Yet Another Lesson on Reliability

A general rule for making new businesses recently came to my mind. It is pretty simple on conceptual level. Think about something others do not like to do and build a product or service around it.

This is a far-fetched entry point to a lesson on leadership I’d like to remember: leaders are willing to take jobs no one else is willing to do.

“Leaders perform tasks that are not their job.” – John C. Maxwell, The 360 Degree Leader.

Of course, they do so without complaining. But that’s another story.

If I were to name the qualities of a good co-worker or subordinate, “reliability” would be definitely among them. I’d like to be able to count on that person. Oftentimes, this would require getting out of their comfort zone, doing something boring or particularly difficult.

Doing Things Right

Here’s something disputable:

A project manager shouldn’t be interested in the project’s business objectives too much.

This fuzzy statement comes from a recent discussion with a friend of mine. When dealing with projects we often hear about business cases. Project Managers are obliged to update business cases. However, from the PRINCE 2 methodology’s point of view (for example), business cases are owned by Sponsors. And that’s good.

A Project Manager is not responsible for the business results specified in the business case; he or she is responsible for developing the agreed product, preferably within standard time, budget & scope constraints.

The project manager’s goal is the deliverable. The what, not the why.

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Once again the quote comes to my mind:

“Management is doing things right, Leadership is doing the right things!” – Peter F. Drucker

Choose.

A Leader Needs to Be Fast

You have to trust my memory on that one. I haven’t got any links or quotes. But the results of the experiment I want to refer to are very interesting. If anyone can provide a proper reference or refute my arguments entirely, I will appreciate that very much.

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An experiment on decision-making was carried out – two groups of participants were posed questions (problems) and were asked to come up with solutions. One group consisted of people who held managerial positions. The second one – “normal people” 😉

The results? Leaders were apt to decide quickly. Faster than representatives of the second group. However, the number of correct decisions was similar in both groups.

Quite interesting, don’t you agree? Perhaps I’m wrong, but I believe speed is something that can be developed, especially with practice. Actually, I think that oftentimes it isn’t relevant whether the decision a leader makes is good or bad (don’t quote me on that one, please). Not infrequently, we aren’t able to verify the results anyway (i.e. we aren’t able to consider all variables that made the end result up).

I believe real progress depends on the workers. A leader needs to be decisive. A leader needs to be fast.

Dog Lessons in Leadership

When my wife and I decided to get a dog, we started reading books on dogs. Most of those books had some kind of behavioral background. Probably the reason is that dogs follow the reaction-to-stimulus pattern so… hm… effectively. They seem to “remember” both the stimuli and the reaction as if they were one. Not much rational thinking in terms of cause and effect there. But I don’t intend to get into that today.

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According to specialists, the world out there is a dangerous place in a dog’s eye, ear, nose… whatever. After reaching a certain age, from a dog’s perspective, all people, animals, mechanical devices (etc.) are potentially hostile. In order to protect the pack (or family, for that matter), a leader is absolutely necessary. The practical effect is this – if you as an owner (or someone from the family) won’t be inclined to show a bit of “leadership,” if you won’t “fake it until you make it,” there’s a big chance your dog will assume the position of the leader. Those of you who own a dog know that’s not the best way to go.

A far-fetched conclusion with regard to the world of men…

Every group needs a leader. Even if the only role of that person is to have the last say when there is no consensus between other members. This position is present naturally. It’s a position where strength matters – be it mental or physical. Be it real or faked. In the end, anyone can take it.

The Sleeping Warrior

A man is a creature of habit. When something is part of our daily presence, we tend to stop noticing it.

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Something literally hit me a couple of days ago. When thinking about the male part of our species, one aspect comes to mind in particular – war. Men fight. Men have fought for ages. The ideal of a man – a warrior, a hero – is omnipresent even now. Characteristics of strength, stamina, fierceness or dexterity haven’t been forgotten yet. We adapt our eternal values to the current state of affairs, e.g. we refer to the art of war when thinking about business, we compare team leadership to commanding troops, we define a man’s strengths in “fighting terms”. “Winning”, “winners”, “win-win”… Some things don’t change so fast.

