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Posts Tagged ‘Business Leadership’

It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you make them in good conscience and you’re doing the best you can at that moment.  …I’m not afraid to make a mistake, and I’m not afraid to say afterward, ‘Boy, that was a mistake.  Let’s try something else.’  I think that wins people over.  Now, I don’t make mistakes purposely to win people over, but when I make one, I admit it.  I can also say, ‘You have a better idea than I have.  Let’s do your idea.’  I don’t second-guess people.  If I hire you to do something, I let you do it.
    —    Barbara Corday
American television executive, writer and producer with CBS Television mainly known for co-creating the television series “Cagney & Lacey
As quoted in his book: “On Becoming A Leader” by Warren Bennis
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This week I completed two books – one very good and one not very good.
The very good book is titled: “On Becoming A Leader” (2003©) and was written by Warren Bennis  – updated version from the original published in 1989.  Bennis is considered to be the “father” of the developed leader school.  His mantra is that leaders are not born, they are made.  Some are made by history, but Bennis goes farther in that he believes many (if not most) make themselves.  They (leaders in process) have various ways of “making” themselves, but ultimately they follow similar paths to becoming a leader.  The book is meant to lend framework to the path – partly to define the framework, but mostly to lay out the map for readers (leaders in process).
Shakespeare states: “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  This is a quote often seen when discussing how great leaders come to be.  I believe all three are true for “historic” leaders and am not convinced that any one is more prevalent than the other two.  I do feel that history and luck play the biggest role in “greatness”, though.
Bennis is firmly in the “achieving” camp.  It should be pointed out there is a difference between “greatness” and “leadership” and Bennis is concerned with the latter and not the former.  This book is his version of “how” to become a leader – the personal traits you need to develop, how you should lead, and how you must form your organization or how it will form you.  There is a statement that great leaders understand themselves and “express” their nature fully.  This is the part where I start to fall away from Bennis.  While I can understand “warm-fuzzy psycho-babble”, it’s not my cup of tea.  It simply doesn’t “resonate” with me.  This may simply be because I’m not a “great” leader and I’m therefore not  able to feel the “expressive” nature of great leadership hidden away in me.  (But, I doubt it…)
Anyway, as negative as the preceding paragraphs sound, this is actually a VERY good book and I highly recommend it – not because I believe everything Bennis says, but rather because I love his use of language.  I probably hope that being “fully expressive” is all it takes to be a great leader, because this implies I may still develop into a great leader myself.  (But, I doubt it…)
By the way, this was another $2 clearance book at Half-Price Books (and worth ten times as much), and you’ll be seeing frequent quotes from the book in future posts.
The second book is titled: “Marathoning A-Z” and was written by Hal Higdon (2002©).  The book is sub-titled: “500 Ways to Run Better, Faster,and Smarter“.  The book is a series of alphabetically sorted snippets from his question and answer columns and emails about running.  The book is a very fast read.  This is partly because each offering truly is a snippet and partly because there is almost nothing stated which makes one pause to think.  As such, I could not recommend this book to any but the most rank beginner of a runner.  Even then I’d qualify the book to them by stating at least 20 to 30 of the items are repeated in a different alphabet letter.  I’m not sure if this was meant to introduce humor or simply filler because you’ve promised the publisher 500 items.  (I have a feeling it’s the latter…)  Sadly, this was NOT a $2 book for me.  It was $4.95 and I was over-charged about $4 in value vs cost.  Save your money and check this out of a library.  Better yet, just go out and start jogging.  You’ll get more from jogging yourself than you will ever get from this book.
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I recall the senior partner of a law firm stressing to younger men and women in his firm the importance of client trust.  One ambitious young lawyer asked how one went about winning trust, and the senior partner said dryly, “Try being trustworthy.”
   —    John W. Gardner
From his book:  “On Leadership
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These are my “how-to’s” for effectively delegating work:
  1. Be specific – state what you need accomplished, but allow the workers to determine the “best” method of delivery so they will own the result.
  2. Be concise – don’t take longer to explain the task than it takes to do the task.  And remember to allow room for the workers to learn from the task and grow into the role of being “value-adders”.
  3. Communicate deadlines, standards, and formats – (and check progress periodically) promote management without surprises.
  4. Give feedback – while the job is being done (at milestones) and especially after completion, close the loop by reviewing the process with the workers.  You may learn from their creativity and they will appreciate all the contributions of everyone else on the team (when the contributions are finally explored in the review).
  5. Reward the exceptional – even if the “only” reward possible is a more difficult project, the “beneficiary” will know you recognized their contribution.  Remember, a leader demonstrates technical competency when you are able to recognize the difference between small jobs which are critical and large jobs which are trivial.
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Innovation is a very difficult thing in the real world.
