Leading Blog






03.25.19

Are You Living in Conflict Debt?

The Good Fight

WHEN YOU AVOID the tough discussions and decisions, you hold your business back, make your team dysfunctional, and cause yourself stress. You set up a kind of conflict debt.

Conflict debt, writes Liane Davey in The Good Fight, “is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward but instead remain undiscussed and unresolved.”

The solution is more conflict, not less. “Rather than working through the conflicts that will help our organizations move forward, we avoid, postpone, evade, duck, dodge, and defer them.” We need to work through our contentious issues.

Most of us are conflict adverse—as is the author—and she explains why we are that way. We have been conditioned to get along, but we often take that to mean that we should avoid all conflict or simply accommodate others. But she concludes, “conflict is a natural part of healthy relationships and a critical defense against unhealthy ones.”

Conflict is normal. And we either can either make it better or worse. And that doesn’t happen by assuming we are right. We need to be curious about the other person or people and where they are coming from.

After building the case for conflict, Davey turns here attention to avoiding unnecessary conflict and establishing the ground rules for productive conflict. She calls this the Conflict Code.

To begin, you need to establish a line of communication. That is, build the trust before you need it.

Next, create a connection so that you can problem-solve as allies rather than fight as adversaries. “When a discussion gets heated, the facts and information presented provide excellent clues about what is important to the players. Pay attention to what is (and isn’t) said to zero in on what’s at stake.

Finally, if you have completed the first two steps, you are in a good position to contribute to a solution. She offers six techniques to help you contribute a solution without bulldozing the others at the table.

In part 3, Davey focuses on “what you can do to systematize conflict so it’s a part of the standard operating procedure of your team.” This section is worth the price of the book alone. Her examples resonate as they seem to be so much a part of everyday team dynamics.

Clarify Expectations

Clarifying roles and setting clear expectations from the beginning avoids a lot of unpleasant conflict and drama. “If everyone is clear on their role and the value they are expected to add, they will be less likely to disappoint, or be disappointed by, others in the group.” To this end she has created the U Tool.

The U Tool documents “what you need from your superiors, what your team will add, and what you expect from the layers below you” and “when that value should be added.” She covers issues that the U Tool can help to neutralize like the absentee boss and micromanaging. It also helps to raise the bar on expectations.

This situation is something I see in my work as an advisor:

Adding value at the wrong level can create considerable conflict in your team. First, when you neglect the strategic issues, you fail to provide the direction and context that your team needs from you. In this case, you become the absentee boss and set your team up to fail. The other issue is that as you dip down into issues and choices that should be made in the next level, you disempower the leaders whose job it is to be making those decisions. It’s demoralizing when you do their job as it robs them of their opportunity to add value. I’ve even seen leaders more than two layers above encroaching on the work of the individual contributors. One of my clients admitted sheepishly that he had been “belly-down in the bottom of the U.” He was simultaneously disempowering two layers of his team.

Normalize Tension

When we think about teams we think about conflict-free members all rowing in the same direction. This ignores he reality and our ability to deal with it—if we do. “You can be a good team player and still create tension with your teammates.”

Davey introduces a metaphor called The Tarp. Imagine a group of people stretching out a tarp and each pulling in a different direction. If it’s all in balance it works. But what happens if one team member pulls harder than the others What if the strength of one member overwhelms that of his teammates? What if one of the team members gets fed up, rolls her eyes, and walks away?
To get the best possible answer out of a team, you need to pull in different directions, always optimizing the tension on the system—never pulling so hard that you take the team of course, and never so gently that your angle isn’t covered. That’s what productive tensions should feel like.

The common issues are when a team member is pulling too hard dominating the discussion. Or the opposite when someone is under contributing by staying silent or gives up presenting their point of view.

The Conflict Habit

Make productive conflict a habit. A habit you “engage in routinely without requiring significant attention and effort.”

To add productive conflict into your organization, you might begin by clarifying expectations, add then adding some low-intensity conflict by offering another perspective, define consequences, and highlight assumptions. Improve your feedback by not loading up on judgments but observations. (Very helpful section.) She also suggests using humor and code words “to draw attention to troublesome behavior in a gentler way.”

