Daily practice

Effective management “demands doing certain—and fairly simple—things. It consists of a small number of practices. . . .”

Peter Drucker

Leading millenials

Tell us more about your off-sites—which ones stand out the most in your memory? 

MDP: We do an off-site every six weeks—we do a big off-site once a quarter and we do a small off-site once a quarter. The big off-site would be a two-day offsite where we rent a really amazing property. It could be in the mountains, the beach, wine country, and that’s where we really get clear on what we’re going to do for the upcoming quarter. And then the smaller off-site takes place in San Francisco, but outside of our office, and that’s more of a check-in. We did an off-site in January to plan the first quarter, and we rented two awesome houses on the beach in Santa Cruz, and in addition to really serious, strategic planning, we also did a lip sync battle, and it was absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite off-sites was about a year and a half ago. I told the team that we had an all-day strategic planning session and to get ready for a really intense, long day at work, and when the team got there, we surprised them and took them to Napa. We had a day of wine tasting and playing bocce, and we went to see a movie, and it was just a really nice surprise for the whole team.

How have you see the team grow and develop because of all this?

MDP: Well, the team is very close. I think it’s all about the purpose. We all feel like we’re on a mission, and that brings us together. But also just these fun ways to step out of the office for a minute and get to know one another personally and let our guard down—that’s really helpful too.

^^How Soma CEO Mike Del Ponte Creates a Vibrant Work Culture

Typical HBR jargon, but useful nonetheless

Effective executives also make sure that problems do not overwhelm opportunities. In most companies, the first page of the monthly management report lists key problems. It’s far wiser to list opportunities on the first page and leave problems for the second page. Unless there is a true catastrophe, problems are not discussed in management meetings until opportunities have been analyzed and properly dealt with.

^^HBR: What Makes an Effective Executive

Emotions at work

“Added up, brain science and our organizational research are in fact debunking the old myths: emotions matter a lot at work. Happiness is important. To be fully engaged, people need vision, meaning, purpose, and resonant relationships.”

And “to be fully engaged and happy, virtually everyone tells us they want three things:

  1. A meaningful vision of the future: People want to be able to see the future and know how they fit in. People learn and change when they have a personal vision that is linked to an organizational vision. Sadly, far too many leaders don’t paint a very compelling vision of the future, they don’t try to link it to people’s personal visions, and they don’t communicate well. And they lose people as a result.
  2. A sense of purpose: People want to feel as if their work matters, and that their contributions help to achieve something really important. And except for those at the tippy top, shareholder value isn’t a meaningful goal that excites and engages them. They want to know that they — and their organizations — are doing something big that matters to other people.
  3. Great relationships: We know that people join an organization and leave a boss. A dissonant relationship with one’s boss is downright painful. So too are bad relationships with colleagues. Leaders, managers, and employees have all told us that close, trusting and supportive relationships are hugely important to their state of mind — and their willingness contribute to a team.”



Two related problems:

  1. “Gary Loveman, the former Harvard Business School professor who is now the CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, commented that the higher you rise in an organization, the more people are going to tell you that you are right. This leads to an absence of critical thought and makes it difficult for senior leaders to get the truth.”
  2. “One biography of Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman noted how the attention that came with winning the prize often made it impossible for the winners to continue the research work that brought them distinction in the first place”

How can executives maintain their sources of strength (what brought success in the first place) while taking on the capacities of their new role? Turns out this issue doesn’t just confront first time managers! Perhaps executives and middle managers could both benefit from more delegation…

“In spite of many studies showing the superior performance achieved through delegating decision-making authority, little devolution of power has occurred inside companies in the last 50 years.”

^^Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

Engineers make top performing CEOs

“What makes an engineering degree useful to people leading a business?

‘Studying engineering gives someone a practical, pragmatic orientation…
Engineering is about what works, and it breeds in you an ethos of building things that work—whether it’s a machine or a structure or an organization. Engineering also teaches you to try to do things efficiently and eloquently, with reliable outcomes, and with a margin of safety. It makes you think about costs versus performance. These are principles that can be deeply important when you think about organizations.'”

And speaking of one engineer who has done exceptionally well for himself and shareholders:

“In many ways, Bezos’s place atop the list says it all. Here’s a CEO who has frequently underperformed in the short term while continuing to make big bets on the future. Amazon often reports quarterly losses, even as sales continue to rise. And though the company is subject, like many firms, to dramatic share-price swings, Amazon and Bezos have a long-term track record of delivering shareholder value that is second to none.”

^^The Best-Performing CEOs in the World (Harvard Business Review)

Diversity: the elephant and the mouse

Imagine a room, containing an elephant and a mouse.

“The elephant knows almost nothing about the mouse, while the mouse survives by knowing everything about the other. Herein lies the dynamic between the dominant and nondominant groups in the workplace. Nondominant groups develop certain skill sets, including vigilance, attentiveness, and adaptability. In business, for example, Microsoft is an elephant and Mozilla is a mouse.”

As an American woman living in the Netherlands, I’ve found the “mouse concept” to be a perfect model. The dominant group has advantages built into the system. They can make jokes that everyone will get. They can speak fully fluidly in their native tongue to each other. They know the polite moments to interject and when to let things slide. They share more hobbies, common experiences, and family dynamics. This brings together analysts and board members, etc.

“The institution had all sorts of rules and behavior and people who had networks. How do you figure out who these people are and what their tasks and rules of behavior are? Who talks to whom? Who are they? You have to figure all that out. You have to develop the skill to watch. Which is not what people recruit leaders for. They don’t say this person is a good watcher…I had to watch them as much as they watched me. They had the knowledge. I had to figure it out.”

By the way, the smaller the room, the more the mouse has to take care. Scarce resources heighten competition. Watching is not enough. You must also predict.

For me to thrive in an environment where everything has changed and the social rules are different, I have to learn fast. Vigilance, attentiveness, and adaptability. See, if you’re a mouse, you can’t succeed by pretending to be an elephant. If you’re a woman, you cannot become a man (well, perhaps you can, but work with me). Blacks cannot becomes whites, etc.

Sure, you have the choice to flip industries / continents / etc. The mouse could decide to leave the elephant’s room for the butterfly tank. But what if you are actually so passionate about your field that you don’t want to quit? It’s easy being a finance guy — do finance guys ever think about how much passion a girl must have in order to go against her “programming” (pink doll sets and being told we aren’t good at math)?

This concept goes far beyond education. Education helps of course, but being a “good watcher” will teach you things that they’d never dare to put in textbooks.

‘A white man with a PhD may know little about a black man’s life,’ says megachurch Bishop T. D. Jakes. ‘But a black man with a GED knows almost everything about how white men live.’

But there is a positive spin:

Imagine that the elephant occasionally likes to play poker with the mouse. How well do you think the elephant reads the mouse? Not well, I can assure you.

And lastly, an explanation for the famed “women’s intuition.” Once again we find that intuition is not a trait: rather, experience (pattern recognition) and observational abilities could be the explanation.

I have always been intrigued by where the concept of women’s intuition comes from, and whether there is evidence to support this notion. President Robinson noted that women are often more likely to observe, have better listening skills, include others not normally included, have more emotional intelligence, be less hierarchical, and develop more intuitive observations. However, she also told me that she felt that while traditionally these were considered female traits, she believes they are traits acquired by most groups or individuals who have been out of power historically.

^^The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work

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