Find the Reverse Leaders in Your Midst – Scott Edinger – Harvard Business Review

Find the Reverse Leaders in Your Midst – Scott Edinger – Harvard Business Review.

A good piece on identifying (growing) the leaders from any chair. Some of the elements to be nurtured in employees (who can also be groomed as future leaders) are encouraging those who:

  • Understand that they can influence through good interpersonal skills instead of waiting for a certain position.
  • Are results oriented and display high levels of integrity; and
  • Are well versed in an area important to the business.



Beyond measure – The secret sauce that makes excellent teams


(c) Wayne S. Grazio

(c) Wayne S. Grazio


I’m enjoying the new series of short books (long essays really) put out by the TED group. These are single topic books that you can buy for your kindle for approx $10-$15 Canadian. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read including this first one called “Beyond Measure.” The book is a good and easy read but I’d welcome a longer treatment of the topic – it’s an important one.

The thesis on this one is that great teams are made by something difficult to measure and this is a strong work culture. The author calls it the secret sauce of organizational life.  Culture is comprised of small actions and though often beyond our control as managers, it is happily non-linear in its spread.

You can create a strong work culture by building trust in an environment that generates the best ideas.

Unhelpfully. our brains like efficiency and search for matches including in hiring when we tend to hire mirrors of our selves not people who will help us be windows to the outside world. This means we don’t get the best ideas.

To generate a stronger team culture where new ideas are introduced including ones that will run against the grain, we need courageous leadership.  This is a culture that will see people calmly raise issues and concerns. Unanimity is a sign that participation isn’t really whole-hearted. (She uses harrowing examples of plane crashes caused by bad work cultures and lack of communication, to illustrate this point).

She makes a good point there is often more give in most systems than we’d expect for raising new ideas.  The challenge is to solicit discomforting data which will help us elaborate what we’d see if we were wrong.  She uses a great example of US intelligence sniffing out the end of the cold war in her text.  Basically, the top gun had been told that the cold war was in full force but when he stated probing if contrary data was available he found it. (meat being stolen from trains with no state recourse).

Hearteningly, she tells us what it takes to get collective intelligence in a team:  ensuring each person speaks an equal amount of time, getting a group that is socially sensitive (to needs of others, group dynamics) and groups that include more women (this is thought to be linked to the second element).

The higher the social capital of a group, the better it can deal with conflict. The capital is created through a culture of trust and the ability to build on good ideas to make them even better.

Finally she cites “Project Oxygen” the study Google did on what makes a good manager. Subject matter expertise was found at the bottom of the list which was a surprise to many. At the top, good managers were ones who believe in and care about their staff and take an interest in their lives and allow employees to sort things out by asking them questions instead of giving direction.

5 Paths To Doing Great Work At A Terrible Company | Co.Design | business + design

(c) Barry Kuts

 5 Paths To Doing Great Work At A Terrible Company

This article has good general application to working through situations which aren’t your best fit.  It may not be the company itself that is an issue but your particular situation.

In particular, I liked the invitation to a perspective shift borrowed apparently from the Scottish Parliament – “Work as if you live in the early days of a better company.”  Also, be tenacious and as needed, moonlight to do the work you want to be doing.

via 5 Paths To Doing Great Work At A Terrible Company | Co.Design | business + design.

Embracing the understudy role

This past weekend was the marathon race in Ottawa.  This isn’t an event I follow closely despite my admiration for all the participants.

One story at the margin caught my attention though – I really enjoyed learning about the great finish for the pacesetter for the elite runners in the men’s marathon.  Luka Rotich was hired by the race sponsor to keep pace for the first 30 or 35 kilometres and then free to do as he wished – quit running or finish the race.  He chose the latter and finished second.

I liked the reminder that you can sign up for a supporting role and sooner or later, you can have your moment in the sunlight as thanks for your efforts.  In this case, the pacesetter nearly upstaged the other runners.  If you want to read more about the race result, you can do so here.


Reflections II

(c) ecotist

Here is the second part of my reflections on leaving my leadership role with a Departmental Middle Managers’ Network.  Part I is found here.

Keep the lows in perspective: Though all the work we are doing matters, you can lose perspective when you are legitimately worn down. One of the supports to my own resilience is taking the long term view on the crisis of the moment.  An article made the rounds recently about the 10/10/10 rule, which suggests that you to ask yourself if your current crisis will matter in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years.  By the time you reach the last question, you’ll have a good sense of whether the situation has the potential to leave a permanent scar or take the train off its tracks or is just part of the necessary dip on your way to a goal.

Small successes may reap large rewards: It snuck up on me that many after small efforts, the visibility and credibility of the organization began to rise.  After negotiating how to send out regular communications to our group (many that were forwards from our National Managers’ Community), and hosting a couple of events which were topical and well attended, the flywheel started turning.  I was caught off guard. People started saying sentences with words that I understood, arranged in ways that made no sense to my ears.  By this I mean they were positive and enthusiastic: “You have quite a high profile committee.” “How do I get on that committee?”   I hope that I can take forward the importance of the small act as I go forward.

Meet people where they are.  If you hear crickets when you ask for help, keep asking and get others to ask on your behalf:  As a manager, I take the job of helping my team develop and stretch into new skills to heart and I expected this philosophy to serve me well leading this committee.  Frankly, it didn’t.  Committee members have demanding day jobs and this work is carried out on the side.  In time. I learned to rely heavily on the literature around managing volunteers for support. The main thing I learned is that it would generally be best to meet people where they are.

