Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time
Jeffrey Pfeffer

Yes, the “BS” in the title does stand for “Bullshit”.

More money is spent on leadership training of various sorts every year, and yet stuff goes wrong and leadership failures occur in every industry; from banking to car manufacture. In Leadership BS, the author Jeffrey Pfeffer, takes a shot at the “leadership industry” examining the commonly held beliefs delivered in leadership training and comparing them against the reality.I’ve been through leadership training and felt pretty strongly that I’d benefitted from it. So I opened the book with curiosity, but also with a personal bias. It’s a revealing read.

To start with Pfeffer makes the very valid point that we don’t measure leadership training, we don’t look at and measure outcomes.

BOTMLeadershipBSAugust2016Many years ago I worked in leadership training, and one of the challenges was measuring the effectiveness of the courses we offered. We had the usual ‘smiley’ sheets, which record how happy people are the day they finish the course, but don’t tell you much about whether the course changes how they will lead. It turns out evaluating the impact of leadership courses isn’t that easy to do in a large company, but perhaps before and after 360 degree assessments would be a good place to start.

Pfeffer works through the commonly accepted ideal traits of leadership; modesty, authenticity, trust, truthfulness, and that latecomer “leaders eat last”. In each chapter he describes the  basics of the trait, examines the reality and discusses why the opposite trait might be a better trait for leaders.

In the chapter on modesty there’s a long list of leaders who do not display any form of modesty, the list was written in early 2015 and includes Trump – the businessman Trump. Of course modesty can be seen as a positive trait for leaders, but it “may not be such a good thing for getting to the top or staying there” (pg69). Instead Pfeffer points to a healthy measure of narcissism in many successful leaders. I think we’ve all met colleagues that succeeded beyond their ability, thinking back on ones I have met I think they may have been rewarded for narcissistic traits. A number of the anti-modesty traits are more common in men than women – a potential contributor to the gender gap in leadership.

BookReviewLeadershipBS2It’s a sobering read. It focuses on the reality of the power games of leadership. It does contain a paradox, for the most part Pfeffer agrees that the leadership traits are desirable yet demonstrates that they’re not effective. He calls for individuals to adjust to the reality, and calls for the change in how we assess leaders, and how we measure the effectiveness of leadership training.

Postscript;
Came across this brilliant video addressing authenticity, particularly for women. Had to share – love the quote “we need competent leaders, but we follow confident leaders”.

 

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

Dan Lyons

Dan Lyons, a journalist with a respectable career covering technology accidentally started working at a start up. He finds a lack of transparency on decision making, a dysfunctional culture and some serious time-wasting; it’s depressing until he realises that it’s great source material and recasts himself as a cultural anthropologist. The result is this book.

Lyons has form for subversive writing, he was the writer behind the Fake Steve Jobs blog. In Disrupted he covers his own motivation for joining a startup; financial and curiosity – but mostly financial. He tried to pitch good ideas, and tried to understand what he was working with. Most of the book is his memoir of the year and he’s funny about his time at Hubspot, he takes shots at the company including the paradox of a company supposedly dedicated to automating sales having a high pressure telephone sales team. He explains the drive for growth and connects it back to the venture capital.
financial instrument

Disrupted covers the economic downside of the startup/digital industry with a personal perspective, fantastic wit and a healthy irreverence. He has the highly evolved bullshit meter of a journalist. I think reading this made it easier for me to digest and comprehend the more theoretical discussion in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, which I read at roughly the same time.

It’s an entertaining book, with interesting commentary on the startup industry, and he adds his voice to the call for more diversity across the digital world. You can read an excerpt of the book on Fortune – it’ll give you a feeling for his year at Hubspot and a taste of the humour of the book. Reading the excerpt was enough for me to want to buy the book.

I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That

I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That
Ben Goldacre

This is a romp through Dr. Goldacre’s analysis of weak claims and poorly reported science. He argues that journalists should cite, and link to, the sources of the research behind the headlines. He also argues that we, the unsuspecting public should know how to read scientific studies for ourselves, and we should question the reports rather than swallow the conclusions whole.

So if you’ve ever read a science-y headline and thought to yourself “that doesn’t sound right” this book is for you. It takes a look at scientific method and points out some of the pitfalls in constructing a good experiment and in the process gives some pointers about what to look for when evaluating a scientific story;

  • Who funded the study?
  • How well was the experiment designed?
    • sample size
    • scientific method; was there a simple
    • testing a single hypotheses
  • Cherry Picking the data; does the report use a small group of reports to prove a point rather than all research?

In the past three weeks three cases have popped up in social media that prove the need to both hold journalists to a higher standard and to educate us all.

(1) Proving nothing; A Swedish family ate organically for two weeks, and tests showed a drop in the concentration of pesticides in their urine.

