I’ve enjoyed reading through a book of commencement speeches this week called “Way More Than Luck”. Most moving to me was the one given by Madeleine L’Engle to Wellesley College in 1991.
She recounted how she was placed in a school which valued sport participation and she wasn’t able to contribute due to having been born with legs of two different lengths. For some reason, her home room teacher equated this with a lack of intellect and completely gave up on her. Madeleine withdrew from her schoolwork and began to dedicate herself to her own writing in Grade three. She eventually switched schools and ended up with a first-year teacher who considered it part of her role find and affirm in each person, that which is intrinsically valuable. The teacher tasked her with writing a sequel to the Odyssey.
I liked this reminder that people can rise to challenges but that your attitude about whether you think they can is crucial.
A recent article from the Harvard Business Review, People won’t grow if you think they can’t change, elaborates the point drawing on the fixed mindset versus growth mindset work of Carol Dweck. Not only is a growth mindset important to see the potential for people to grow, a fixed mindset may prevent you from seeing the progress an employee has made (and may also well prevent an employee from seeing the progress you are making) thus calcifying a difficult relationship.
What was also poignant about reading L’Engle’s commencement speech was that L’Engle’s teacher acted as a force multiplier for her by taking a task that she was willing to do on her own and asking her to stretch and build on it. I dipped into a book called Multipliers earlier this year on this theme. While “diminishers” are apt to believe that work can’t get done without the help of a manager are more likely to shut people down with sharp remarks, “multiplier” managers can get two times more work from their people if they can build on their employee’s existing talents – things they can do with minimal effort, things they do without being asked and things that they’d do readily without being paid. What is perhaps most liberating about multipliers is that they generate pressure to create the best work (and create the space that this could occur) without creating stress. They rather generate the belief that the impossible is possible.
L’Engle admits that her sequel to the Odyssey likely wasn’t that great but the suggestion to attempt it seemed to help plant the seed for her momentous career in writing.
On some of my “I feel like a bad manager” days, I’ve struggled mightily with needing to give vague instructions to advance a product and feeling discomfort if not resistance, resentment, anger and panic as employees work through the process.
With experience, I am now much more careful to share that I am not withholding information (“I know everything you know”) and I take care to erase the concern that I am delegating so quickly that I have skimmed over details that could support the iteration process.
I also now understand some of the reasons behind the negative emotions I see in these situations and it is helpful: I don’t want to waste time, I don’t want to look stupid, and I think this is pointless because your instructions are so vague that it is impossible for me to hit the mark.
And in fairness, as this recent piece from Fast Company outlines well, our formal training may well not prepare us to deal with ambiguity which is basically an opportunity to be creative or innovative and think about solutions that we may only discover through the process itself.
In bureaucratic settings we are not necessary advancing our skills to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty. We are usually bounded by time, templates, page limits etc.
So how do we pull through when we know so little? The main thing is to advance something somehow so here are my tips:
I appreciate that the Fast Company piece focuses on the need to trust the effectiveness of your regular processes including your standard ways of researching problems and mining your existing networks for information.
Instead of focusing on the fact that limited boundaries could give rise to an infinite scope of products, focus on the fact that a good product can take many different forms. If someone comes back with “I was thinking of a chart not a narrative actually” you can add that to your stash of useful information.
I’d suspect that vague iterations may especially painful for perfectionists. This is a great moment to leave these tendencies at the door as best you can. My best response to vague instructions is usually to jump in with a couple of iterations much earlier in the game than I would normally to figure out if I am even in the ballpark.
I’d recommend to calibrate your normal reactions to feedback so that you are even less sensitive to anything negative or critical that comes your way in reaction to your iterations because you know that the instructions were vague.
A good short article on one person’s strategy to let go of procrastination. The things I found most powerful were the suggestions of thinking of the pain it would cause in the end to keep avoiding the real work and the challenge to think about whether the trade off to give in to distractions were worth it to avoid the difficult work that would precede a satisfying outcome.
I deeply admire Seth Godin’s ability to pump out blog posts daily on crucial topics.
This is a great treatise on how panic corrodes good work places. We don’t become better workers when we panic but worse ones.
Panic fuels the fight or flight reaction and actually makes us deaf.
