Category Archives: Leadership

75% of people don’t think like you, 25% don’t like you. Now what?

Admit it. You have a colleague, employee or customer that you just can’t stand working with. For me, let’s call this person Mike Minutia.

Just the thought of meeting with Mike triggers my “fight or flight” response. He turns meetings into endless recitations of tedious details. He has no interest in people. He lacks intuition, rendering him unable to make decisions without reams of data. He talks only about work. And his voice…my god…it should be patented as a treatment for insomnia. You know what I’m talking about, right?

Actually, maybe you don’t. If you are one of the many precise, disciplined and conscientious “introverted thinkers” (as Jung called them) out there, you may hold an equally negative view of “Helping Inspirers” like me.

From Mike’s perspective, I lack discipline. My optimistic nature leads me to take dangerous risks. When I’m not interested in a project, it’s twice as hard to get decent work out of me. Sometimes, he just wishes I’d leave him alone…do I think work is some kind of cocktail party?

Mike and I are “opposite types”. I am what Quadrant Personality Theory calls an “Inspirational Helper”, which means I get energy from people, am comfortable with risk and value intuition as much as analysis. Our communication styles, passions and aptitudes are diametrically opposed. Because it takes effort, patience and understanding to collaborate, we regularly drive each other nuts. But we’ve also achieved great things together, bringing a diversity of strengths to our work.

Viewed objectively, Mike is dependable, analytical and persistent, regardless of the task at hand. He tackles challenges systematically, consistently finding solutions to big problems. He’s everyone’s go-to person for a challenging project. Lastly, his sense of duty and responsibility is unparalleled.

Quadrant Personality Theory, which was first pioneered by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in 1921, tells us that understanding self (both strengths and weaknesses) makes it possible to interact more effectively with others.

It also tells us that people fall into the following four personality types in roughly equal proportions:

Whatever your type, 75% of people don’t share your worldview. Their communication, decision-making and working-style preferences differ significantly from yours. What’s more, 25% of people are “opposite types” like Mike and me, who often struggle to work together effectively.

Understanding is the key to harnessing the power of diversity. Companies that do this best use personality testing as a matter of course to encourage effective communication, and get the best out of their talent. Good tests provide actionable information such as:

  • Key strengths and weaknesses
  • Potential blind spots
  • Communication tips for your opposite type
  • Development suggestions
  • How to motivate and manage each type of personality
I did the Insights Discovery test, which I recommend. It provided plenty of actionable advice, including these points on how to deal with my opposite type Mike:
  1. Avoid bursts of emotion, which make Mike uncomfortable
  2. Give Mike time to gather his thoughts and express his feelings
  3. Stick to facts and data if you want to be persuasive
  4. Never exaggerate, even for effect
  5. Avoid humour in serious situations
  6. Allow Mike to keep his personal life very private

Do you know your type? Do you have a strategy to deal with your “opposite”? If the answer to either of these questions is “no”, it’s time to Google “personality testing”.

Sources and additional information:
http://www.colorfulleadership.info/papers/4-quadrant.htm
http://www.insights.com/
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Whole-brained leadership and influence

Chris* has a beautiful mind, devouring information at an astonishing rate, calculating like a human spreadsheet and breaking down problems with faultless logic. His gifts naturally led him to a top-tier management consultancy, where his talents were augmented with proprietary methodologies, strategic frameworks and best practices. He succeeded early and often as a consultant, and earned an MBA at a prestigious business school on the East Coast. Sounds like the kind of talent employers would kill for, right?

Yes…at least initially. Ten years later, Chris was struggling to keep his job as corporate strategy leader at a Fortune 1000 technology company, after leading a change initiative that failed spectacularly.

Crestfallen, Chris couldn’t understand where he’d gone wrong. He clung to the only explanations that seemed logical to him; he was a victim of politics, weak C-suite leadership and an underperforming team. The problem couldn’t be him, right? Unfortunately for Chris, this wasn’t his last failure. He was ultimately fired.

Chris then did a very brave and difficult thing. He openly owned his failures and learned from them. Seeking out honest assessments from old colleagues and friends (including me), he embarked on a personal change management initiative. He even engaged an industrial psychologist to improve his chances of success.

His efforts paid off and he learned that several factors were hobbling his performance. Foremost among them was an over-reliance on his gifts. He viewed IQ is inherently superior to EQ, that the strength of logic and analysis will break down any barrier. What he did not realize was that the barriers he was breaking down were people. It wasn’t that his analyses weren’t sound…it’s just that no one gave a $@#%%^. They tuned him out.

