The Illusion of Control

Unhappy: When you want things to be different than they are.

Happy: When you accept things as they are.

 

Sad: When you fixate on times when things turned out differently than you wanted.

Neutral: When you know you have little control over how things will turn out.

Anxious: When you fixate on times when things might turn out differently than you want.

 

Stressed: When you think you have control over how things will turn out.

Relaxed: When you know you don’t have control over how things will turn out.

 

Agitated: When you live in the future.

Calm: When you live in the present.

Sad: When you live in the past.

 

Angry: When you expect a just world, but it isn’t.

Neutral: When you expect that it could be a just world, but likely isn’t.

Happy: When you know it doesn’t matter if the world is just.

 

Angry: When others don’t meet your expectations.

Neutral: When you know your expectations are about you.

Happy: When you have no expectations.

 

Timid: When you think people will judge you negatively.

Neutral: When you think people may judge you negatively or positively.

Happy: When you know what people think about you is none of your business.

 

Distracted: When you live in the past or future.

Focused: When you live in the now.

 

Afraid of change: When you think all things are static.

Accepting change: When you know all things are dynamic.

 

Intimidated: When you think you don’t meet someone’s expectations.

Confident: When you know you did your best.

 

Uncomfortable: When you want things to be different than they are.

Comfortable: When you know the Universe doesn’t care what you think.

 

“Space – Antennae Galaxies” by Trodel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

When You Have Disagreement

When you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

But, when you have something to say, you must say it.

When you think your response might be taken the wrong way, it will.

When you take care to respond effectively, your response might be taken the wrong way.

When you have disagreement, there’s objective evidence that at least two people are thinking for themselves.

When you have disagreement, confrontation is optional.

When you have disagreement, everyone can be right, even if just a little.

When you have disagreement, that says nothing about the people doing the disagreeing.

When you have disagreement at high decibels, that’s an argument.

When you have disagreement, disagreeing on all points is a choice.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to sharpen your response, it’s a death spiral.

When you have disagreement, it’s best to disagree wholeheartedly and respectfully.

When you have disagreement, if you listen to understand, there’s hope.

When you have disagreement, it’s a disagreement about ideas and not moral character.

When you have disagreement, intentions matter.

When you have disagreement, decision quality skyrockets.

When you have disagreement, thank your partner in crime for sharing their truth.

When you have disagreement, there is sufficient trust to support the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, sometimes you don’t, but you don’t know it.

When you have disagreement, converging on a single point of view is not the objective.

When you have disagreement about ethics, you may be working at the wrong company.

When you have disagreement, there are no sides, only people doing their best.

When you have disagreement, the objective is understanding.

When you have disagreement, it’s the right thing to have.

When you have disagreement, there may be disagreement on the topic of the disagreement.

When you have disagreement, you are a contributing member, even if you stay quiet.

When you have disagreement, why not be agreeable?

When you have disagreement, it’s okay to change your mind.

When you have disagreement, you may learn something about yourself.

“Day 7: I disagree” by Stupid Dingo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What do you want?

If you want a promotion, do the right thing.

If you do the right thing, be prepared to be misunderstood.

If you want the credit, you don’t want the best outcome for all.

If you want to have focus, spend time outside.

If you want to have more control, give it away.

If you want to be happy, want what you have.

If you want to be praised, ask yourself why.

If you want to have focus, get your sleep.

If you want fame, once you get it you probably won’t.

If you want more influence, spend the next decade helping others.

If you want to make progress, demonstrate a healthy disrespect for the Status Quo.

If you want to make a difference, say thank you.

If you want to do what you love, maybe you should consider loving what you do.

If you want to have focus, get your exercise.

If you want to feel better about yourself, help someone who has a problem.

If you want to be more productive, it’s better to be more effective.

If you want to make change, point to the biggest problems and solve them.

If you want to be right, don’t.

If you want loyalty, take responsibility for the bad stuff.

If you want to be successful, same some of your energy for your family.

If you want to make progress, start where you are.

If you want to be happy, you have to decide that what you have is enough.

If you want to preserve your legacy, develop young talent.

If you want respect, be kind.

If you want to be understood, you may not do what’s right.

