Thursday, December 31, 2020
Monday, December 28, 2020
As the tumultous year of 2020 comes to a close, I thought I would share a few of my favorite reads from the past year (note: a few of these books were actually published in 2019). Here we go, in no particular order:
A riveting account of Winston Churchill's leadership during the early portion of World War II. Larson combs a variety of primary sources to describe how Churchill, his family, and his inner circle navigated the Battle of Britain. I've read many biographies of Churchill, but I found myself learning something new on many occasions as I read this book. Churchill had many flaws, and Larson documents them. However, we also learn so much about Churchill's brilliance as a wartime leader.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
MIT Senior Lecturer and management consultant Elsbeth Johnson has written an interesting article for Strategy+Business about why many strategic transformation efforts fail (though I'm not a fan of the article title). She argues that we often blame middle managers for resisting change efforts and putting up various obstacles. However, she finds fault with senior leaders when examining many failed organizational change initiatives. Johnson argues that leaders aren't focusing on the right type of work when launching transformation efforts. She argues that leaders jump into the planning and execution of activities too quickly, rather than stepping back and clearly articulating the desired outcomes first. She explains:
Johnson argues that leaders default to working on activities because that work is easier and more enjoyable for many individuals than clarifying priorities, persuading others to change, and motivating people to work toward ambitious new goals.
It may sound simple and obvious, but my experience does suggest that many organizations suffer from a lack of alignment regarding goals, priorities, and expectations. Leaders often overestimate how much alignment actually exists...and they overestimate by a wide margin in many instances.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Adam Bryant recently posted a terrific interview with Matt Schuyler, Chief Administrative Officer at Hilton. He asked Schuyler about a key leadership lesson learned during his career. Schuyler offered this anecdote about his time at PWC:
Two important lessons jump out at me from this story. First, the partners did not evaluate Schuyler simply based on WHAT he achieved. They cared about HOW he did it as well. That's crucial. Second, the partners didn't give up on Schuyler simply because he had stumbled on the HOW. They offered him constructive feedback and gave him an opportunity to course correct. He did and achieved further success at the organization. Of course, some folks won't be able to internalize that type of feedback and make the necessary changes. However, many people will be able to do so if they are offered the right feedback, coaching, and development.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Imagine that you are headed to a job interview, pitching your business plan, or making a presentation to colleagues. Should you try to align your words and actions to the other party's preferences and interests? Or, should you simply remain authentic? In other words, is catering to others the right strategy if you wish to persuade and influence others? Scholars Ovul Sezer, Francesca Gino, and Laura Huang asked those very questions to over 500 working adults. Two-thirds of the respondents indicated they would cater to the other party, and over 70% thought that would an effective strategy. Are they right?
Friday, December 11, 2020
Every leader has a gatekeeper or two amongst their team of closest advisers and confidantes. These folks serve a useful role in many cases. They manage the flow of information, so that the leader can use his or her time wisely. They help synthesize data, frame the pros and cons of particular options, and help leaders assess complex situations. They filter out issues that do not need to clog the leader's busy schedule. Unfortunately, gatekeepers also sometimes filter out the bad news, even if unintentionally. They also sometimes find themselves only telling the leader what they think the individual wants to hear. For that reason, I wrote years ago about the merits of occasionally "circumventing the gatekeepers" on your team, to insure that critical data and perspectives are not being filtered out in a manner that could lead to disastrous results. In the book, Know What You Don't Know, I wrote:
Wednesday, December 09, 2020
We all appreciate praise and recognition. Constructive criticism? Not so much. It's like spinach. We know it's good for us, but we aren't eager to cook it for supper. Of course, some managers aren't very effective at delivering feedback either. Thus, have a particularly thorny problem: leaders who don't provide feedback in a constructive manner, and team members who don't seek it or are not willing to listen. In a recent Fast Company article, leadership expert Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points out that many of us also falter when we do seek feedback. Why? He argues that we don't ask the right questions when soliciting feeback from others. Here's an excerpt:
- “What would you have done differently?”
- “What are the two things that they didn’t like so much?”
- “If you can change one thing about X going forward, what would that be?”
The three questions suggested by Chamorro-Premuzic are right on the mark. They provide an opportunity for concrete, actionable feedback. They solicit input that is specific, not generic. They look forward and focus on what needs to happen differently in the future, rather than only dissecting past conduct.
Monday, December 07, 2020
Please consider taking a look at this new article in Financial Management magazine titled, "How Leaders Can Avoid the Dangers of 'Yes' People" - Thank you to Hannah Pitstick for interviewing me during her research for the article, along with others such as Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor.
Friday, December 04, 2020
The scholars point out that self-promotion is quite typical these days, yet in their research, they also find that many people hide their successes at times. Why? They worry about how others will perceive them if they self-promote too much, or in some inappropriate manner.
Roberts and her colleagues show that hiding success may have harmful effects on our interpersonal relationships. They write:
"Unlike hiding other information, hiding success signals that a communicator has paternalistic motives, which targets find insulting. We find that hiding success has relational costs in public and private settings as well as in response to direct and indirect questions. Additionally, the negative reactions to hiding success have behavioral consequences: Targets are less trusting of, less willing to cooperate with, and less willing to devote financial resources to maintaining their relationship with communicators who hide their success."
In sum, perhaps a lack of transparency can have some significant costs. That doesn't mean we should be arrogant, or that we should boast repeatedly about our accomplishments. However, we should take great care about intentionally shielding others from the truth. Honesty, it appears, is indeed the best policy.
Wednesday, December 02, 2020
Interestingly, many great innovators throughout history kept journals: Curie, Edison, Einstein, Darwin, and Twain - to name just a few. Some of the most successful leaders take time to reflect each day. I've written about former Baxter Healthcare CEO Harry Kraemer's daily reflection ritual. HBS Professor Joe Badaracco recently wrote a book about self-reflective leaders. Many scholars and consultants have written over the past few years about the benefits of keeping a journal.
