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Highlights From The 2018 Global Peter Drucker Forum

November 29 and 30 witnessed over 1000 people descending on Vienna, Austria for the 10th annual Global Peter Drucker Forum. Vienna was the birthplace of Drucker, who the British Library refers to as “the father of management thinking.” Perhaps there is no better place in which to discuss what’s wrong (and maybe even what’s right) with current management practices.

Billed as an event that would explore the “human dimension” of management, there were some hits and a few misses over the two days. A big miss was the unexpected absence of Clayton Christensen. All of us wish him well in his recovery.

The format of the Drucker Forum was consistent if not predictable throughout the two days. A chair moderated four individuals from various walks of professional life on a specific sub-theme. Each presenter had nine or so minutes to deliver a short talk and the remainder of the time witnessed a group chat facilitated by the chair. In total, there were over 80 chairs and speakers for just under 20 sessions. You can imagine how busy it felt. At times, it was far too formulaic. Each presenter discussed what was wrong with management during their nine minutes, but too many failed to deliver any concrete answers on how to make management more humane. When it worked, the talks and discussions were exhilarating.

One of the most interesting was a session billed as “Managing for the Long Term” where Unilever CEO Paul Polman, #1 ranked Thinkers50 member Roger L. Martin, Engie CEO Isabelle Kocher and former Adidas CFO Robin J. Stalker got to the heart of the current fixation on shareholder primacy. “Do we care?” asked Paul Polman with a rhetorical grimace on his face. “As long as our personal greed is more important than the future of our children, we are in deep shit.”

Polman, who had announced his retirement as Unilever CEO the day before, was referring to a CEO’s reliance on share buybacks and dividend increases as a way to run a company. His stage colleague, Martin, lamented the activist hedge funds but also recommended that legislation is passed such that pension funds no longer act as a monopoly enforced by government regulation. In essence, Martin argued that government-regulated pension funds are monopolies, which then act as an inhumane way to manage organizations and people’s hard-earned money.

Polman furthered Martin’s suggestion and added that the wealthiest people, pension fund managers and the 25 biggest asset owners on the planet ought to get into a room and change the way of the world economic order without legislation. As much as I respect Polman, I don’t see that happening any time soon. It was an interesting “how” suggestion though, one of only a handful throughout the two days.

“A healthy organization is a collection of human beings and not just human resources. Work on community, on the ground, create the movement and tilt the power,” said academic and author Henry Mintzberg during the “Should Managers be Activists?” session. Mintzberg reckons the term human resources ought to be extinguished and that our organizations be more community-minded and driven.

On the topic of being a technocrat or humanist, Insead’s Gianpiero Petriglieri said, “Think of yourself as an artist. It gives you the ability to love, learn & lose it! We need tech & humanity to make things and make things up. We need a story that moves us and a space that holds us.” As he has stated previously, Petriglieri recommends that cosmopolitanism not become an elite identity, but rather an “attitude of curiosity about what lies beyond the boundaries of our territories, cultures, and faiths.”

In the same session with Petriglieri, Adrian Wooldridge, Management Editor at The Economist said, “You should think in the long-term, like a ship’s captain who views the entire ocean. CEO’s should spend some time on a retreat and reflect, read Plato, think more of philosophy.” I wholeheartedly agree with Woolridge. Far too many CEOs and senior leaders get caught up in the magnetic draw of quarterly earnings and share pricing. They should be reflecting on the state of their organization (and the world) through deep, pregnant, philosophical pauses. But too many do not.

Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter also stated in the same session, “In order to solve the new problem of today, executives need to get out of the building and get into the streets where there is hustle. Leadership should shift from hierarchy to hustle.” In my line of work far too often senior leaders remain in their offices at their headquarters, commanding and controlling from their email and desk phone. Indeed it is an inhumane approach to management.

The most alarming of the sessions at the Drucker Forum had to be the one titled “Beyond Market Failures: How the State Creates Value.” Author Andrew Keen portrayed society as possessing three kinds of state:

  • Chinese: an all-inclusive state that guarantees economic prosperity but is nonetheless chilling.
  • American: the retreat of the state, blissfully uncaring of its citizens.
  • European: a combination of the Chinese and American, but equally ineffective.

