In his masterful study, Leadership BS: Fixing workplaces and careers one truth at a time, Jeff Pfeffer forces his readers to deal with the actual realities of leadership. The picture is not pretty. His description is both highly analytical and comprehensive, dealing with both leadership practice and thinking.
Acknowledging the truth of his description will be painful for most and often. . .
The incompetent rarely know it. Dunning and Kruger have the evidence.
This morning I was having coffee with a number of coffee cronies and one asked me about the kid from Texas who was handcuffed for taking a clock he made to school, and got rewarded with a trip to the White House to meet with Obama. This 14-year-old freshman is partial to tinkering, technology and NASA T-shirts and wants to go to MIT. But he’s also a Muslim Black American. The handcuffing and three days of being suspended from school are a classic case in unreasoned prejudice and pernicious stereotyping: of teacher and police cluelessness.
My coffee colleague wanted to know why he was invited to the White House. I opined that it was a nice example of a “come to Jesus party for the backward Texas culture.” “Whaddya mean?” he asked....
Managing smart professionals can be difficult, but managing data science professionals can be even more difficult. Cultural differences--understanding how a culture thinks--are rarely clear to most business people, other than when they surface in difficulties. So understanding these differences early on limits the potential for friction and conflict.
MIT’s Roger Stein lays out a number of issues impacting organizational relations between data scientists and other disciplines.
Dynamic and self-correcting. As a result, timing and final project outcomes can be difficult to plan. Messy is the appropriate term. In contrast to
We all know about STEM, but Geoff Colvin suggests that’s not the whole problem for our future work success. Instead high achievers know stuff that STEM, brilliant software and machines will never know or bring to the party.
In his Fortune article and new book, Humans are Underrated, Colvin certainly has his finger on the right three issues. What’s unique is his framing of the issue of technological obsolescence. Typically, the framing is around what computers can’t do. Year after year we try to estimate the answer to that problem. But year after year software developers and algorithms prove us wrong. Amusingly, the Germans have a new robot that can both load and unload the dishwasher. So, what next? Driving the car? Diagnosing your illness? You should know better than that. Figuring out...
I’m not at all certain why gossip has acquired such a decidedly shady reputation. But before you send me off to Dante’s 8th Inferno, reserved solely for management and executive development consultants, let me explain my thinking. Two-thirds of all conversations, whether in business or otherwise, are about social relations. Most of which can be labeled gossip. Only a very small amount of that can be thought of as malicious. Indeed, the term gossip originally meant “godsibs,” what business people refer to as their peer group of friends. Gossip is typically the most useful information about an organization. It also comes equally from both men and women. So, I want to shine a significantly different light on all gossip, including “malicious” gossip.
First, some important conclusions: I soak up gossip like a monstrous sponge because it’s just damned useful stuff. It’s also utterly impossible to stop organizational gossip, so don’t waste your time trying. Actually, attempting to stop gossip is futile at best and destructive at worst. It’ll just go deeper underground. Furthermore, you’ll be very sorry if organizational gossip is no longer readily available.
Gossip and the big picture Before we narrow in on gossip, it’s important to understand the stuff of communication in organizations and societies. The beginning place for all language is to understand that language evolved ...
There is a terrific amount of opinion, written and otherwise, about employee engagement. But it looks as though what Gertrude Stein said about her home town of Oakland, California, is also true of employee engagement: “there is no there there.”
If you can deal with the challenge, you’ll want to go through Rob Briner’s thought piece on employee engagement from the perspective of evidence-based decision making. It’s readable, straight-forward and solid. As Briner’s article states up-front, he intends to “stimulate deeper and more critical thinking about employee engagement from an evidence-based practice perspective.”Briner is Professor of Organizational Psychology at the University of Bath (UK) and a leader in the field of evidence-based management.
Briner reveals that the current status of evidence on employee engagement is not a pretty picture.
The Evidence Based Management Collaborative is located at Carnegie Mellon and includes both academics and practitioners. EBMC focuses on empirical research, exactly what you’ll gain from Rosenzweig’s brilliant book, The Halo Effect. Briner also has a superb picture of the evidence hierarchy, with “expert opinion, anecdotes and case studies" at the bottom of the hierarchy.
The thought piece, excerpted below, addresses two fundamental questions about engagement:
Do increases in engagement cause increases in performance?
Do engagement interventions cause increased levels of engagement and subsequent increases in performance?
Recently I had a conversation with a retired vice-president of a billion dollar company about America’s youthful entrepreneurs. Of course, he mentioned the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Microsoft. He immediately got into his admiration for the youngsters who started their businesses barely out of their teens, commenting that if it wasn’t for youth we wouldn’t have much in the way of new business.
I’m too old to be governed by obviously-wrongheaded ideas, no matter where they come from, even when they’re from major executives. So after he finished, I paused and then started sharing the research on entrepreneurs: in sum, he was dead wrong. The huge majority of successful entrepreneurs are past the age of 40 when they start their first company.
He was silent for a moment. Then he started disagreeing with me, totally ignoring the fact that I’d emphasized the research. I listened quietly, then commented that it was all very romantic to believe in Gen-Yers. They certainly bring a lot of useful stuff to the party. But the facts of the matter just wouldn’t support his notions. He’s a very nice guy who occasionally pays attention to me, not least because I drive a Mercedes (crazy). It was clear, however that his intuition was working overtime, and I wanted to suggest to him that he tell his gut to shut up. . . .
