Let’s say you’ve recently become a manager. No doubt, you’re happy with your achievement. You have a lot more authority to make decisions and to influence others. Has it occurred to you yet that there could be a downside to your authority?
Kerry Patterson, in the VitalSmarts newsletter, has written an excellent cautionary tale he calls “the captain’s fireplace”. You can read the original story for yourself, but here’s a quick summary… The captain of a military base notices some scrap wood in a dumpster and calls to make sure no one else wants it before he grabs some for his fireplace.
The ensign he talks to offers to find out about the scrap wood and calls the chief of supply to make sure it’s okay. The warrant officer makes a call, and so on, until the captain’s wife eventually calls to thank them for the wood. Outside in the supply yard, people are grumbling about how they had to cut brand new boards to fit the captain’s fireplace, when they couldn’t afford other vital supplies.
What happened? Continue reading
Have we become a society that doesn’t know how to discover anymore? When I go online, Google serves up what I’m looking for before I really understand that I’m looking for it. It’s creepy, and thrilling.
I just watched “Her” the other day. (I know I’m running behind, but I have a boyfriend who only uses the cool dark confines of a movie theater to catch a nap. As a result, I often fall prey to the beckoning Redbox kiosk that sits patiently at the end of the checkout inside my local Safeway.) In the movie, the Siri-like voice on the cell phone anticipates needs – a richer experience than Google offers in my search results, but similar.
Today’s blog at The New York Times mentions that Stephen Colbert has joined the dog pile of voices condemning Amazon. The dispute started when – during negotiations to give Hachette Book Group a bigger percentage of ebook revenue – Amazon started to intentionally limit the availability and sale of books published by Hachette.
The other day, I posted about this, remarking that the bigger problem isn’t how Amazon is addressing Hachette, but how book publishers in general take too big a slice of the profits from ebooks, much of which I believe should go to authors.
I’ll admit, I have an overdeveloped sense of fairness. Continue reading
My grandfather kept bees. By the time I was a child, they had sold the farm and moved to a 2-acre parcel where my grandmother kept a kitchen garden and my grandfather kept bees.
A few years ago, when we started hearing about colony collapse disorder, I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather’s bees. I wondered vaguely if the problem might be coming from the industrialization of beekeeping operations. Maybe the variety of backyard beekeeping made for happier bees. There is a remarkable small company in Oregon – Bee Thinking – whose owners must have wondered the same thing.
What’s the biggest problem affecting your business process? I can tell you from vast experience that most people answer this question with a “they” statement. Every time I help an organization with a business process, conflicting goals arise.
Consider the following:
- We could have finished the code if THEY (the customer) had stopped changing the acceptance criteria.
- The reason we’re behind on billing customers is that THEY (the sales team) don’t bother to send us the invoice details.
- I could sell more product if THEY (the management team) could approve exceptions more quickly.
- We could improve quality if THEY (customers, sales, managers) would stop asking us to “rush” something through the production line.
There is seldom just one goal for every process. Let’s say we are creating a consumer product. Our goals might include: product features, secure shipping, timely payment, delivery speed, and/or quality. Each of the stakeholders who work on the process – to design, source, produce, deliver and warranty a product – have different views of which goal is most important. To manufacturing, product quality is the primary concern. To sales, delivering the product in a timely fashion is key.
Communication is the biggest problem in human life. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because we do it all wrong. So let’s drop our typical vision of business “communication” to start something much more effective: “dialogue.”
I’ve been reading an interesting discussion of project managers on LinkedIn. The discussion started with a question about the most important element of successful projects. A large percentage of the comments center around project communication with a recurring theme that said roughly this: “you can be the world’s best communicator, but some people just won’t get with the program.”
Today is International Women’s Day, so it’s fitting that I capture a few thoughts on women and influence. Last year, Warren Buffett said, “America has forged (their) success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent. For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines. Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.”
Women are often relegated to the sidelines. Despite Sheryl Sandberg’s advice that we “lean in”, there are forces at work that have nothing to do with an ability to get the job done. Many of those forces are benign, a simple artifact of decades (centuries) of male-dominated societies. Women do things differently, and those differences are somewhat hard-to-understand for the pantheon of men-at-the-top.
Ever wonder how a flock of birds knows when to change direction? What about a herd of deer which seem to zigzag through a field? By taking a look at the behavior of other species, we can learn some lessons about leadership, and apply them to become better managers. I’ve identified four keys which influence animal behavior, with implications for how you can better influence your team.
Do you play backgammon? After years of not playing, I pulled our board out of the closet recently. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the game, and even playing a little on my iPad. Like with so many other games, I like to think about the life lessons one can learn; maybe it’s because I’m a geek, or maybe it’s a justification for playing a game on my iPad.
Here are the leadership lessons I see in backgammon:
Think it through. For those of you who don’t know the game, I’ll give the simplest possible explanation: The point of the game is to roll two dice and move your pieces around the board. When you roll, of course you could just pick up any of your game pieces and move them to an open slot, without any consideration of what might happen next. However, backgammon, like leadership, is a game of strategy. Continue reading