Finally, encourage productive conflict in your meetings. “Instead of creating a forum for productive conflict to be surfaced and resolved, meetings are often just hour-long displays of the power and politics on your team. The actual work of discussing and coming to a solution is relegated to side conversations and he dreaded meeting-after-the-meeting.”

So often we see teams living in conflict debt. They let issues pile up until someone leaves or blows up. Introducing productive conflict will take the pressure off, encourage cooperation and help you get things done.

The Good Fightis a well-written book on a critical issue. The examples are helpful and it includes a bonus chapter on how this can help at home. Templates and worksheets for the U Tool and for creating a diagram of your own Tarp are available on her website.

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No Ego Conflict Without Casualties

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:12 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Teamwork

03.22.19

Win the Heart: The Four Cornerstones You Need to Build Engagement

Win the Heart

ENGAGEMENT HAS BECOME the Holy Grail of business—highly desired but hard to get. There are a number of moving parts, and it’s hard to get them all aligned. Mark Miller says that “for many organizations, engagement is the final battle to becoming a high-performance organization.”

In Win the Heart, Mark Miller lays out the four cornerstones that engagement is built on. In this business fable, CEO Blake Brown senses his company has an engagement problem. He turns to an old mentor, Debbie Brewster for help. This leads him, and his wife on an international hunt for lessons concerning engagement Blake’s Dad had put together from people and places in history.

Blake and his team define engagement as “a condition of the heart reflecting an individual’s level of genuine care for their work, coworkers, and the organization. And if the level of care is high enough, it will result in energy, effort, enthusiasm, and initiative” or more simply:

Engagement = Level of Care


Traveling to Selma, Alabama, Florence, Italy, Pella, Greece, Green Bay, Wisconsin, and finally, West Texas to complete the picture, they discover the four cornerstones of engagement.

Connection

Conversation is the primary driver. “You might even say we—me and my fellow employees—do life together. We talk about triumphs and tragedies, fears, failures, and struggles. We talk about how to help each other.” “Real conversations are the bridge to real connections.” And this includes conversations with all stakeholders.

Affirmation

“Their secret sauce was thank you. Loosely translated they are creating a culture of affirmation when they express genuine appreciation to their employees. They affirm people multiple times a day.”

Responsibility

“Leaders must be willing to actually give people responsibility! Create a culture in which sharing responsibility is the norm, not the exception. Give people real responsibility for goals, methods, and decisions, whenever it makes sense.”

Environment

“The how is simply to look at what people really need to win both physically and emotionally, and provide it. The coaches just equipped the team for success.”

From an old friend of Blake’s Dad in West Texas, they learn that “If you just hire a man’s hands, you miss the opportunity to win his heart.

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Leaders Made Here Talent Magnet

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:22 AM
| Comments (0) | Human Resources

03.20.19

Get Savvy

Get Savvy

FAKE NEWS is not a new phenomenon. From the beginning of time, people have played loose with the truth in order to get what they want. Trust too, has waxed and waned over the millennia. It’s not new. People have always had to be on the lookout for fake news. And much has gotten through our filters over the centuries and has negatively impacted the assumptions we take for granted today.

Perhaps what if different today is our ability to so quickly and persuasively disseminate it through technology. It makes the task of discerning fact from fiction so much harder. So much information is coming at us about things we know very little about and in our rush to form an opinion we easily become susceptible to misinformation and other people’s agendas. As Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after.” We believe what we want to believe.

This is the subject of Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders, and Fake News in the Post-Truth Era by the husband and wife team Shiv B. Singh and Rohini Luthra.
The stark reality is that we have entered ... a new post-trust era, in which telling truth from opinion, and separating fact from outright fabrications, requires us to be on guard, intensely aware of the ways in which we are being played, and how we are unwittingly contributing to the problem. Fakery has not only pervaded politics, it has made deeper inroads into business and our personal lives.

Pogo
Fake news works because it sells. It grabs our attention. And when it resonates, we buy into it and pass it along. It as Walt Kelly pointed out in his Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” We really can’t blame our institutions, our media, our leaders, or our neighbors. They are us.