I first posted this in November 2012, but since I'm working on a blog relating to the upside of Machiavelli's Prince I wanted to prep my readers. It wasn’t the Godfather’s Michael Corleone who first uttered this well-known dictum. Actually, it came from Machiavelli's "The Prince," the definitive primer for how to be a dictator and a politician. As I'm going to say next week, Machiavelli still matters. Furthermore, politics and business demand dirty hands, but there's actually nothing wrong with that. The ethics are simply different. Business execs and politicians shouldn't care. So stay tuned!
As a manager or leader it is inevitable that we’ll want to add to our knowledge base, try to sell ideas, get people on board and even change the direction of our organization. One of the involved persons just might be your enemy. That’s my basic rationale for acting on Machiavelli’s instinct.
In the business setting, I refer to “enemy” as a person you have to interact with, someone who’s competing for your resources, who doesn’t follow through on his commitments, whom you don’t trust, with whom the “chemistry” isn’t there, or who disagrees with your perspective from the ground up. These. . .
How can you figure out the smarts of a colleague without having a consulting PhD? I shouldn’t be giving this away, but the basics are actually so simple that anyone willing to keep her eyes glued and ears open to another person can figure out that person’s basic work smarts. Quickly and easily. By testing and watching for three simple behaviors.
But first, does it really matter how smart that person is? You bet your sweet bippy it does. You want to know whether you can trust his advice, whether he’ll have much to add to a new team project, whether he can be counted on to meet his objectives, whether he can accept added responsibility and even whether he’ll make an effective manager.
--Effectiveness comes from those qualitative things that give you the ability to network, communicate and lead people toward an outcome they can’t see.
I regularly read interviews of senior officers and CEOs in newspapers and magazines. As often as not, my responses follow a number of critical patterns. The most typical response to the interview is so what else is new? Not that insights necessarily need to be new to be valid or significant. But just as often I respond with thoughts like, that’s really off focus, that wouldn’t make much sense in most companies, that’s not a transferable principle, you really don’t get it, why did you go there, or. . . well, you get the point.
But I found myself nodding in high agreement, even delight, with the comments of Lynn Good, the CEO of Duke Energy. It started out with the focused, analytical thoroughness of her answers to questions. The naturalness of her business identity as CEO, the straightforwardness with which she responded to the interview and her insistence upon the nuances and complications of business leadership are unusual in today’s business world.
Family of origin Lynn Good obviously comes from superb parenting with a father as a marine turned high school principal and a mother who also taught school, both with a solid work ethic. You recognize her intense, almost matter-of-fact sense of accountability in the answer to questions about what she learned from her parents: They demonstrated accountability to me through actions. When I was growing up, we had a widow living next door to us. So the habit was that if we went to the grocery store, we called her first. If we cut our yard, we cut her yard, no questions asked.
Leadership Yet unlike many of these interviews, this is not a “look at me.” It is an inquiry into the nature of leadership, enhanced by intimacy and a rich knowledge of the task. Intriguingly, the vocabulary reaches a level of emphasis that is rare: There is a comfort level with people you’ve known for a long time—when you’ve been in the foxhole with them. But when you bring an organization together (she led the merger of Progress and Duke Energy), you need to be agnostic about background, and to interview on capabilities and track record.
Good’s support of her work force is not a hollow, thoughtless allegiance. Rather, she demonstrates the ability to express solidarity and criticism simultaneously. With people at this level in their career, it’s no longer about whether you are the smartest subject-matter expert in the room. It’s whether you can be effective in leading a diverse team. Can you adapt? As you think about developing people through their careers, you’re looking for that transition from being the smartest person in the room — and caring so much about that — to being the most effective. It’s about how to develop a team. It’s about how to solve something where the solution isn’t obvious.
Career focus Predicting career success, like predicting organizational success, can be delusional with errors and logic and flawed judgment to distort our understanding of the real reasons for success. But my strong suspicion, even confidence, is that she’s close to foundations of business success when she emphasizes the role of effectiveness: Effectiveness comes from those qualitative things that give you the ability to network, communicate and lead people toward an outcome they can’t see. Of course we’d like more context, but this is all substance with no sizzle.
Far too often the executive’s advice provided to graduating college students emphasizes business as the sole guiding principle of life. Too often, also, the comments are indicative of the smallness and stupidity of those who would marginalize the humanities and social sciences, ignoring the most long-lasting challenge relevant to all of us: creating lives of purpose and meaning. Good chooses to address the issue directly. I’ve had an interesting career in that I was with Arthur Andersen when it went out of business. So in my 40s, everything I’d worked for disappeared. That changes you. It causes you to refocus on what’s important. So I’d say: “Be passionate about what you do, but also be passionate about your relationships and family and other things in life. That’s where happiness is. It’s not all about career.”
Risk-taking When asked about the risk implications of her experience with the demise of Arthur Anderson, she concludes that “risk is an interesting way to think about it, but I would say it refocused me on the importance of family and where happiness comes from. The lesson was that I’m not defined by my career, so I need to be prepared at any time to go or to change careers. There’s a freedom with that. It’s not that you’re disloyal or don’t like what you do or aren’t passionate about what you do, but your asset is you. It’s not who you work for. So is that risk-taking, or just recognizing that a career changes over time and you have to be ready at any point?”
Lynn Good’s comments provide an antidote to so much of the conventional thinking that clutters so many business career bookshelves. When I shipped off a copy of the interview to my bibliophilic Gen-Y protege, he sent back this brief comment: Just read this. Wow. Great stuff! By the measures of business past, and by the measures of business present and future, this brief interview is a memoir for keeping—and revisiting.