5 Top Leadership Articles 09-04-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 4, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

On Being a Bad Manager by Jason Fried at Signal v Noise

A fellow I admire just asked me why it’s so easy to be a bad manager. G**damn, that’s a fantastic question. I made some bonehead moves myself yesterday, so I’m in the perfect position to answer this one.

Because I didn’t want to overthink my answer, I told him I’d write something up this afternoon and send him a link.

Here goes, stream of consciousness, unedited, and quick…

My Comment: This question has haunted me for many years. My version goes something like this: “We’ve been working together and leading one another for thousands of years. Why is there still so much bad management?”

Fried answers this succinctly: “We’re bad at most things by default.”

In other words: you have to learn how to lead effectively. Winning Well doesn’t just happen. If you want to be a great manager and effective leader, you’ve got to master specific skills. And yet…half or more of managers are placed in those roles, but receive no training in how to lead. No wonder it’s easy to be bad.

Fried digs a little deeper as well, noting that it takes time and practice to get good at something, but most managers don’t even start practicing until they’re actually in the role. (Imagine a pro athlete starting to practice their game once they’ve been put on the playing field.) We fall prey to common assumptions about people that just aren’t true and we often focus on doing the wrong things because they’re known and comfortable.

Note: this is a raw stream-of-conscious article and includes profanity.

Irresistible Is Rarely Easy or Rational by Seth Godin

There’s often a line out the door.

It’s not surprising. The ice cream is really good, the portions are enormous, and a waffle cone costs less than three Canadian dollars. And it’s served with a smile, almost a grin.

It’s irresistible.

Of course, once you finish the cone, you’ll stroll around, hang out by the water and maybe start to make plans about where to spend a week on next year’s vacation.

The Opinicon, a lovely little resort near Ottawa, could charge a lot more for an ice cream cone. A team of MBAs doing a market analysis and a P&L would probably pin the value at about $8. That’s where the ROI would be at its peak.

But they’re not in the business of selling ice cream cones. The ice cream cones are a symbol, a beacon, a chance to engage…

My Comment: Recently we worked with a team of leaders who do sophisticated analysis and planning. They had an incredible amount of data in their spreadsheets – but they didn’t have all the data. They were missing some of the intangibles, the effect on people, and how the numbers would be received and translated. Most of all, they hadn’t taken into account the critical factor Godin gets at in this article: desire. Why will people want what you offer?

I love a good spreadsheet and to keep things organized, but as Godin says: “If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you might end up with a rational plan, but the rational plan isn’t what creates energy or magic or memories.”

How can you make your team’s work irresistible?

Think Positively of Others by John Baldoni at SmartBrief

What’s the secret to a long-term relationship?

“Overlooking the negative and focusing on the positive,” says Helen Fisher, a best-selling author on relationships and a fellow at the Kinsey Institute.

Speaking on “The Diane Rehm Show,” Fisher says that brain scans of couples averaging 20 years revealed the parts of the brain that were active were those linked to empathy, self-control, and an ability to overlook negative, that is, “positive illusions.”

Maintaining “positive illusions” is an outlook that leaders can employ…

My Comment: In our leadership workshops I often share the principles that “you always make sense to you” and that “you are not the center of anyone else’s universe but yours.” When you keep these concepts in mind as you work with your people, it helps you maintain perspective and not get as easily upset when people don’t behave the way you would have expected.

Baldoni’s invitation to focus on the positive intentions can be extended to the assets that each employee brings to your team. Unless it’s negatively impacting the work or the team, don’t worry about the areas where they’re not as strong. Focus on what makes them excellent and on their contribution to the work and team. You’ll find what you look for – and, quite often, your expectations, perceptions, and positive outlook become reality.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore destructive or irresponsible behaviors. When those threaten an individual or team’s performance, you absolutely need to ditch the diaper drama and have the conversation.

What are the Best Employee Perks? 4 Questions to Ask First by Annamarie Mann at Gallup

Earlier this year, online craft marketplace Etsy came under public scrutiny after new investors balked at the long list of lavish perks offered at its Brooklyn headquarters.

Along with a community loom and crafting classes, the company had also renovated its office for $40 million, which included adding irrigated walls to grow plants, according to Quartz. Though these perks reinforce the cultural values of the organization, investors questioned if they distracted workers from achieving overall business success and outcomes….

But as companies begin to consider how they try to win over employees, it’s critical that they avoid racing after trends that may initially attract workers, but will ultimately fail to retain them. After all, these perks may be alluring at first, but companies need to make sure they’re not overlooking the fundamental benefits and perks for which most job seekers are actually looking.

My Comment: I once worked at a company that put in a gym with much fanfare. It sat unused, however, because the president thought anyone who tried to workout, even during their breaks or lunch could have been more productive.

