Managing Up

One crisp fall morning, a turkey was wistfully chatting with a bull.  “I would love to get to the top of that tree,” eyeing the majestic maple near the barn, “but I am too weak to fly.”   “Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?” replied the bull.  “They are filled with nutrients.”  Closing his eyes and holding his nose, the turkey pecked at a steaming cow-pie and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree.  The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.  Finally, after a week of fortification, the turkey proudly flew to the top of the maple.  Moments later, his lifeless body fell to the ground with a thud, felled by a farmer with a keen eye and a steady hand.  The moral of this story: A load of bull might get you to the top, but it will not keep you there.

 

When you read the title “managing up”, you probably thought: ‘I cannot believe this guy is going to expound on what great brown-nosing looks like!’  Worry not.  Brown nosing is a surefire way to lose friends and alienate people.  Nobody likes a sycophant.

 

Managing up will accelerate your professional development.  Managing up will get you promoted.  Managing up does not take any more time or effort; it might actually take less energy than you are currently expending.  The secret is to apply the same strategic thinking to your relationship with your manager as you apply to your job.

 

Deliver on your manager’s highest business impact objectives

If you think that meeting and beating your own performance objectives is the complete recipe to professional glory, then you are missing a key ingredient.  Great associates develop a concrete understanding of their manager’s objectives.  This is critical not only in how you execute on your own objectives but also in what you do after you have met your goals.

 

When your manager hands you a set of objectives, you should ask to see theirs as well.  At a minimum, this allows you to ensure that your objectives align with theirs.  If they do not align, then work with your manager to resolve the mismatch. If your manager does not budge, then you have a major leadership problem and it is time to get a new boss.  However, you can do better than alignment.  To stack the odds in your favor, take a moment to prioritize your manager’s objectives in terms of business impact.  If you got the good stuff, then you are golden.  If not, offer to take ownership of the juiciest bits.

 

Assuming you are like most people on the planet, you are programmed with a desire to please.  This means that you will face an ever present temptation to launch a side initiative or two as insurance.  The little voice in your head whispers that failure on a bonus project does not count and that success will earn you untold accolades.  Resist the urge.  Unlike your parents, your spouse, and your children, managers do not like surprises.  Surprise your manager with ideas, not outcomes.  Keep your manager regularly informed of status, success, and failure.  Meet your objectives. Then, and only then, go above and beyond with projects that have your boss’s support.  Stated another way, bring your passion and your art to your work.  Paint outside the lines, but only after you have painted within them.

 

The advice thus far has focused on how you manage up to meet your manager’s professional objectives.  However, you should also have a clear understanding of their personal objectives.  Knowing that they want to get promoted and earn more money is too obvious and not all that constructive.  The same goes for knowing they want more time to play golf and to sip Mai Tai’s on a beach in the Caribbean.  The key is gaining insight into their strengths and their development needs.  Ask your manager if they are willing to share their development priorities and if they would like you to provide feedback to them.  Most people I meet are terrified of doing this; yet it is one of the most valuable things you can do for your career and your boss’s career.  The fastest way to get promoted is to help your boss get promoted.  Moreover, having this level of awareness will enable you to drawn upon your manager’s strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses.

 

Assuming they consent, do not unload on them immediately!  That will look like you were just looking for permission to complain.  Wait an appropriate amount of time, and then provide structured feedback with what they are doing well, what they should stop doing, and what they should start doing.

 

Mirror your manager’s communication style

In late 2004, the senior management team of my employer was replaced just as I was making the transition from a self-directed operations role to a team centric strategy role.  The new guard had a very particular and very consistent pedigree consisting of permutations on MIT, McKinsey Consulting, and PhD’s in physics.  Needless to say, the entire operating system of the company got an upgrade.  We changed the way we set strategy.  We changed the way we made decisions. And, we changed the way we communicated.   The following pretty much sums it up.  When Forbes reporter Chana Schoenberger asked Chief Executive Gene Hall six month into his new job the ‘five words you just to describe yourself’, his response was “high-energy, analytical, intuitive, fun, and organized.”

 

I spoke a different language.  As for MIT, I applied to the undergraduate engineering program under the auspices of joining their basketball team but got spooked when I saw the disproportionally male student body wearing calculators on their belts – really. (As a side note MIT’s varsity athletic teams are known as the “Engineers” and their mascot is a beaver because, well, “the beaver is nature’s engineer.”  They even coined the acronym DAPER for the department of athletics, physical education, and recreation.  You cannot make this stuff up.  MIT alumni – permission to laugh.)  The closest I came to McKinsey was an internship my brother had when a colleague convinced him invest his summer earnings in monogrammed Brooks Brothers shirts; full disclosure, it is also very possible that I once attended one of their recruiting receptions lured by free beer and pizza.  Finally, though I can hold my analytically, I am the first to admit that my masters in electrical engineering does not stack up against a PhD in particle physics.

 

Since there was no way to change who I was, my only choice was to change how I communicated.  I recognized that my new superiors applied an insanely effective framework they picked up at McKinsey in their verbal and written communications. (For more, see the situation-complication-resolution methodology detailed in the Problem Solving chapter).  With a bit of reading and a healthy dose of coaching, I learned to speak the new language.

 

My advice on this one is simple. If you want to be great at managing up, then run meetings, write emails, and construct presentations in your boss’s style.  That is not kissing up, that is good business.

 

Support your boss behind their back

One of the principles that I strive to live by is being a ‘beacon of positivity.’  Before you get worried again, I am not suggesting that you follow your manager with blind devotion.  I am merely suggesting a few simple practices that prove your loyalty, your honesty, and your commitment.  First, do not be the one that starts negative conversations about your boss.  Second, if a conversation about your boss turns negative, take the higher ground by redirecting toward their positive attributes and achievements if you genuinely believe they exist.  If that is not your style, remove yourself from the conversation.  Finally, unless they are doing something unethical or illegal, never manage around your boss.

 

As children, we are taught that we should not talk behind people’s backs.  More precisely, the lesson we are taught is not to speak ill of people behind their backs.  In contrast, when you truly appreciate someone, you exercise great respect and compassion by speaking positively of them behind their backs.  This lesson holds not only for your boss, but for your coworkers, family, friends, and so on.

 

Recommend and implement solutions

In recent years, workers in advanced economies have had to be pretty quick on their toes to survive.  In the 1990’s, labor intensive, low skilled manufacturing jobs were outsourced to countries with a lower cost of living.  The 2000’s ushered a new wave that outsourced knowledge based jobs in customer service, law, medicine, and technology.  Knowledge, no matter how esoteric and specific, is now accessible with a few key strokes.  Want to know how much tea was produced in Sri Lanka last month?  A quick search will bring you to the Sri Lanka Tea Board where you can not only find month to month production but also get production by elevation.  People who win on game shows like Jeopardy no longer command a high degree of respect.  Finding trivia is now, well, trivial.

 

What’s left?  At least three needs will always be present.  The first need is for jobs that simply cannot be done without physical presence.  At two ends of the spectrum, garbage collection and emergency medical service fit the bill.  The second need is for jobs that create art.  Since everything can be mass produced, what matters here is inception.  The third need is for problem solvers.

 

Anybody can find and deliver knowledge.  Many people can find problems; frankly people that excel only at finding problems are irritating.  The exceptional few identify the range of possible solutions, prioritize them, recommend the best option to their manager, and then follow through to implementation.  Problem solvers will always be valuable.  The next time you think that you boss is only there to help you with your problems, remember to instead be the one that helps your boss solve theirs.

 

Ask for advice and feedback

One of the most dangerous things you can do for your career is to assume that your manager knows you well enough to coach you.  They are as much in their own head as you are in yours and they have your peers to worry about as well.  A major part of successfully managing up is to inform your boss of your current professional development objectives and seek regular feedback.  If you have a great manager, they will send challenging projects your way and coach you to succeed simultaneously on the projects and on your personal goals.

 

Recap

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become great at managing up:

 

  • Deliver on your manager’s highest business impact objectives
  • Mirror your manager’s communication style
  • Support your boss behind their back
  • Recommend and implement solutions
  • Ask for advice and feedback

Facilitating Training

Imagine that you are a newly minted physician reviewing your first case as a practicing oncologist.  A thirty-two year old Caucasian female, mother of 11 month old twin boys, has presented with unexplained yet severe weight loss, fatigue, intermittent upper abdominal pain, jaundice, and high blood sugar levels.  Recognizing this as textbook symptoms of pancreatic cancer, you immediately order a magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography.  A scan of the resulting images confirms your diagnosis.  Unfortunately for this woman and 40,000 other Americans each year, pancreatic cancer only rears its ugly head in advanced stages.  Your next task is to share the devastating news with the young mother that she has inoperable cancer and only months to live.

 

If you were lucky enough to have completed your residency at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York, then you should be as well prepared as anyone can be for this moment.  The teaching physicians at MSK take communication skills training very seriously.  So much so, in fact, that physicians in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences have put their peers under a microscope to study their ability to learn to be facilitators.  The architects of the communication skills training program are striving for something the medical profession refers to as ‘treatment fidelity.’  In more accessible terms, achieving treatment fidelity in facilitator instruction means churning out trainers who share identical content and apply consistent best practices in the sessions they run.  In the ideal, such trainers are perfect substitutes from the point of view of their charges.

 

In a study published in the journal Medical Education 2009, Dr. Carma Bylund and five of her colleagues systematically scrutinized the abilities of thirty-two novice facilitators who were themselves engaged in role-play exercises during communication skills training.  In short, the researchers were trying to ascertain whether or not their future trainers were acquiring a consistent set of best practices that would make them great facilitators.

 

Dr. Bylund’s team discovered that many important facilitation skills are easily acquired.  These include managing role play exercises by providing participants with enough time to review the scenario, with a clear understanding of the starting point, and with sufficient actor direction.  In addition to managing role play exercises well, novice facilitators were naturals at feedback related best practices.  These include inviting learners’ feedback first, drawing out a balance of positive and constructive feedback, and inviting all group members to give feedback.  The only blemish in the feedback arena was that people generally forget to invite positive feedback first.

 

However, the researchers also found consistent weaknesses in peers’ ability to absorb key facilitation skills.  The deficient areas included eliciting and then staying focused on learners’ goals, involving group members in solving each other problems, and summarizing learning.

 

Though the workshops you facilitate may not have the same compassionate impact as coaching doctors to deliver bad news, you owe it to your trainees and to your business to be the most effective facilitator that you can be.  The best practices enumerated below will deliver training that sticks.

 

Define the learning objective

Trainings are both costly and time consuming.  You will need to develop materials, fly people in, fly yourself out, reserve facilities, and accommodate the demands of many masters.  Consequently, there is an ever-present temptation to load workshops full of a broad range of objectives.  If absorbed, each objective may legitimately have the potential to deliver tremendous business value.  But, therein lays the rub.  Human beings, even very talented ones, have limited capacity to soak up more than one critical concept in a training session of reasonable duration.  If there are multiple concepts, then they must tie together in an elegant and obvious manner.  It is not by accident that we so often ask each other the following question with singular noun declension: ‘What was your key take away?’

 

If you have enough lead time, then you can treat the definition of learning objectives in a similar manner to locking down requirements in new product development.  That is to say that you might synthesize a number of potentially valuable objectives by yourself or with your fellow managers.  However, you may not have clarity on how important each concept is to the learners.  Moreover, it might be that people have already mastered some of the concepts to a reasonable degree.  The way forward is easy.  Just ask.  By surveying, you will establish the true needs of your audience and uncover the actual gaps in their knowledge.  Additionally, if you go in with an open mind and some open ended questions, you may uncover a learning objective that trumps even your best ideas.  A beneficial side effect of this extra step is that your are likely to have a much more engaged group of trainees since they will justifiably feel the session is conducted for them rather than feel they are being subjected to yet another corporate mandate.

 

Finally, carve out enough time to pilot the training with a small, safe group.  Make sure you let the participants know that they are the guinea pigs so that they are primed to give constructive feedback.  Even a single iteration will provide massive improvement in every dimension of the training including but not limited to objectives, timing, and messaging.

 

Start scheduling immediately

Never underestimate the logistics involved in choosing a location that everyone can get to on a date when they are available.  Start the scheduling process as soon as you starting thinking about conducting a training session.  In general, it is best to choose offsite facilities in good physical condition so that you can isolate participants from the distractions of their regular work environment.