So the family had their urine tested for various pesticides on their usual diet, then ate organic food for two weeks, then tested the urine again. Their urine was tested daily over the two weeks and by the end there was almost no pesticide in the urine.

Note that “organic” doesn’t mean pesticide-free, so the family could still have consumed some pesticide with their organic meals. The article doesn’t report on whether that was tested for.

Which the article calls a ” staggering result”. No, not staggering, school level biology. You could do the exact same test with vitamin C. Give people a high vitamin C diet for a month, then remove vitamin C from their diet. Hey presto! No vitamin C in the urine.

This report hits the trifecta; small sample size, poor design, funded by a supermarket with a range of organic foods. Essentially this “experiment” simply proved that the Swedish family have well-functioning kidneys.

(2) Faked Data; There was a really interesting study done on the attitudes to same-sex marriage. It concluded that conversation with a gay surveyor/canvasser could induce long-term attitude change. The study seemed to be well constructed, with a good data set supporting the conclusion. The optimistic news was widely reported late last year when the study was released.

But when scientists started digging into the data, and trying to replicate the results something didn’t stack up. The study has now been retracted by one of the authors, it seems there will be a further investigation.

It’s not always the journalists at fault.

(3) We’re easily fooled; Daily dose of chocolate helps you lose weight.

Before you rush out to buy a week’s supply of your favourite chocolate bars, it’s not true.

But it turns out that it’s rather easy to generate the research and result to prove this, and extremely easy to get mainstream media to report on it. As John Bohannon proved in setting up this experiment and the associated PR.

So there can be flaws or outright fraud in science. Journalists can, on occasion, twist the story to deliver the headline. And we, the public are ready to believe reports that re-inforce our own opinions, and we’re too ready to believe good news about chocolate.

Turns out if it sounds too good to be true we should ask more questions.

Many of the articles in this book are already published in the Guardian, and if you want to read more on bad science Dr. Goldacre has his own site with the helpfully short title; Bad Science. He campaigns for greater journalistic responsibility on reporting science, for using the scientific method to test policy decisions, and for better education on scientific method.

He’s right, on all three.

The Social Employee

The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work
Cheryl Burgess, Mark Burgess

The Social Employee goes beyond theory and discusses examples of social media success in detail. This book is packed with ideas.

Most of the easy to find articles and books on social media focus on the success of a social media campaign, it can be difficult to imagine how you could do something similar in your own company or industry. The reasons are often simply that your company is not organised to accomodate social practices, and your employees are not ready to be active in the social sphere on behalf of a company.

In The Social Employee the writers have spoken to some of the biggest companies who have made social work for them, often in the more challenging area of business-to-business. They look at how a company changed their organisation, activities and business culture to deliver business results.

The IBM example points to an expansive use of social media inside and outside the company; an enterprise social network, blogs, hackathons, adoption programme and digital jams. I believe the major reason for their success in an early decision to trust employees. This was backed up with good training and tools, but that act of trust makes a difference for employees.

Dell was an early adopter, and motivated by wanting to be closer to customers “We wanted to feel that customers were walking the hallways” according to Cory Edwards, Director, Social Media & Corporate Reputation at Dell. To do this it was essential to empower employees, and have built a comprehensive training programme for all employees to understand social media. This is seen as so important that CEO is active in the training programme community.

There are examples from Adobe, Cisco and SouthWest, with SouthWest being the most employee centric.

The final part of the book looks at steps a company should take in establishing themselves in social media effectively. There is a short discussion of tool for internal use but more time is spent on building communities, content strategy and building engagement and relationships with customers.

I found the company examples more useful than the theory or the analysis, it was really interesting to see how companies had evolved a presence in social media, and how much of that came out internal change. Challenging but effective.

Year in Review

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 2.17.24 PMIt’s traditional to review the year, and think back on the highs and lows. So here goes – my year in review.

Biggest Work Achievement

We launched an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) this year, I think we started the project before that term was invented. We’ve called it Buzz and so far we have established global connectivity, set up community manager training, seeded several communities and won a company award for it all. There are still a lot of challenges to come, but this is huge.

Big Thing I Learnt

Manage upwards more than one layer. I had a great boss, who knew something about the digital world and supported me as a manager and on my projects. When she left there was a huge gap – I’m working on filling the vacuum.

Small Thing I Learnt

DJing. I got to pretend to be a DJ during a workshop. It was a lot of fun, and it turns out that it’s not that difficult if you can count to eight.

Best Read of 2012

The best book I read on a social media theme has to be Revolution 2.0 by Wael Ghonim, with reports coming out of Egypt of ongoing disputes around the new constitution it’s not clear what the ultimate outcome will be. However this book showed how much people will do with social media tools – using it in ways the inventors probably didn’t imagine.