“Savvy is about understanding the role we (as consumers of information) play in succumbing to and propagating fakeness. Just as we have technology glitches so too do we have human glitches in the way we process information.” So the authors catalog some of the ways we readily deceive ourselves and play into fake news. These “glitches” are well presented and deal with the problem of fake news at its source.

Repetition Make the Truth

If we hear a lie enough times, we begin to believe it. “We all know perfectly well that simply hearing something over and over again doesn’t mean it is truth, but we fall for this persuasive tactic anyway. Why?” We move toward things that are familiar to us because they are comfortable. “The more often we her something, the more familiar it becomes, and familiarity breeds trust.”

We Want to Belong

The desire to belong is strong. Not only does this foster groupthink, but it most often creates a toxic us versus them mentality “often leading to the demonization of the ‘other’ and contributing to discrimination and sometimes violence.” They encourage us to welcome dissenting opinions. Respect those with different viewpoints.

We Want to Be Right

“We want to be right, and we look for information that supports our existing beliefs.” This is known as confirmation bias. Because of this bias, when we try to convince others of the truth, they most often become more convinced of their own position. The more you try to convince someone else of your view the more entrenched they become of their own. The best approach is to find some common ground on which to build a basis for trust. Humility is in order. Overconfidence in our own opinion can cloud our judgment and lead us to marginalize others.

We Bow to Authority

We tend to trust people in authority. In my view, we should always respect those in authority because of our own self-respect. While respect is a choice, leaders must also know that they need to behave in a way that is deserving of respect. That said, we shouldn’t blindly follow leaders. “Assess a leader’s credibility, expertise, experience, and integrity.”

We Blindly Trust Artificial Intelligence

Perhaps that is an overstatement, but the authors are right in saying, “Rapidly advancing innovations are providing new capabilities that require us to give serious thought to the degree of trust we should place in the companies and governmental bodies that will be deploying them, and in the technologies themselves.” Again, it’s not the technologies, it the people who use them. Some will use them to greatly enhance the quality of our life and others will use them to control others. We need to discern the difference. And we should never blame the computer or use it as an excuse for the disrespect of human beings. Computers are programmed no matter how human they seem.

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How to Make Better Decisions Think Again

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:36 PM
| Comments (0) | Thinking

03.18.19

How Big Companies Can (and do) Innovate Like a Start-Up

Creative Construction

THE INNOVATION WE PRIZE at successful start-ups is a mindset that is brought into the start-up and not necessarily the inherent quality of every start-up. Innovation isn’t something that just happens; we create the conditions for it. Big organizations can innovate like small start-ups.

In Creative Construction, Gary Pisano says that when big organizations fail to innovate, the root cause is often related to “management practice and leadership than with organizational scale per se.” While organizational size complicates innovation, “scale if properly exploited could actually be an advantage, not a liability, for innovation.” But here’s the thing:
Simply breaking up a large organization into smaller units or creating autonomous teams is not sufficient to replicate a start-up culture. Urgency, accountability, and risk tolerance in start-ups are mindsets. Re-creating these mindsets inside an established company is challenging because they result partly from the unique pressures and circumstances under which start-ups operate.

Creative Construction is the process of sustaining and rejuvenating an existing organization’s innovative capabilities. “Creative construction requires a delicate balance of exploiting existing resources and capabilities without becoming imprisoned by them.”

Creative construction requires three essential leadership tasks: creating an innovation strategy, designing an innovation system, and building an innovation culture. Pisano carefully details how companies should do each of them.

Creating an Innovation Strategy

A good strategy helps a company clarify the tradeoffs that will be needed to make between short-term improvements and long-term opportunities. It also aligns a company around common priorities.

An innovation strategy has to be based on what kind of innovation is needed. He describes four types: Routine, Disruptive, Architectural, and Radical. Each requires a different system in place to execute on it. Whatever the innovation, “the right way to judge the merits of any innovation (and innovation strategy) is value created and captured.”