 

You might object, ‘But how can I do that when I do not know how many people I will have in the training?”  The short answer is that you should strive to run sessions with between ten and twenty attendees.  Anything fewer is inefficient, anything greater is ineffective.  You might further object, “But how can I do that when I do not know how long the training will be?”  Shorter is better.  In my experience, a single two and a half to three hour session is ideal.  If you have no other choice, then design two of these modules with one conducted in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

 

This leads to the next question.  If you are only going to run one session, what time of day is best?  For years, I accepted my gut instinct and the prevailing conventional wisdom that morning is superior.  From my experience, ninety nine out of a hundred would agree. But is it really?  To answer that, we need to roll the clock back to 1977.

 

In that year, researchers subjected 130 twelve and thirteen year olds from the Thomas Bennett School in England to a rather illuminating memory game.  The 62 boys and 68 girls were divided into two cohorts, each consisting of three groups.  All of the little darlings were told in advance that they would need to listen carefully to a story since they would be asked some questions about it.  (The British must have a thirst for this sort of torture given that they popularized the phrase “Pop Quiz” in a 1981 game show of the same name.)

 

At 9:00 am, the first cohort of three groups listened to a tape recording of a single 2000-word, 12-minute story entitled “A New Horse” by Lo-Johannson.  Right when the story ended, one of the three groups was given a multiple choice test consisting of twenty questions.  Exactly one week later, the second and third groups took the same test at 9:15am and 3:15pm, respectively.

 

A nearly identical approach was used for the second cohort save for the fact that they heard the story at 3:00pm.  Just as with the other cohort, one group took the immediate recall test and the other two groups got their chance a week later at 9:15am and 3:15pm.

 

This experiment allowed the researchers to draw two important conclusions.  First, immediate recall is better in the morning.  Students that took the pop quiz just after listening in the morning got 84% of the questions correct versus 76% correct for the afternoon group.  This result is probably what guides our gut instinct that it is better to train in the morning.

 

However, the second result, the one that addresses long term memory, is more relevant to facilitating successful training sessions.  It turns out that delayed recall is better following afternoon instruction!  Students who received morning instruction and were tested a week later scored only 64.5% as compared to 70% for those who received afternoon instruction.  Over the years, countless other academic researchers have validated this finding on both children and adults.  The bottom line, counter to universal opinion, is that you will get the biggest bang for the buck training in the afternoon.  Though explanatory stories abound, a reasonable justification is that long term memory forming synapses fire more actively in the afternoon when our fact-processing prefrontal cortex is oversaturated.

 

Start the session with passion and purpose

Trainees will absorb your material more effectively if they have faith in your teaching ability and in your passion about the subject matter.  You must make sure their first impression of you is as a professional.  To that end, you should treat running a workshop as you would treat any formal public speaking engagement.  In particular, make sure to arrive early so that you can set up the room, the technology, and any materials you will be using.  This will ensure that you are able to start on-time and are not frazzled.

 

To cement your authority and provide added motivation, secure a senior leader to introduce you.  The leader’s opening remarks should satisfy two objectives.  The first is to briefly introduce your background and bona-fides.  The second objective is far more important.  You want the leader to issue a call to action for the participants to complete when the training is over.  Many solid but not spectacular trainers miss this step entirely or leave things to chance in a harried discussion five minutes before the start.  To have the greatest impact, work with the leader at least a day in advance to craft a call to action that is achievable within a well defined time frame and that will be measured.  In my experience, leaders are open to recommendations and are particularly interested in the challenges set by their peers.  Inciting a little bit of friendly competition can go a long way.

 

The moment you take the stage is the single moment of maximum attention span.  As quickly as possible, and with passion, share the what, the why, and the how of the training.  The ‘what’ should cast a blazing spotlight on the key takeaway.  Revealing the key takeaway right at the start is a compelling, if underutilized, best practice.  If the key learning is more complex than one or two sentences, then you can express the key takeaway as a concept.  The ‘why’ inspires the heart to learn by sharing what is in it for them.  Finally, the ‘how’ should outline the training approach.  As discussed below, the approach will usually consist of waves of content followed by an activity followed by discussion.

 

By way of example, imagine that you are running a training session for account executives with the aim of teaching them how to write prospecting emails in a way that maximizes response rates.  This is the digital age equivalent of a cold call.  I would start that session as follows:  “Three hours from now, you are going to leave this room knowing how to write prospecting emails that will double your response rate.  If we do this right, then you will have an easy way to double your commissions.  Our workshop will cover three topics. One on crafting compelling subject lines, one on writing an effective elevator pitch, and one on formulating a call to action.  With each of these topics, I’ll provide an overview, then we will break out into groups of two for an activity, and then we will reconvene to share our experiences.  Let’s get started.”

 

Many trainers make the mistake of starting their sessions with a round of introductions.  This is a fatal momentum killer.  The point of training is not for people to get to know each other better.  The point is for them to learn something that will make them more productive or otherwise improve their lives.  If the idea of skipping introductions all together makes you uncomfortable, then it is safe to do so after the what-why-how kick-off.  This is most useful when the group and small and the participants do not know each other.  It is a good idea to provide guidelines for introductions to keep people from pouring out their life stories.  Name and function usually suffice.  Unless it is critical to the training, avoid introduction games or gimmicks such as having everyone share their favorite color.

 

An excellent best practice is to solicit questions from trainees early in the workshop.  This will help you to uncover their burning issues and what they want to get out of the day.  Since this tactic can open the floodgates on pent up energy and angst, you will need skill be successful.  To control the torrent, be upfront and crystal clear that you are going to capture but not immediately answer questions.  The temptation to answer will be overwhelming, especially for easy inquiries, but you must resist the urge.  So that people have a chance to adequately empty their bucket, record the questions in a visible place.  Make the commitment that every question will either be addressed during the training or be answered in a follow up communication.  Visibly and audibly check off the items that you have covered as you conduct the training (a good time is just before breaks).

 

Facilitate, do not lecture

A good way to think about the role of the facilitator is as a guide for each individual’s voyage of discovery.  The paths may be different, but the destination is the same.  Rather than preaching, you want to help people learn for themselves.  Style is important; great facilitators are enthusiastic, open, and knowledgeable.  You will know you have succeeded if participants view you as peer, partner, and collaborator.

 

In the most valuable training sessions that I have attended, I learned as much (and sometimes more) from my fellow travelers as I did from the trainer.  The trainers in those sessions were expert in three techniques.  The first one is actively encouraging participants to share their stories.  This happens as a natural consequence of asking open ended questions.  The second technique is using a modified version of the Socratic Method.  Rather than directly answering questions, skilled facilitators redirect queries to the group for problem solving.  The third practice is being an advocate for every individual in the group.  At its most basic, this means creating a safe environment where people can share openly, give feedback, and receive constructive criticism.  Moreover, advocates read body language and gently draw more reserved souls into the conversation.

 

Execute the content-activity-discussion training format

During the heart of the training, strive to deliver self-contained forty five to sixty minute modules.  By following the content-activity-discussion, you will achieve a 50/50 balance of formal instruction and experience.  In practice, that mix will keep participants engaged while absorbing knowledge.

 

During the activity portion of the module, begin by sharing the concept.  Since people imprint stories in long term memory better than facts, share a case study that illustrates what great looks like or what terrible looks like.  The whole world yeans for best practices and lessons learned.  For variety, mix things up with exercises that involve the entire group.

 

Once people have grasped the concept, it is time for the activity portion of the module.  Compelling training activities come in many forms.  The most effective format is pairing people up to role-play with one another.  The role-play must have a concrete objective; otherwise, people will lapse into purely social conversations.  If practical, you might even video capture selected role plays.  Other activities that work well include self tests with immediate results as well as individual competitions that have a public reward.  The reward may have nominal monetary value, but recognition alone is usually a powerful enough motivator.

 

Once participants have been exposed to the content and applied it during an activity, it is time to cement the concept by debriefing as a group.  If you captured some of the role-plays on video, then project to the group to reinforce learning and grab a few laughs along the way.  Encourage trainees to articulate their key findings and to ask any remaining open questions.  Keep the session upbeat by seeking positive comments ahead of constructive comments and strive to get feedback from everyone in the room.   Finally, review and visibly document each key take-away from the module.

 

Conclude by summarizing takeaways, building an action plan, and capturing feedback

Although you will have reviewed key findings at the end of each module, carve out time at the conclusion to run through the entire set of takeaways.  This is not only an opportunity to review the learning objectives, but also a chance to close any unanswered questions.  If there are questions that you do not know the answer to, that you do not feel are appropriate for the larger audience, or that are simply out of scope, commit to follow up as soon as possible after the session.

 

Even if you applied every best practice enumerated above and ran the world’s most amazing training session, your effort will be wasted if participants do not have ongoing opportunities to practice their new skills.  To give your instruction a fighting chance at sticking, dedicate time for each participant to create their own action plan.  If you engaged a senior leader to kick the session off with a call to action, then this is a good time to bring them back in to set expectations.

 

Last but not least, make sure to capture candid, anonymous, written feedback that you can use to refine the training.  Keep questions to the minimum necessary – think one side of one piece of paper.

 

Recap

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to facilitate compelling training sessions:

  • Define the learning objective
  • Start scheduling immediately
  • Start the session with passion and purpose
  • Facilitate, do not lecture
  • Execute the content-activity-discussion training format
    • Conclude by summarizing takeaways, building an action plan, and capturing feedback

Meetings That Matter

If you are already a manager, or are about to become one, then odds are that you will be spending most of the rest of your life huddled in physical or virtual meetings.  You have an obligation to engineer your meetings for success regardless of the topic at hand.  To become respected as a person that runs meetings that matter, you should optimize what happens before, during, and after the meeting.

Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting

As discussed in the chapter on “Taking Charge”, you must make it your practice to pre-syndicate ideas with the key influencers and decision makers that will be in your meetings.  Yes, this does mean that you will enter the realm of the ridiculous with meetings about meetings.  But, elieve me, it is time well spent since you will achieve the goal of always walking into a meeting where you have reasonable certainty regarding the outcome.  The amount of time that you spend on this process, of course, depends on the magnitude of the decision at hand and on the amount of time that you and your team have.

There will be times when key decision makers are simply not available.  When that happens, it pays to spend time thinking about how they will react in your meeting.  Start by understanding their root motivations. Those motivations will typically be tied to both personal objectives and business objectives, so make sure to explore both.  Once you frame their motivations, someone on your team should role play the individual and poke as many holes as possible in your pitch.  Though you will not be able to defend against an armor piercing bullet, you can at least sleep well the night before in Kevlar pajamas.

Start and end your meetings on time

Advice to start and end your meetings on time may seem too obvious to commit to ink and paper.  However, ask yourself when the last time was that you actually attended a meeting that met this objective.  In my experience, most meetings start five or ten minutes late and run over by the same amount.

By starting meetings on time, you show respect for the participants.  You will rapidly develop a reputation for starting on time.  In doing so, you will initiate a virtuous cycle whereby others will make sure they are on time for your meetings.  In the early days, you may need to inform people in advance that your meeting will begin promptly.  A more aggressive stance is to start your meetings on time no matter what without backtracking to recap for stragglers.  That will send a clear message.  Also, set up any presentations or handouts in advance.

Of the two sins, running over is the greater one.  Chances are, participants have back to back meetings and you will be the one responsible for making them late for their next appointment.  Needless to say, that is not an endearing quality.  Moreover, when time is up, you can pretty much guarantee that you have lost people’s attention.  To end on time, you need to anticipate the likely arc and outcomes of the meeting.  As a best practice, reserve at least five minutes at the end of a half hour meeting and at least ten minutes at the end of an hour long meeting to define next steps.  Never, ever fall into the amateur trap of rushing a meeting at the end.

Inform participants of the meeting purpose, people, and process

The three “P’s” of meetings that matter are purpose, process, and people.  Among the three, process is the most important.  You should make it a habit to start every meeting by identifying precisely what outcome you expect to achieve by the end.  For example, you might state, “By the end of today’s meeting, we will decide which new product to launch next quarter.”  Your mission is to give participants a clear and unambiguous picture of what success looks like so everyone can work together toward a common goal.

The second “P”, process, establishes the structure of the meeting.  Will the meeting format be brainstorming, discussion followed by questions and answers, or an interactive session?  People that attend your meetings will appreciate being given a mental model for when and how to participate.