But leave it to Martin Wolf, Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times, to send us running for the hills. “When technology knows everything about every one of us, is that the end of democracy?” he asked the audience during a brilliant, mic-drop worthy rant. “The state is the most important innovation in history,” he continued. “But the real question is not how the state can keep out-of-the-way but how to make the state work better? For every one benevolent autocracy (like Singapore) you get 99 horrors.”

Sandwiched between day one and two was a gala dinner with all attendees. Kudos to Drucker Forum founder, Richard Straub, for ensuring there are ways that young people can participate in the forum, through essay submissions, awards and public recognition at the gala itself. Of the 1000 attendees, nearly 200 were billed as young people. That is an impressive model to emulate at other conferences.

Overall, the Drucker Forum was packed with speakers and their brilliant opinions on what’s wrong with management and its inhumane way of operating. There simply needed to be more examples of how we can fix it. Over the years of its existence, the Drucker Forum has made great strides regarding global representation, as well as gender and cultural diversity. For example, the 2018 version saw a record number of women participate as chairs or speakers. Thirty-eight percent is impressive. By 2019, I hope it becomes 50 percent.

If there was one comment that should act as a call to action for attendees, it came from Polman:

“You’re not going to solve problems by attending conferences. You have to do something. If you don’t take action, you’re as guilty as those who created the problems in the first place.”

“Do something,” is the perfect manner in which to say we need more examples of the how.

___________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

Click Below

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Watch the TED Talk on Open Thinking

 

 

Did GM Have To Fire 14,000 People?

General Motors made a large and stunning announcement recently, confirming roughly 15% of its global workforce will be terminated or bought out. More than 14,000 people will be out of a job in 2019 or earlier including 25% of executives.

Under the guise of a rather positive sounding press release, “General Motors Accelerates Transformation,” company chairman and CEO Mary Barra said, “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future.”

Seven plants will be shuttered with total cash savings resulting in $6 billion through cost reductions and lower capital expenditures.

Barra’s comments continued: “We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

One of Barra’s predecessors was Charles E. Wilson, CEO of General Motors between 1941 and 1953. During confirmation hearings before a Senate Committee in 1952—where Wilson was still CEO of the company—he responded to a question about conflicts of interest by Senator Robert Hendrickson as follows:

“For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.”

Perhaps Wilson’s comments were a harbinger for 2019.

Tucked away in GM’s press release announcing the closures was a signal—indeed a potent portent—for the current White House administration to consider: “GM now intends to prioritize future vehicle investments in its next-generation battery-electric architectures.”

It is the sound of both innovation and sustainability.

While Tesla gets an inordinate amount of mainstream media press as it continues to accelerate “the world’s transition to sustainable energy with electric cars, solar panels and integrated renewable energy solutions,” slowly and quietly organizations like GM are being forced to do the same. It’s the 2018 version of kill or be killed.

When a company the size of GM—with more than $145 billion in annual revenues—is forced to lay off 14,000 people while shuttering seven of its plants, I wonder if the White House sees the connection to Wilson’s quote some 65 years ago.

“It goes with the welfare of the country,” said Wilson, which should frighten any senior member of Trump’s administration. America has taken far too long to curb its dependence on oil. The same might be said concerning an overreliance on all non-renewable resources.

And now—demonstrated by the example of GM—more than 14,000 people are out of work as the company tries to expedite its “next-generation battery-electric architectures.”

Who might be next?

What large organization with thousands of employees will be issuing a press release in 2019 announcing its plans to shave the workforce? What large organization will realize that its own strategy needs updating—and in an expedited fashion—such that it does not perish? What organization is currently reading the tea leaves of an old-fashioned, outdated approach to business?

I see Wilson’s comment not only as a harbinger but a renewed call for the White House and leaders from all levels of government to incentivize companies. Organizations need to expedite their innovation such that sustainable means of operating becomes the norm.

When the organization’s plans finally change, perhaps the workforce can be retrained (and retained) rather than terminated so they might be part of the solution, and assist the transformation.

_________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

Click Below

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Watch the TED Talk on Open Thinking

 

 

Three Ways To Take Back Control Of Your Time

Normally I have a 10-minute rule.

If I am scheduled to have a virtual meeting with someone (telephone, Skype, Zoom, etc.) I’ll give him or her 10 minutes to show up before I move on. It’s not rude; it’s about being protective of my calendar.

Just as I was about to hang up on my 12:30 pm meeting last Friday—when the clock was yearning to strike 12:40 pm—my acquaintance came barreling onto the telephone scene.