When faced with a potential threat of technology or business model disruption, you need to consider two things. First is the nature of the threat. How certain are you of the threat and is it imminent or distant? And second, what is the impact on your profitability. If you adopt the technology or business model, will you achieve a reasonable profit? He produced a chart that helps to clarify these opportunities.

Creative Construction Chart

For example, if the threat is highly likely (imminent) and the profits from it are at least as good as your current business, then jumping on the opportunity is the thing to do. He calls this scenario A New Day is Dawning. On the other hand, is the threat is imminent, but you can’t respond profitably, then The Party is Ending. In this case, you can either find new markets where you might compete or try to defend and extend the ultimate conclusion to give you time to create a better ending.

The other possibilities are Intriguing Possibilities and Dark Clouds on the Horizon. In these scenarios, you are not sure the threat will materialize or if it will disrupt your profitability. “The best strategy when facing high degrees of uncertainty is to hedge and build options for the future.”
Too often, innovation leadership Is posed as a test of “guts”—are you willing to make the big bets? Such “all-in” bets make for great business headlines, but they are actually pretty foolish if you face high levels of uncertainty. Making smaller bets, experimenting, learning, and adapting are survival-enhancing behaviors in highly uncertain environments.


Designing the Innovation System

The next essential leadership task he covers is designing a system that will give you the capability to execute on the type of innovation you need. One size does not fit all. There is no best practice. What works for Apple and Google may not work for you.

Designing innovation systems begins with getting out and discovering novel problems and solutions. “Innovation in general, and the search for innovative ideas particular is an intensely human activity. What we see, what we experience, whom we listen to, whom we speak to, and whom we observe all shape our perceptions about problems worth solving and solutions worth pursuing.”

Pisano says to find, develop and retain the synthesizers in your organization. Those people who are good at seeing connections across fields.

Which projects should you work on and which should you kill? Build learning into your system as part of the selection process. Innovation means tradeoffs. “Every dollar that goes into exploring a new space means one less dollar for making an important refinement to a new product.” Use analytics to drive questions not answers.

Building the Culture

We have all heard the characteristics of an innovative culture. But leaders are not always quick to embrace them. Perhaps though, these characteristics alone are not enough. Pisano modifies each this way:

Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
Competent people will fail, but performance standards should be high. No sloppy execution.

Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
Having a clear idea of what you are doing and why. Kill bad ideas quickly and keep moving.

Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
Critical feedback needs to go both ways. Don’t confuse politeness with respect. “There is nothing inconsistent about being frank and highly respectful of individuals.”

Collaborative but Individually Accountable
Innovative cultures blend both. “In high-individual-accountability environments, decisions can be traced back to specific individuals.”

Flat but with Strong Leadership
“Paradoxically, flat organizations require stronger leadership than hierarchical ones.” (If you take hierarchical to mean command and control.)

Leaders must manifest these values in their behavior. An innovative culture is a mindset. Creative Constructive Leader take ownership of that mindset and the related strategic, system, and cultural challenges

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Disruption Brought Order Getting Ideas to Flow

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:10 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation

03.15.19

Leading Views: Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of Creative Destruction

Entrepreneurs Are the Heroes of Creative Destruction

Leading ViewsCapitalism in America by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge is an accessible history of America’s capitalist traditions and entrepreneurial culture.

In this chronological account beginning with the American Revolution, the genius of America’s innovative success is not only its tolerance of but also its penchant for creative destruction. Though sometimes painful, it is the driving force of economic progress.

The authors talk not only of the familiar product innovation but also America’s process innovation—innovation in management and organizing production.

Entrepreneurs drawn from every level of society are the primary drivers of this creative destruction. Associated with openness and opportunity, America produces and draws in more entrepreneurs than anywhere else.
Entrepreneurs are the heroes of creative destruction—the people with the ability to feel the future in their bones and bring it into being through sheer force of will and intellect. Entrepreneurs drive long-term growth in productivity by pursuing their dreams of building a business, launching a product, or, human nature being what it is, making a fortune. But they are seldom the easiest of heroes, or the nicest. They are almost always guilty of what might be termed imperialism of the soul: they will sacrifice anything, from their own peace of mind to the lives of those around them, to build a business empire and then protect that business empire from destruction. Great entrepreneurs are never at rest; they must keep building and innovating in order to survive. They are also prone to what Norwegians call Stormannsgalskap, or the “madness of great men.”

