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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leadership: New on the Job? Go Slow to Go Fast.

As a leader on-boarding into a new company, the first pep talk by the CEO or your boss is most often Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, global expert on hiring at executive search firm Egon Zehnder, has said that a job interview is a conversation between two liars! The interviewer lies about how great the company is and the interviewee lies about how capable s/he is.

That said, often CEOs and hiring managers tell you to hit the ground running, to break some china, to make things happen, or to stir the pot. Often their complaint is that the organization has gotten stale, complacent. Putting pressure on you to set it all right in your first 90 days is pure and utter nonsense. They know it and you know it.

However, you still take the bait—bad advice. Then in about 6-12 months, the culture rejects you like a bad virus. And what’s worse is that the same guy who told you to shake things up is now admonishing you for doing just that. No kidding. This happens with such regularity in companies I have coached that it’s a cliché.

So, what should you do? First, in the employment interview or on your first-day-on-the-job discussion with your boss, smile and wave at whatever s/he says. BUT, DO NOT DO IT.  Instead, make it your job to go slow to go fast. It’s a lot like running a marathon. If you start out slow and steady, you’ll find your pace and eventually do a lot better than if you take off like a jack rabbit. Here are some simple but effective steps:

Step 1. Smile, Breathe, and Listen. Smiling says, “I’m not a threat.” The LAST thing you want to be is a threat—creates big problems. Breathe in and out slowly and methodically to reboot your emotions. There’s a lot of science here. Finally, use the 80/20 conversation rule. Spend 80% of your time listening and only 20% responding. Good listening is not simply waiting for your chance to make a point!

Step 2. Ask HR and/or an executive coach to conduct an assimilation meeting. This involves meeting with your entire team to answer any questions they might have about you. What’s your leadership style, your pet peeves, your vision (lay low on this one), your family, your hobbies? This meeting gives everyone a level set about you and saves a year’s worth of hit-or-miss encounters.  If you’re with a small company, have all your direct reports make a list of questions they want you to answer. Ask one person to compile them to keep the process anonymous and then give you the list before the meeting to think about your answers. Don’t skip any hard ones if they come up frequently; otherwise, people will think you sidestep tough stuff—not a good first impression.

Step 3. Meet every one of your direct reports individually. Spend an hour or more with everyone who works with you. Ask them about themselves, the work they most like to do, what’s working in the group, what needs attention, anything that would make their job/life better. No promises—this is about gathering information. And, no disparaging the leader who preceded you on the job. Doesn’t ever play well even though it might seem at the time easy and beneficial to you.

Step 4. Meet every one of your peers individually. Again, as mentioned above, ask a lot of questions, seek their advice, find out what’s good about your new team, what needs work, and ask if they will help you understand the culture. Listen more than you talk.
While there’s more to discuss here, suffice it to say that going slow in the very beginning of your tenure in a new job is critical to your success and the corporation’s success. It will feel counter to your very anxious inner voice telling you to “just do it.” But DON’T do it until you know what, how and when to do it! Cultures have to accept you before they accept your opinion.

I explain it this way to my clients: A young man brings home his girlfriend—who is a top interior designer in New York City—to meet his parents. While his parents are out of the room getting dinner and wine ready for the meal, the girlfriend/designer begins to rearrange the living room to make it even more beautiful. Despite how good it now looks or the extent of her expertise, ponder for a moment how those parents might react!

Go slow to go fast later, once you’re accepted into the tribe.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Your Web Browser Might Just Reveal How Creative You Are!

