for their company’s culture.

However, I’ve always preferred the teachings of Lao Tzu to underpin culture, because they provide a more solid platform to attract, motivate and retain the best people for any organization.

My favorite quote describes the perfect mindset and behavior for any boss who wants to be known as a leader.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.

The next best,
the people honor and praise.

The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate—

When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

To lead the people, walk behind them.
                                             –Lao Tzu

In case you’re not sure how to put that into practice, Lao Tzu offers this advice.

Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Do You Abuse the i-word?

Monday, December 16th, 2013

stop-abusing-i-wordInnovation is hot. You hear it everywhere; I even heard a pastor talking about how he “innovates his sermons.”

In 2007 I wrote that the word “leader” was being badly abused; five years later I added “entrepreneur” to the abuse list and today I’m officially adding “innovation.”

It has lost its meaning.

There was a time it was used sparingly and when it was used it referred to stuff like the printing press; steam engine, penicillin, transistor, computer, Internet.

Things that rocked our world.

These days innovation refers more to brand extensions and iterations.

New versions of old stuff are termed innovation to a ridiculous degree—Kellogg CEO John Bryant used the i-word when talking about the company’s new Pop-Tart flavor.

I’m not saying the i-word shouldn’t be used more broadly, since it also signals both a goal and a special type of MAP

Let’s just agree to limit its use to the appropriate, as opposed to the ludicrous.

Image credit: sign generator

If the Shoe Fits: Being Alpha

Friday, October 5th, 2012

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA couple of years ago I wrote a post about leadership that included a quote from the main character, a forensic anthropologist, in the TV show Bones.

Anthropology tells us that the Alpha male is the one with the crown, the most shiny baubles, the fanciest plumage, but I learned that the real alpha male is often in the shadows because he is busy shining the light on others.

Founders are typically alphas, whether male or female.

With that in mind I have a simple question to ask you.

Which kind of alpha are you?

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Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Expand Your Mind: a Look at “Leaders”

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

The word “leader” is all over the news; media loves talking about individual “leaders.” Executives and people in positions of power have worked hard for decades to perpetuate the myth that leaders are magical and larger-than-life; special, unique, irreplaceable and, above all, can’t be duplicated. But that emperor has no clothes, according to HBS Assistant Professor Gautam Mukunda, who, in his new book, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter, kicks large holes in the myth that individual leaders really make a difference. (Book excerpt)

The result was his Leader Filtration Theory, or LFT, which states that a leader’s impact can be predicted by his or her career. The more unfiltered the leader, the larger the prospect of big impact. The more a leader has relevant experience, the less chance of high impact.

No where is the talk of “leaders” greater than in the political arena, especially during a Presidential election. An opinion piece focused on whether being gregarious is a requirement of leadership.

Culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion and attach less importance to judgment, vision and mettle. We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say.

The commentary reminded me of an excellent article last year by Douglas R. Conant, retired Campbell Soup CEO, on why introverted (as defined by Meyers-Briggs) bosses are just as capable and actually may have an edge.

As an introvert, I enjoy being by myself. I sometimes feel drained if I have to be in front of large groups of people I don’t know. After I’ve been in a social situation — including a long day at work — I need quiet time to be alone with my thoughts and recharge.

One way so-called leaders, (I prefer the more neutral term ‘boss’) can make a difference is found in how they treat people; one trait they all have in common is their approachability and engagement with everybody, not just their senior staff.

68 year-old Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, is and a well known face in all aspects and locations of the company—with employees and customers.

He visits every office, store and distribution center, and makes an effort to meet every new employee, although he’s always Mickey, not Mr. Drexler. (…) He’s been known to personally respond to a letter from a shopper who has a problem or a suggestion.

That involvement and initiative encouragement isn’t age-related. Thirty-something Ben Lerer, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Thrillist Media Group, encourages the same kind of action from his people through the culture he built.

One thing that we preach at work all day long is “don’t hope.” What that means is don’t wait for somebody to do something for you. Don’t do something 90 percent well and hope that it’ll slide through. Don’t rely on luck. You have to make your own luck. The only thing you can do is try your absolute best to do the right thing.

Finally, for those of you who want more on leadership checkout the information and interviews available at McKinsey’s Leading in the 21st century (free registration required).

In today’s volatile environment, leaders of global organizations must master a slate of challenges unseen in business history. In this feature, McKinsey talks with seven leaders and Wharton professor Michael Useem about the new fundamentals of leading in the 21st century.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

Following Kills Initiative

Monday, August 27th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/6996819414/I don’t believe in “leaders.” Over the years I’ve spoken out many times against the idea that leaders are anointed and graced with special abilities, but am a big proponent of people showing initiative when it makes sense and stepping up to lead because they are the best person at that point.

Believing in initiative means I don’t believe in “followers.”

Followers rarely show initiative, make decisions or speak out when they disagree.

Followers have abdicated responsibility in favor of their “leader.”

Rather than saying the same stuff I’ve said before I thought you might ‘hear’ it better from someone like David Marquet, who, as the new captain of the nuclear powered submarine USS Santa Fe, “thought I would be a leader who empowered his subordinates.”

His wake-up call came when he ordered an action that couldn’t be done, but the officer passed it on anyway because he was told to by his “leader.”

Marquet offers first person proof that real “leadership” and “empowerment” don’t occupy the same space as “followers.”

I sincerely hope you will take the few minutes to click over and read something that could (should) have a profound effect on your management approach.

My thanks to Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership for including this guest post on his blog.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Training as Brainwashing

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Yesterday I received the following email from Sean.