“I’m so sorry, Dan,” she pleaded, simultaneously gasping for air. “The last meeting ran late, and I had to run to my office to take this call.”

It happens all the time. Punctuality is now poisonous.

Two weeks ago I was in a face-to-face meeting with four other people. It started on time. Miraculously everyone was present and punctual.

About 30 minutes in there was an annoying buzzing sound emanating from the phone of an attendee. Without caring that we were in the middle of a deep conversation about some important matters, the individual grabbed the phone, read the message, and proceeded to excuse himself from the room immediately.

“Sorry everyone,” he exclaimed. “I’ve got to get something to my boss ASAP. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

He never returned.

The workplace has become a carnival of doing. Everyone is in a constant state of action.

Look, over there! It’s people having a meeting to prepare for the meeting that is about a future meeting with a customer.

There is less and less time for reflection, pausing, ideation, or even good decision-making. Furthermore, this ‘always on’ mindset is affecting the manner in which we are leading people and initiatives.

We scamper from meeting to meeting. We are late. We leave early. We check email, answer texts, and write reports while we’re supposed to be watching a kid’s soccer game. We pretend we’re paying attention to the conference call but instead we are crafting a PowerPoint presentation for our next meeting at 11:00 am.

Leaders are in the middle of a coaching conversation with their team member when they suddenly remember they’re supposed to be somewhere else. A lunch meeting between the boss and employee is cut short because the boss has been called into something else. What was originally a 60-minute lunch was cut to 30 minutes. “I guess it’s better than nothing,” said the now jaded employee.

Not only is this affecting the way in which we lead—and how colleagues and employees perceive leaders—the inability to manage our time is affecting levels of stress.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel some form of stress on the job. Nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. A whopping 30 percent indicate they are “always” or “often” under stress at work.

The American Psychological Association reports levels of stress continues to rise. Analysis by Accountemps reveals 60 percent of employees feel work-related pressures have increased in the last five years.

I have seen the enemy. Much of that stress and the downward spiral of leadership is as a result of our failure to manage our calendars, our time.

What to do?

The first step is to take back control of your time. Stop filling up your calendar with mindless meetings. Block out time such that you have more “me time” than you know how to handle.

Second is to stop saying yes. Far too many people say yes to encroachments on their time, when they should be saying no. (Bonus: leaders need to stop asking employees for things, and to be more empathetic with the workloads that their team members already have to deal with.)

Third, focus on what matters. If you are in a meeting, stay within it and be present. If you are having a conversation with a team member, stay aligned to the conversation not the vibrating feeling of a new text. If you are working on a report, remain in the moment and ensure you do not get distracted by whatever trinket looks more interesting.

Time has become the enemy of good leadership. Your job is to reclaim it.

_____________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

Click Below

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Watch the TED Talk on Open Thinking

 

 

Dan Pontefract December 2018 Playlist (Christmas Edition)

I am a big fan of Christmas.

So much so, I have collected over 20 glühwein (hot mulled wine) Christmas mugs over the years. They are fantastic! (so is the glühwein)

When I was a kid I used to make my own Christmas trees. There was a styrofoam version, pinecones, wall panel, even one made of Star Wars paraphernalia. (The Star Wars Holiday Special was a one-star heap of television trash, so perhaps that’s where I got the misguided inspiration as a seven-year-old.)

The R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas song is as bad as it gets.

Anyway, back to the point. There are all sorts of Christmas songs that I look forward to spinning every December. Here is a 10-pack of some of my favourite Christmas tunes.

Merry Christmas to those that celebrate. (and Happy Holidays to those who celebrate something else)


 

My TEDx Talk About The Importance Of Purpose

The Purpose Effect is a three-way relationship between an individual’s personal sense of purpose in life, the organization’s purpose and a person’s purpose in their role at work. When all three aspects of purpose are properly defined, are well aligned, and function in partnership with one another, then the employee, the organization and society mutually benefit.

When they are not, it can lead to significant damage in society and in the organization. The Purpose Effect is the pattern I have exposed.

Think of it as a three-legged barstool. If one of the legs is broken or uneven, either an individual ends up crashing to the ground or there is a perpetual wobble, prompting a feeling of uneasiness, of disequilibrium. Such a lack of balance in the workplace can result in personal disengagement, disbandment of a team, or in the direst instance, the end of the organization itself.