Monday, November 30, 2020
Monday, November 16, 2020
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea soon after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. Investigators identified a problem with the new Boeing 737 MAX jet’s stall-prevention system (known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS). However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed airlines to continue flying the jet, while Boeing worked on some changes to the MCAS software. Less than five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after takeoff. Once again, a faulty sensor triggered a misfire of the MCAS software. The system pushed the nose of the plane down repeatedly. The pilots could not determine how to stop the sharp descent, and the plane plunged into the ground at more than 500 miles per hour. Four days later, facing immense pressure from government officials around the world, Boeing grounded its entire fleet of 737 MAX jets.
The Boeing board of directors faced a multi-part dilemma. Was the current CEO still the right person to lead the company, or to what degree, if any, was he responsible for the position Boeing found itself in? Had something gone awry with the company’s culture after decades of engineering excellence? How did it come to happen that pilots suddenly experienced fatal difficulties flying the latest model of one of the world’s most-used passenger jets? And, how could Boeing ensure such a situation would not happen again?
Monday, November 02, 2020
|Source: Northwestern University|
Thursday, October 29, 2020
|Source: Fibre2Fashion.com |
Suzanne Kapner has written a great article about The Gap in the Wall Street Journal this week. She describes in great detail the formidable challenge facing new CEO Sonia Syngal. The long-running troubles at The Gap are summarized most eloquently by Ivan Wicksteed, former chief marketing officer at Old Navy (one of the retail chains operated by The Gap Inc.). The article quotes him directly:
Monday, October 26, 2020
The Observer Effect has published a fascinating interview with Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify. Ek has a clear and concise take on how to tackle important issues, define his role in the decision-making process, and design effective group meetings. Here's an excerpt on how he thinks about defining his own role in the decision process in advance of discussions with his team members:
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
Take a look at this brief video featuring Ed Batista, a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer and executive coach. He talks about the strategic importance of empathy. He argues that we often make a series of assumptions when we confront someone whose decisions or actions seem befuddling or even maddening. Rather than make assumptions, we should try to stand in their shoes, and ask ourselves: What is the reason they are making that argument, initiating that conflict, or making that seemingly unjustifiable decision? What's behind their frustrating course of action? Challenging our own assumptions can often help us find a path to more effective interaction and potentially collaboration.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
|Source: The Clorox Co.|
In my experience, many managers ask themselves the first question about the worst case scenario. However, they don't pose the second question. What is the cost of inaction? Could we miss a terrific opportunity? Will rivals gain the upper hand? I think managers should follow Rendle's lead here. They must ask themselves both questions when approaching tough decisions about high stakes, risky new initiatives.
Friday, October 09, 2020
Wednesday, October 07, 2020
University of North Carolina scholars Hanna Kalmanovich-Cohen, Matthew Pearsall, and Jessica Siegel Christian have published an interesting new study in a paper titled, "The effects of leadership change on team escalation of commitment." The authors completed two studies as part of this research project. In one of those studies, they conducted an experiment using the Food Truck Challenge simulation that I created in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing. In the simulation, students try to maximize revenue for a food truck business. To accomplish that goal, they must try to determine the optimal location and menu for the truck.
Monday, October 05, 2020
Let's face it: we often are pretty bad at learning from our own failures. We make excuses, blame uncontrollabe external causes, and argue that we simply have to "move on" and not dwell on the past. What about learning from others' failures? Can we improve by examining others' mistakes carefully and systematically? Bledow, Carette, Kuhnel, and Bister conducted an experimental study several years ago on this subject. They published an article in the Academy of Management Learning and Education titled "Learning from others' failures: The effectiveness of failure stories for managerial learning." In a training setting, they gave research subjects stories about others' failures or successes. The stories all provided the same learning content, whether failure or success. They examined whether failures stimulated more learning than successes. Here is an excerpt from the paper, in which they explain their results:
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
|Source: Best Buy|
"As a retailer, we are geared toward perfection around process... As a brick and mortar retailer, you are not as geared to just push out a new experience and iterate quickly on the process behind it. We are geared at putting out there a perfect SOP (standard operating procedure), and then you just run it... It was not as much in our DNA to put out there something that might not be perfect."
Barry highlights a key barrier to innovation at many large well-established firms. They resist introducing new products and services until they feel as though the innovation is perfect. They don't want any failures or mistakes. They don't want any negative customer feedback. Yet, the desire for perfection slows them down substantially. Moreover, it deprives them of the vital learning-by-doing that comes with soliciting feedback from customers (and front-line employees) early and often. Every brick-and-mortar retailer, and frankly every large firm, should consider this discussion about perfectionism and ask whether it's holding their organization back too.
Monday, September 28, 2020
Sara Brown has written a good piece for the MIT Sloan Management Review. The title of the article is "4 ways to design employee experience in the remote work era." Brown draws on an interview with research scientist Kristine Dery. In the article, Brown & Dery argue that organizations have to reduce their reliance on heroic behavior on the part of employees to get to the job done. Here's an excerpt:
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
The company doesn't sell through big box stores. In fact, in the past, Stihl has boasted about not selling in these establishments. They once runs ads saying that you wouldn't find their chainsaws in a box, not even a big box. The ad referenced the fact that the dealer staff often assembled and taught you how to use the product before you left the small neighborhood store. The article ends noting the loyalty of its customers:
Monday, September 14, 2020
In a recent Fortune article by Michal Lev-Ram, several chief human resource officers comment on lessons from the pandemic. Here's an excerpt with a perspective shared by Grace Zuncic, CHRO at Chobani:
Friday, September 11, 2020