The final “P”, people, is important but often abused.  The key is to make sure that people know each other and understand why others are in the room.  In smaller meetings of no more than five people, a quick round of introductions may be warranted.  The abuse comes in larger meetings.  I have no doubt that you have attended a meeting with ten or fifteen minutes wasted on round robin introductions.  By the time the last person basks in their verbal resume, most people have already forgotten about everyone else not to mention the meeting objective.  In this situation, you have two choices.  If time permits, then get everyone together a few minutes early to conduct social niceties and exchange business cards.  If time does not, then dive into the meeting.  People’s roles and responsibilities, as well as what they have to offer, will become rapidly clear.

Communicate progress and follow through on next steps

In truth, no one ever runs through the halls screaming, “Wow, Emma just ran an AWESOME meeting!!!”  Instead, they gradually develop a subconscious awareness that “I respect Emma because she gets things done.”

Follow through is the real measure of a manager that is great at running meetings that matter.  At the end of every gathering, you should have captured and communicated a set of next steps.  Ideally, these next steps should have well defined individual owners and objectives.  After the meeting, it is your job to monitor open action items and report back to the group on progress and ultimate completion.

Recap

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become adept at running meetings that matter:

  • Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting
  • Start and end your meetings on time
  • Inform participants of the meeting purpose, people, and process
  • Communicate progress and follow through on next steps

Corporate Culture

I once read a book that argued corporate culture cannot be created; it develops organically as a consequence of consistent behaviors.  My immediate reaction was that this statement is dangerously naïve.  Beware of statements that sound completely true merely because they include a fundamental truth within.  It is true that culture is created by and sustained by consistent deeds.  However, it is patently false that corporate culture cannot be created.  Good cultures can develop on their own.  Great cultures must be built and continuously nurtured.

Choose your focused cultural identity

Most companies have good corporate cultures.  They have to almost by definition.  If you consistently treat your customers, suppliers, shareholders, and employees poorly, then you will not have a company for very long.  Yet many firms have only an ethereal identity. They espouse and generally do live by a credo of commitment to their various constituencies.  However, the companies cannot be pinned down for focus on any one area.  When a new and worthy value comes along, such as corporate social responsibility, good cultures add it as another ingredient to the brew.

Great companies choose their cultural identity with the same discipline that they use to build long term business strategy.  The most successful business strategies employ focus that often involves tradeoffs.  Truly well-constructed strategies rely on a unique strength of your organization, thereby providing some defense against the competition.  Classic business strategy tradeoffs are things like speed versus accuracy, cost versus service, innovation versus consistency (I acknowledge there is an efficient frontier on these tradeoff dimensions; for example, for a given cost structure, companies need to choose the best level of service possible.)

Cultures with focus enjoy two benefits.  First, a focused culture accelerates decision making.  For example, if your environment has an employee-focused culture, then you will hold on to employees longer during tough economic times than if your environment were profit-focused.  You would also add employee capacity more slowly during strong economic times.  Second, a focused culture signals to your stakeholders why you make the decisions that you do.  When you are cost focused, passengers on your low cost airline will understand why you have not yet replaced the green shag carpeting and the disco ball.  They come to you with expectations of cheap and safe.  Being focused will force you to remain consistent since your stakeholders will call you to the carpet on incompatible actions.

There are an infinite variety of focused cultures.  The four most common include:

  • Customer focus: mantra = delight your customers (examples: Zappos, Nordstrom)
  • Employee focus: mantra = provide long term growth and security for your employees (examples: academic institutions of today and UPS of old)
  • Innovation focus: mantra = wow! (examples: Apple, 3M)
  • Profit (or cost) focus; mantra = money is what matters (examples: Southwest Airlines, most financial institutions)
  • Social focus: mantra = promote the public interest (examples: not-for-profits and L3C’s – low-profit limited liability companies)

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about any of these cultures.  Even profit focused cultures can consistently do great things for their employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders.  The point is that when they hire, when they fund innovation, when they define customer service processes, when they reupholster airplane seats, they make their decisions on the basis of profit maximization.

Drive total consistency of culture across your organization

To thrive, your focused cultural identity must be consistent across every business process. This consistency should exist first and foremost in deeds and only secondarily in words.  Anyone can adopt noble words.  Enron’s mission statement was “Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.”  Words without actions are empty.

If you are an innovation-focused company, for example, there are a million ways to drive consistency.  Do you hire creative people and then provide insufficient incentives to reward them for their intellectual contributions?  Do you launch innovative new software products while allowing portions of your portfolio to languish?  Your innovation culture must be ingrained across operations, human resources, finance, new product development, and so on.

Build an ever expanding story library

The most effective way to develop and sustain your focused corporate culture is by building an ever expanding story library.  Your employees will want to be the protagonists of these narratives and will endeavor to make that happen.  Just think of the last time your CEO told a story of excellence at an all-company meeting.  Part of you felt inspired while the other part felt jealous that the story was not about you.  Compelling anecdotes that reinforce your culture are created every day.  They are all around you; you just have to discover and retell them.  Since stories are perhaps the most effective means of communication, once retold they have the potential to inspire both employees and customers.

Stories have a limited lifespan and are prone to distortion over time. To get the most out of them, you should reveal your best stories in a publically accessible format, thus extending their life and making them less prone to distortion.  Be careful, though: an old story is just that – old.  People invariably will ask “Yeah, but what you have done for me lately?”  To keep your identity alive, continually expand your story library.

As you add to your story library, quality trumps quantity and focus trumps variety.  You do not need a million anecdotes about employees rowing through flooded streets to deliver an overnight package before the 12 pm deadline.  You need one resonant yarn.  Additionally, take care that the stories you select unambiguously reinforce your focused identity.  If your focus is customer service, then a story about an employee who saved $10 million dollars by centralizing purchasing is simply not on point.

Teach everyone to challenge ideas, not people

One of the most enlightening conversations that I ever had was with an entrepreneur who had recently sold his company to a much larger competitor.  I had worked with him and with many of his employees and was immediately struck by their creativity and collaboration.  So, I asked him what he did to build the culture at his company.  His answer was “I taught everyone to challenge ideas, not people.”  Imagine if your company operated that way.

Embedding this ideal within your culture begins, of course, with your own behavior.  However, you do have more work to do.  Subtle and not so subtle infighting is a natural, albeit degenerative, state for nearly every organization.  If your company is to rise to this ideal, you must make it clear in actions that personal attacks are unacceptable.  At minimum, you must call people out on such behavior when you observe it.  If necessary, you may need to terminate an employee regardless of their performance if they do not share this ideal.  Remember to reward and provide highly visible recognition for those that do.

Recap

Even if you do not invest any effort beyond operating legally and ethically, your organization will organically develop a good corporate culture.  It will have elements of innovation, customer focus, employee focus, social responsibility, etc.  However, if you want to create and sustain a truly great culture, here are the concepts you can immediately apply:

  • Choose your focused cultural identity
  • Drive total consistency of culture across your organization
  • Build an ever expanding story library
  • Teach everyone to challenge ideas, not people

Taking Charge

After four years digesting a prior acquisition, my employer decided to expand into an adjacent market space.  Though I learned many great lessons in the days leading up to the deal’s close, none was more powerful than the education I received watching one of my peers artfully take charge of the first due diligence meeting.  By commandeering that first meeting, he set himself up as a leader of the acquisition and the subsequent integration process.  In short, he showed what great looks like in taking charge.

Allow me to paint a more detailed picture for you.  Ten functional leads representing product management, human resources, finance, legal, and other areas assembled for a top secret meeting in a windowless basement conference room.  All of us had signed non-disclosure agreements and all of us had roughly equivalent positional authority.  Eight of the ten people in the room, including me, came in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and just thrilled that we had been chosen by our CEO to contribute our functional expertise to the vetting process.  The other two, however, had larger appetites.  They were vying to supercharge their careers by taking leadership of the overall acquisition.  Our CEO, known for his skill at identifying and developing talent, clearly put these two exceptional individuals into a competitive situation to test their mettle.

One of the two, let’s call him Jason, emerged as the clear victor. Here is what he did.

Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting

Jason had actually won long before he ever set foot in the room.  Well before the meeting, Jason prioritized the level of influence of the people that would be in the meeting.  He then individually met with each of the key players to deeply understand their hopes and concerns and to share his own thoughts.  Jason’s objective was not to win them over to his side.  Rather, his objective was to integrate their ideas with his own to build a coherent vision.

This one technique, pre-syndication, is hands down the single most powerful way to take charge.  Despite its obviousness, few people actually use it, enabling you to distance yourself from the crowd simply by being one of those diligent few.  In my experience, most people have never even thought of systematically pre-syndicating their ideas.  Among those that know it is good for their health, few actually take time to schedule and execute a round of pre-syndication.  It is hard work and requires meticulous planning, but will yield enormous rewards.

Starting today, you must make it your practice to pre-syndicate ideas with the key influencers and decision makers that will be in your meetings.  You should make it your objective that you will never be surprised in a meeting.  You should make it your aim that you always walk into meetings with reasonable certainty that the decision has already been made.  That is what elevates good to great.

Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership

Being a person that is conditioned to arrive early, I was there to observe Jason walk into the room a good five to ten minutes before the scheduled meeting start time.  I watched closely as Jason’s eyes purposefully sized up the environment.  Though this was a room in which tables and chairs were constantly reconfigured by beings unknown, there is a clear front of the room with whiteboards and flip charts.  Jason positioned himself at the front of the room, nearest the whiteboard.  He staked his claim by setting his belongings down at the head of a rectangular table and only then engaged me in conversation.  Where appropriate, and if you have enough time, you can even reconfigure the room to your advantage.

You may think this sort of thing is beneath you as a leader.  Your intellect and abilities, after all, should speak for themselves and you should not have to resort to ‘gimmicks’ like jockeying for where you sit in a room.  Although logically sound, that pride will hold you back from taking charge.

Unless your seniority trumps everyone else’s in the room, it is a bold move to sit at the head of a rectangular table.  Most people, possibly trying to be respectful in the event that a more senior person arrives, will choose a seat on one of the long sides of a rectangular table.  We were conditioned this way as children sitting down for family meals.

By arriving early, Jason set himself up for success in two ways.  As mentioned, he placed himself in the physical position of authority in the room.  Second, Jason had time to establish rapport with each individual as they entered the room.  When the meeting started, he was calm, confident, and collected.

Control the group agenda and goals

Controlling a meeting extends beyond the more generic, but still important, topic of meeting effectiveness (covered in a separate chapter).  To own a meeting, you must set the agenda, prioritize the group’s goals, and get buy-in to next steps at the conclusion.  All of this requires careful planning.

Though it will greatly enhance your likelihood of controlling the meeting, being the first one to speak does not guarantee success.  In more chaotic situations among equals, it pays to wait and then enter as the person that brings structure.  This is exactly what Jason did.  He was quiet but listening carefully at the beginning of the acquisition kick-off meeting.  His (in retrospect) competitor spoke first, providing background information on the target company rather than beginning by setting the agenda.  Jason’s adversary committed a crucial error.  He fell into the trap of believing that his superior knowledge by itself would allow him to take charge.  As the conversation began to drift among various participants, Jason stepped in and began to organize the group.  While his challenger lost steam after a quick jump out of the gate, Jason gradually gained momentum.

Secure the commitment of everyone involved

During the course of the meeting, Jason sensed that the tide was turning his way.  However, he needed to be absolutely sure.  Though the mechanism to secure commitment varies from situation to situation, the most effective method in a business meeting is to be the individual that obtains agreement on next steps.

Inspire with a positive vision of the future

Every great performance has a central theme at its core.  This is as true in a corporate environment as it is in the theater.  In business settings, the person whom others ultimately allow to take charge bears the responsibility of inspiring the team with a positive vision of the future.

Jason’s final flourish, which cemented him as the team leader, was to paint of picture of how the combined organization would benefit our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.

Recap

When I shared this taking charge framework with an attorney with whom I work, he smiled immediately.  Curious, I asked him whether his was a skeptical smile of disagreement.  He answered, “Just the opposite.  In the law, we have an expression for this: ‘control the document.’”  So, if you want to become great at taking charge, you must plan carefully to ‘control the document’: both the physical and intellectual resources that will define the outcome.