We often describe people as “right brained” or “left brained”. Creativity, emotion and imagination are said to reside on the right side. Logic, objectivity and analysis are on the left. Split Brain Theory is an overgeneralization, but it effectively illustrates the fact that people are two-sided. Personal preferences are the norm, but the vast majority of people are a mix of left and right.

Psychologists tell us that effective leadership, especially when it comes to change, depends more on the ability to pull than to push. The challenge of leadership is to take others to new places they wouldn’t otherwise go to. To pull this off, full engagement of both brain hemispheres is a necessity. “Pulling” requires capturing the whole brain.

Chris learned the importance of the “whole brained” approach the hard way. Here are his top three lessons learned:

  1. Importance of self awareness & mindfulness: To understand one’s communication style and “sidedness”, we need to be self-aware. Seeking 360 degree feedback from people we trust is one way to achieve this. Once aware, the bigger challenge is to be mindful of our weaknesses and develop strategies to overcome our preferences. For example, Chris benefited greatly from adding the following to the top of EVERY meeting in his agenda: “spend 5 minutes talking about family, vacations, hobbies and interests.” It didn’t come naturally at first, but his efforts were authentic and with practice he became more effective at building personal connections.
  2. Engage people at the emotional level: Cutting to the chase and focusing only on analysis may be right for some audiences, but will be ineffective for most. The best approach is to use narratives that are both emotionally engaging and analytical. There is a good reason we hear so much about storytelling in the business press these days. Storytelling combines hard facts and emotion in a way that is both persuasive and engaging. For mixed audiences, the only effective strategy is to apply a full-brain methodology like storytelling.
  3. Watch out for the corporate “tough-guy” culture: Corporate cultures that treat fun, storytelling and emotion as frivolous wastes of time are missing out on a huge source of energy and passion in the workplace. Research clearly shows that happy, well-rested and healthy people far outperform their workaholic peers. For a left brainer like Chris, it’s all too easy to fall into the corporate tough-guy pattern. It is easier to believe that emotion has no place in the office, than admit that one has a weakness. Taking this path to the dark side is guaranteed to put you on the path to underachievement. For more on this subject, I recommend The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

* Names and ancillary details have been modified for the purpose of de-identification

10 ways to get what you want, without violating your conscience (Part 2)

The greatest ability in business is the ability to influence; it’s at the core of leading, deal-making and problem solving. This post continues last week’s exploration of the 10 principles master influencers use to outperform their peers. Employed correctly, they’ll make you more persuasive, while enhancing credibility.

The five discussed last week were: (1) Visibility, (2) Supply-Control, (3) Negative Sensibility, (4) Authority and (5) Highlighter principles – you can find the post here.

Here are principles 6-10 to get what you want:

6.   The Evidence Principle. This principle is one you likely know well – information that’s backed up with research, experiences or, in the best case, the firsthand knowledge of the listener, is very persuasive. For example, when you borrow an experience from someone like Steve Jobs, you’re pretty hard to disagree with! Even CEOs need help to sell their vision. It’s often why they spend millions on management consultants like McKinsey & Company. Convincing their bosses (the Board of Directors and, ultimately, the investors) to make BIG changes (e.g. entering new markets, restructuring a business, selling a business) can be very difficult. It can even get you fired. Enter McKinsey as the “safe” way to sell tough decisions and earn trust. The more difficult the audience, the more evidence you’ll need to get what you want.

7.   The Likability Principle. It’s simple. People are influenced by those they trust. People trust people they like. People like those who are similar to them. The best influencers apply this principle by talking to people in their own language, listening actively, tapping into genuine common interests and experiences, empathizing, and communicating openness and accessibility. The only watch-outs here are don’t try TOO hard to be liked or be inauthentic, or your efforts will backfire.

8.   The Reciprocity Principle. Studies have shown that it is a general social rule that a person should try to repay fairly what we have received from another person (see this post for sources and more info). If somebody performs a favour for us, we usually feel obliged to return their favour. Since what goes around comes around, influencers regularly help others. Servant leadership is an excellent example of this principle in action.

9.   The Experience Principle. Confucius wrote: “I hear and I know. I see and I believe. I do and I understand.” He was spot on. Influencers apply this principle by involving their audience emotionally and visually in their objective. Story telling is the best way to do this. It helps your audience connect with your message by creating a “virtual experience”.