Those who lack direction in these situations, simply go through the motions, longing for the day when their opinions and ideas mattered, helpless as senior leaders pursue an organizational purpose that has no meaning for them personally. Any lack of alignment between the three categories of purpose—the barstool legs—can have devastating consequences at both an individual and a collective level.

Diagram_Sweet Spot_Clear Background (3)The Purpose Effect (buy it here if you like) chronicles my thesis and findings. It draws on research, interviews and first-hand leadership experience, establishing a potentially positive and reciprocal connection between three distinct categories of purpose:

  • Personal purpose
  • Organizational purpose
  • Role purpose

If all three categories of purpose can come to fruition—if there is a positive interconnection between the three distinct definitions of purpose—the benefits should be felt by employees, teams, the organization, customers, owners and, perhaps most importantly, society as a whole. We can refer to this balanced state as the “sweet spot.”

I was fortunate in 2015 to be asked to deliver another TEDx Talk, my third. I took the opportunity to unleash The Purpose Effect in the now legendary, 18-minute TED format. Watch it below:

Here’s Why I Love The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ Even More (Hint: It’s About Their Preparation)

You don’t have to be a fan of the Beatles to appreciate their brilliance.

Over their relatively short career as the fab four from Liverpool, the Beatles recorded 206 original compositions across several different albums. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many albums sold, but data suggest it’s somewhere between 272 million and 600 million.

More recently the Beatles celebrated the 50th anniversary of the so-called “White Album” (actually knowns as The Beatles) by remastering the originals and releasing a treasure trove of outtakes & previously unheard versions in a new box set.

As I listened to the new, sonically superior versions of classic songs like Back in the U.S.S.R, Blackbird, and Dear Prudence, I found myself clamouring for the other goodies nested in the box set package.

As part of the 50th-anniversary celebration, the new “White Album” comes with early recordings logged from George Harrison’s home. During the mid-to-late 1960’s, Harrison lived in the village of Esher, a part of Surrey and southwest of London. Before going into the famous Abbey Road Studios to record the “White Album,” the Beatles spent time at Harrison’s home going through their material to develop early-stage arrangements. All of it was recorded on a four-track recorder.

The new box set of the “White Album” contains cuts of the songs in very raw and often acoustic splendour. The songs are known as the “Esher versions” because of their recording location; Harrison’s home.

Think of it as your first chance to own the Beatles in an unplugged format. Each of the songs was polished up ever so sophisticatedly by producer Giles Martin, son of the famous Beatles producer, George Martin. Indeed these acoustic gems are a wonderment to Beatles lore.

The new release also contains all sorts of different takes on the songs when the band were officially recording the album in Abbey Road Studios.

There is a 15th take on Mother Nature’s Son, a 17th take on Helter Skelter, a 27th take on While My Guitar Gently Weeps and an amazing 102nd take on Not Guilty, a song that never even made the album’s original release in 1968. (The Harrison-crafted song had to settle for a solo release of his in 1979.)

The re-issue of the “White Album” got me thinking about how well we prepare ourselves for a performance in the business world.

How much time are you spending to ensure you are prepared for the limelight? Perhaps it’s a meeting, a 1-1 coaching session with a team member, a speech, or maybe you’re about to write an important summary report.

Whatever the case, how much time do you devote to planning and testing before the big moment?

In the case of the Beatles, what was evident to me after I spent a considerable amount of time this past weekend listening to the “White Album” was the amount of preparation they put into making the album. It helped ensure the album itself came across as “off the floor.”

The original “White Album” possesses an earthy, rambunctious sound, often feeling as though it was recorded live without post-production polishing. It turns out that didn’t happen at all.

The amount of time that went into crafting the songs before the Abbey Road Studios time—the acoustic practicing and recording at George Harrison’s home as an example—became step one of their preparation.

Step two was when they entered Abbey Road Studios. Although we are not privy to all takes on all songs, when you listen through some of the unusual takes courtesy the new box set, you are left with sublime insights into their continued preparation for a final take.

Between band banter, feedback, and coaching, it is evident that the Abbey Road Studios time was a constant march toward perfection, even though the final result came out as earthy and rambunctious.

The lesson I gleaned from listening to the new box set was about time; we need to remember to carve out ample preparation time before a big moment. To become an expert in our execution as a leader we must remember the importance of preparation.