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become great at taking charge:

  • Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting
  • Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership
  • Control the group agenda and goals
  • Secure the commitment of everyone involved
  • Inspire with a positive vision of the future

After four years digesting a prior acquisition, my employer decided to expand into an adjacent market space. Though I learned many great lessons in the days leading up to the deal’s close, none was more powerful than the education I received watching one of my peers artfully take charge of the first due diligence meeting. By commandeering that first meeting, he set himself up as a leader of the acquisition and the subsequent integration process. In short, he showed what great looks like in taking charge.

Allow me to paint a more detailed picture for you. Ten functional leads representing product management, human resources, finance, legal, and other areas assembled for a top secret meeting in a windowless basement conference room. All of us had signed non-disclosure agreements and all of us had roughly equivalent positional authority. Eight of the ten people in the room, including me, came in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and just thrilled that we had been chosen by our CEO to contribute our functional expertise to the vetting process. The other two, however, had larger appetites. They were vying to supercharge their careers by taking leadership of the overall acquisition. Our CEO, known for his skill at identifying and developing talent, clearly put these two exceptional individuals into a competitive situation to test their mettle.

One of the two, let’s call him Jason, emerged as the clear victor. Here is what he did.

Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting

Jason had actually won long before he ever set foot in the room. Well before the meeting, Jason prioritized the level of influence of the people that would be in the meeting. He then individually met with each of the key players to deeply understand their hopes and concerns and to share his own thoughts. Jason’s objective was not to win them over to his side. Rather, his objective was to integrate their ideas with his own to build a coherent vision.

This one technique, pre-syndication, is hands down the single most powerful way to take charge. Despite its obviousness, few people actually use it, enabling you to distance yourself from the crowd simply by being one of those diligent few. In my experience, most people have never even thought of systematically pre-syndicating their ideas. Among those that know it is good for their health, few actually take time to schedule and execute a round of pre-syndication. It is hard work and requires meticulous planning, but will yield enormous rewards.

Starting today, you must make it your practice to pre-syndicate ideas with the key influencers and decision makers that will be in your meetings. You should make it your objective that you will never be surprised in a meeting. You should make it your aim that you always walk into meetings with reasonable certainty that the decision has already been made. That is what elevates good to great.

Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership

Being a person that is conditioned to arrive early, I was there to observe Jason walk into the room a good five to ten minutes before the scheduled meeting start time. I watched closely as Jason’s eyes purposefully sized up the environment. Though this was a room in which tables and chairs were constantly reconfigured by beings unknown, there is a clear front of the room with whiteboards and flip charts. Jason positioned himself at the front of the room, nearest the whiteboard. He staked his claim by setting his belongings down at the head of a rectangular table and only then engaged me in conversation. Where appropriate, and if you have enough time, you can even reconfigure the room to your advantage.

You may think this sort of thing is beneath you as a leader. Your intellect and abilities, after all, should speak for themselves and you should not have to resort to ‘gimmicks’ like jockeying for where you sit in a room. Although logically sound, that pride will hold you back from taking charge.

Unless your seniority trumps everyone else’s in the room, it is a bold move to sit at the head of a rectangular table. Most people, possibly trying to be respectful in the event that a more senior person arrives, will choose a seat on one of the long sides of a rectangular table. We were conditioned this way as children sitting down for family meals.

By arriving early, Jason set himself up for success in two ways. As mentioned, he placed himself in the physical position of authority in the room. Second, Jason had time to establish rapport with each individual as they entered the room. When the meeting started, he was calm, confident, and collected.

Control the group agenda and goals

Controlling a meeting extends beyond the more generic, but still important, topic of meeting effectiveness (covered in a separate chapter). To own a meeting, you must set the agenda, prioritize the group’s goals, and get buy-in to next steps at the conclusion. All of this requires careful planning.

Though it will greatly enhance your likelihood of controlling the meeting, being the first one to speak does not guarantee success. In more chaotic situations among equals, it pays to wait and then enter as the person that brings structure. This is exactly what Jason did. He was quiet but listening carefully at the beginning of the acquisition kick-off meeting. His (in retrospect) competitor spoke first, providing background information on the target company rather than beginning by setting the agenda. Jason’s adversary committed a crucial error. He fell into the trap of believing that his superior knowledge by itself would allow him to take charge. As the conversation began to drift among various participants, Jason stepped in and began to organize the group. While his challenger lost steam after a quick jump out of the gate, Jason gradually gained momentum.

Secure the commitment of everyone involved

During the course of the meeting, Jason sensed that the tide was turning his way. However, he needed to be absolutely sure. Though the mechanism to secure commitment varies from situation to situation, the most effective method in a business meeting is to be the individual that obtains agreement on next steps.

Inspire with a positive vision of the future

Every great performance has a central theme at its core. This is as true in a corporate environment as it is in the theater. In business settings, the person whom others ultimately allow to take charge bears the responsibility of inspiring the team with a positive vision of the future.

Jason’s final flourish, which cemented him as the team leader, was to paint of picture of how the combined organization would benefit our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.

Recap

When I shared this taking charge framework with an attorney with whom I work, he smiled immediately. Curious, I asked him whether his was a skeptical smile of disagreement. He answered, “Just the opposite. In the law, we have an expression for this: ‘control the document.’” So, if you want to become great at taking charge, you must plan carefully to ‘control the document’: both the physical and intellectual resources that will def

After four years digesting a prior acquisition, my employer decided to expand into an adjacent market space.  Though I learned many great lessons in the days leading up to the deal’s close, none was more powerful than the education I received watching one of my peers artfully take charge of the first due diligence meeting.  By commandeering that first meeting, he set himself up as a leader of the acquisition and the subsequent integration process.  In short, he showed what great looks like in taking charge.

Allow me to paint a more detailed picture for you.  Ten functional leads representing product management, human resources, finance, legal, and other areas assembled for a top secret meeting in a windowless basement conference room.  All of us had signed non-disclosure agreements and all of us had roughly equivalent positional authority.  Eight of the ten people in the room, including me, came in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and just thrilled that we had been chosen by our CEO to contribute our functional expertise to the vetting process.  The other two, however, had larger appetites.  They were vying to supercharge their careers by taking leadership of the overall acquisition.  Our CEO, known for his skill at identifying and developing talent, clearly put these two exceptional individuals into a competitive situation to test their mettle.

One of the two, let’s call him Jason, emerged as the clear victor. Here is what he did.

Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting

Jason had actually won long before he ever set foot in the room.  Well before the meeting, Jason prioritized the level of influence of the people that would be in the meeting.  He then individually met with each of the key players to deeply understand their hopes and concerns and to share his own thoughts.  Jason’s objective was not to win them over to his side.  Rather, his objective was to integrate their ideas with his own to build a coherent vision.

This one technique, pre-syndication, is hands down the single most powerful way to take charge.  Despite its obviousness, few people actually use it, enabling you to distance yourself from the crowd simply by being one of those diligent few.  In my experience, most people have never even thought of systematically pre-syndicating their ideas.  Among those that know it is good for their health, few actually take time to schedule and execute a round of pre-syndication.  It is hard work and requires meticulous planning, but will yield enormous rewards.

Starting today, you must make it your practice to pre-syndicate ideas with the key influencers and decision makers that will be in your meetings.  You should make it your objective that you will never be surprised in a meeting.  You should make it your aim that you always walk into meetings with reasonable certainty that the decision has already been made.  That is what elevates good to great.

Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership

Being a person that is conditioned to arrive early, I was there to observe Jason walk into the room a good five to ten minutes before the scheduled meeting start time.  I watched closely as Jason’s eyes purposefully sized up the environment.  Though this was a room in which tables and chairs were constantly reconfigured by beings unknown, there is a clear front of the room with whiteboards and flip charts.  Jason positioned himself at the front of the room, nearest the whiteboard.  He staked his claim by setting his belongings down at the head of a rectangular table and only then engaged me in conversation.  Where appropriate, and if you have enough time, you can even reconfigure the room to your advantage.

You may think this sort of thing is beneath you as a leader.  Your intellect and abilities, after all, should speak for themselves and you should not have to resort to ‘gimmicks’ like jockeying for where you sit in a room.  Although logically sound, that pride will hold you back from taking charge.

Unless your seniority trumps everyone else’s in the room, it is a bold move to sit at the head of a rectangular table.  Most people, possibly trying to be respectful in the event that a more senior person arrives, will choose a seat on one of the long sides of a rectangular table.  We were conditioned this way as children sitting down for family meals.

By arriving early, Jason set himself up for success in two ways.  As mentioned, he placed himself in the physical position of authority in the room.  Second, Jason had time to establish rapport with each individual as they entered the room.  When the meeting started, he was calm, confident, and collected.

Control the group agenda and goals

Controlling a meeting extends beyond the more generic, but still important, topic of meeting effectiveness (covered in a separate chapter).  To own a meeting, you must set the agenda, prioritize the group’s goals, and get buy-in to next steps at the conclusion.  All of this requires careful planning.

Though it will greatly enhance your likelihood of controlling the meeting, being the first one to speak does not guarantee success.  In more chaotic situations among equals, it pays to wait and then enter as the person that brings structure.  This is exactly what Jason did.  He was quiet but listening carefully at the beginning of the acquisition kick-off meeting.  His (in retrospect) competitor spoke first, providing background information on the target company rather than beginning by setting the agenda.  Jason’s adversary committed a crucial error.  He fell into the trap of believing that his superior knowledge by itself would allow him to take charge.  As the conversation began to drift among various participants, Jason stepped in and began to organize the group.  While his challenger lost steam after a quick jump out of the gate, Jason gradually gained momentum.

Secure the commitment of everyone involved

During the course of the meeting, Jason sensed that the tide was turning his way.  However, he needed to be absolutely sure.  Though the mechanism to secure commitment varies from situation to situation, the most effective method in a business meeting is to be the individual that obtains agreement on next steps.

Inspire with a positive vision of the future

Every great performance has a central theme at its core.  This is as true in a corporate environment as it is in the theater.  In business settings, the person whom others ultimately allow to take charge bears the responsibility of inspiring the team with a positive vision of the future.

Jason’s final flourish, which cemented him as the team leader, was to paint of picture of how the combined organization would benefit our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.

Recap

When I shared this taking charge framework with an attorney with whom I work, he smiled immediately.  Curious, I asked him whether his was a skeptical smile of disagreement.  He answered, “Just the opposite.  In the law, we have an expression for this: ‘control the document.’”  So, if you want to become great at taking charge, you must plan carefully to ‘control the document’: both the physical and intellectual resources that will define the outcome.

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become great at taking charge:

  • Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting
  • Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership
  • Control the group agenda and goals
  • Secure the commitment of everyone involved
  • Inspire with a positive vision of the future

ine the outcome.

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become great at taking charge:

· Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting

· Arrive early and claim the physical position of leadership

· Control the group agenda and goals

· Secure the commitment of everyone involved

· Inspire with a positive vision of the future

Crisis Management

When most people hear the words ‘crisis management’, they most often think of dramatic corporate disasters such as the BP oil spill, Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall, or the Chicago Tylenol murders.  For most of us, these infrequent events catch our attention but do not affect our everyday lives.   Instead, individuals face a constant barrage of professional crises that must be managed.  At the very least, these situations increase stress and reduce happiness.  In the extreme, they threaten your career.

One of the most impressive and consistent characteristics among senior leaders is how calm they seem despite the enormous responsibilities and the political pressure that surrounds them.    You want to be the one that other people want in the foxhole with them when the bombs start flying.  Your ability to remain, or to appear to remain, calm under fire will define you as an unflappable crisis manager.

Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Chicago area Tylenol poisonings is widely regarded as the best example of corporate crisis management.  Let’s look at their actions to extract best practices that you can apply to your everyday crises.

On Wednesday September 29, 1982, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois died a few hours after taking one Extra-Strength Tylenol to treat her cold symptoms.  Doctors initially attributed her death to a stroke.  The same morning, Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois took a Tylenol to sooth his mild chest pain.  Within hours he was dead of what doctors suspected to be a massive heart attack.  That evening, Adam’s brother and sister-in-law consumed capsules from the same Tylenol bottle while gathering to mourn.  They met a similar fate.  Dr. Thomas Kim of the Northwest Community Hospital suspected that the deaths of the three Janus family members were linked, but his hypothesis was exposure to poison gas.

On a typical day in the Chicago metropolitan area about 200 people die of natural and unnatural causes.  So, identifying any common thread between the deaths of Mary Kellerman and the three Janus family members amounts to finding a needle in a haystack.  However, two off-duty firefighters did just that and at lightning speed.