Hi Miki, I need some advice. When I graduated I accepted a position with a company I had interned with. The job isn’t terrific and I took it mainly because it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot in a short time and participate in various training programs. I was excited when my manager chose me for leadership training, which was supposed to fast track me into a more senior role. Pretty heady stuff for someone just a year out of college. The problem is that the leadership training feels more like brainwashing. But I don’t really have anything to compare to, so I thought I would write and see if this is typical.

Reading this reminded me of a post late last year by Jim Stroup over at Managing Leadership; I sent it to Sean and decided to share both question and answer with you.

Pod people

As the modern leadership movement’s (MLM) many and various advocates compete for attention, we inevitably find ourselves being bombarded with simplistic insights, each one, its “discoverer” will argue, the very cornerstone of a brave new world that can be built only on its foundation.

As it happens, if you can dismiss the ludicrous promises made for many of these, what is left may still be useful to peruse, even thought-provoking and helpful.

Unfortunately, though, the intensity of our angst over how we each individually relate to the pseudo-vital subject of leadership can make it difficult to distinguish between the product and its packaging.

This is particularly so in the MLM – with its devastatingly misplaced focus on the uniquely special attributes of the individual. Leadership is what you are, they pontificate. What you are – if you are the right things – is leadership, they add with trivializing profundity.

An exceptionally unnerving quality can become embroiled in this unstable mixture when the advocates of a particular insight-based approach come to uncritically accept their own hype. They can then become dogmatic about it, almost fanatical. Even not-so-subtly intimidating.

A manager recently wrote me about just such a leadership sect, if you will. The group is a well-known leadership consultancy of international reach, and the beneficiary of explosive growth built on the back of a run-away best-selling book by the founder. This book presented the well-worn idea – but with spectacularly well-tuned spin in the telling – that there is an inseparable link between success and wisdom in one’s person and private life, and one’s business position and career.

This group had been hired by my correspondent’s organization to present its leadership training program to the outfit’s managers. It seems, though, that some disquiet was caused by the presenters’ almost glassy-eyed praise of the founding principles of the program philosophy. Evidently, it was even described to the attendees as something that would – indeed, that must – have a “spiritual” impact on them.

The last straw for my correspondent was when there appeared to develop real, personal pressure on the attendees to demonstrate their willingness to drink the Kool-Aid. It seems as though an inordinate amount of time was spent ensuring that each attendee had genuinely internalized – rather than merely stipulated to for the sake of the argument – the philosophical underpinnings of the program. Those that resisted drew unsettlingly focused attention, and it seemed as though the program would not progress until they capitulated.

At this point, the alarm bells sounding in this manager’s head succeeded in drowning out the liturgical droning of the acolytes. He left the multi-day workshop, which had been a requirement, and explained to his seniors why.

When you hear alarm bells yourself during any sort of presentation – especially a workshop like this one – always heed them. Try to determine what they might mean. And never let yourself be intimidated by those who want to rush you along into group-thinking lock-step with their positions without allowing you time for calm, clear deliberation. Get out of the hot-house and evaluate the comprehensiveness and consistency of the case presented yourself. Make your own decisions, and draw your own conclusions.

Certainly, don’t turn into a mindless “follower” of a “leadership” of this ilk. If you’re alert to the phenomenon, you’ll be surprised to find how much of this kind of “training” so dangerously fits this mold.

I highly recommend Jim’s work, and especially his book, if you are interested in debunking leadership myths and creating a leadership culture instead, nor is this first time I’ve recommended him to you.

Image credit: Managing Leadership

Expand Your Mind: Leadership with Dan McCarthy

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Dan McCarthy, along with Jim Stroup and Wally Bock, are of the rare breed that write on leadership, but don’t see it as an elitist function, genetic gift or an ability defined, let alone guaranteed, by position or promotion.

Tuesday Dan wrote one of the funniest (and shortest) posts I’ve seen in quite awhile—and turned me green with envy.

The post was truly “ripped from the headlines” and I offer it in full with Dan’s gracious permission.

10 (+1) Dumb Leadership Mistakes from Recent Headlines

Come on now, how hard can it be to be a great leader? It seems the bar keeps getting lower and lower every day.

All you need to do is browse the headlines and you’ll easily come up with examples of what not to do as a leader. Just follow these hopefully easy to adhere to rules, do a reasonable good job, and you’ll be running your organization in no time:

1. Don’t drop too many F-bombs at work. Or, as far as I’m concerned, don’t drop them at all.

2. But even if your employee does, don’t fire your employee over the phone. F2f is the only option for canning an employee.

3. Don’t slap your employees. Two words: anger management.

4. Don’t hit on or party with your employees. Some may argue with this one, but I’d say you’re only asking for trouble.

5. Don’t upstage your boss. It’s always better to let your boss go first.

6. Don’t launch an IPO and get married in the same week. It’s all about focus.

7. Don’t fire an employee for being “too hot”. Or for being too ugly. But you can for a dress code violation. But not over the phone, see #2.

8. Don’t flirt with the jurors during your corruption trial. I’d file this one under the competency of “judgment”.

9. Don’t lie about your education (let’s hear it for New Hampshire!). Or about your ethnicity (Hey, if I’m going to mention NH, I couldn’t spare Massachusetts). Better yet, just don’t lie, period. It’s easier to remember things when you don’t make them up.

10. Don’t steal your company’s money. Or “borrow” it, or “misplace” it, or whatever.

Last, but not least – and I’m sorry to have to mention this in a family leadership blog – don’t ever, ever, have sex at work, under any circumstances. Asking “was that wrong?” will not save you from being fired.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of leadership ineptitude headlines. Anything you’d like to add to the list? By the time this post is published, I’m sure we can come up with 11 more.

Seeing as how four days have gone by since publication I’m sure there are far more than 11.

To make it interesting, add your own link and comment for a chance to win a copy of Claudio Feser’s Serial Innovators. Winner chosen by random drawing.

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