When we wing it and fly by the seat of our pants, we will end up unprepared. When it comes to those we are serving or leading, they may question our abilities as a leader.

We would be wise to prepare (and practice) before hitting the record button. Everyone is better off for it.

<Originally posted to Forbes. Photo credit: (AP Photo, File) ASSOCIATED PRESS>

____________________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

 

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

Click Below

 

amazon-com-logoindigo

indieboundbarnes-and-noble-logo-png-10

Kobo_logo

And why not watch the TED Talk?

 

 

Elephants Have Long Memories. So Should You.

As far as favourite pets go, for me, it was probably my orca whale.

In a modest neighbourhood where I grew up, for some reason, we had an indoor pool. It was in that space where I used to practice tricks with my pet orca whale.

She may have been plastic, but did we ever have a bond.

Orca whales are still my favourite mammal. Gorgeous creatures who teach us so much about family, collaboration, and love.

When I step out of the ocean and look to land I then gaze my eyes on another creature that provides more lessons about life.

The elephant. Big, bold and potentially deathly yet peaceful, familial-driven and the quintessential thinker.

“An elephant never forgets,” as the saying goes. Indeed the elephant teaches us a lesson.

Is it true?

Well, yes. Numerous studies and science-backed research prove elephants possess the ability to recall events, smells, locations and even predators or enemies from years past.

Which brings us back to being human.

When something goes well in your life, we need to remember the intricacies of a) why it went well and b) how that event or process may be replayed again later in life. It is critically important not to forget what worked, and the positive learnings that came from your success.

But then there are the times in your life when things do not go well.

Perhaps it’s a mistake you’ve made. Maybe something went sideways during a project. What if there was an individual who went after you, aiming to make your life miserable through Machiavellian methods.

It is equally important to remember how you felt when the situation unfolded. Embrace the emotions, the tears, the fits of rage, the anger.

Recall how devastated you appeared. That visceral, gnawing sensation percolating through your bones and blood is not to be forgotten. Use it. Harbour it. Taste it. Get your revenge on your mistake, your issue, or whoever did what they did to you.

But take your time. Do not overreact. Do not submit a knee-jerk reaction. Put it in the memory bank, let it marinate, and use it to your advantage later in life.

For you are the elephant.

Skin like leather, coupled with a memory that never forgets.

 

In Con Text

 

In Con Text

The goal was to survive the storm,
For then we might truly transform,
Along came a text
Oh my, “what is next?”
The beast still treats greed as the norm.

 

 

The Lessons Of Customer Service And Culture From Apple’s Angela Ahrendts

Back in 2014, Angela Ahrendts had a decision to make: remain as CEO of British fashion retailer Burberry or say yes to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s request to run its retail division. What was one of the key deciding factors for her?

Culture.

It wasn’t just Apple’s existing culture, either. Granted Apple’s culture was pretty cool. There was something else at stake. Ahrendts became equally enthralled with the opportunity to reshape and ultimately augment the culture of Apple’s retail stores.

That should not come as a surprise. While in her role as CEO of Burberry, Ahrendts once said, “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”

All too often executives wax lyrical with an empty phrase: culture is our competitive advantage. Some might even suggest that their employees are its most important asset.

In many cases, however, this is simply corporate lip service. Executives may talk a good game about culture, employees and their levels of engagement, but are they actually doing anything about it? And is there any benefit to an engaged workforce?

Put yourself at an amusement park for a moment. Walk up to the games section where you might win one of those massive stuffed animals for someone you love. In one tent there is the ring toss. In another is the water balloon game.

As you approach the games area, you are introduced to two types of employees. One is dancing, singing, enticing you into the ring toss hut with sheer joy. The other is somewhat forlorn, meek, and nowhere near looking as happy as the ring toss employee. You make an easy decision and spend your money on the ring toss based solely on the energy of the employee operating the game.

Canadian business legend Brian Scudamore knew the importance of culture when he launched 1-800-GOT-JUNK nearly 30 years ago. Today when you’re greeted by a customer service agent on the telephone or an onsite junk removal specialist, you will always meet a highly engaged, motivated, and enthusiastic employee. This attention to employee engagement has helped Scudamore’s business scale to more than $200 million in annual revenues.