One of the reasons America has been so successful is that it possesses a genius for mass-producing these flawed heroes. Charles Goodyear was so obsessed with vulcanizing rubber that he condemned his family to a life of poverty and squalor, with three of his children dying in infancy. Isaac Singer was guilty of cheating his partner out of his business and choking one of his wives into unconsciousness as well as polygamy and child neglect. John Henry Patterson, the founder of National Cash Register Company, was a food faddist and exercise fanatic who bathed five times a day and once fasted for thirty-seven days. Henry Ford launched a succession of ambitious schemes for improving the world, including eliminating cow, which he couldn’t abide. In 1915, he took a ship of leading businesspeople and peace activists to Europe to try to end the First World War and “get those boys out of the trenches.” “Great War to End Christmas Day,” read a New York Times headline; “Ford to Stop It.” Thomas Watson turned IBM into a personality cult, complete with company songs about “our friend and guiding hand,” a man whose “courage none can stem.”

The ugly side of these entrepreneurs is often just as important to their success as their admirable side, just as the destruction is as important as the creation. You cannot reshape entire industries and build companies from nothing without overdoing things. These negative qualities often end up undermining the empire that they helped to create, particularly if they get worse with age. They very stubbornness that led Henry Ford to mass-produce cars before there were many roads for people to drive them on also led him to ignore the fact that American consumers craved variety. Henry Ford’s failures prepared the way for the rise of General Motors.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:54 AM
| Comments (0) | Entrepreneurship , Leading Views

03.14.19

Horst Schulze: 4 Decisions Every Leader Must Make

Horst Schulze

HORST SCHULZE knew from the time he was eleven years old that he wanted to work in a hotel. It was at the end of his first apprenticeship in an assigned essay he coined the phrase that would guide him the rest of his life: “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

This guiding principle—Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen—is the bedrock of everything Schulze does and teaches. It has a wide application because it is about having enough self-respect to treat all others with respect.

Schultz, the co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. and Capella Hotels & Resorts, has captured his philosophy in Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise. Throughout the book, he shares the practical application of respect and how it shapes people, workplaces, and the customer experience. Here are a few of the lessons from his experience that stood out:
Real knowledge of the customer is absolutely essential.

Sometimes a customer service problem—or any defect, for that matter—is rooted a much as five steps away from where it shows itself. One solitary person at a counter somewhere can’t solve it alone. It needs the best thinking of everyone connected to the process, because they are fully connected to the process, because they are fully committed to giving the customer every reason to keep coming back—again and again.

Elegance is warmth without arrogance.

When we look at any employee, or even at an applicant, we need to stop and recognize; This is the kid I used to be. He wants to be inspired by a dream.

When t comes right down to it, the vast majority of people in this world want to excel at something. They just need a context in which to do so. They look to us as leaders to provide that setting.

Schultz says leadership is about a lot of conscious decision-making. “It is about making up your mind that certain things are going to happen because you’re going to pursue them relentlessly.” There are four decisions every leader must make:

Decision #1: Strive to Inspire
Because employees are important, I will create an environment where people want to do a good job. I will invite, not dictate. I will get results by inspiring, not by controlling or dictating.

Decision #2: Don’t Settle for Less
I won’t settle for less than the vision. No excuses allowed, either from myself or those who work with me. There is no beauty in the excuse or “explanation.” No forward motion comes from it. I don’t pay people to think up “explanations”; I pay them to find answers.

How can I serve? Not “it can’t be done.”

Decision #3: Let Nothing Cloud Your Vision
I will not let my company’s growth and complexity cloud my vision. The bigger an organization becomes, the more people you hire, the more departments you set up—and as all this evolves, the easier it is to neglect the vision. Something negative happens on any given day, and managers write a policy to keep that from happening again. The next month, something else happens, and another policy gets written. Soon the policy manual is four hundred pages thick.

This is what is called a bureaucracy. People are afraid to get outside of the rules and regulations. Growth is stunted. So is creativity.

