Confession: I was a benevolent dictator | SmartBrief

 

Source: Confession: I was a benevolent dictator | SmartBrief

A good piece on a book I enjoyed and have touched on in another piece called Multipliers.

This article focuses on the ability to empower employees by shaking off the inclination to be a constant contributor to the ideas they bring and resisting the temptation to give step-by-step instructions for every task.

I especially liked the quote that when you give advice, the brain is essentially asleep versus when you ask questions it engages the listener.

On Legacy

(c) lendingmemo.com.

I’ve been enjoying chipping away at the special Legacy Issue of the Rotman School of Management Magazine and a few snippets that I have found valuable have helped shift my thinking from a definition of legacy that goes beyond awards, scholarships and other named recognition but also reaches beyond changes that outlast the person who instigated them.  I take no big quibble with these definitions of legacy but I prefer the more nuanced treatment highlighted in the survey of articles in this magazine.  How people think and behave as a result interacting with you is your legacy.  And as importantly to me as a manager, maybe our key role is help others build their legacies.

Respect Employees: Be Tough on Them – A Response

Respect Employees: Be Tough on Them.

I read many more articles than I post on this blog.  One of my filters is that I generally post things with which I agree.

But, in this instance, I feel that this article missed enough nuances for me to want to mount a response.

The basic premise advanced here is that nasty work environments  with lots of negative feedback, are better at advancing complex tasks and get better results.  The prescription here is something less than a toxic work environment but somehow lands with a place where we’d allow employees to feel “anxious and depressed” in the name of achievement.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to respect employees by giving them honest feedback about what’s working and what’s not working.  Yes that’s the basic work we need to do.  Are we hardwired to be good at this as managers? Not always.  I know that I was terrible at this at the beginning of my management career for a variety of reasons.  One of my greatest ongoing learnings is how to give meaningful feedback about how to get from here to there.

This much I think I know.   We need to stop redoing employees’ work and giving thoughtful effort to what feedback we provide to get the products where we need them.  Time travel back to a time before track changes as a method of giving feedback – it’s too easy to lapse back into re-writing.  Watch how seasoned senior leaders give feedback – some margin notes or a couple of bullets in a cover email.  If the document is so off base that this can’t work, a regrouping meeting may be required and this will be an exercise in shared responsibility in how we failed to land in the right place.

 We also need to let employees do their own learning.

We also need to respect those who give us feedback enough to want to rise the the challenge of what they ask of us.  I learned gobs from a phone coach who was helping me brush up my French skills.  I felt like I was in the conjugation Olympics every Friday morning at 8:30.  She kept me on my toes and yes I did want to please her.  As is elaborated in the Talent Code, as Daniel Coyle kindly confirmed for me by email this week:  you should avoid coaches who treat you like eager waiters and seek out coaches who scare you a little.

Can this cross the line into someone who belittles or humiliates? Absolutely not.  Are environments where employees feel worn down and depressed ones that are also creative hotbeds? I find this hard to believe.

The opposite actually seems to be true – rather that our brains shut down when we feel we are under attack and reject feedback when we are feeling threatened.

“… What this means at work and at home is that we have a very hard time listening to someone if we are angry with them, or if we feel they are treating us unfairly.   And in fact, this is true.   It’s almost impossible to take feedback from someone who you feel is treating you unfairly, even if the feedback makes perfect sense.  And this turns out to be one of the primary reasons we reject even useful feedback.”

We also now know that the praise to criticism ratio is very high for high performing teams: for high performing teams it is over 5 to one. for negative teams it is three negative comments for every one.  Does this ratio change over time? Yes most likely it does with more expert performers who will need more targeted feedback on things to improve as they reach mastery.

So in sum, yes, employees do need the straight goods on what is working or not working. What we also need is:

  • The ability to articulate what isn’t working while providing the tools to get from here to there.
  • Feedback that leaves the door open for a shared responsibility for how we got to where we are and along with the hope that we will get where we need to go, together.
  • Feedback from a source we respect – that won’t pander but won’t demean.
  • A work environment which spends more time affirming what is working than what is not working.  To paraphrase a wise colleague, you can’t over do positive feedback.  When you do have to show up with the news that things didn’t go so well, you will have the credibility to be heard.

The three business books that I’d ask you to read

(c) abee5

Seth Godin recently posed a suggested challenge: pick three books that changed your thinking and then buy them for three admired people and ask them to read them over the holidays to advance a conversation.

Though I won’t honour the challenge to the letter, I think that doing some reflection on books that changed my thinking is a great way to end the year on the blog. Here are three books that made a difference to my thinking as a manager for the better:

1) Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

I own multiple copies if this one and use it to prepare for most difficult conversations. Of the three books I am recommending it’s the only one that I think has genuine utility in everyday life.