Knowing that young Mary Kellerman had taken Tylenol before her death, Elk Grove firefighter Richard Keyworth asked his friend Arlington Heights firefighter Philip Cappitelli to check with paramedics to see if the Janus family members had also ingested the pain reliever.  Once the connection was found, police retrieved the suspicious bottles from the Kellerman and Janus homes and sent them for testing.

By Thursday September 30, Cook County Chief Toxicologist Michael Shaffer confirmed that capsules in the bottles were filled with approximately 65 milligrams of potassium cyanide, about 10,000 times the dose necessary to kill the average person.  Johnson and Johnson was notified immediately and Chicago police officers drove through the streets blasting warnings through their loudspeakers urging people to avoid taking Tylenol.  All three major television networks reported the story in the evening news.

On Friday October 1st, the Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer advisory to avoid taking Tylenol capsules “until the series of deaths in the Chicago area can be clarified.”  Despite the warnings, three more people perished from tainted Tylenol in the Chicago area by the end of the day bringing the death toll to seven.

In the ensuing chaos, Tylenol took as much time as they could to analyze the facts.  They discovered that the deadly bottles had come from four manufacturing lots produced at two separate factories over the period of many weeks.   Though cyanide was available at the factories, the company concluded that the bottles must have been tainted after shipping since the deaths were concentrated in one geographic area and in a short time span.  The evidence pointed to the hypothesis that someone must have purchased the bottles, added the poison, and put the bottles back on the shelf.  (Though a conviction has never been obtained, the prime suspect served 13 years of a 20 year sentence for attempting to extort $1 million from Johnson and Johnson as well as six unrelated counts of mail and credit card fraud).

Johnson and Johnson had taken the time to establish the root cause and considered their next move.  On Tuesday October 5, the company halted production and advertising and issued a nationwide recall of 31 million bottles with a retail value of over $100 million. After extensive testing, investigators found a total of seven bottles with between three and ten tainted capsules placed in six Chicago area stores.

In the aftermath, Tylenol’s share of the pain reliever market dropped from 35 percent to 8 percent.  Respected industry pundits confidently pronounced that the Tylenol brand could never recover. Against this headwind, Johnson and Johnson reintroduced Tylenol a mere five weeks later on November 11, 1982 with new tamper proof packaging, a large advertising campaign, and a $2.50 coupon.  Within a year, Tylenol had regained the entire share it had lost. As of this writing, Tylenol remains a household name and is likely sitting in your medicine cabinet.

Give yourself as much space and time as possible

A crisis is a crisis because you are faced with a threat or opportunity and not enough time to make a clear, fact-based decision.  Everyday crises include being confronted by a co-worker, making a keep-or-kill choice on a project, and managing work-life balance.  Whether the crisis is actual or perceived, the stress is palpable.  Under such strain, the worst blunder you can make is to execute without a sufficient knowledge.

The only way to gain a fact base is to carve out as much space and time as possible to diagnose the situation.  In extreme situations, you should at least have the ability to step out of the room and collect your thoughts.  Most often, you will have hours and even days to act.   When carving out time, remember your mission is to resolve the crisis to the best of your ability the first time, not to solve it as fast as possible at all costs.

On Thursday September 30th, Johnson and Johnson learned that the company was facing an epic corporate and public health crisis.  Rather than make an immediate defensive and emotional reaction, the company took five days to figure out what to do with the product on the shelves and five weeks to figure out how to re-launch the brand.  By taking as much time as they could to determine the facts and craft a decisive response, Johnson and Johnson established the model of what great looks like in crisis management.

Apply your rational rather than emotional problem solving skills to the crisis

Although you will be facing a compressed time scale, apply your full set of problem solving skills to the crisis.  Form an initial hypothesis, gather facts, identify complications, and choose a resolution.  When crisis strikes, the most important and oft ignored part of problem solving is fact gathering.  Take a deep breath, remove the emotion, and try to identify the true root of the problem.  Make a fact based decision, not a gut decision.

In my experience, most professional crises come in the form of interpersonal conflict.  To solve this form of crisis, you need to get into the head of the other person and know how they want the crisis to end.  Though you may have interpreted their actions as a direct attack, much of the time the other person’s motivations have little or nothing to do with you.

Unfortunately, there are times when a fellow coworker really is out to get you.  Though this happens less frequently than you perceive, the recommended course of action is fortunately the same.  As long as you are physically safe, hunker down and do your job to the best of your ability.  By spending all his or her effort on unproductive machinations, your nemesis will ultimately be out of a job.  Moreover, by excelling at your work, you will lower your stress since you will not have time to think about the other person.

Recap

If you remain calm when faced with a crisis, you will be able to bring an effective resolution with a minimum of both effort and drama.  Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to be a great crisis manager:

  • Give yourself as much space and time as possible
  • Apply your rational rather than emotional problem solving skills to the crisis

Change Management

When I was nearing the completion of my Masters degree in electrical engineering, I had to make a major life choice about which direction to take my career.  I wanted to apply my creativity to improve the lives of other people and I found that opportunity with an innovative semiconductor company in Silicon Valley.  This company made chips that could be reconfigured by customers to work in equipment ranging from big iron Internet Routers to cutting edge consumer electronics.  Better still, this company was the only one on the planet attempting to build a new product using the precise (and very esoteric) technology that I focused on during graduate school.  The stars were aligned and I was on Cloud Nine.

From the title of this chapter, you are probably beginning to guess what happened next.  Six months into my tenure as a junior product developer, the company terminated the project and took a $5 million write-down for in-process research and development.  Fortunately, it was the late 1990’s, and the organization was growing by leaps and bounds; there were still jobs for all of us.  This was my first exposure to an endless string of reorganizations, mergers, divestitures, and new initiatives.  In short, it was my first exposure to an endless string of change, which I soon learned was the only constant.

In that first project termination, I felt the rug had been pulled out from beneath me.  The technology on which I invested years of blood, sweat, and tears would likely never see the light of day.   I briefly feared and distrusted change and nearly signed my soul over to a parking lot headhunter (at the time, headhunters would wait in parking lots trying to recruit anything that moved).  However, after a few sleepless nights and many conversations with my supportive wife, I began to view change as opportunity.  During the remainder of my career, I have found that the greatest opportunities for rapid professional development and financial growth occur during periods of disruptive change.

As you move from being a great individual contributor to being a great manager, you will shift from being changed to leading change.  To be effective, you must embrace the memory of how challenging your first exposure to corporate upheaval was.  Draw upon those lessons to guide your team when instituting new initiatives. In the change management framework explored below, you will see that the common thread in fluid change management is empathetically addressing the needs of behaviorally irrational human beings – in other words, people just like you.

Challenge the status quo with a new, positive vision

Getting people to change is hard work.  To give you the best odds of becoming a great change manager, it helps to understand the work that earned Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman their Nobel Prize in 2002 for pioneering work in behavioral economics.  In a nutshell, Tversky and Kahneman reasoned that people faced with choices involving gains are risk averse and that people faced with choices involving losses are risk loving.  In fact, the professors noted that merely framing a logically identical choice as a loss (of lives, of money, etc.) rather than a foregone gain induces most of the human race to take large if not extraordinary risks.

So, how does all this tie back to change management?  As a change leader, your job is to inspire people to take action that will by definition move them from their comfortable status quo.  If you understand the human propensity for loss aversion, then you realize you have two choices: either to create a ‘burning platform’ or to establish a sense of urgency and motivate people to change.

The first choice is to create a ‘burning platform.’  For example, you can vividly paint of picture of an external threat to your organization which they will logically tie to loss of their own job security.  To be effective, individuals must have either underappreciated the severity of the threat or better yet had no prior knowledge of its existence.

Being able to draw attention to the burning platform from which you are speaking will make you a good change manager, but not a great one.  If you look around, you will find that its use is pervasive.  Motivating people with fear to avoid a loss will get them moving, and fast.  However, the quick rush out of the gate carries the expected consequence that the energy behind your change initiative will not last.  Thus, limit use of a burning platform to those instances when you need immediate change on an initiative that is short term and low in complexity.

It is far more effective to inspire people with hope than to motivate them with fear.  That brings us to the second, superior choice, to establish a sense of urgency for a change initiative.  In many loss aversion studies, researchers determined that people require gains to be a factor of two larger than a possible loss.  For example, in order to bet and potentially lose $20, Kahneman and Tversky found that people on average require a potential payoff of $40.  As a tenacious change manager, this means that, yes, you will need to work twice as hard to paint a positive vision of the future strong enough to induce people to risk their status quo.  But, if you succeed, the return is enormous since you will provide nearly limitless fuel to sustain your change initiative.

To accept and ultimately embrace change, people need to motivate themselves on both a rational and emotional level. To appeal to the rational ‘left brain’, your vision should feel achievable and should provide a personal, tangible benefit.  Providing a compelling set of facts is a persuasive way to speak to the rational mind.

Seasoned change managers know that rational appeals are only half the battle.  To drive successful change, you must also speak to the emotional right brain.  The best technique to accomplish that is through storytelling – for example, by creating a vibrant, positive picture of the future.  Additionally, you should strive to connect your change initiative to the deep needs of individuals.  Though self-interest is a strong motivator, the most powerful approach you can take is sincerely helping people feel they are making the world a better place for themselves, their friends and family, and mankind as a whole.

All this may sound a bit hokey, but you should be able to identify a higher purpose in nearly every professional. In some professions, like medicine and teaching, the higher purpose is obvious. In others, perhaps financial services and consulting, you may have to ask ‘why is that important?’ a few times, but eventually you will get there.

Communicating your new, positive vision that challenges the status quo and inspires change is as important as crafting that vision in the first place.  Words alone will not do.  You must also show your own commitment to change through your every deed.  For starters, a useful best practice is to create a guiding coalition that includes individuals with high positional authority, expertise, and credibility.  After all, if the influencers inside your organization do not support your change initiative, then it is doomed before you even start.

Engineer the environment for success

All change initiatives, especially large ones, require careful planning.  To engineer the environment for success, you must plan your actions and plan your resources.

Think of building your action plan the way you would build a business plan for a startup company.  The key is to script the critical moves with clear, specific direction.  This does not mean that you personally need to lead every critical work-stream.  Nor does it mean that you need to plan out every step involved.   Rather, your mission is to articulate the end vision of what great looks like and to define the crucial milestones along the way.  To be a resourceful change manager on large initiatives, you will routinely share and even transfer responsibility.  Remember, however, that even though you are sharing leadership, you always retain final accountability.

The actions that truly matter are the ones that require people to do their work differently.  To find those actions, you must interview people that are already realizing your end vision.  If they do not exist inside your company, go find them in the larger world.  Authors Chip and Dan Heath of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard refer to these people as bright spots.  Those individuals and their stories will illuminate the way for others.

Excellent change managers know that little happens by accident.  They do not wait for the welcome, unexpected blue bird to land on their shoulder.  Instead, they maniacally plan for, generate, and publicize short term wins.  This is so important, it bears repeating.  Great change managers maniacally plan for, generate, and publicize short term wins.  These wins must be unambiguous and directly related to the change effort.  By sharing short term wins, you fuel the change effort by showing people that their actions are having an immediate payoff.  Assume that people are looking for any reason to jump ship and return to the old status quo; your job is to provide real hope that the tropical island paradise lies just over the horizon.

In addition to action planning, the second component of engineering the environment for success is resource planning.  The most obvious feature of this is securing the necessary people, technology, and capital.  That is the rational part.  As with all elements of change management, there is an emotional component of resource planning.  Specifically, great change managers empower broad based action by identifying and systematically removing obstacles to success.  At the very least, this will require a careful examination of the processes resident in your organization that may be inconsistent with your vision of the future.

These processes will run the gamut from operations to finance to human resources.   For example, if you are an internet retailer and your mission is to transform your customer service, there are many processes that can stand in the way.  Do you employ a drop ship model where you receive orders from customers and then forward them to possibly unreliable producers who subsequently directly ship to customers?  Is your focus on inventory turns causing you to leave customers frustrated with ‘item sold out’ messages?  Are you measuring your customer service professionals on calls handled per minute, forcing them to be curt with customers?

Processes are one resource planning obstacle to success.  A second is encouraging people to become more risk taking.  Your inspiring, positive vision of the future is a piece of the puzzle.  As a great change manager, you will need to align and upgrade the skills of people in the organization to make them comfortable with risk.  Again, stories will be a key ally.  Nordstrom teems with stories (some true and some urban legend) about sales clerks accepting returns for heavily worn items or items sold by other stores.  FedEx and UPS share innumerable stories about package deliveries in extreme conditions.  What are your stories of risk taking that align with your change initiative?  Find them and shout them from the rooftops.

