Here is an article written by Penelope Trunk for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.
It also messes up the people around you, because perfectionists lose perspective as they get more and more mired in details.
We can never achieve perfection — any of us. Yet so many people keep trying to reach this elusive goal and they drive themselves crazy in the process. So cut it out. Accept that it’s okay to do a mediocre job on a certain percentage of your work. If you need convincing, consider this: Perfectionism is a risk factor for depression. No kidding. Sydney Blatt, psychologist at Yale University, finds that perfectionists are more likely to kill themselves
than regular, mediocre-performing people.
Here are three steps to take to avoid the perfectionism trap:
1. Allow yourself to be wrong in front of others.
Try having an opinion that is wrong. Tell a story that is stupid. Wear clothes that don’t match. Turn in a project that you can’t fully explain. People will not think you’re stupid. People will think you spent your time and energy doing something else — something that meant more to you.
We all have many competing demands. We do not presume to know other people’s demands. But we are all sure of one thing: Our work is often not the most important thing on our plate.
Also, you’ll notice that people are not particularly vested in you being right. They don’t care if you’re right or wrong in what you do or say. They just want you to get stuff done well enough that they can do what they need to do. And this is usually a far cry from perfection.
The other huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.
2. Being hard working is not the same as being a perfectionist.
You can be a hard-working person and cut corners. In fact, it’s often a requirement: Smart people cut corners. The art of being a star performer is knowing which corners to cut.
Focus on your goals, and be honest with yourself about whether your goals require perfectionism along the way. A lot of times perfectionism is a way to avoid focusing on goals. Real goals, after all, almost always require a little bit of luck and assistance along the way — factors the perfectionists tend to dismiss.
3. Spend your energy making yourself likable.
And, Casciaro found that if someone does not like you, he or she will decide you’re incompetent whether you are or not. Sad, yes, but the converse is true as well. You can do a poor job and no one will notice if they like you. And, newsflash: In many instances, this is good for business — teams do better work when everyone on the team likes everyone else. So don’t worry about doing a perfect job. Do a decent job, but leave yourself enough time to manage your relationships at work. Take lunch. Participate in office politics, because office politics is really about being nice
— which, frankly, is more healthy and certainly more achievable than being perfect.
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I highly recommend Tal Ben-Shahar‘s book, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, in which he explains that many people fail to lead a full and fulfilling life because they do not allow themselves “to experience the full range of human emotions” and thus limit their capacity for happiness. “They need to give themselves the permission to be human…to ground [their] dreams in reality and appreciate [their] accomplishments.” Throughout the book, Ben-Shahar refers to negative perfectionism simply as perfectionism and to positive perfectionism as optimalism. “The key difference between the Perfectionist an the Optimalist is that the former essentially rejects reality while the latter accepts it…as a natural part of life and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success.”
Penelope Trunk is the founder of three startups, most recently Brazen Careerist, a professional social network for young people. Previously she worked in marketing at Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hyundai. Her blog about career advice, blog.penelopetrunk.com, receives half a million visits a month and is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers. She frequently appears as a workplace commentator on CNN, 20/20 and FOX News. She’s also the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, a bestselling career advice book for Generation Y.
Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. Here is my review of Leadership Brand.
In the Preface, Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood make this affirmation: “We believe that leaders matter, but leadership matters more. We have all experienced a gifted leader who engaged all of us — our hearts, minds, and feet. Dynamic leaders enlist us in a cause, and we willingly follow their counsel. But leadership exists when an organization produces more than one to two individual leaders. Leadership matters more because it is tied not to a person but to the process of building leaders.” By no means do Ulrich and Smallwood question the importance of individual leaders. On the contrary, they assert (and I agree) that one of the most important obligations of being a leader is to strengthen or at least sustain a process by which to identify, hire, develop, and then retain high-impact leaders at all levels and in all areas throughout her or his organization.