If you want to do better work, work fewer hours.

If you want to work on great projects, say no to good ones.

“That is the Question” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Musings on Skillfulness

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

“Old Monk” by anahitox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What will they see?

When people look back on your life, what will they see?

When you’re dead and gone, what stories will your kids tell about you?

What stories will your coworkers tell?

How about your bosses?

Will they see your disagreement as mischievous or skillful?

Will they see your frustration as disruptive or caring?

Will they see your vehemence as disrespectful or passionate?

Will they see your divergent views as contrarian or well-intentioned?

Will they see your withholding as passive-aggressive or as the result of exhausting all other possibilities?

Will they see your tears as sadness for yourself or the company you care about deeply?

Will they see your “no’s” as curmudgeonly given or brave?

Will they see your dissent as destructive or constructive?

Will they see your frustration as immaturity or as others falling short of your high expectations?

Will they see your unpopular perspective as troublemaking or as the antidote to groupthink?

Will they see your positivity as fake or as the support that everyone needs to do their best work?

Here’s the thing: What matters is not what it looks like from the outside, but your intentions.

And another thing: Anyone that knows you knows your intentions.

Now, go out and do what you think is right. And do it like you mean it. And don’t look back.

And here’s a mantra: What people think about you is none of your business.

Will you be remembered?

100% agreement means there’s less than 100% truth.  If, as a senior leader, you know there are differing opinions left unsaid, what would you do? Would you chastise the untruthful who are afraid to speak their minds? Would you simply ignore what you know to be true and play Angry Birds on your phone? Would you make it safe for the fearful to share their truth? Or would you take it on the chin and speak their truth? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Best practice is sometimes a worst practice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is putting immense pressure put on the team to follow a best practice, yet the context requires a new practice, what would you do? Would you go along with the ruse and support the worst practice? Would you keep your mouth shut and play tick-tack-toe until the meeting is over? Would you suggest a new practice, help the team implement it, and take the heat from the Status Quo Police? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Truth builds trust. If, as a senior leader, you know the justification for a new project has been doctored, what would you do? Would you go along with the charade because it’s easy? Would call out the duplicity and preserve the trust you’ve earned from the team over the last decade? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

The loudest voice isn’t the rightest voice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is using their positional power to strong-arm the team into a decision that is not supported by the data, what would you do? Would you go along with it, even though you know it’s wrong? Would you ask a probing question that makes it clear there is some serious steamrolling going on? And if that doesn’t work, would you be more direct and call out the steamrolling for what it is?  As a senior leader, I’d do the last two.

What’s best for the company is not always best for your career. When you speak truth to power in the name of doing what’s best for the company, your career may suffer. When you see duplicity and call it by name, the company will be better for it, but your career may not. When you protect people from the steam roller, the team will thank you, but it may cost you a promotion. When you tell the truth, the right work happens and you earn the trust and respect of most everyone.  As a senior leader, if your career suffers, so be it.

When you do the right thing, people remember. When, in a trying time, you have someone’s back, they remember. When a team is unduly pressured and you put yourself between them and the pressure, they remember. When you step in front of the steamroller, people remember. And when you silence the loudest voice so the right decision is made, people remember. As a senior leader, I want to be remembered.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who played Angry Birds or advocated for those too afraid to speak their truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who doodled on their notepad or spoke truth to power?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who kept their mouth shut or called out the inconvenient truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who did all they could to advance their career or someone who earned the trust and respect of those they worked with?

In the four cases above, I choose the latter.

“cryptic.” by dfactory is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What should we do next?

Anonymous: What do you think we should do next?

Me: It depends.  How did you get here?

Anonymous: Well, we’ve had great success improving on what we did last time.

Me: Well, then you’ll likely do that again.

Anonymous: Do you think we’ll be successful this time?

Me: It depends.  If the performance/goodness has been flat over your last offerings, then no.  When performance has been constant over the last several offerings it means your technology is mature and it’s time for a new one.  Has performance been flat over the years?

Anon: Yes, but we’ve been successful with our tried-and-true recipe and the idea of creating a new technology is risky.

Me: All things have a half-life, including successful business models and long-in-the-tooth technologies, and your success has blinded you to the fact that yours are on life support.  Developing a new technology isn’t risky. What’s risk is grasping tightly to a business model that’s out of gas.