Returning to the analogy of the startup business plan, you should engineer but not over-engineer for success.  Carve out as much time as you can for planning, focusing on the key actions and resources that matter, then execute and iterate.  Your plans should remain adaptable to account for the unpredictability of people, technology, and processes.

Make change stick

If you have challenged the status quo with a positive vision and engineered the actions and resources for success, then you are two thirds of the way to being a great change manager.  The last requirement is that you master the ability to make change stick.

The most basic way to do this is to periodically remind people of what has already been accomplished.  Think of this as an aggregation of the short terms wins that you publicized into a larger picture.  It should be a picture that shows where you started, how far you have come, and how much further everyone needs to travel to realize the end goal.

As you probably guessed, there is a deeper emotional requirement here too.  Your mission is no less than to upgrade people’s individual identity in a way that anchors new approaches in the culture.  For example, ‘I am a hospitality professional that provides people with a clean, comfortable room to sleep in and I work for a company that provides a home away from home.’  Or, ‘I am a consultant that helps people become more productive and I work for a firm that helps productive people to provide a higher standard of living for their families.”  The stickiest change builds and reinforces noble purpose at a personal and emotional level.

Recap

To excel, you not only must conceive major initiatives but also must architect and continually fuel initiatives for success.  Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to be a great change manager:

  • Challenge the status quo with a new, positive vision
  • Engineer the environment for success
  • Make change stick

People Management

Whether you are in the business of manufacturing goods or providing services, people are your most important asset and require continual investment.  Remarkable people managers are maniacally focused on hiring the right people, delegating effectively, and coaching for ongoing success and professional development.

Hire the best people for the target salary range

If you ever start to question the value of time spent recruiting and hiring new employees, simply recall your own experiences with a bad boss, coworker, or staff member.  Such an individual, often unintentionally, leaves a wake of destruction in their path that impacts the entire organization.  They devour time, energy, and morale.

To combat this risk, you need to be systematic about hiring the best people for the target salary range.  This recommendation has two pieces.  First, what does it mean to “hire the best people?”  Very specifically, you need to start the hiring process by determining the single most important business objective the individual will be asked to achieve in the near term.  If you are hiring a new product development manager and the principal objective is to release one new software product every six months, then hire a person with a proven track record of success and the skills needed for the job.  The biggest mistakes that hiring managers make is hiring people based almost exclusively on either cultural fit or a general sense that an individual has a broad base of skills that could be used to take on most tasks.  To be a great people manager, you instead need to focus on hiring people that will achieve overwhelming success on the specific business objective at hand.

The second piece of the recommendation “…for the target salary range” requires little explanation.  If you have a one hundred thousand dollar budget for a position, you are not going to be able to hire Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, or Louis Gerstner.  Make peace with this fact and move on.

Once you have determined the single most important business objective the new hire will be expected to achieve in the near term, the next step is to engineer away any hidden biases that you and your team have by identifying the “must-have” general skills and specialist skills that are required for success on the objective.  These skills should be based on the attributes of star performers already in the role.

In the aforementioned new product development job, you might establish the following prioritized list of generalist skills:

Must have:

  • Communication (especially with executives)
  • Problem solving
  • Leads through influence and with passion

Nice to have:

  • Uses business judgment/Sees the big picture
  • Cultural fit
  • Negotiation
  • Willing to challenge to get to the truth
  • Able to synthesize mountains of information
  • Time management
  • Accountability

Prioritizing the list and sticking to your guns on the “must-have” skills is key.  If candidates do not have the specific must-have skill, then do not hire them, as they are unlikely to succeed on their primary objective.

In addition to generalist skills, you must similarly prioritize the essential specialist skills.  For the new product development job, you might prioritize as follows:

Must have:

  • Client interviewing
  • Ability to prioritize scope based on business merit
  • People management

Nice to have:

  • Technical skills such as programming
  • Long range strategic planning
  • Analytical ability
  • Presentation skills

There is of course a fuzzy line between generalist skills and specialist skills.  You do not need to get that classification precisely correct.  What does matter is identifying the must have skills required for success on the candidate’s primary business objective that allow you to make a go/no-go decision in an unbiased way.  How many ‘must-have’ skills are required?  The short answer is as many as you need to all but guarantee success on the business objective. At the same time, you do want to keep the list short enough so that you and your hiring team can evaluate the candidate practically during the interview process.

Once you have established the primary business objective for the job and the associated ‘must-have’ skills to ensure success, it is time to start interviewing. To do that, you are going to need a pipeline of qualified candidates.  All great people managers continually cultivate a pipeline of potential future hires.  In most circumstances, this can be done informally since hiring velocity is not rapid nor are potential candidates extremely difficult to find.  In other circumstances, say Cirque de Soleil, finding a qualified candidate to fill the pipeline is like finding a needle in a haystack.  According to a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, to fill its 500 new roles per year, Cirque de Soleil has “created a database of 20,000 potential performers. Among them: 24 giants (including a Ukrainian who is 8 foot 2), 23 whistlers, 466 contortionists, 14 pickpockets, 35 skateboarders, 1,278 clowns, eight dislocation artists and 73 people classified simply as small.”  If you do not have a sufficiently rich pipeline of your own, the next best source is referrals from other people within your organization.  Outside recruiters and public job postings should be a last resort.

To build a strong candidate pool, you should look to the current star performers in similar roles within your company.  By analyzing their background and how they came into your organization, you can establish a pattern and use it to target similar sources.  Moreover, your current star performers are likely to be your best referral source for likeminded prospects.

Time spent recruiting and hiring the right people is the best investment an extremely skilled people manager can make. However, your time is still precious and should be used as effectively as possible.  To make the best use of your time, prescreen candidates over the phone.  Though you should never make a hiring decision over the phone, you should eliminate candidates for whom there is clearly no fit.  The phone interview gives you an opportunity to learn about the candidate and for the candidate to learn about you.  Since the most promising candidates have many attractive opportunities, you are selling to them as much as they are selling to you.  The key information to look for during the phone screening interview is whether or not the candidate has had specific experience on the primary business objective that you are hiring for.  What matters is what they have done, not what they would do.  Encourage the interviewee to provide specific examples with concrete outcomes.

Once you have narrowed the field and have decided to bring in a small number of top candidates, you ought to interview as rigorously as possible.  Make sure that your interviewing team clearly understands the primary business objective that the potential new hires will be responsible for.  Remind the team to suppress their biases and to systematically test for the must-have generalist and specialist criteria required for success on that objective.  Be direct with the interviewee by sharing the primary business goal.  Ideally, the winning candidate should be able to vividly describe a specific instance in their employee where they accomplished the exact business objective you are hiring for.  You can prompt for this insight by asking the candidate the question: “Tell me about a time when you…”  In addition to testing for prior success on the primary business objective, you should validate – again with vivid actual detail – that the candidate possesses the must-have skills.

The best candidates have had prior overwhelming success on a similar primary business objective as well as all of the requisite skills.  Sometimes, though it should be extremely rare, the business objective is so esoteric that you simply will not be able to source candidates with prior direct success.  That is alright.  However, you must immediately eliminate any candidate that does not possess every one of the must-have skills.  An astute people manager is never deceived by the hope that the new hire can pick up the skill on the job.  Let people pick up new skills on the job, but first make sure you hire only people that walk in the door with the right set of skills to be successful on their primary business objective.

Hiring well requires a comprehensive, team-based process.  Final candidates should interview multiple times with multiple people.  This ensures that the individual is looked at from different angles and will be a good overall fit on the team.  The group consensus should always have the power to eliminate a candidate.  However, the hiring manager must have the final say in a “yes” decision since they must believe in the person in order to be an effective coach and in order for the individual to be successful.

After you have interviewed a competitive set of candidates, it is time to make a hiring decision.  If the decision feels hard, then you have probably not found the right person yet.  Avoid hiring “the best of the rest.”  Many successful managers describe the decision to hire an individual with language evoking falling in love.  When you interview the right person, you are going to feel it in your bones.  Do not hire until your visceral response is “I must hire THIS person and not let them get away.”

Some organizations, often the most flourishing ones, possess a core ideology that defines the corporate culture.  The core ideology might be inward facing such as ‘deliver the cutting edge of innovation’ or ‘provide unlimited growth and opportunities for employees.’  Or, it may be outward facing such as ‘bring happiness to the world’ or ‘improve the quality of human life.’  Whatever it may be, the best way to maintain and enhance the strength of your ideology is to seek and hire people that already espouse the defining purpose.  If this is the case, it should be one of the ‘must-have’ skills.

Zappos, the internet shoe and apparel retailer snapped up by Amazon for nearly $1 billion in stock, possesses the core ideology of providing the best customer service possible.  The company internally calls this its WOW philosophy.  New customer service representatives are put through and intensive four-week indoctrination in the company’s strategies, culture, and customer engagement practices.  At some point during this period, the company actually makes people an offer to quit!   In addition to their full salary from time served, the company offers employees $1000 to leave.  The obvious rationale is to have individuals weed themselves out when they are not a cultural fit.

Delegate effectively

Poor managers fall into one of two camps – those who under-delegate and those who over-delegate.  Most managers land in their position of authority by being outstanding individual contributors.  They often hold the belief that no one in the world can do what they do faster or better.  This attribute tends to make new managers atrocious under-delegators, who hand off only low risk tasks since they do not possess sufficient trust in their staff.   Although new managers are canny enough to realize they must delegate to be successful, their fear of their team’s possible underperformance prevents them from doing so.

By contrast, the over-delegators, overwhelmed with their new responsibilities, hand over projects that exceed a staff member’s motivation or ability.  The pressures of the managerial role override their do-it-yourself individual contributor mentality before they have learned the art of more restrained delegation.

The most essential skill in being a judicious delegator is being able to clearly define the concrete, measureable objectives associated with a given task or work-stream.  Share this objective with the individual you are delegating to by communicating to them what success looks like.  The objective not only gives the individual a clear compass to sail by, but also gives them an unambiguous way to know when they are done.

As you formulate your objective, you should also think about the skills required for success.  In almost all circumstances, you should delegate to individuals that already have the requisite skills to complete the task.  Delegating is different from coaching.  Delegating is about efficient use of your time and about success on your projects.  In contrast, coaching aims to help your staff grow by introducing new responsibilities. Coaching involves a significant and worthy investment of time on the part of you and your staff.  Both have value and as a perceptive manager you need to strike a balance between tasks that should be delegated and tasks that should be used for coaching.

Once you have formulated the objective and selected the skilled individual, you need to hand off the task in a way that all but guarantees success.  First, provide as much information as you have and guidance on how to find missing information.  Second, answer any questions that the person has about the task.  Third, have the individual play back his or her understanding of the task to make sure it is fully understood.  Though one of the most important parts of successful delegation, this is also the piece most frequently forgotten.  Last, agree to a deadline for completion that provides adequate time for success.  In larger projects, you may also need to agree on milestones or to require a written progress plan.

Detailed step-by-step guidance is intentionally missing from the hand off process just described.  If the person needs to be micro-managed, then he or she is the wrong individual to whom to delegate.  Moreover, working out step-by-step instructions is a poor use of your time.  By being flexible in the process, you are showing trust in your staff; but, remember, though flexible in the process, be fixed in the result.

Once you have delegated the task, make yourself accessible to answer questions and to provide guidance.  Depending on the scope, duration, and importance of the task, you should monitor progress toward the objective to ensure success by the deadline.  Finally, remember that whoever does the task, it remains your responsibility as a manager if things go wrong.  By giving credit and taking blame, you maintain accountability and build trust.

With highly motivated and highly skilled employees, you will reach the nirvana of delegation – the ability to ‘fire and forget.’  With such individuals, you will be able to lengthen the time between check-ins, as they are likely to be more expert than you are at a particular task or work-stream.  Still, employ two mechanisms at your disposal to assess the quality of the work.  One way of doing this performance ‘audit’ is dig a couple of deep wells.  In accounting, this is the equivalent of counting every unit of a single type of product in inventory.  The other way is to sniff test at the macro level.  Again, in the accounting world, this is comparable to making sure that there is at least one box of every type of product in inventory.