With regard to this book’s title, Ulrich and Smallwood offer another affirmation: “We believe that all organizations have a leadership brand, either explicitly crafted and deployed or implicitly perceived and randomly perpetuated…[Therefore] leadership brand is the identity of the leaders throughout an organization that bridges customer expectations and employee and organizational behavior.” I’ve noticed that in recent years, several of the same companies (e.g. Berkshire Hathaway, FedEx, GE, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Toyota Motor) appear on the annual lists of those Most Valuable as well as those Most Highly Admired. These exemplary companies all have high-impact leadership that consistently produces superior results. I’ve also noticed that the U.S. military services and their academies are also renowned for the high quality of their leadership development programs. However different these organizations are in most respects, they do share this in common: Each has devised a high-impact leadership program that is appropriate to their specific needs and objectives.
As Ulrich and Smallwood correctly point out, a brand combines an identity with a reputation among various constituencies. “Leadership brand is the identity of the firm in the mind of the customers, made real to employees because of customercentric leadership behaviors. In other words, leadership brand occurs when leaders’ knowledge, skills, and values focus employee behavior on the factors that target the issues that customers care about.” The challenge for any organization (whatever its size or nature) is to formulate a program ensuring that everyone in that organization embraces the values, gains the knowledge, and strengthens the skills needed to drive performance and build lasting value.
After briefly explaining the “what” in Chapters 1 & 2 (i.e. what leadership brand is and why it is important), Ulrich and Smallwood devote the remaining chapters to “how,” answering questions such as these:
What is a “brand statement”?
How to prepare one?
How to assess leaders against the brand?
How to invest in the leadership brand?
How to measure its ROI?
How to create and then increase awareness of it?
Note: My own opinion is that creating and then increasing awareness of the leadership brand should precede measuring its ROI. That is, I would reverse the order of what are now Chapters 6 & 7.
How to preserve it?
What are the implications of a leadership brand for a personal brand?
Then in two appendices, Ulrich and Smallwood review the criteria for a firm brand and include the last of several self-diagnostics, “Diagnosis for leadership brand”). Then in the second appendix, they briefly discuss their research on the top firms for managing quality, suggesting that some function as “feeder firms” because they “feed the demands for next-generation leaders in other firms.” For example, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson Controls, and Kraft. Non-profits include the Drucker Foundation, UNICEF, and the U.S. Marine Corps.
With regard to the U.S.M.C., Jon Katzenbach is quoted in a footnote to Appendix B: “Their mantra is simple and compelling and I first heard it articulated by Brig. General John Ryan (ret.) as follows: `We want all of our leaders – at every level -to focus on only two things: First, mission accomplishment; you will accomplish your mission no matter what…Second, and of equal importance, you will take care of each and every one of your Marines – let me repeat that that, you will take care of each and every Marine in your unit.’ I have often thought that if all aspiring young leaders focused on these two things they could go a long way down their journey to becoming admirable leaders at whatever level they gravitate to.”
Credit Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood with providing in a single volume just about as much information and counsel as most organizations will need to devise and implement or strengthen a process by which to produce the high-impact leaders it needs. In my opinion, becoming a “leadership brand” is only one result of that process. Moreover, everyone should be involved both as a student and as a mentor. Exemplary companies are proud of their current, hard-earned reputation as a “leadership brand” while keeping in mind that the high quality of their leaders will continue only if they constantly nourish and strengthen the process by which they are developed. For that reason, I strongly recommend that all decision-makers in a given organization read this book, then discuss it with other members of senior management. It would be a serious mistake to try to apply everything that Ulrich and Smallwood recommend but equally irresponsible to have no development process whatsoever. As they suggest when concluding their book, “the journey to leadership brand begins with the self.” Bon voyage!
Once again and to its great credit, McKinsey & Company has generously made available the results of another major global study it has conducted, in this instance one that involves moving more women to the top of organizations. Here is an excerpt.
To read the complete interview and (I hope) sign up for a free subscription to obtain email alerts and limited access to the McKinsey Quarterly and other valuable resources, please click here.