Decision #4: Always Look to Improve
I will always keep looking for new ways to improve, to be more efficient. True leaders never stop asking, “How can we improve this process? Who should I ask to help me think of a better approach? Am I willing to hear things that don’t fit my preconceptions?

You can build a life and business around the principles found in Excellence Wins. Here is one more thought worth contemplating. It directly relates to his mantra: Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
Someone said to me,”Well not every guest acts like a lady or a gentleman. Some of them can be very obnoxious.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, “but it’s not up to us to judge or categorize. They may have made their decision to be cantankerous, but we’ve made our decision to respect them regardless. This is our value; this is our identity. It’s who we are, regardless.”

Always stick to the vision.

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12 Rules of Respect Servant Leadership Journey

Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:52 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business

03.11.19

You Might Be a Bad Leader If…

NEW

NONE OF US would readily admit to being a bad leader. We see ourselves as pretty good or at least well-intentioned. But people don’t experience our intentions; they experience what we actually do.

When we struggle to get along with others or simply get things done, we would be wise to look at our assumptions and behaviors. Even just focusing on improving in one area can do wonders for your leadership and have a huge impact on those who follow you.

No matter how good we are as leaders, we all do a little harm along the way. So it’s good to look at the ways bad leadership shows up so we can minimize the bad and amplify good leadership.

You might be a bad leader if you are motivated by power and status. This motivation invariably leads to corruption and unethical behavior. It’s most often why otherwise effective leaders go bad. It opens the door for every other kind of mindset we associate with bad leaders. Our leadership must be about something bigger than us. Power is something to be shared.

You might be a bad leader if you are easily overwhelmed. It is the nature of leadership to function in uncertainty. What makes it possible is a clarity of purpose about why we are doing what we are doing. Leaders must continuously communicate that purpose to lead others an often volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

You might be a bad leader if you are too rigid. This is a failure to stay relevant. Staying the course is admirable, but a leader must know the times they are in. They must be effective in their current reality. Barbara Tuchman noted that a bad leader is not “deflected by the facts.”

You might be a bad leader if you lack self-control. Leaders are not a superset of human beings. Leaders have impulses, desires, and needs, just like everyone else, but when we fail to control our impulses, we most often get in our own way and derail our leadership. We lose credibility as followers expect—and rightly so—leaders to put the needs of the group above their own. Of course, there are impulses that are merely a distraction for others, and then there are impulses that destroy us and hurt those around us. We must exhibit self-control for the sake of ourselves and others. Leaders who lack self-control take themselves down.

You might be a bad leader if you think the ends justify the means. By crossing one too many lines, we put ourselves on the road to unethical and even evil behavior. This failure of leadership is based in self-interest. It’s self-serving. Leaders are rightfully judged by their results but not at any cost. This toxic mindset is most often gradual, and when tolerated in an organization it begins to infect all decisions and diminishes everyone involved.

You might be a bad leader if you lead by fear. This kind of leader exerts a high degree of control. It also leads to incompetency as the organization can never rise above the leader themselves. In the end, the whole organization is incompetent. Good leaders must know what they don’t know. As Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

You might be a bad leader if you have a lack of respect for others—for just being people. A lack of respect manifests itself in being unkind, dismissive of the opinions and needs of others, controlling others, or showing partiality because of status or importance. We respect others when we are curious about them and listen to them.

You might be a bad leader if you fail to see beyond ourselves. As leaders, we are responsible not only to the people we lead but to all of those affected by our leadership. It is a failure to do the right thing—to not do right when it is in our power to do right.

You might be a bad leader if you lack the competency for our job. This doesn’t mean stupid. It’s about skills. Do we have to skills to move forward in the areas we have been tasked to lead?

You might be a bad leader if you lack emotional intelligence. Leaders must be aware and sensitive to others and importantly, how their leadership is experienced by others. This implies the need for honest and candid feedback and daily reflection. Our ego creates blind spots, so we must always keep our ego in check. This is where humility comes in. A good leader leads themselves first.