Overview: My personal bias—I love the work that Adam Grant does. So, read no further if that Originals, Grant teaches us how to develop new ideas and how to vet them; how to pitch those ideas to others; when to trust our gut and when not to; the difference between power and status and so much more! He also busts some interesting myths like how successful entrepreneurs are not hyper-risk takers—rather, they hedge their bets; how the creative problem solvers are often not experts in their fields; and, how procrastination can be your friend—every writer in the world should now rejoice!  Grant uses academic studies, stats and stories from unexpected places to punctuate a well-orchestrated text. For example, he tells about how the show “Seinfeld” barely made it to TV and how it took a very special NBC executive with broad, varied experience to have the courage to put his reputation on the line. And as a huge Seinfeld fan, I personally salute him! Finally, I would encourage you to read Sheryl Sandberg’s foreword, because not only does she do a very good overview of the book while praising the author for his talent, but she also praises Grant for his empathetic heart. When Sandberg’s husband suddenly died, Grant dropped what he was doing and flew across the country to be with her in her darkest hours. Grant, like his book, is an Original!
bothers you about my objectivity as a reviewer. Grant, a young, uber-smart and engaging professor at Wharton, might just be the latter-day Peter Drucker, only much cooler!  In
1.     Generating Original Ideas: Grant warns us to question the default—the status quo. He urges us to remember that people write rules and we can rewrite them when necessary. To get more good ideas, we need to increase the odds by taking more “swings,” like a baseball player who takes more at-bats hoping to increase his batting average. Also, by broadening your base of knowledge and widening your perspective, you can be far more creative. He notes that Nobel Prize winners were more likely to paint, dance, and play music than their peers. Grant also suggests using peers to get accurate feedback. Bosses give too many false negatives, and we give ourselves too many false positives.
2.     Championing Original Ideas: Grant offers some unusual but useful insights about creativity. For example, when you take risk in one area but have another area of more stability in your life, you‘re more likely to be successful in the new endeavor. Successful entrepreneurs take this bet-hedging approach. Next, as counterintuitive as it might seem, when pitching ideas, it’s best to point out first several reasons why people might NOT support your idea. This has a leveling effect and puts you more on the audience’s side, making you seems much less like a con artist. To get people used to your idea, repeat it often (10 to 20 times) but in short bursts. Also, connect it to other ideas that are already known and accepted. Often, analogies and comparisons help.  If your ideas are radical or you’re known as a radical, try to temper your approach. Start lower and slower on the emotional scale to not upset or antagonize. Connect to group values and customs.
3.     Manage Emotions: When motivated or committed, focus on the future goal. However, when uncertain, focus on your progress. Trying to use your will to calm yourself down is difficult, if not impossible; so divert anxiety into positive enthusiasm. Also, when you see an unjust/unfair situation of another person, focus on helping the victim, not punishing the perpetrator—more good than bad will happen. Finally, whether in a difficult job or relationship situation, the four responses to dissatisfaction are exit, voice, persistence and neglect. Based on their level of commitment and feeling of control, people tend to respond in one of these four ways.
4.     Creating Original Ideas: Grant offers some help in this arena. Run innovation tournaments—employees come up with ideas, develop proposals and evaluate them. Winners get a budget and help implementing their ideas. Play “kill the company” by getting in groups and planning how to attack your own products or services—then take the threats and address them. It’s like opposition research—taking the other side of a debate to figure out your opponent’s attack. Use all employees (including accountants, lawyers, and other less traditional operations types) to propose new products and services—builds a culture of creativity and innovation. Do the opposite! Take a widely held assumption or truth and ask, what if or when is the opposite true? A perspective change helps us all look at an idea in a new way.
5.     Building a Culture of Originality: Don’t just hire for cultural fit, but cultural contribution. Oftentimes fit means conformity—the opposite of originality. Find complementary and necessary strengths, not similarity. Have entry interviews (not just exit interviews) to find out what new employees like to do, why they chose the company, and their unique perspective. Seeking problems, not solutions, creates inquiry, not advocacy. Invite and extol the contrary voice in meetings; it adds to the originality. And it encourage dissent.
6.     Miscellaneous Gold: There’s a ton of content in this book. To be effective, a leader has to have both positional power and earned status or credibility of those around her/him. Stand for something, not just against the status quo. When pitching a product or idea, start off with flaws—it actually builds credibility! Women and men are treated differently when they speak up due to stereotyping. But when women speak up for others (being communal) they’re more likely to get respect. Grant challenges assumptions and shows when it’s good to procrastinate, why and when older innovators outperform younger ones.  The kind of web browser you select may predict how creative/original you are! 

   Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (Viking Press, 2016), reviewed by Steve Gladis, February 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Overview: Ever thought about chucking it all and rebooting your life? That’s sort of what Pico Iye
r did; he headed for Japan.  Along the way he met musician Leonard Cohen, who had become a contemplative monk, steeped in the wisdom of being alone. Cohen told Iyer that stepping away from your daily work was so that you might see it anew and “love it more deeply.” The ironic subtitle of this book, by a travel writer no less, says it all: ‘Adventures in going nowhere.’  It also could have been called ‘the journey inside’ or ‘finding happiness without ever looking for it.’ So this is a book about experiencing the world within a “framework of stillness.” It’s also about being present. As the author says, “Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.” And in a hyper-speed world chock full of distractions, finding respite within ourselves might just be the best thing we can do every day.
1.     Charting Stillness: The author tells of his covering the Dalai Lama’s trip to Switzerland, where he met Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard, an MIT molecular biologist who left that scientific world for a more contemplative, inner journey. Ricard, who is renowned, especially for his TED Talk and appearances at Davos says: “Simplifying one’s life to extract its quintessence is the most rewarding of all pursuits I have undertaken.” Called the happiest man in the world, Ricard earned that reputation after having had his brain studied by neuroscientists. Employing special MRI equipment with amazing results, these scientists were able to objectively show Ricard’s ability to control his emotions and experience a level of compassion and happiness few will ever know.
2.     Needing Stillness: The author takes a trip to the monastery in Kentucky where philosopher Thomas Merton (also called Father Louis) went to be on his journey to nowhere. The science of interruption tells us that it takes up to 25 minutes to bounce back from a sudden, unexpected visit or phone call, which happens all day long for many of us! So we’re all fragmented and not fully present. In Google’s Search Inside Yourself Initiative, all Googlers are offered a course dedicated to helping them at work and in life. Research that supports their ‘going nowhere’ program leads to not only clearer thinking and better health but also to emotional intelligence. Indeed, mindfulness and meditation have become mainstream in corporations like Aetna, General Mills, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many others. And with good results. For example, at General Mills 80% of execs who attended a mindfulness program for 8 weeks reported a positive change in making decisions and 89% said they were now better listeners. Worth noting: According to the World Health Organization: “Stress will be the health epidemic of the twenty-first century.” And the simple act of mindfulness can help us work toward a cure.
3.     Getting Away: Ironically, the more difficult the day, the more time we need away from it—or the more breaks we need within it. The great Mahatma Gandhi once noted that the harder his day would be, the more time he needed to meditate alone. While this seems counterintuitive, it makes sense if you think of meditation like charging the battery of your mind. People need breaks. As the author warns: “…the clock is exerting more and more tyranny over us.” We need time to do nothing and just allow our minds to solve problems in a kind of stealth mode. Thomas Merton says that in the contemplative life, we need to sit down and let life solve problems for us. Letting the mind relax allows it the perspective and freshness to solve difficult problems.
4.     Final Words by the Author: The author comments in the last chapter about the value of going nowhere:“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer (TED Books, 2014), reviewed by Steve Gladis, February 2016.

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