Musings about Leadership, Decision Making, and Competitive Strategy
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Favorite Podcasts of 2020
Monday, December 28, 2020
My Favorite Books of 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
Leading Change: Focus on Desired Outcomes First, Not Activities
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
Developing People: Focusing on the What AND the How
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
Should I Cater to Others or Stay Authentic?
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
Beware the Gatekeeper
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
How to Seek Constructive Feedback: 3 Questions to Ask
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
Dangers of 'Yes' People
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
Should We Self-Promote or Hide Success?
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
Creativity Technique: Keep a Da Vinci Notebook
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.