We must be able to recognize the signs of bad leadership so we can deal with it before it undermines us. These mindsets come up time and time again because they are common to humankind. We can’t change that. None of us are immune. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t help. Only by recognizing them when we see them in our own leadership we can effectively deal with them.

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12 Rules of Respect What Are Good People

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:32 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development

03.08.19

Lessons in Leadership to Last a Lifetime

Lessons from Charles Leiserson

AFTER 18 YEARS on the MIT faculty, I thought I knew a thing or two about leadership. After all, I was tenured and had supervised dozens of students seeking undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. But in 1999, at the height of the Internet boom, I took a two-year leave of absence to serve as director of system architecture at Akamai Technologies, an MIT start-up located here in Cambridge. That position humbled me and taught me lessons about leadership that I still use today, some 20 years later.

Back then, the vast majority of Akamai’s 100 engineering staff had been recruited directly from MIT and other top universities. Like me, most had only worked in academia up to that point, and we assumed our corporate roles and responsibilities with anticipation and a healthy dose of swagger. What could possibly stop this juggernaut of collective brilliance?

Well, one collective deficit could, and did: The lack of effective leadership.

You see, despite their immense talent, our teams were completely dysfunctional. Within weeks, people started to feel disgruntled, and then even worse—angry, jealous, vindictive. Morale sunk, and our productivity did, too.

Fortunately, Akamai’s VP of Human Resources, Steve Heinrich, recognized what was happening and brought in Chuck McVinney, a management consultant with expertise in teamwork and leadership training. Chuck began teaching the engineering leaders about topics we had never been exposed to before: situational leadership, dealing with diversity and conflict, providing effective feedback, fostering creativity, and how to build a motivated team that leverages individual talents. Remarkably, after only two off-site workshops, our teams started to function better. We were able to focus and work collaboratively toward our goals.

The workshop content wasn’t complicated, but if you’re currently running a research lab, odds are, you’ve never seen it. That’s because academia and other research organizations rarely offer leadership and management training—and as a result, far too many engineers and scientists waste their time and resources dealing with unproductive interpersonal issues and unnecessary conflict. To help right that wrong, here are five the most important lessons I learned while at Akamai, all of which I continue to use in my lab today:

Research is a human endeavor
There’s no sense in denying, or ignoring, it: Human nature plays a role in everyday technical work. As a researcher, you simply must value and respect the interpersonal relationships that form the foundation of teamwork.

Know thyself
Senior researchers become better leaders once they understand how they perceive situations and why they react the way they do. Self-assessment exercises, interactive activities, and other tools can help you gain these insights and leverage your strengths.

Mental diversity strengthens teams
If you want your work to have the widest possible impact and be the most meaningful, you need to draft teams of diverse thinkers and then ensure everyone can contribute in a complementary way. This is the best way to pressure test and improve ideas. Of course, as a team leader, you will need to be equipped with strategies to manage such a variety of styles and temperaments.

Communication is key—and it involves effort
It’s too easy for senior researchers to become isolated from more junior colleagues. Make it a point to keep the lines of communication open, so that team members feel free to speak to you about day-to-day operations. Regularly checking in with one another keeps everyone on the same page and enables you to handle small issues before they evolve into bigger problems.

To keep leading, keep learning
Good leaders continue to learn and grow into their roles. Becoming a tenured professor or otherwise moving up the organizational ladder without participating in management training along the way can reinforce ineffective habits and create blind spots regarding performance.

It’s been about 20 years since I returned to MIT from Akamai, and businesses now routinely spend billions of dollars per year teaching employees “soft” leadership skills like the ones I just listed. If universities and other research organizations would invest even a fraction of that, their labs would be a more enjoyable place to work and their teams would be more creative and productive.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Charles Leiserson. He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT. He is lead instructor of the annual MIT Professional Education course, “Leadership Skills for Engineering and Science Faculty,” which has educated hundreds of faculty at MIT and around the world in the human issues involved in leading technical teams in academia. He was formerly Director of Research and Director of System Architecture for Akamai Technologies and was the Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Cilk Arts, Inc., a start-up that was acquired by Intel in 2009. He is currently a Fellow of four professional societies: ACM, AAAS, SIAM, and IEEE.

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