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A majority of executives believe gender diversity in leadership is linked to better financial performance, but companies take few actions to support women in the workforce.
As the number of women participating in the workforce grows, their potential influence on business is becoming ever more important. Seventy-two percent of respondents to a recent McKinsey survey believe there is a direct connection between a company’s gender diversity and its financial success. [Note: The online survey was in the field from August 31 to September 10, 2010, and received responses from 772 men and 1,042 women, representing the full range of regions, industries, tenures, and functional specialties.] Indeed, the share saying so has risen in the past year, even in the face of continued economic turmoil.
Yet companies have not so far successfully bridged the gap between men and women in the top levels of management. This is not surprising, since the survey shows that diversity isn’t a high priority at most companies and that there’s great variability in the number of gender-diversity policies that companies have pursued. For both of these factors, the results suggest that more is better: at companies where gender diversity is higher on the strategic agenda and more related policies are implemented, executives say that company leadership is also the most diverse. Among respondents at companies that include gender diversity as a top-three agenda item and those at all companies, there is a 32 percentage-point difference between the shares who say women fill more than 15 percent of their C-level positions.
The degree of support from CEOs and other top managers is another important factor influencing a company’s performance on diversity, respondents say, so it is notable that few companies’ top management teams currently monitor relevant programs. The differences executives report at the most diverse companies suggest some ways all companies can improve their gender diversity and, eventually, financial performance. [Note: McKinsey’s research on gender diversity and financial performance began in October 2007 with “Women matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver.” In that study, we found that the 89 listed European companies (all with market capitalization of more than €150 million) with the highest levels of gender diversity also had higher returns on equity, operating results, and stock price growth than the averages in their respective sectors, from 2005 to 2007. Work from other organizations, such as the nonprofit organization Catalyst, also supports this view.]
Who thinks women matter?
Since last year’s survey, the share of respondents who believe there is a connection between diverse leadership teams and financial success increased 12 percentage points, to 72 percent. [Note: In this year’s Women Matter survey, the ratio of female to male respondents was much higher than it was in 2009. We have weighted the 2010 results in accordance with the gender ratio in the 2009 survey, enabling a meaningful comparison of responses year over year.] And though more women than men think so (85 percent, compared with 58 percent), it is notable that a majority of men agree.
By contrast, the share of respondents whose companies have gender diversity as a top-ten agenda item has held steady at 28 percent. There has, however, been some movement at the bottom: last year, 40 percent said it was not on their companies’ agenda at all, and this year that figure has fallen to 32 percent.
Where diversity is a higher priority, executives also report a higher share of women in their senior ranks. At companies where gender diversity is a top-three agenda item, for example, 87 percent of respondents report that more than 15 percent of their C-level executives are women [Note: The reverse is also true: at companies where respondents report that their midlevel, senior manager, and C-level ranks include more than 15 percent women, 19 percent say gender diversity is a top-three item on the strategic agenda; that figure falls to 8 percent at all organizations.]; only 64 percent of those whose companies rate diversity as a top-ten item, and 55 percent of all respondents, say the same.
There is also some geographic variability: respondents in Asia-Pacific and developing markets are more likely to say that gender diversity is a top-ten agenda item for their companies (35 percent and 34 percent, respectively) than those in other regions. [Note: Respondents in the Asia-Pacific region include executives working in the following locations: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.] In Latin America, just 21 percent of respondents say their companies’ agendas include gender diversity as a top-ten item, with 27 percent of those in Europe and 28 percent of those in North America also saying so.
Around the world, more than 80 percent of respondents say that since the financial crisis began, there has been no change in their companies’ view of gender diversity as a strategic issue, no matter what that view is; this figure seems at odds with the rise in the past year in the share of those who believe that companies with more women leaders perform better. Respondents in Asia-Pacific and developing markets are likelier to say gender diversity has become a more important strategic issue at their companies
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To read the complete interview and (I hope) sign up for a free subscription to obtain email alerts and limited access to the McKinsey Quarterly and other valuable resources, please click here.