10.    The Passion Principle. Harrison Monarth described this principle well: “Passion can’t be explained. It is felt. Whenever you are looking to influence someone to accept your ideas and share your vision, you have to have a feeling that energizes…and stimulates the heart as well as the mind. It doesn’t come easily, think about it and focus your thoughts on the aspects of the idea that you can feel in your gut. Then amplify that feeling and share your message.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on effective influencing. Is there a principle 11 that should be added to the list? Join the conversation by sending me an email or commenting on my post.

Thanks for reading.

Source: Executive Presence by Harrison Monarth.

10 ways to get what you want, without violating your conscience (Part 1)

Success as a leader, salesperson or entrepreneur depends on the ability to influence. Whether you are a CEO, salesman or an entrepreneur selling a vision to investors, influencing is how you get what you want.

What tools do you have in your “persuasion toolbox”? There are a variety of principles and tactics that can increase your natural ability to persuade, without sacrificing authenticity or credibility. This is the focus of my post, but before I continue, it’s important to differentiate influence from manipulation.

Manipulation is a short-term strategy relying on power tactics (such as positional authority, fear), dis-honesty and win-lose outcomes. It ultimately benefits neither the manipulator nor the manipulated. Influence is about empathy, changing attitudes and win-win outcomes. These are the ingredients in building a long-term relationship.

People start developing influencing techniques in childhood, which you’ll know all too well if you have kids (must that candy be at the supermarket checkout?).  As we navigate relationships from childhood through adulthood, our most effective tactics get added to the toolbox (e.g. “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”). Depending on our experiences and natural influencing abilities, people may use anything from a few favourite “tools” to a broad range of persuasion tactics.

I’m betting that you know a master influencer. If you do, what makes them so effective? How are they different? Chances are they have a high EQ (emotional quotient, the empathy equivalent of IQ) and a VERY full toolbox. The following list of principles work individually, but are even more powerful when used together.

The first 5 principles that need to be in your “persuasion toolbox” are:

  1. The Visibility Principle. People gravitate toward the familiar and are inclined to trust what they know. Conversely, the unknown is generally treated with skepticism. The best persuaders make sure they are very visible, because interaction breeds familiarity. Face-to-face visibility is still the gold standard, but social media is revolutionizing the visibility game. It is now possible to stay on the radar of hundreds of people in parallel through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ by posting valued-added content for your audience and demonstrating authentic interest via “likes”, “shares” and “retweets”. For salespeople, this is already being hailed as the Social Selling Revolution.
  2. The Supply-Control Principle. Any salesperson can tell you that a limited supply of time or benefits is a key influencer (does the Best Buy sales guy really only have one TV left at that price?), when it is credible. This is the law of scarcity, which you have no doubt heard of. The challenge in applying this principle is staying on the right side of manipulation. Artificially limiting supply is a sure-fire way to damage credibility. Think Apple, not the Best Buy sales guy, when applying this principle to increase demand.
  3. The Negative Sensibility Principle. Harrison Monarth described this well in his book Executive Presence: “Research shows the unconscious mind cannot hear and does not process a negative sensibility; this means that the word not doesn’t even register in the mind.” When Bill Clinton said “I am not a racist” during Obama’s campaign, the only words that were heard by the audience were “I am a racist”. “The unconscious mind, which records the entire experience on an emotional level, retains the memory of the word racist.” Master influencers avoid negative labels.
  4. The Authority Principle. People trust information that comes from a perceived authority. Expertise from a credible source fosters trust. If you position yourself as an authority or bring an authority to bear, trust and influence are much easier to achieve.
  5. The Highlighter Principle. Everyone has a natural tendency to focus on what confirms our preconceived ideas and arguments. This isn’t manipulative, it’s just human nature. The problem is that the tendency to highlight can be perceived as manipulation by an audience that disagrees with your message. Effective influencing means controlling the urge to highlight, because a balanced argument is a stronger form of persuasion.

My next post will be on the remaining 5 principles. If you want to read more before then, the book Executive Presence by Harrison Monarth is a great resource for leaders and entrepreneurs looking to improve their presence and influencing abilities. It was also my primary source for this post.

What is your go-to technique for influencing others? Please add yours to my list!

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“Lean decision-making” lessons learned

Take one look at tech blogs, start-up news or content shared on LinkedIn and you’ll find plenty of the business equivalent of “self-help”. This is not surprising. Tech leaders work in conditions of constant change, and rarely have the luxury of wearing just one functional “hat”.  We need digestible content to help us manage the complexity of our daily lives.