It is a similar position taken by Ahrendts. Whenever you walk into one of Apple’s retail stores these days, you meet cheerful employees eager to deliver positive experiences to you, the customer. Today, employees are outfitted with softer t-shirts nor do they wear lanyards anymore so that they can “make a human connection” with customers. They are offered better benefits, increased pay ranges (as well as tuition reimbursement) and even stock options. Ahrendts even encourages employees to move countries and help build up the Apple store concept elsewhere in the world.

There is irrefutable evidence that an engaged workforce has many benefits, not the least of which is delighted and apt-to-return customers. To develop an organization full of engaged employees takes patience on behalf of leaders, but so too it must include key behavioural changes across the organization.

Executives can no longer use command and control practices on its employees to delight its customers.

First, leaders need to trust employees to make decisions that benefit the customer. Far too often there is a lack of trust between leaders and employees. Second, leaders ought to involve employees in better collaboration practices, tapping into their first-hand experience to improve business processes or to elicit new ideas. And third, an extraordinary working environment is essential to engaged employees. Fair wages, job rotations, career development, and a coaching culture are but a few of the attributes that are necessary.

It’s these sorts of behaviours that made Angela Ahrendts so successful at Burberry, and it’s why she is doing so well in her current role at Apple.

Executives today would be wise to analyze how they currently lead and how it impacts the organization’s culture. After all, customers will never spend money at the water balloon game if disengaged employees continually operate it.

<Originally posted to Strategy Magazine>

_______________________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

 

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

Click Below

 

amazon-com-logoindigo

indieboundbarnes-and-noble-logo-png-10

Kobo_logo

And why not watch the TED Talk?

 

 

The Five Rules Of Managing Up

Most of us have a boss. Some of us actually like them.

The “boss” is that person who is ultimately responsible for your status in the organization. They can make or break your career. So too they hold power to continue or bring to an end your employment. Maybe you’re a full-time employee or a contractor. Either way, it is perhaps one of your most important relationships in life. (Hint: it’s much more important than your relationship with your mobile phone.)

Unless you’re a sole proprietor running your own business without a board of directors, there will always be someone who reigns over your employment.

CEOs report into chairs of the board. SVPs report into CEOs. Directors report into VPs. Managers report into directors. Individual contributors, team leads, and other commonly used front-line titles report into managers. It’s been like this for decades. It’s not going to change, either.

The relationship between you and your direct leader can be anywhere from tenuous to fantastic.

Wherever you land on the spectrum, it’s a rather important skill to possess. That is, how do you manage up?

Many people consider the term a derogatory one; “managing up.” Always the contrarian, I beg to differ. If leaders both lead and manage, what’s wrong with you—as the subordinate in the leader-subordinate relationship—managing up? After all, leaders are “managing down,” aren’t they?

First off, be proactive.

Everyone is tasked with projects, deliverables, goals and actions. Nobody likes a surprise. Whether you have good news to report or potentially bad news, your communication strategy ought to be one that is first and foremost proactive. Get ahead of everything and anything. That doesn’t mean being an overly zealous and careless communicator to the point of annoyance. It means to be constantly thinking about where you are at with your tasks, and how/when you will position yourself accordingly with your boss.

Second, lie.

Wait, what? That’s right; I said lie. Well, sort of. When managing up, one item to consider is whether you want to tell the entire story. Being proactive is critical, but providing all the gory details may not be a useful strategy. Imagine a performance issue with one of your team members. Perhaps there was inappropriate conduct. Rather than unleashing the entirety of the situation to your boss, ensure they are aware of the generalities of the scenario rather than the specifics. And ensure they know you are on top of it, and the outcome.

Third, ask for their assistance.

A boss always likes to feel wanted, if not needed. Far too many direct reports fail to appreciate their boss’s ego. “They’re my boss,” some will muse, “so why should I stroke their ego?” Well, you should. Period. With any luck, they attained the position of “boss” because of superior performance during their career. (That’s the hope.) There is unquestionably no harm in asking. Some of us believe it’s a sign of weakness with our character or leadership skills. It’s not. It demonstrates respect for your boss, and you might even get something out of it.

Fourth, offer your assistance.