When it comes to employee perks, I use the metaphor of frosting a cake. If you haven’t baked a good cake, you can’t decorate it. If you try to slap some frosting (perks) on a half-baked cake (poor employee experience), you end up with a mess.

Too many leaders try to solve morale problems with perks. People are never upset because there isn’t a ping pong table or weight set at work. They’re upset because of core issues: perhaps a systemic injustice, they’re no appreciated, or irrational competing priorities make success impossible. When you have these issues causing problems, don’t introduce perks – they’re insulting. Fix the issues.

Once you have a healthy core, then use the questions in Mann’s article to help you identify which perks make the most sense for your organization.

The Wrong Side of Right by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street

One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome.

People who are working to prove themselves right will work hard finding evidence for why they’re right. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to disagree with someone who has another idea. Everything becomes about their being right.

These otherwise well-intentioned people are making the same costly mistake that I did…

My Comment: This is one of the most important life lessons that some people never learn. My way of asking it is: “Do you want to be effective or do you want to be ‘right’?” The insistence on your own rightness (whether you are objectively right or not) does little to help you influence other people, get buy-in, and move people to action.

For leaders insisting on credit for yourself, or being right at the expense of others being wrong, or what you did vs what happened are certain to keep you from being effective. Focus instead on the outcomes. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to prove you had an idea first or do you want the team to implement and exceed expectations because they owned the idea themselves?

There’s a saying I learned as a child that may serve you as it has served me: “Someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”

In every situation, ask: “What does success look like?” Follow up by asking yourself what you can do to achieve that success. Rarely will the answer be “prove to everyone that I was right.”

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

5 Secrets To Effective Decision Making

“Laura,” a senior exec working to build leadership throughout her team, looked up from her salad and confided.

“Karin, the truth is I have so many things going on in any given day, I may not remember the exact decision I made if it was a trivial matter, and I may not even remember exactly what I said about something important. But what I DO KNOW is what I WOULD HAVE SAID in any given circumstance. My values guide my decision-making, so the answer would always be the same.

If someone tries to twist my words, I just think “Is that something I could have possibly said?” If the answer is no, I move on. At the end of the day, if you are leading consistently, you really don’t have to remember that much.”

Exactly.

5 Secrets to Effective Decision Making

Winning Well managers know that like everything else that matters, decision-making is always an AND game of Confidence AND Humility, Results AND relationships. Winning Well leaders know that making the right decisions is clearly only the beginning, it’s also about building decision making competency throughout your team.

1. Be Crystal Clear on Your Values.

Taking some time to really consider your values and operating principles will save a lot of time-consuming waffling and hand wringing down the line. Write down your leadership credo, that way when the decisions get tough, you’ve got the scaffolding already in place.

2. Insist that people on your team make decisions they should make.

You use energy to make decisions. The more decisions you make in a day, the more difficult it becomes to make the next one. Stop making decisions you don’t need to make, and invest in helping your team build their decision making muscles. Ask great strategic questions. Be sure your team understands your values and any big rules. Most importantly, if you empower them to make the decision, don’t freak out when they make the wrong one. Take a deep breath and then work to understand the thought process, so the next decision they make will be less wacky.

3. Make low-risk decisions quickly.

If the consequences are minimal, make decisions quickly and move on. Save your 3 am worry for decisions that matter.

4. Make decisions once

This is an old and essential productivity tool. Look at an email once, then either delete it, act on it, schedule it for future action, put it in a file related to its project, or put it in a “maybe read later.”

5. Include the right players.

Before making any major decision ask yourself, “Who really needs to be involved in this and why?” Stakeholder, yes, but resist the urge to over-include.

Of course, you can follow these guidelines and still screw it up. Sometimes I do too. When that happens, don’t obsess, but do take a moment to reflect and take that learning with you for the next time.

Advice on Advice

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Ever given?
What advice do you wish you had ignored?
What guidance do you wish you could retract?

“Advice is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it seeks into the mind.”>
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I recently met Raul Valdes-Perez, an advice “expert,” author of the new book, Advice is For Winners. He looks at advice from every angle, with tangible tools of when, where, why and how to look for (and give advice). I asked him for some additional insights for our LGL community.

Advice: The Interview

Q: Of the 28 reasons you list for why people don’t seek advice, which 2 or 3 do you think are the most common?

“The most common by far is that people just don’t think of it, because they’re not in the habit. Other reasons are that they don’t know whom to ask, or they don’t recognize that actual knowledge is helpful. My overall message is that when facing a problem or issue, ask yourself if you have the knowledge and experience to deal with it, and if not, who does and can help.”>

Q: You share lots of great quotes on advice, which best represents you view (or which is your favorite?) 

“For its wit, brevity, and substance, my favorite is: “Those who have no children bring them up well.”