Coach for ongoing success and professional development

Coaching is a close cousin of delegation but with a key difference.  In both delegation and coaching, great managers must define clear, concrete objectives.  However, effective delegation hinges on transferring tasks to individuals that already possess the requisite skills for success.  When you are in coaching mode, you need to invest time and energy since you are going into the situation knowing that the individual needs to develop a new set of skills.

The fundamental secret of being a great coach is tailoring everything, absolutely everything, to the person and to the task.  This personalization philosophy extends from the skills you identify to work on together to the style you utilize in providing feedback, and everything in between.

The most common mistake that managers make both consciously and unconsciously is projecting their own professional desires onto their staff.  In their defense, they are following admirably the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have done unto you.  However, a better rule in coaching is to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves, a powerful update to the Golden Rule that transcends the world of coaching.  Though you are on a general management track, many of your employees may wish to remain on a functional track at this phase in their career. Talk to people to understand who they want to become and what their motivations are.

Great coaches understand that their employees possess strengths, latent skills, and weaknesses.  Consider a baseball player early in his career who is a good hitter and right fielder, a terrible pitcher, and an unproven first baseman.  In this instance, it is fairly obvious that the player should maximize time spent with the batting coach and minimize time spent with the pitching coach.  That is the only way to manufacture the next Babe Ruth.  Though everyone sees the truth in the baseball analogy, many managers in the business world spend their time identifying weaknesses and then toiling futilely to improve them, a criminal waste of everyone’s time.

Instead, be a shrewd coach by spending eighty percent of your time identifying strengths and helping people become more of who they already are.  Here is what to do with the other twenty percent: dip into the pool of latent skills and test for aptitude.  It will become apparent very quickly if the latent ability can be developed into a strength.  If it is not a strength, toss it in the weakness bucket, cut bait and do not look back.  There are a million treasures hiding in the pool of latent skills and they are generally easy to uncover.

Identifying strengths to build on and latent skills to develop is not a solitary managerial activity.  Since you cannot be there all the time, the individual must be fully invested in his or her own development.  Because people are most successful in personal and professional growth when they have identified for themselves the skills they want to build, do not automatically project your own strengths or the traits you want to develop onto others.  Though employees often have a good idea of their strengths, you can be an effective partner with them in selecting latent skills to develop that they are passionate about and that will build their career.

Inspirational coaching requires empathy.  Every human being has both a deep rooted need to feel vital and a deep rooted fear of criticism. The feeling of importance is one of the foundations of self-confidence and should be nurtured.  True, in the process of coaching, you will routinely give both positive and negative feedback.  To remain a nurturing coach, then, in every interaction, strive to have the positive feedback outweigh the negative, preferably leading with the reassuring.  Avoid being heavy-handed with the initial positive comments; do not insult your employee’s intelligence.  But understand that this requisite spoonful of sugar, if genuinely felt and expressed, will keep any ensuing criticism constructive.

Remember to be as specific, sincere, and concise as possible in your feedback.  Simply saying “You did a great job” is flattery, not feedback.  Such non-specific praise will not have its intended effect even if you mean every vague word of it.  Instead, provide details of what was done well and why it was important to you or to the organization.  For example, tell the individual “You did a great job on the analysis of last month’s capacity utilization.  The data showed that we need to accelerate the addition of new capital equipment to meet demand.”

When providing constructive comments, you also need to be more Socratic rather than didactic.  This means having an open and enlightening conversation that eventually shows how you would have performed the assigned task, rather than simply announcing the information by terse decree.  Although the latter is a tantalizing time-saver, remember the dictates of real coaching require the former.

In addition to feeling indispensable (or nearly) and talked to (not at), your employees generally wish to be independent.  It is a source of pride for them.  Thus, for many, being coached may feel like being micromanaged.  To avoid ill-will, you must be as transparent as possible.  Coaching is not meant to be a stealth activity; let the individual know when you are in coaching mode.  Though it may be obvious to you, it will not be to your employees, as they generally will expect you to be in delegation mode.  You should tell the person which skill you are coaching and remind them that your goal is his or her professional development.   While it is possible to always be coaching, avoid the temptation.  After a person receives criticism, even the constructive kind, his or her self-confidence takes one step back.  Give the person time to heal and to independently take two steps forward.

In general, people prefer and derive the greatest benefit from immediate feedback.  However, in some circumstances, people may grow more effectively with delayed feedback so it is a good idea to confirm the person’s preference.  If they express no preference, opt for the immediate approach.

Either way, a great framework for providing feedback is the “Build On… / Think About…” method.  For example, if a person is giving a presentation, take a sheet of paper and make two columns.  On the top left, write “Build On…”.  On the top right, write “Think About..”  During the presentation, capture positive feedback in the “Build On” section and constructive criticism or open action items in the “Think About” section.  Again, strive to have the positive outweigh the negative.  At the end of the presentation, hand the feedback form to the individual.  Avoid the temptation to make copies since coaching is a gift to the individual and should not have the emotional baggage of a performance evaluation.  Great coaches that adopt this method use it in every interaction.  Occasionally, and only if warranted, fill in only positive feedback.  This well-earned reward gives the feeling of getting a report card with straight A’s.

Not only do employees need real time comments, they also need to understand their trajectory on skill building over time.  To accommodate this requirement, great managers schedule comprehensive feedback conversations at intervals of no shorter than two months and no longer than six months.  These sessions should be independent of any formal performance evaluation tied to compensation or promotion.  If your organization has the capacity, provide the individual with 360 degree feedback every six months.  During the gathering of 360 degree feedback, the manager should interview the individual’s subordinates, peers, and superiors to gain insight on how well the person is building the specific skills on which you are coaching.

Only keep your A-players

To be a great manager, you have to have a great team.  Though painful for you and for underperforming staff members, you must remove and replace underperforming individuals.  This is a reality during a period of layoffs as well as during a period of normal business operation.

During a layoff, euphemistically referred to as a ‘reduction-in-force’, just remember that your mission is to keep your A-players.  When deciding between two individuals, keep the stronger current performer.  Often managers will fall into the trap of retaining the wrong person for purely emotional reasons.  Avoid the following rationalizations:

  • “We owe him”
  • “It is my fault as a manager that she is not succeeding… I just need more time to coach her”
  • “He is new…”

Even during the normal course of business, you have a managerial duty to optimize your team’s performance.  The damage from a B- player (or worse) is widespread.  Your precious time as a manager will be drained.  The other members of your staff will be de-motivated or even directly negatively affected by an underperforming peer.  Additionally, underperformers are under constant personal strain.  Though the immediate transition period will be painful for them, the individual has a right to be happy in the long term by becoming an A-player on another team inside your company or beyond.  If you have been providing periodic effective feedback, it should not be a surprise to the individuals being managed out.  They should have adequate time to pursue other opportunities.

Recap

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to be a great people manager:

  • Hire the best people for the target salary range
  • Delegate effectively
  • Coach for ongoing success and professional development
  • Keep only your A-players

Problem Solving

Problems are ubiquitous and arise daily.  Despite that fact, parents, schools, and organizations rarely teach structured problem solving skills.  Our culture then expresses surprise at divorce rates for first marriages over forty percent and at rampant corporate inefficiency that manifests itself in disappointing profits, high employee turnover, and stunning customer service breakdowns.

Management consulting firms are the one exception to the problem solving training vacuum.  New associates are indoctrinated in a veritable alphabet soup of frameworks such as 7S, 5 Why’s, 4P’s, Five Forces, SWOT, and so on.  While management consultants should master as many useful frameworks as possible, managers should pick the one they find most valuable and stick to it.  Though no single approach can solve every type of problem, you should strive to consistently use a single system that is both simple to apply and that works in most situations.

This chapter delivers a framework that meets both criteria.  Those practiced in problem solving techniques will recognize this as a variant on the situation-complication-resolution framework with a few twists thrown in.

Define the problem and make sure it is worth solving

Most problem-solving frameworks leave off the single most important first step – understanding the problem and making sure it is worth solving.  Even modest sized organizations have hundreds if not thousands of problems.  There are inefficiencies in production, service delivery, personnel, and on and on.

Economics courses routinely teach the importance of accounting for opportunity costs of capital.  There are of course tremendous opportunity costs of time and energy that lurk beneath every decision to resolve a particular problem.  You must spend enough time thinking about the range of problems that need solving and target the low hanging fruit possessing the greatest return on investment.  As you do this, never lose sight of business and societal ethics; more directly, immediately prioritize problems that represent threats to environmental health and safety.

To rank problems – high, medium, low will do – you must visualize, at least at a conceptual level, what the outcomes look like.  The litmus test of whether or not a problem is worth solving is whether or not the solution meets primary strategic objectives.  January 28th, 1986 confronted President Ronald Reagan with a particularly stark example of this, when space shuttle Challenger and its seven-member crew perished in a nationally televised fireball seventy-three seconds after launch.  In the aftermath, beyond the obvious moral imperative to figure out what happened, the United States needed to get the space shuttle program back on track in the interest of national defense.  At the time, the country was deeply embroiled in the Cold War and space supremacy signaled to the Soviet Union that United States warheads posed an unambiguous nuclear deterrent.  Moreover, in order to maintain faith in their government, American citizens needed to know that they would not be annihilated by their own arsenal.  For President Reagan, the outcome of getting the space shuttle program back on track clearly met the primary strategic objectives of maintaining national defense and faith in government.

Though less dramatic, businesses must prioritize problem solving as well.  Suppose you work for a firm with high fixed costs and low variable costs and whose customers make repeat purchases at some reasonable frequency.  Three primary strategic objectives for you are likely customer acquisition, customer retention, and sales effectiveness.  All three of these drive revenue growth.  By contrast, operational efficiencies that drive cost control are secondary objectives rarely worth prioritizing unless you compete in a totally commoditized space.

Very often, people will present you with a collection of symptoms or with a request for you to embark on a labor intensive solution such as a complex analytical task.  Slow them down and ask two questions.  First, ask ‘What is the problem you are trying to solve?’ Second, ask them and yourself ‘Is this problem worth solving?’. The former question allows you to understand the outcome, to diagnose their approach, and to think of creative out-of-the-box alternatives.  If you are problem solving with others, you need to agree on the outcome.   The latter question tells you whether or not you should bother in the first place.

Form an initial hypothesis

From your earliest days, you were probably told to wait until you had sufficient facts before forming an opinion or making a judgment.  We take as undeniable truth expressions such as “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Avoid making decisions based on first impressions.”  Though great advice when browsing for a book or a potential mate, this advice is flat out wrong during the initial phases of problem solving.

When confronted with a problem to solve, immediately form a hypothesis.  Remember that a hypothesis is merely a proposed explanation that must be rigorously tested.  A good problem solver will search for facts, all the while updating their hypothesis.  Great problem solvers not only seek information that confirms their hypothesis but also mercilessly hunt for disconfirming information.

In statistics, a hypothesis can never be accepted.  Rather, your only options are to either reject or fail-to-reject the hypothesis.  Statistics loves uncertainty and this treatment of testing your hypotheses leaves an air of mystery.  When you think about it, decisions in your personal or professional life are pretty much that way too.  You can never know with absolute certainty that you are making the right or best decision; you do the best you can with the information you have at the time.

Merely failing to reject something feels pretty unimpressive.  It is a lot more definitive to outright reject something.  Hence, statisticians always construct their hypotheses (known as the null hypotheses) to test the opposite of what they think is true.  By trying to prove the opposite of what you believe, you are forcing yourself to take the high road of seeking disconfirming information.

An example will clarify.  Let’s say you believe that taller people make more money (as psychologists Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable theorized in a 2004 study).  For starters, you might have some decent data that taller people make more money. The best approach is to play devil’s advocate and posit reasons why taller people might actually make equal or less money.  To do that, you should get as much data as you can on people, data that includes not only wage and height information, but also physical and socioeconomic descriptors.  Next, remove the influence of gender, weight, age, industry of employment, and so on.  Keep searching for material (or information) that would explain why taller people earn more money than their diminutive friends other than height itself.  In the end, if you cannot find anything, then you can sleep pretty well at night with your hypothesis that taller people are better remunerated.  (For the record, according to Judge and Cable’s study, every inch of height adds $789 per year.)

Understand the current situation

Before delving into problems and brainstorming solutions, you first need to understand how you got here and what the current state of the world is.  Though vital even when you problem solve alone, this is downright critical when you are problem solving with others, since they need unbiased facts and context to be able to lend their full mental muscle.