Fortunately, we have easy access to the largest pool of information in history.  Thanks to tablets, e-readers and smartphones, this content is accessible anywhere, anytime. However, there’s risk hidden in this mountain of content – it often contains BAD advice. In fact, some of it’s downright dangerous to your business.

Chances are you’ve seen bad business decisions made based on hope or fear, what others are doing, the latest business trend or what senior industry leaders did or said in the past. In other words, on everything but hard facts. It happens all too often. It unfortunately also happened to me.

Remember the matrix management fad? In a nutshell, matrix management pooled people with similar skills under a functional manager (e.g. head of engineering). They were then assigned work on projects under other managers. In my case, engineers had to report to several managers to get their work done. The matrix was supposed to leverage the skills of our team across multiple projects, making the company nimbler and more effective. In reality, this was a recipe for needless complexity, endless turf wars, competition for talent and many many meetings.

After a couple of wasted months, I untangled this mess by putting one person in charge again. This was a real boneheaded move, but at least I wasn’t alone. Many organizations have tried and failed to implement matrix organizations, often with the help of expensive management consultants. Had I done my homework, I’d have found precious little factual support for this management fad.

The only way to separate success-driving practices from their ineffective (or even harmful) brethren is through evidence-based management.  Eric Reis’s Lean Startup Method^ is an excellent example of evidenced-based management for start-ups. He’s a proponent of making decisions based only on hard facts generated through experimentation and data collection. These quotes from his book say it all:

Test assumptions you’ve made about your business, its customers and how you’re serving them.”

“… productivity is not just making more stuff, but systematically figuring out the right things to build.

“The three A’s of metrics: actionable, accessible and auditable.”

Looking at the facts is not easy, not even for leaders of Fortune 500 companies. Just look at their love affair with M&A. Think AOL-Time Warner or HP-Compaq. Study after study shows that most mergers benefit only investment bankers and lawyers – some estimates are that 70% or more fail to deliver shareholder value (Of course, don’t forget the Pixar-Disney successes either)*.

Of 200,000 mergers reviewed in 93 peer-reviewed studies, analysis shows that the negative effects of a merger generally become clear in less than one month and continue thereafter! So what separates the 70% from the 30%? Facts and strong processes. This is consistent with my personal experience as a lawyer turned-corporate development wonk. The majority of deals I’ve seen ultimately value destroying for a variety of reasons, including culture clashes and lack of investment in integration.*

Companies like Cisco prospered through M&A by identifying success factors, such as merger size (small is better), integration practices and culture compatibility. In fact, Cisco averaged about one merger per quarter last decade, most of which were successful. They experimented to find what works and beat the odds, following a very similar philosophy to the lean start-up method.*

Good decisions, effective business practices and successful businesses are built on metrics, measurements, testing and validation. They are also built on avoiding poor decision-making practice and recognizing biases.

To increase your odds of business success, avoid these 4 big mistakes:

1.  Doing what (seems to have) worked in the past.  Suppose a doctor wanted to do an appendectomy on you. When you asked why, he answered, “because I did one on my last patient and he got better.” You’re going to run from his office, right? Don’t confuse success in spite of from success because of. In addition, your business environment, model or market just might be different enough that the past solution won’t work for you.*

2.  Casual benchmarking.  It’s ok to learn from others – it’s an important source of ideas and practices – but make sure you benchmark based on facts and data. Do your homework, ask the basic question of WHY something works and understand if the practices of others really make sense for your business model using both logic and real data.

3.  Following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies. Many people treat first-mover advantage like dogma. What may surprise some is that this pervasive belief is not supported by the facts. At best, the empirical evidence is unclear. Beliefs that are rooted in ideology are “sticky” and contrary evidence is often ignored. Watch out for this bias, because the biggest risk comes from a failure to question one’s personal beliefs.*

4. Listening to experts too much. Management experts and consultants can leverage their experience across organizations to help their clients learn from the successes and failures of others. Just be careful. Experts are paid to have all the answers, and it is tempting to lean too hard are their advice. It is the job of the leader to logically assess, challenge and adapt expert advice to the needs of their unique business and market.

If you’re interested in learning more about evidenced-based management, I highly recommend the Lean Startup by Eric Reis and Hard facts, Dangerous Half-truths  & Total Nonsense by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton.

* J. Pfeffer & R. Sutton, Hard facts, Dangerous Half-truths  & Total Nonsense, Boston: Harvard Business School Press (2006).
^ Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Crown Business (2011)
 
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