How to handle taboo subjects respectfully 

Explicitly discuss what issues you each are open to discussing. “Might we talk sometime about the incident from last May?” Or “I find it hard to talk about our company’s dysfunction without being able to consider some of the leaders involved. Might it be okay for us to privately discuss that?” Come to a mutual agreement. If you raise a taboo issue without shared consent, the other side may see the taboo issue as a threat and blame you for broaching it.

^^Negotiating the Non-Negotiable

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

Lessons in leisure

Some blame America’s puritanical culture. Americans are “always in a hurry,” observed Alexis de Tocqueville more than 150 years ago. But the reality is more complicated. Until the 1970s, American workers put in the same number of hours as the average European, and a bit less than the French. But things changed during the big economic shocks of the 1970s. In Europe labour unions successfully fought for stable wages, a reduced work week and more job protection. Labour-friendly governments capped working hours and mandated holidays. European workers in essence traded money for more time—lower wages for more holiday. This raised the utility of leisure, because holidays are more fun and less costly when everyone else is taking time off too. Though European professionals are working longer hours than ever before, it is still fairly hard to find one in an office in August.

In America, where labour unions have always been far less powerful, the same shocks led to job losses and increased competition. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan cut taxes and social-welfare programmes, which increased economic inequality and halted the overall decline in working hours. The rising costs of certain basics—pensions, health care and higher education, much of which is funded or subsidised in Europe—make it rational to trade more time for money. And because American holidays are more limited, doled out grudgingly by employers (if at all), it is harder to co-ordinate time off with others, which lowers its value, says John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, an advocacy organisation in America.

The returns on work are also potentially much higher in America, at least for those with a college degree. This is because taxes and transfer payments do far less to bridge the gap between rich and poor than in other wealthy nations, such as Britain, France and Ireland. The struggle to earn a place on that narrow pedestal encourages people to slave away for incomparably long hours. “In America the consequences of not being at the top are so dramatic that the rat race is exacerbated,” says Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist. “In a winner-takes-all society you would expect this time crunch.”

^^Economist: In Search of Lost Time

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

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

above: video from Google on conquring the unconscious conscious

“Last year, Google said it was moving away from the crazy brainteasers it used to ask people in job interviews in favor of structured, behavioral queries like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”
At the time, the company’s SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, said this line of questioning provided more information about a candidate’s abilities than bizarre hypotheticals like, “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”

But a new video the company published yesterday reveals another reason Google has shifted to a standardized set of questions: It helps prevent hiring managers’ implicit biases about gender and race from influencing their decisions.”

^^Why Google Asks Everyone Applying For A Job The Same Exact Questions

“There is an old belief that women perform differently than men on musical instruments—not different and equal, mind you; rather, different and not quite as strong. If you believe someone plays less powerfully and you are watching him or her play, you might think to yourself, ‘I hear that sound less forcefully.’ Symphony orchestras around the world use blind auditions so that musicians are behind screens in order to prevent this belief from influencing a tryout.”

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

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