With that in mind, let’s revisit the Challenger disaster.  Formed on February 3, 1986, the Rogers Commission started laying out the facts.  What was the timeline in the hours, minutes, and seconds leading up to the explosion?  What was the temperature on the launch pad?  What processes and procedures were followed in the mission control room?  Who manufactured the shuttle’s various components and to what specifications?  Like the Commissions’ fact list, yours needs to be neither too elementary nor too comprehensive.  Yet, while not being exhaustive, ideally the list of facts should give a nearly complete context to the problem you are solving and start to uncover the levers that might be used to fix it.

In laying out the specifics, you want to consider structural information as well as behavioral information.  Structural information includes physical and descriptive attributes such as time, temperature, geography, and industry.  Behavioral information captures the human element including attitudes, actual processes, and the like.  Between the two, behavioral information requires more heavy lifting to obtain. The effort will be well rewarded, however, because in most circumstances, it is the behavioral information that holds the key to solving the problem.

The fastest and most effective way to capture behavioral information is through interviewing.  Take any population, say flight safety engineers, and identify your best performing employees and your worst.  In doing so, you must select candidates by applying objective measures such as the number of missed safety violations, not subjective measures such as managers’ opinions.  Now, interview both groups and ascertain what the top performers do differently than the bottom.  In the case of the Challenger investigation, the Rogers Commission interviewed more than 160 individuals.  In most business settings, interviewing ten to twenty people is sufficient.

Uncover the complications

Once you have articulated the current situation, you must now find specific complications and occasionally hidden opportunities.  In your first pass, you should enumerate the distinct, comprehensive set of top level complications.  Resist the urge to deep dive on individual issues.  In subsequent passes, drill down one level deeper at a time.

The more information you have, the surer you will be that you have identified the true root of the problem.  First, you need to examine structural data.  As the Challenger disaster played out in an endless loop on television, hot exhaust gases could be seen escaping from the rubber o-rings that were supposed to seal the joints on the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters.  Looking back at past shuttle launches, Roger Boisjoly – an engineer working for solid rocket booster manufacturer Morton Thiokol –found that potentially catastrophic exhaust gas leaks occurred around o-rings every time the temperature fell below freezing.  With launch day temperatures hovering around eighteen degrees Fahrenheit, the space shuttle was doomed before takeoff.  The striking exclamation point was made on this structural complication on February 11, 1986 when Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman famously dunked an o-ring in a glass of ice water during a Rogers Commission hearing.  When he pulled the rubber ring from the water, the ring had lost its resiliency.

Feynman not only dramatized the o-ring structural complication but also relentlessly pursued behavioral complications to the apparent dismay of commission chairman William Rogers, who reportedly characterized Feynman as “becoming a real pain.” As it turned out, Roger Boisjoly warned both his employer and NASA about the poor low-temperature performance of the o-rings as early as six months before the tragedy.

Select a resolution that can be executed

In the final stage of problem solving, you should articulate the range of possible resolutions and identify the best one as the recommended option.  Each resolution should be clearly described and should include potential benefits and risks.  An excellent best practice is to characterize benefits as either primary or secondary in order to maintain focus on what truly matters.  In addition, acknowledging risks as known and acceptable prevents the unknown from paralyzing the decision making process.  If behavioral complications are at the root of the problem, as they often are, you are likely going to get the most mileage teaching the best practices of your best performers to the rest of your organization.

In business settings, a great resolution has two necessary preconditions.  First, the solution must leverage existing capabilities in the form of both resources and knowledge.  An elegant solution that cannot be executed is worthless. Second, the solution must carry strong executive commitment or the organization will never embrace the necessary change.

The Rogers Commission could have recommended doing nothing (an oft under-considered option though rightly ruled out in this case), discontinuing the existing space shuttle program, or making structural and behavioral modifications to the program; They chose the last, suggesting nine sweeping modifications that spanned redesigning the solid rocket booster joints and seals, overhauling the shuttle management structure, improving safety controls, and decreasing the shuttle launch rate.

To its credit, the Rogers Commission achieved the final component of a great resolution.  Specifically, its members embraced the concept of test, then measure, then iterate.  In their directive to redesign the solid rocket booster joints and seals, they required that certification include “Tests which duplicate the actual launch configuration as closely as possible.”  As for measurement, the final report called for NASA to “perform periodic structural inspections when scheduled and not permit them to be waived.” The test-measure-iterate sequence is as essential in business as it is in space travel.

Recap

Your objective as a great problem solver is to become a trusted thought partner.  Consider the difference between an impressive associate and a great partner.  Talented associates can encounter any situation and draw compelling insights.  They can expertly and concisely extract the so-what.  In contrast, exceptional partners do two things.  First, they maintain the hypothesis defining the full vision for the final solution.  As they receive new confirming and disconfirming information, they update the hypothesis.  Second, and equally important, they are expert in communicating the vision every step of the way.

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to be a great problem solver:

  • Define the problem and make sure it is worth solving
  • Form an initial hypothesis
  • Understand the current situation
  • Uncover the complications
  • Select a resolution that can be executed

Leadership

It has often been said, and correctly so, that leaders are made, not born.  But, to embark on a journey of becoming a leader, you first have to know what a great leader looks like.  At the end of the day, people that are perceived as great leaders inspire others to accomplish more than they could do alone.  Here is how to do just that.

Craft and Communicate A Shared Vision That Is Positive, Concrete, and Forward-Looking

If the successful leadership recipe has one central ingredient, it is crafting and communicating a positive, forward-looking shared vision.  To inspire, a vision must tell people what the goal is, why it matters, and how they will achieve it.

Importantly, a great vision must be easy to communicate.  Vision is the voice whispering in people’s ears that inspires individual initiative and empowers them to venture into uncertainty.  Moreover, to be successful, your vision must be capable of being transferred virally from person to person, since you cannot be there most of the time.  That can happen only if your vision is concise and concrete.

On a visceral level, human beings derive personal fulfillment by making life better for themselves and for others.  In periods of adversity, a great vision should deliver a response to a personally relevant external threat.  In periods of opportunity, a great vision should provide a realizable individual benefit and offer people a way to change the world.

Imagine it is April 4, 1975 and you are sitting in an Albuquerque, New Mexico coffee shop with Bill Gates and Paul Allen.  Bill has just dropped out of Harvard, relocated across the country, and started a new company called Micro-Soft with fellow dropout Paul (they later removed the hyphen).  The company’s first product is software that interprets and executes simple programs written in the then ten year old BASIC language.  Bill and Paul could have crafted a competitive vision such as ‘crush Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General, and Hewlett Packard by dominating the BASIC programming language market.’  Yet, they must have sensed that purely competitive visions are negative by definition.  Though sustainable in the short term, negative emotions cannot – or at the very least should not – be sustained.  And, what happens if you win?  What’s next?

Instead, according to legend, the Microsoft founders articulated the vision ‘a computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software.’  It certainly worked for them, but it could have been better.  This vision does have a concrete outcome and is forward looking, but it neither tells employees what is in it for them personally nor does it show how their collective effort will make the world a better place.

Eventually, they got it right.  Microsoft’s current vision is ‘to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.’  Whether or not you like Microsoft, you have to respect the leadership and vision of Bill Gates.

Recruit, hire, and continually train the very best people you can to become leaders themselves

For any great leader, time spent recruiting exceptional people offers the single greatest return on investment available.  Even in organizations of modest size, leaders fly in a hyper-speed orbit of guide-measure-iterate, guide-measure-iterate, with limited time for execution.  Hence, the people responsible for building products and delivering services are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the organization.

At some point in your professional life, undoubtedly you have had a terrible partner, employee, peer, or supervisor.  If so, you remember that experience vividly.  Left unchecked, this type of person will destroy your vision and your organization.  Equally important, a ‘bad-egg’ consumes your most precious asset – time – without any positive return.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so you need to recruit well to lead well.

Ideally, you should recruit the best people, period.  However, practically, you should set your sights on recruiting the best people you can, given your circumstances.  All leaders have constraints on the position they are seeking to fill: constraints on salary, location, talent pool, etc.  Once you know your constraints, take as much time as you have available to ensure that you are hiring the very best person possible.

Once you have hired, you bear a weighty personal and professional responsibility to help people achieve their personal hopes and dreams through their work.  If you did your job during the hiring process, the individual fully understood and fully embraced your vision.  Since your employees spend more hours working for you than just about anything else they do, fulfilling the vision must be inextricably linked to their hopes and dreams.  When the connection is made, daily work naturally will imbue people with direction and a sense of purpose.

Great leaders empower individuals to reach their potential with daily opportunities for growth.  Though not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder to the top, everyone does crave professional development of one form or another.  Otherwise they will die of boredom in their jobs, or, less dramatically, leave your organization.  Ask people what they believe their strengths are and what skills they are seeking to develop.  Invest time to determine their strengths and the new skills that would make them stronger.  Then, make sure that the objectives you set and the tasks you give offer daily chances to learn.

The ultimate gift of great leaders is training people to become great leaders themselves.  This is not only the best form of intangible compensation, but also the most surefire way to guarantee the current and future success of your organization and the fulfillment of your vision.

Mobilize people and harness resources

As a great leader, you now have the critical ingredients for success – an inspiring vision combined with talented, highly motivated people.  Left to their own devices, people will chart their own course to fulfill your shared vision.  Though admirable, this approach will result in a poor use of limited resources.

Instead, you must prioritize and share a key set of objectives to amplify and accelerate success.  To be successful, your goals should be realistically based on existing or planned organizational resources and capabilities.  Through that lens, you can accept or reject proposed activities.  The greatest leaders go one step further by satisfying multiple priorities with each activity.  Additionally, stellar leaders maniacally make sure to involve the right people whose extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are aligned with achieving the strategic objective.

Great leaders keep their prioritized set of objectives front and center by creating and managing momentum.  Short term wins do not happen by accident; you must painstakingly plan for them and then tirelessly promote them.  When people achieve meaningful short term wins, they proudly redouble their efforts to reach the next milestone.

Earn and maintain trust

People accept only leaders they trust.  Early 20th century oil entrepreneur J. Paul Getty embraced this concept long before the term managerial psychology had been coined and at a time when robber-barons were little evolved from feudal tyrants.  Trust must come from the heart and trust must be proactively earned and maintained.

Getty built trust by modeling the way.  Though born into the family oil business and well educated at elite universities, Getty routinely got his hands dirty joining his men on the rigs.  Maniacally focused on cost control, he was known to sleep in his car and later in budget motels.  Once, when an executive in his company took home some scrap but still useful wood to build a doghouse, Getty very publicly compelled the executive to pay the company back.  If the man had not otherwise been an exemplary employee, Getty would have fired him to make an even better example of him.

Though great leaders possess poise, they know that credibility does not require perfection.  Quite to the contrary, it is important to show people that you are human.  J. Paul Getty did this by publicly acknowledging the mistakes he made along the way to success.  For example, he cited his loss of conviction despite careful due diligence in an oil investment after his partners lost faith during early 1930’s stock market volatility.  Take careful note that Getty paired his mistakes with the important learning he gleaned in the process.

In one-on-one interactions, great leaders earn and maintain trust through two essential practices.  The first is to give credit and take blame.  If you never falter in this practice, your reputation will precede you as you inspire your people and attract new talent.  The second is to show people that your belief in their ability exceeds their own belief in their ability.  In so doing, you will assuage people’s self doubts and insecurities.  In following this simple practice, you will give your people the fuel they need to achieve their full potential.

Strive to become “sought after”

In addition to having trust in their leaders, people must believe that those who wish to lead them have the ability to chart the course.  When investing in their own personal and professional development, strong leaders set objectives that make them “sought after” in ways that are directly relevant to the realization of their vision.

Even before J. Paul Getty had great wealth, seasoned oil field workers abandoned the relative comfort of neighboring drilling operations to join his austere operation. His sought-after ability to strike oil far outweighed the sacrifice in working conditions].

As a great leader you are building a brand.  Even in the unlikely event that you could gain the widely varied expertise of a polymath, people will only be able to identify you with a very small number of attributes.  Figure out the skills in which you excel that align with your vision and that you want to be known for and then invest tirelessly to improve and to share your knowledge.

Recap

Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become a great leader:

  • Craft and communicate a shared vision that is positive, concrete, and forward-looking
  • Recruit, hire, and continually train the very best people you can to become leaders themselves
  • Mobilize people and harness resources
  • Earn and maintain trust
  • Strive to become “sought after”