   —    Richard P. Feynman, Ph.D
From his book: “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
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If you find yourself genuinely drawn to go further, seek to establish a community of people, even if it is only a few, who share your interest and want to work together.  A small group of genuinely interested and committed colleagues will make a world of difference amid the confusion and inconsistencies that invariably arise in organization-wide movements.  In my experience, such movements rarely lead to deep change unless informal networks of leaders develop who translate “mandates from on high” into ideas and changes that make sense to people on the front lines of the organization.
   —    Peter M. Senge
From his book: “The Fifth Discipline
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My main advice for any study group is to establish a domain of action where you can test what you are learning.  All learning is related to action.  Learning never occurs through passive study alone.  Seek out an appropriate area where there is genuine motivation for improvement but where people are stuck with entrenched mental models or apparently conflicting visions.
   —    Peter M. Senge
From his book: “The Fifth Discipline
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[The problem with succession planning systems in companies is:]  …most existing systems fall short, in both evaluation and development, because they lack a framework for characterizing developmental assignments.  Without such a framework, it is problematic to make comparisons between high-potential individuals placed in dissimilar situations.  Succession planners also lack a way of describing — and thus managing — the sequence of positions through which high-potential leaders progress.
   —    Michael Watkins
From his book:  “The First 90 Days
[In other words, jobs are different and people are different, so there is NO reliable way to “groom” high-potential individuals in any company, let alone in any field of endeavor.  Even the same job is different in a few years.  Even the same person is different with a little more age (and/or experience).  “Grooming” is actually advance rewarding of someone who might be able to do the job when it needs doing and when they are placed in the position of responsibility.  It is not a systematic way of preparing a number of potential candidates to see which rise to the occasion and become the great captains of industry.  Why it (succession planning, leadership development programs) is done is usually political, not based on rational selection or merit.  Unfortunately, it seems meritocracy is as big an illusion as security.
Not even the King can be sure his heir will be worthy of the throne (but at least the Queen can certify the Prince has passed the first test – legitimacy!)   —    KMAB]
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On Monday, 15 November 2010, I finished reading “The First 90 Days“, (2003©) by Michael Watkins.  The book is intended to offer ideas on how a person entering a management job can increase their chances to be successful in their new position by suggesting guidelines/strategies for the first ninety days in the job.  The premise is that if you start well, you’ll have a much easier time in the medium term (after the first 90 days) and the success will carry you through to your next job – when you’ll presumably have to re-read the book to refresh yourself on its tips.
My initial reaction to the book was extremely positive.  It does NOT offer a lot of new ideas, but it does present a lot of ideas in an organized manner.  The tone is a bit stuffy and formal (academic) and the short chapter intro “case studies” are simplistic (if not trite).  The book is really also geared to larger companies and more senior middle-management positions, although it tries to imply it is useful at all levels in all types of businesses.  I guess, maybe it is useful but I don’t think anybody above second level supervisor would get much out of it – except maybe as an instruction tool for helping junior supervisors to think about being mid-level managers.
For me, the meat of the book is in the introduction.  The first interesting idea is the concept of a breakeven point: basically, a new person has about three-and-a-half-months to begin adding value or they will be seen as “unsuccessful”.  It takes an additional three months before you reach the breakeven point.  Presumably, the longer it takes you to reach the “add value” point, the longer it will take you to reach the “break even” point.  The author never really explains this or even if it true from his experience.  This 90 day period is interesting to me because, in my own personal experience, IT projects which cannot be projected as completed within 90 days of starting are generally failures – or at least, weak and limping-along “successes”.  I have always attributed this to a failure of attention span by project members.  It seems as if there may be a deeper, psychological factor.  The 90 day and 6 month dates come from the author’s experience and from polls of senior executives.
A second interesting statement is the “average” rising star stays in their position about two-and-one-half-years.  “Regular” managers tend to be in a given position 4 to 5 years.  This means you have 90 days to begin adding value, about 24 months to add value, and then 90 days to find and transfer to your new job.  Of course this assumes you can “find” the new job in the window for stardom.  It strikes me as strange that most industries have an annual business cycle, but they seem to be able to recognize a great manager in less than one half of an annual cycle.  Presumably, stars are able to master their current job in less than two cycles.  I would find this extremely improbable.  This should lead to the question of what is it that actually makes / gets rising stars promoted so much faster than average managers.  The author acknowledges there are stars, but doesn’t make any effort to explain their exceptionalism.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t go into the things I found the most interesting in the introduction.  The book does go into the what to do and what to think about a lot, though – and this is its strength.  If you are looking for this type of guidance, and most new supervisors and managers ARE, this book will be very useful.  If you are looking for a how-to-do something, again, I think it falls down a bit.  In fairness to the author, the book would have to be several times thicker if it tried to do how-to as well as what-to, because then he would also need to add why-to.  And the volume becomes an encyclopedia…
All in all, I still highly recommend this book.  It offers a lot and what’s offered is reasonably well organized.
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