The book makes the point that each conversation is really three different conversations: the “what happened” conversation (where we tend to spend all of our time to our detriment), the “identity” conversation – what is the effect of the problem on each person’s identity? and the feelings conversation. The book also has a number of tools to support difficult conversations including to enter conversations as “learning” conversations.

The support the spirit of Seth Godin’s challenge, I will give a copy of this book to the first three people who email me saying that they’d like it.

2) Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

This is a book about the power of emotional intelligence its links to leadership. The emotions of leaders are greatly magnified for better and for worse and they change the dynamic of teams quite powerfully. This book in combination with some of the more recent writing make the link between how your brain shuts down under stress – you go into fight flight mode and can actually go deaf – it is nearly impossible to work well under such conditions.  At the other end of the scale, positive emotions, generate powerful creativity.

As well, this was also the first book to convince me to abandon the idea that leadership is innate. Most powerfully, the belief that leadership can be learned, will set someone up to be empowered for success in truly difficult situations.

3) Drive: Daniel Pink’s bestseller on motivation – it comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

One the main findings – when you link monetary rewards to performance it only works well with rudimentary tasks.  Performance actually gets worse with pay incentives with tasks involving analytical skills.

Here are two videos which explain his main ideas for those of you not inclined to read the book:

Animated one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

TED talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y

Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders

(c)steven_the_spamkid

An important piece for me to have read this year – I work with a hardworking and understandably tired team.

The best bits in my opinion:

“Help your team understand what matters most.   Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission.  Candor strengthens resolve.  Empowering “less than perfect”, energizes the front lines.”

“Provide a little leave:  “Your highest performers won’t complain.  They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done.  You may not even know they’re tired.   Initiate the conversation.  Establish regular check-ins.  Make it okay to politely question your asks.”

Manage your own stress:  Stress rolls down hill.  Get a grip.

via Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders.

13 Item Hit List That Will Make A Successful Artist | Chase Jarvis Blog

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The Hit List: 13 Things Crucial For Your Success [In Any Field]

A lovely list – I’ve excerpted the list and left the language “as is” but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Get shit done.  Yep I have written about this before.

“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. “

Educate yourself.

“Think someone else is responsible for your education? Think again.”

Iterate.

“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.

Take delight.

“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.”

via 13 Item Hit List That Will Make A Successful Artist | Chase Jarvis Blog.

Tear off the labels

Not Running a Hospital: How a team degrades.

A great forwarded piece – thanks Andrew.

The author talks about an experiment where people wore hats (visible to all but the wearer) with a personal characteristic, either bad or good (creative, whiner).  Notwithstanding that everyone knew that these labels had been assigned arbitrarily, people started to be treated in accordance with their label.

He then goes on to talk about his own experience of getting an unfair label, and being unable to shake it.  Though this is the classic “halo” effect, this piece lays out the ripple effects more powerfully than many discussions and is worth a read.

Where this piece is a bit thin and I can always use more help is how to make the delicate jump from a legitimate observation that some behaviours recur and need support to change without forming personal characterizations and putting people on the defensive.

You’re Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson – Harvard Business Review

 

You’re Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson – Harvard Business Review.

An important if disturbing article with the basic premise is the fact that you’ll “pay it forward” if your boss is rude to you.  The article was disturbing because it reminded me of how difficult and important it is to re-calibrate after a difficult interaction so that you don’t mirror it to others.

What could have been a happier conclusion for this same premise is that positive emotions are also played forward.

While the authors suggest that walking away or learning from rude colleagues are options, I’d suggest a third which has provided more benefits than I’d expected:  Take the high ground by taking the level of communication to more civilized level, implicitly inviting others to join you.  I have been pleasantly surprised that the reaction (in person, or even in email), is often that people will tend to mirror back a higher level of civility.

Why Appreciation Matters So Much – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review

Why Appreciation Matters So Much – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review.

An important piece from one of my favourite HBR bloggers on the importance of appreciating people and the link to engagement.

I agree, reluctantly, with his conclusion that we often lack the language of positive emotion in the workplace.

To get things rolling in the right direction, he suggests learning to appreciate your own contribution and making a priority of appreciating others.

In Silicon Valley, Perks Now Begin at Home – NYTimes.com

In Silicon Valley, Perks Now Begin at Home – NYTimes.com.

While I have nothing to complain about concerning my salary, benefits etc., this article on the current wave of perks being given in the private sector left me green with envy: housecleaning and take-home meals are part of the new wave of employee perks.   There are bigger messages here though about the blurring between work/life and the ongoing search for giving employees perks that have meaning to them.  Thanks to Andrew for forwarding.