Q: What’s the best advice you ever received? 

“For me, advice must take account of your circumstances, goals, and constraints; otherwise it’s not advice, but principles, methods, or examples. My most memorable advice concerned how best to go about raising investment capital while I was Vivisimo’s CEO, some seven years after its founding. I met with three local CEOs, explained our situation, and followed one of their recommendations, with the confidence that I wasn’t overlooking something.”

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

“When I co-founded Vivisimo with two other computer scientists, none of us knew anything about business. As the senior member of the three, as CEO of a company without outside investors, and as the only one authorized to work (initially!), I had to make lots of decisions. Besides reading a lot about all aspects of business, I regularly got targeted advice after explaining our situation to others. It then occurred to me that lots of people make wrong decisions, avoidably, for lack of getting advice, both in life and work.”

Q: Of course, my standard question.”What makes you “skip to work?”

“I love to make something out of nothing, and to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Getting advice seemed like a simple topic, but it’s been possible to uncover many dimensions whose mastery will make anyone a better decision maker.”

Empowerment Run Amok: How One Bad Decision Leads To Another

You believe in servant leadership.

Empowerment is your middle name.

Results are strong.

The team is happy.

And then.

Someone makes a really bad decision.

The consequences are big.

Your boss is not happy.

How could YOU let that happen?

Why weren’t YOU more involved?
And you begin to wonder about the person who made the poor choice.

  • Why did he make such a bad decision?
  • Didn’t he understand the potential consequences?
  • Why didn’t he ask for help?
  • Why was I not informed sooner

It might be hard but stop, and think well before reacting.

If you are not careful, the next bad decision may be your own.

How you react now, matters. Everyone is watching your next move. Do you really believe in empowerment?

The decision you make next will have long-term implications on trust and the relationship with your entire team. People are talking, texting and instant messaging count on it.

3 Steps to Responding Well to a Bad Decision

1. Temper and Reflect

  • Have I carefully considered my approach to empowerment– Who to empower with what decisions and why?
  • Have I clearly communicated the big picture and long-term goals?
  • Have I taught effective decision-making?
  • Have I explained the importance of my involvement in certain kinds of decisions?
  • Am I approachable and available to support?
  • Have I been teaching enough about the political landscape and how to include and inform stakeholders?
  • … what would you add?

2. Take Accountability

  • Own the mistake, never blame
  • Roll up your sleeves and be involved in the fix
  • Involve the employee in the solution
  • Coach in private
  • Carefully consider the answers to the questions above, what do you need to adjust?
  • Communicate any changes without linking back to a specific employee’s mistake
  • … what would you add?

3. Teach

  • Ask questions for self-discovery
  • Share a story of when you screwed up and what you learned
  • Reassure the employee that this can be fixed most things can, even when they look grim
  • … what would you add?

 

The Power of Yes

“Yes-let’s said Tigger, bouncing a little, even though he had no idea what was to be begun. He liked to be asked to do things, and he liked to be asked to do them first, and he always said “yes,” because it is much more interesting when you do.”

-David Benedictus, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood

As leaders (or community members, parents, friends), deciding where to spend our physical and emotional energy can be daunting. So much of the self-help literature seems to be teaching us how to say “no” to the wrong things so we have more time to say “yes” to the “right” things.

That makes sense.

What can be more difficult is knowing the difference. Sometimes the most illogical opportunities can provide the most fascinating experiences. Sometimes the growth comes precisely because the opportunity is out of our comfort zone, or because we have to completely rearrange our lives to make room for it.

Yes can be scary. 

Yes leads to opportunity.

A Story of Yes

I recently got involved in writing and directing a children’s musical for our church. An out of the box “yes” project for me for sure. On the surface, there was absolutely no room in my life for this, but it was an amazing experience. The kids and volunteers were fantastic. I must say, we put on a heck of a show.

But then, came the real “yes” or “no” question. We had performed the show one evening, deconstructed (and thrown away) most of the set, and a few weeks had gone by when I got a call from my minister. “Would we reprise the show for a church service?”

Everyone who knows me well and cares about me had the same reaction, “say no.” They saw how the show consumed me the first time. On the surface it did not make sense, the logistics of pulling this off again, with the kids out of practice, many of the volunteers gone, limited set. Something made me say, “yes.”

What happened next was one of the most magical moments of my year. We found enough of the set to make it look fun, the kids all stepped up to practice like crazy on their own, they managed themselves backstage without a lot of parent volunteers, the congregation was absolutely packed and the kids had a blast and received a standing ovation. As I was standing there after the service, I had tears in my eyes and thought, “I almost said, no.”

Sometimes saying no can prevent us from stretching ourselves or working past the surface difficulties. I will surely still say “no” to many things, but I have learned the value of thinking well and deep before I do.