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 Ways to Ignite Your Summer Leadership Fitness

If you’re like me, you think more about getting fit when the days start to require less clothes. What if you also used summertime as a time to pay a bit more attention to your leadership fitness? Similar strategies apply. In fact, they work all year round (I put that in for my many Aussie subscribers in the midst of Winter).

5 Ways To Ignite Your Leadership Fitness

Go Anaerobic

The best way to learn is to get your heart rate going. Bigger challenges require extra effort. If your job’s starting to feel a bit like a Sunday stroll, it’s time to pick up the pace. Take on a special assignment. Dig deeper. Exhausting your mental leadership reserves is a great way to build new muscle.

Be Consistent

How many times have you seen someone go to a leadership training, come back all fired up, and then go right back to their old habits a few days later? Pick one or two leadership behaviors you want to improve, and practice them consistently every day. This could be something as simple as “I’m going to ask more strategic questions to get my team thinking.” Or, “I’m going to wait until others have had a chance to speak in meetings until I chime in.”

Endure the Heavy Lifting

I’ve never met anyone who loves push-ups. They’re low on the list of intrinsic satisfiers. But they’re damn effective. Becoming a better leader is hard work. Maybe for you that’s finally having that difficult conversation with that arrogant co-worker. Or perhaps, it’s sitting down and having that important conversation with the guy you your team that would be better served (and of service) in a different role.

Include Cross Training

The best way to expand your skills is to do something new. Consider a rotational assignment or go shadow a peer in a different department. Don’t forget to stretch.

Train in Intervals

You can’t be anaerobic all the time. Work hard on your leadership, and then give yourself opportunities to rest and reflect. When you take time to consider what’s working and what to improve, the next go will be a bit stronger.

Confidence Bursts: Interval Training To Drive Results

I have run many, many miles. I’ve had the injuries, experienced the chaff, my toenails have turned black and then fallen off. I have also experienced the exhilaration and confidence that comes from training hard and long. Marathons build confidence.

Yet, lately I’ve learned that it’s possible to achieve similar fitness levels, in much less time, through carefully organized interval training. Bursts of work, versus many long miles.

Apparently, it’s not the grueling hours, but the constant pushing on limits and stretching of competence levels (followed by “active recovery”) that leads to growth.

As a leader, I have also experienced the value of teaching and celebrating new skills intervals or “confidence bursts.”

Confidence Bursts During Times of Change

When leading large-scale change, some of the most important work involves giving people the confidence and competence to be successful. Even when people have the skills, if they don’t feel confident and excited about their ability to be successful in the new arena, they will be reluctant to try.

Leaders can build more confidence and competence on their teams by training them in intervals, or short confidence bursts.

The idea is to create a full court press on a given behavior during a finite period of time (usually one day) to prove what is possible at an individual and organizational level. Scaffold people with lots of extra attention, skill building, fun, recognition and celebration. The risk is low it’s just one day, it doesn’t feel like a big commitment to change. Once people experience success with the behavior, their confidence improves and the ceiling of what they perceive as possible moves a little higher.

Every time I have done this, the results have been head-turning and remarkable. The best part comes in the after-glow discussion if you (and we) can make this much magic on this day, why not every day?

How To Build Confidence In Bursts

  • Pick one or two tangible skills to work on
  • Schedule the “special day” and create anticipation
  • Begin the day with energy and fun, make it feel like a holiday
  • Set specific, measurable goals that can be achieved that day
  • Hold training and focused skill building throughout the day
  • Have your “experts” work side by side with those still learning
  • Celebrate every little success in a big, public way
  • Communicate specific success stories including the “how” behind them
  • Celebrate and debrief at the end of the day on “what worked” differently on this day and what was learned
  • Begin the next day with a reminder of key learnings

I find a few sets of these intervals (usually a month a part) in the context of a larger change management strategy can lead to remarkable and lasting change. I also know that the change has sunk in when the impact of such days begins to dwindle but the overall results stay up. The behaviors have become so frequent that the extrinsic motivation is no longer necessary. The value in the behaviors has become an inherent choice.

Change is a marathon. And sometimes, finding opportunities to train in intervals small bursts of confidence can be a good part of the plan.