“The answer to, “should we panic,” is always no. Always. Panic is expensive, panic compounds and panic doesn’t solve the problem.”
Panic also gives the message that we don’t have what it takes to overcome the hurdle or that we are headed for catastrophic outcomes.
My former coach Charles Lemieux created a teaching tool by taking the results of a survey on how the best companies do business and had simplified the key concepts into single words. For immediate supervisors, the word was “hope.” I think that panic, at least in the moment, erases hope and we abdicate our role as leaders when we give in to it.
This is another excellent article – worth the whole read especially for female leaders.
Top ten reasons:
1. It drives away good people.
2. It causes pain to those you manage.
“Even if they don’t quit working for you, your perfectionism can cause others on your team to put in unnecessary hours, suffer from constant criticism and actually stop taking initiative.”
3. It blocks promotability.
4. It prevents risk-taking.
5. It stops people from applying for new jobs.
6. It impedes innovation.
7. It makes work-life balance impossible.
8. It crowds out networking:
“Too many of the women we coach have to learn to lift up their heads from task completion to look around, build relationships and study their business beyond their own purview. We, as women, tend to criticize men for golfing, drinking together or taking long lunches while we slave away at our desks. Networking is crucial for building trust, strengthening teams and preparing yourself for the next levels of your career.”
9. Makes you seem overly tactical (and not strategic).
“No one will think you can see the big picture or set priorities when you seem focused on the minutia. Being able to let go of your perfectionist tendencies may help you to win more strategic projects.”
10. Takes the focus off the most important things.
This interview is a good summary that will serve as my overdue nod to a book I found on the Globe and Mail list of the top ten business books of the year in 2011. The Progress Principle is the result of the analysis of thousands of work diaries to figure out what makes employees feel empowered at work – it’s making progress on meaningful work. The definition of meaning has to make sense for each person and the amount of progress can be small. Managers can support through finding catalysts (clear goals and resources) and nourishments (respect and emotional support) to progress versus creating inhibitors (micro-managing) and toxins (being disrespectful). What I wish the authors had elaborated on was the difficult rub of a collective making progress on meaningful work with liberal amounts of inhibitors and toxins thrown into the mix. To my mind, the framing of the thesis can miss the mark because the definition of progress can work for some and not for others.
“Over-thinking, pontificating, and wondering are tools for the slacker. People don’t care what almost happened, or what your problems are or why something wasn’t. “
“Think someone else is responsible for your education? Think again.”
“Nothing–and I’ll say it again, but louder–NOTHING will spring from your creative self fully formed. […] The summary of those iterations will aggregate into something special.”
Take a deep breath.
“Life, work, art can be hard. Anxiety – not to be confused with the positive stress of deadlines and forced production schedules – is counter productive. So when shit is getting hairy, take a breath. Everything is going to be okay.
“Your work should be fun. […] If you don’t take delight, your career will be short, either by choice or by fate.”
Find some quiet.
“Synthesis–the gluing together of your ideas–requires some sort of quiet, be it just a moment or bunch of moments. So carve out this time.”
A good article on the need to advance things with less than full certainty – a key competency. I liked the bits that also spoke to the need to be confident and manage your own stress so that you are resilient in the face of uncertainty.
Related to this recent piece I posted, a good article from the Harvard Business Review on how to manage people you don’t like.
A good piece which highlights the benefits of working with people who aren’t like you and could be well placed to challenge your approaches for the ultimate benefit of the organization. The article gives very useful, practical tips including seek out the positive, and ensure that you treat all employees with the same hand during evaluations – seek an outside perspective if needed.
This is a lovely piece on an expansive view of intelligence and all the things that influence it.
The over-arching theme is that intelligence isn’t fixed and is largely situational.
The author draws out certain themes from the literature which influence how intelligent we are going beyond the standard, expertise and including, what emotions are at play (negative emotions kick in the “flight” response, so it’s hard to be so smart), what relationships exist and our own mindset.
To my mind, this has great value for managers in that it reminds us that we can to much to support our team’s collective intelligence by creating the right conditions to the extent we can.
What I would add for my two cents is that we can be made more intelligent by supportive challenge and also by being made to explain our topic for a specific audience.