In this the age of organizational freneticism, bosses are stressed, overly busy, and constantly trying to find ways to “do more with less.” Budget cutbacks, staff attrition (whether voluntary or involuntary) and constant restructuring are widespread issues that bosses have to handle. Inbox zero has become a dream. 40-hour work weeks are a distant memory. Every now and then I suggest that you offer up your assistance. Perhaps it’s in your 1-1 status review meeting. Maybe it’s in an email (sigh, more emails) or embedded somewhere else. Whatever the mechanism, when you offer to take something off of your leader’s plate—or simply suggesting you have a block of time over the next month, quarter, whatever to chip in—it goes a long way to furthering your relationship. It also demonstrates your sense of empathy.

Fifth and finally, skip past your boss.

Managing up should not stop with your immediate leader. They just happen to be the person directly connected to you via the org chart. I have seen people who occasionally skip past their boss to great advantage. Maybe you can come up with ways in which to physically say hello, be it at the end of a meeting, a town hall session, or even the elevator or parking lot. If you have established a relationship of some sort, you might even contemplate an email that outlines some of your accomplishments. Better yet, you might even highlight creative ideas that could help the team’s (or organization’s) strategy. You could offer your assistance somehow. In any case, you will want to gauge whether to involve your direct leader in any of your interactions so as not to seem rogue or disrespectful.

Managing up is not necessarily a negative concept. Indeed it could simply be another tool in your toolbox of career development.

_______________________

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

 

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, now available for purchase.

It is time to rethink our thinking.

ORDER TODAY

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And why not watch the TED Talk?

 

 

So, Now What?

It never ceases to amaze me how many issues can crop up in our lives. Some of them deserve our attention, and some do not. It invariably begs the question, “so, now what?” (And should I do anything about it.)

There are the societal issues. Many of them. I’m always wondering about the health and wellness of our planet, for example.

Case in point: why did the State of Washington recently vote down its carbon tax plan? I could spend time analyzing the result but is that effective use of my time? I doubt it. I have to overlook the situation and not get hit by that particular curveball. I can’t take on every societal issue otherwise I’ll end up in a negative head space. I pick my battles. I like scotch, too.

There are the community issues. There are loads of them. I live in what is known as the CRD–Capital Region District–on Vancouver Island. There are 91 elected mayors and council members for a population of 383,360 people. That seems disproportionately high to me, but again, I can’t take on that particular matter. I’ll get sucked into a never-ending vortex of questions and end up smoking cannabis till my eyes turn greener than they already are. (Editor’s note: it’s legal in Canada now.)

There are my many personal issues. We all have them. In our house, Goats #1 and #2 are going through colossal struggles now as young teenagers. It’s not any fun at all, to be honest, for them or the parents. In this case, there is no choice but to be continually asking the question, “so, now what?” I feel as though I’m failing on this one. No one ever prepared me for the intensity, the emotional seesaw, the gong show that is parenting children. Whether they’re randomly collapsing like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or unable to control their temperament due to an unmistakable MIA state of their prefrontal cortex, it’s a miracle I haven’t beaten Goat #3 for sport. (Editor’s note: he hasn’t.)

Then there are the professional issues.

My monthly average for coaching conversations–where I spend 30-60 minutes with someone chatting about their current state, and where they want to get to–is eight. That is I will take eight requests from strangers or people I know and talk over the phone or in person (for free) about their purpose. I love doing it. I love helping others. But I can’t actually take on their problems. I have to get them to sort out the question, “so, now what?” It cannot fall on my shoulders.

Client issues (and opportunities) pop up all the time. It’s a constant juggle of listening, analyzing, thinking, strategizing, and doing. I doubt there is a day that passes by where I’m not asking, “so, now what?” I suppose it is to be expected. But if I take home their professional issue or if I internalize it to the point it affects my overall disposition, I am doing a disservice to anyone in my vicinity. (And that’s not a good thing for any of the so-called “goats.”)

When a professional issue pops up that directly affects me in a personal way, well, that’s a whole new kettle of fish. When SAP acquired Business Objects back in 2007, I recall with tumultuous memory the amount of time I spent trying to convince Germany-based leaders the merits of our organization, our team, our culture. It was a harrowing experience, but I learned a lot, too. (For example, I had never come across spätzle before. OMG, so good!)

In times of professional tumult, I have learned to fall back on my declaration of purpose. It’s rather simple and it effectively answers the question, “so, now what?” each time:

We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.

I’ve done it before, and I’ll surely do it again, if necessary.

It’s this ‘North Star’ that keeps me balanced, positive, and ready for anything that may come my way.

Purpose for the win! (Also, I lost my passport so if you find it, please let me know.)