Trying to cajole people to lead activities that they don’t want to, and that aren’t technically part of their job descriptions, is like telling an adult that they have to eat the creamed corn even if it makes them gag.

In the earliest days we asked (and expected) our committee members to be active enough to carry out all the elements of the agreed upon strategic plan. When this did not turn out to be possible, we were peeved and frustrated  moved on.

We always had success eventually in a few different strategies: 1) Asking someone more senior to ask on our behalf 2) Offering specific help.  For example, “Would it help you if I called to block David’s schedule?”  People can often keep moving their items along with small bits of assistance. 3) Finding help by going as broadly as possible in your call out.  We might call out to all middle managers or even aspiring middle managers.  4) Partnering with another already established, well respected network in our Department.  Bottom line, stop with the woulda, coulda, shouldas and do what you need to do the land the plane.

Avocation may bring greater joy than vocation:  For the number of days that I said to myself over the past two years that I could do so much better if I just had more time to devote to this role, on reflection, I don’t honestly know if I could have enjoyed it as much, if I had done it as a full time gig. In my role, I was spared the, the day-to-day work of finding rooms for events, prepping meeting folders and landing large scale contracts were ably handled by a group in our learning section.  Thanks to Larry L for this insight.

Mary Robinson on Influence Without Authority – HBR IdeaCast – Harvard Business Review

(c) aesum

The Harvard Business Review recently interviewed former President of Ireland and former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson and she had some interesting things to say about how to have influence without authority.  Some excerpts from the transcript of the interview are found below.

MARY ROBINSON: Part of it was to be close to those who were providing good examples of whatever the activity might have been. Local self-development in areas where I would just go and visit and then use that as an example and talk about it. Reach out in friendship to the two communities in Northern Ireland and use visits there– or visits by representatives of those communities to the official residence– to explain the importance of reconciliation.

I wondered when I was elected president, how I’d fulfill the promise I made that I would try to represent an Ireland that cared about human rights. And when the opportunity came to go first of all to Somalia and later to Rwanda, there was an opportunity on behalf of a small country– Ireland– to speak out on the need to address serious conflicts. The need to stop a genocidal killing. The need then afterwards to care enough to support countries coming out of these traumas.

And now I think I’ve learned in a different way how to try to influence, because I’ve had experience since I ended my term as High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2002 of leading two small organizations. First of all, Realizing Rights out of New York. And now the foundation on climate justice, The Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice in Dublin.

In both cases, the organization itself is very small but with global ambition. And to achieve that you just have to partner well. You have to know where the niche issue is that will point to a whole area that needs to be addressed by those who have the power. And you need the entry points. You need to be innovative. I think you need to think out of the box quite a lot. And I enjoy doing that.

via Mary Robinson on Influence Without Authority – HBR IdeaCast – Harvard Business Review.

The call to lead | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs

(c) Sean MacEntee

The call to lead | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs.

A great piece on when to decide to heed the call to take a leadership position including the very honest reflection that often your first answer will be a huge “no” because of the demands it may represent.

The author lists four elements to consider as you decide about taking a leadership position.  These  resonated with me in my experience to seek the position of middle manager champion in my Department.

I can see returning to this list again for help in making crucial decisions on adding new leadership roles to my plate.

The mission is aligned with your head and heart.

You are the right person at the right time.

You see a better future. 

After thinking it over, you know it’s the right thing to do.

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! | Video on

Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! | Video on

A great  TED talk – a lovely, funny  and passionate talk on why traditional aid models don’t work and how the art of listening and teamwork are needed to fuel entrepreneurial spirit.

Oversharing Part II

In the second post on the theme of “less is more”, a link to a blog post that summarizes a key point in Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What got you here, won’t get you there: How successful people become even more successful.”

The author makes the link between the unintended disconnect between the desire of some managers to add value who then unwittingly decrease engagement.

He recounts how an employee might bring a great idea to the manager and the manager may “[R]ather than saying ‘great idea’, — being the brilliant, technically gifted person I am, I may well say, ‘That is a very good idea. Why don’t you add this to it?’ “

He posits that the quality of the idea may go up 5% with the suggestions, but that the commitment to its execution may go down by 50% because it is no longer the employee’s idea because the manager has made it their idea.

This might be hard to stomach for some as it may be a knock on their own identity as managers.  However, there is much other value that can be added by managers that won’t run as much risk of decreasing engagement, including advocacy for employees’ ideas.

When Should You Keep Your Ideas to Yourself? – Marshall Goldsmith.

Being the [Big] Boss Isn’t So Stressful After All – David Rock – Harvard Business Review

Being the Boss Isn't So Stressful After All - David Rock - Harvard Business Review

Being the Boss Isn’t So Stressful After All – David Rock – Harvard Business Review.

A fascinating read from the Harvard Business Review positing that working at the top of an organization may be less stressful than being in the first level ranks of management.

The article makes links to new research in neuroscience on what the brain perceives as threats or rewards in five key areas:  Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

The argument they advance is that though the stress at the top is great, this can be counterbalanced by the gains in status, certainty and autonomy, while first level managers are becoming more and more stressed because they are losing ground in these areas.