Best fiction of the year The Book of Dave by Will Self, I struggled with the dialect at first but it was worth it, the book is darkly funny tale of a dystopian future.

My Favourite Internet Meme

There were a lot of internet memes to choose from this year, for me the hands down winner Martha and Never Seconds. Martha started out just wanting to use photos of her school meals in her blog to raise awareness of the (low) quality. The council tried to block her using the photos, which caused outrage. She ended up raising over 100,000 GBP for school meals in Malawi, and building a community online where people around the world share photos of their lunch. Martha is 9.

My Favourite Cat Meme

Cat memes thrive on the internet, this year my favourite must be Henri; the world’s first feline existentialist.

2012 image licenced from clipartof.

Drive

Drive; The surprising truth about what motivates us

Daniel Pink

It’s not money.

Or rather above a fair wage paying more won’t get more creativity or better “right brained” work out of us, in fact our performance may go down.

This wasn’t entirely surprising, I’ve known for a long time that what motivates me to go to work and try harder is not the salary but the opportunities to learn, to make things better, and to solve problems. I’m sure other people have a similar pattern of motivation, and yet our whole management system is based on the idea of paying for performance.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.43.09Pink draws on a lot of behaviourial research and concludes that not only does increasing the reward have no effect on our motivation, it can decrease the performance. Rewards work when they’re connected to routine or mechanical work, but as soon as the work has an element of cognitive skill rewards destroy performance. There is, it seems, a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

So what does motivate people in the creative and cognitive realms?

  • Mastery; gaining skill or knowledge, “the desire to get better and better at something that matters”
  • Autonomy; being in control how we work, “the freedom to great work is valuable”
  • Purpose; working towards a larger goal or wider good, “those who work in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more

Pink finishes the book by offering 9 strategies for individuals to get into “Drive” motivation from asking yourself “Was I better today than yesterday?” to taking a year long sabbatical to recharge and learn. He also offers 9 strategies to take your team or organisation into “Drive”, including using “now that” rather than “if then” rewards so that your team gets a reward as a celebration for achieving something, rather than holding out a reward on condition of something being achieved.

It’s a good read, full of ideas and humour, thought-provoking, practical and well written. He’s also a good speaker, and talked about some of the ideas behind “Drive” at TED, here’s the clip.

What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has a talent for finding off-beat subjects to write about. He then draws from such diverse sources in his research that his books are always thought-provoking, this collection of essays is no exception.

For me the most interesting articles were on the talent myth and open secrets.

The talent myth focuses on the concept propagated by McKinsey, and exemplified by Enron, that a successful company should be obsessed with talent acquisition and promotion. The concept is summarised in a quote from an un-named GE executive “Don’t be afraid to promote starts without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads.” It’s a seductive extension of the idea that great leaders are born out of difficulty or struggle. This idea is born out by research in a book I’m currently reading called Leading for a Lifetime by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, who refer to a “crucible” where leaders go through a trial that pushes crystalises their identity as leaders. In the company I work in there is talk of “stretch assignments” designed to give those identified a crucible type experience.

But when taken to extremes the result is Enron, where the needs and wants of those people recruited as stars supersede those of customers or any consideration of potential profit. He cites specific examples where Enron employees were able to take businesses in a new direction because they wanted to – and quotes Jeffrey Skilling “If lots of employees are flocking to a new business unit that’s a good sign that the opportunity is a good one…”. It seems breathtakingly stupid now, but perhaps that’s just the benefit of hindsight.

The chapter on open secrets looks again at Enron, pointing out that much of what was later found to be wrong with the company was always public information(pdf) – starting with the discrepancy between the theoretical profits earned vs the filings with the tax department. Gladwell’s point here is that it’s often not a lack of information that hampers our understanding of a complex situation, it’s the volume of information and the high “noise to signal ratio” of the information. It has applications to today’s financial crisis, and to the “war” on terrorism. If the intelligence community receives a tip off and does not act it can seem as though they’re not doing their job when something does go wrong. The problem isn’t receiving the information the problem is filtering and analysing the information to decide which tip-off is credible and relates to a real threat. It’s the modern day equivalent of a needle in a haystack, and it goes some way to explain why Abdulmutallab (The Christmas Bomber) was able to get a visa to the US and travel there despite a credible warning from his father.

He also takes a hard look at the sales pitch, hair dye and dog psychology. In each essay he combines analysis and anecdote to give the reader a great picture of his argument along with some evidence to back it up. The hair dye story pits the marketing of Clairol (“does she or doesn’t she”) vs L’Oreal (“because you’re worth it”) and interweaves it with the development of feminism and a growth in confidence in women. It’s a fun and interesting read.

image books via pixabay