Take a look at a library’s shelves. Have a glance at your local cinema’s repertoire. Books, movies about warriors are literally everywhere. The fact is – we have fighting in our hearts. If something has been developed in us, has evolved for so many years, it won’t go away just like that…

A man feels adrift in our current reality. It’s a “low level” feeling. An identity crisis of sorts. Am I still a fighter?! Am I still supposed to be strong? What’s my real advantage? Of what *real* value am I to the opposite sex? How can I use my physical advantages to add that value?

Think about it. Is there any single characteristic – be it mental or physical – in which men are better than women? What’s happened to it?

* * *

Off the record…

Yesterday, I became a father for the second time. It’s a girl.

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High Standards @ Work?

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Professionally, I was “brought up” on Brian Tracy’s work ethics. By “work ethics” I mean – giving my utmost at work. Striving to be the best, to reach for the best. Placing standards high enough, that I have to overcome my present limitations (as I see them) in order to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.

Forced workaholism? Not necessarily.

Still, it does make me think, when I come across such a quote:

“You must always work not just within but below your means If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.” – Pablo Picasso
Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Work

This seems to be closer to Machiavelli’s fox than the lion, if you ask me 🙂

“A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”
Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Machiavelli

A bit of calculation? To some extent this is a reminder to manage one’s energy wisely and not get sidetracked into minor issues.

Another potential downside of high standards is that we are prone to impose them on others. As long as those “others” are able to sustain them, learn from it and develop – great. But that’s not always the case. Occasionally, you might be the spoilsport.

Public Speaking by Participation

Efficient communication is an important leadership skill. This applies to writing (incl presentations), speaking and… public speaking. (Listening is perhaps even more important, but that’s another story.)

Public speaking is dreaded by the majority of us. But there are some who simply love it. Usually it’s about practice, about reaching a moment when you feel the public responds to your words, to the meaning you convey in those words, your arguments, your stories. There are tools you can master – e.g. vocal variety, body language, props. There are aspects you can polish all your life. This can be fun! Unfortunately, you won’t learn that by reading books. As with leadership, when speaking in public, confidence is key. To gain confidence, you have to take the plunge.

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Joining Toastmasters was one of the best decisions in my life. I know there are several organizations like this, but the bottom line is – it has to be learning by participation. The usual case is this – if we want to learn, we grab a book or enroll on a lecture-type course. But with many practical skills, it simply doesn’t work. Remember the saying?

Tell me, and I’ll forget.
Show me, and I may [not] remember.
Involve me, and I’ll understand.

If one wants to learn speaking in public, he or she should… speak in public. And the audience better be friendly and supportive. 

That’s were Toastmasters helps.

By the way, while preparing meetings, members practice general leadership and management skills. The same happens when one becomes a club officer. It does take time, but I do believe it’s invaluable.

The Stage is for the Child

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” – Plato.

Ever seen that picture? A board of directors’ meeting. Every participant seems reserved. When asked, opinions are expressed slowly, audibly, almost reluctantly.

I like to watch leaders at work. There is something that clearly differentiates a top level manager from the rest of the corporate crowd. A good leader practices self-restraint – both with regard to showing emotions and expressing opinions. Showing-off does not pay off.

A leader leaves the privilege of showing-off to his or her employees.

When you look at a seasoned dad, the picture seems similar – a warm smile, an encouraging look, composure and strength. Integrity. The stage is for the child.

Give Me Your Money

An anecdote.

A friend of mine used to work in consulting. On several occasions he had the opportunity to lead projects. On one such project, he had a team member with previous military service experiences.

Once the team was on a business trip and there was a situation were my friend wanted to buy tickets…

FRIEND: Can you give me your money? I could buy us a group ticket.
TEAM MEMBER: Can’t you just say: “Give me your money?”

Conclusions:

  • lead with confidence
  • communicate straightforwardly