Anon: That’s harsh.

Me: I prefer “truthful.”

Anon: So, we should start from scratch and create something altogether new?

Me: Heavens no. That would be a disaster. Figure out which elements are blocking new functionality and reinvent those. Hint: look for the system elements that haven’t changed in a dog’s age and that are shared by all your competitors.

Anon: So, I only have to reinvent several elements?

Me: Yes, but probably fewer than several.  Probably just one.

Anon: What if we don’t do that?

Me: Over the next five years, you’ll be successful.  And then in year six, the wheels will fall off.

Anon: Are you sure?

Me: No, they could fall off sooner.

Anon: How do you know it will go down like that?

Me: I’ve studied systems and technologies for more than three decades and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Have you heard of The Voice of Technology?

Anon: No.

Me: Well, take a bite of this – The Voice of Technology. Kevin Kelly has talked about this stuff at great length.  Have you read him?

Anon: No.

Me: Here’s a beauty from Kevin – What Technology Wants. How about S-curves?

Anon: Nope.

Me: Here’s a little primer – Beyond Dead Reckoning. How about Technology Forecasting?

Anon: Hmm.  I don’t think so.

Me: Here’s something from Victor Fey, my teacher. He worked with Altshuller, the creator of TRIZ – Guided Technology Evolution.  I’ve used this method to predict several industry-changing technologies.

Anon: Yikes! There’s a lot here. I’m overwhelmed.

Me: That’s good!  Overwhelmed is a sign you realize there’s a lot you don’t know.  You could be ready to become a student of the game.

Anon: But where do I start?

Me: I’d start Wardley Maps for situation analysis and LEANSTACK to figure out if customers will pay for your new offering.

Anon: With those two I’m good to go?

Me: Hell no!

Anon: What do you mean?

Me: There’s a whole body of work to learn about. Then you’ve got to build the organization, create the right mindset, select the right projects, train on the right tools, and run the projects.

Anon: That sounds like a lot of work.

Me: Well, you can always do what you did last time. END.

“he went that way matey” by jim.gifford is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Just start.

You’re not missing anything. It’s time to start.

Afraid to fail? Start anyway.

Don’t have the experience? Well, you won’t be able to say that once you start.

Just start. It’s time.

Don’t have the money? Start small. And if that won’t work, start smaller.

Start small, but start.

Worried about what people might say? There’s only one way to know, so you might as well start.

You’re not an imposter. It’s time to start.

Waiting isn’t waiting, it’s a rationalization to block yourself from starting.

Here’s a rule: If you don’t start you can’t finish.

The only thing in the way of starting is starting.

The fear of success is the strongest stopper of starting.  Be afraid of success, and start.

There’s never a good time to start, but there’s always a best time – now.

Worried about the negative consequences of starting? Be worried, and start.

Don’t think you have what it takes? The only way to know for sure is to start.

There’s no way around it. Starting starts with starting.

“Golfland start” by twid is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Our behavior is our choice.

Disagreement is fine as long as it’s founded on mutual respect. There’s no place for violence

Both sides don’t have to like each other to work together, but nonviolence must carry the day.

Our differences may be significant, but never large enough to justify violence.

We have more in common than we realize. When we hold onto that we create space for nonviolent solutions.

We all breathe the same air, we all want the best for our family, and we all want the best for our county. When we remember that, there’s no place for violence.

Violence is a choice, but it’s an unskillful one.

Nonviolence is a choice, and it’s a skillful one.

In all that I do, I will choose nonviolence.

What will you choose?

“Ghandi cor 02” by Luiz Fernando Reis MMF is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How will you allocate your time differently?

I don’t like resolutions, but I do like looking back to assess how spent my time differently over the previous year. Below is a short exercise that could help you get ready for 2021.

Below are some questions intended to help you assess how you spent your time differently in 2020. Take fifteen seconds, or so, to think through each one.

Did you spend more time with your family or less?

Did you spend more time helping yourself or others?

Instead of commuting, what did you do with your time?

Did you work more hours or fewer?

Did you spend more time on your mental/spiritual health or less?

Did you take more vacation days or fewer?

Instead of eating out, what did you do with that time?

Did you exercise more or less?

What did you do with your time freed by reduced business travel do more?

Did you participate in more meetings or fewer?

Did you sleep more or less?

 

Grab a pen and paper (or print out the text below) and let’s go through the rest of the exercise.

What are the top three questions that caused the strongest emotional response?  (Write them down.) For those three questions, think through three scenarios: A) 2021 is just like 2020. B) 2021 amplifies the changes you experienced in 2020. C) 2021 is just like 2019.

For each scenario, write down how you’d allocate your time differently in 2021.

The question that caused the strongest emotional response:

_________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) ____________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) _________________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ____________________________________________________

 

The question that caused the second strongest emotional response:

________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) ___________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) ________________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ____________________________________________________

 

The question that caused the third strongest emotional response:

________________________________________________________________________

With regard to the question above, how would you allocate your time differently in 2021?

Scenario A (same as 2020) __________________________________________________

Scenario B (amplified changes) _______________________________________________

Scenario C (same as 2019) ___________________________________________________

My list of questions likely missed important questions for you.  You may want to go back and ask yourself other questions and see if your emotional response is strong enough to displace the top three you identified above.

This little exercise doesn’t generate resolutions, nor will it tell you how to allocate your time in 2021. But, I hope it helps you more skillfully navigate the uncertainty that 2021 is certain to bring.

Happy New Year. And thanks for reading.

“Sundial” by Nigel_Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Foundation of Leadership Development — Work Products

Leadership development is a good idea in principle, but not in practice. Assessing a person against a list of seven standard competencies does not a leadership development plan make. Nor does a Meyers-Briggs assessment or a strengths assessment. The best way I know to describe the essence of leadership development is through a series of questions to assess and hire new leaders.

Here’s the first question: Is this person capable of doing the work required for this leadership position?  If you don’t start here, choose the person you like most and promote (or hire) them into the new leadership position. It’s much faster, and at least you’ll get along with them as the wheels fall off.

Next question: In this leadership position, what work products must the leader create (or facilitate the creation of)? Work products are objective evidence that the work has been completed.  Examples of work products: analyses, reports, marketing briefs, spreadsheets, strategic plans, product launches, test results for new technologies. Here’s a rule: If you can’t define the required work products, you can’t define the work needed to create them.  Here’s another rule: If you can’t define the work, you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to do that work. And if you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to the work, you might as well make it a popularity contest and hire the person who makes the interview committee smile.

Next question: Can the candidate show work products they’ve created that fit with those required for the leadership position? To be clear, if the candidate can show examples of all the flavors of work products required for the position, it’s a lateral move for the candidate.  That’s not a bad thing, as there are good reasons candidates seek lateral positions (e.g., geographic move due to family or broadening of experience – new product line or customer segment). And if they’ve demonstrated all the work products, but the scope and/or scale are larger, the new position, the new position is a promotion for the candidate. Here’s a rule: if the candidate can’t show you an example of a specific work product or draw a picture of one on the whiteboard, they’ve never done it before.  And another rule: when it comes to work products, if the candidate talks about a work product but can’t show you, it’s because they’ve never created one like that. And talking about work products in the future tense means they’ve never done it. When it comes to work products, there’s no partial credit.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has shown us, are they relevant? A candidate won’t be able to show you work products that are a 100% overlap with those required by the leadership position. The context will be different, the market will be different, and the players will be different.  But, a 50-70% overlap should be good enough.

Next question: For the relevant work products the candidate has shown us, do they represent more than half of those required? If yes, go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has not demonstrated, has the team done them? If the team has done a majority of them, that’s good.  Go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate or team has not demonstrated, can we partner them with an expert (an internal one, I hope) who has? If yes, hire the candidate.

Leadership development starts with the definition of the new work the leader must be able to do in their next position. And the best way I know to define the work is to compile a collection of work products that must be created in the next position and match that against the collection of work products the leader has created. The difference between the required work products and the ones the leader has demonstrated defines the leadership development plan.

To define the leadership development plan, start with the work products.

And to help the leader develop, think apprenticeship.  And for that, see this seminal report from 1945.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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