About the Authors
Contributors to the development and analysis of this survey include Charlotte Werner, a consultant in McKinsey’s Paris office; Sandrine Devillard, a director in the Paris office; and Sandra Sancier-Sultan, a principal in the Paris office.
The contributors would like to thank Georges Desvaux, a director in the Paris office, for his extraordinary contributions to this work.
Last night, I heard quite an enlightening segment on the foreclosure crisis on The Newshour (PBS. But, yes , I “heard” it – in my car, on KERA, our local NPR station, in its radio broadcast of The Newshour). Here’s the description of the segment:
NATIONWIDE FORECLOSURE INVESTIGATION | Some lenders have put a temporary hold on foreclosures and state attorney generals have launched a joint investigation to sort out problems with questionable documents. Paul Solman gives details on the flawed paperwork.
Here is what struck me. In addition to bad decisions, and what appears to be instances of outright fraud, what also happened was very rapid change in technologically empowered processes.
The technology was changing so rapidly, with electronic copies of, and transfers of, legal documents, in such massive numbers, that the cautions and protectives simply did not keep up with the technology shifts.
And I remembered back to the excellent book by Juan Enriquez, As the Future Catches You: (How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health, and Wealth). Here are a couple of quotes from the book:
Many are unprepared for… the violence and suddenness with which… new technologies change… Lives… Companies… Countries…
Technology is not kind. It does not wait. It does not say please. It slams into existing systems, and often destroys them – while creating a new system.
In other words, if I can put it simply, what technology makes possible, that possibility will almost inevitably become reality. And we fall behind in adjusting. This is very good for innovation, but it can be very bad for protectives and cautions.
In the case of the world of big, big money, it appears that new technologies lead to great opportunities, but also to an environment of sloppiness, overwhelm, and “we can’t keep up,” all of which has resulted in serious consequences.
And when this happens, those prone to fraud come in and do more damage.
(Remember the Michael Lewis quote from The Big Short: “There were more morons than crooks, but the crooks were higher up.”)
In the report on the Newshour, the segment described how there were so many transfers of documents, so many documents shredded, so many foreclosures processed by foreclosure mills, that the bad effects could be…devastating. (see also the editorial The Foreclosure Crises, in this morning’s New York Times).
But part of the blame is caused by this: our simple inability to put protectives in place in the face of very rapid change – change made possible by technological innovation and advance, used by an unprepared profession.
And, if we read carefully, I think that Enriquez reminds us this will happen again, and again…
Forty years ago, NYU film school alumnus Richard Brown launched Movies101@NYU to teach film aficionados about the ins and outs of filmmaking through in-depth conversations with leading actors, directors, and other movie business insiders. Called “New York’s premiere film course” by the New York Times, Brown’s class has attracted thousands of students—many repeat attendees—who are drawn by his engaging lectures on film technique and history and the chance to see pre-release screenings of popular films. Among the myriad stars to participate in the course are Alan Alda, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kevin Kline, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Renée Zellweger, and Robert De Niro.
During a memorable appearance in the 1970s, guest Orson Welles said to the students, “You are very lucky, you know. This remarkable young pedagogue has figured out how to take the mystery out of the movie process…but leave the magic in.”
Rod Steiger also met with Brown’s students and was among those interviewed for his series, Reflections on the Silver Screen, televised by PBS. At one point, Brown asked Steiger if young people ever asked him for career advice.
“Oh my yes, yeh yeh yeh, all the time. And I always look them right in the eye and ask them the same question: ‘Do you want to be an actor or do you have to be an actor?’ The longer it takes them to answer, the less likely they’ll ever make it.”
Especially during an economy as bad as this one, I frequently hear people complain about what they have to do to survive. I certainly do not underestimate the challenges they face and admire their efforts.
However, there is another kind of “have to” to which Steiger’s brilliant insight refers. Those who possess it are fortunate because whatever they have to do gives focus and direction as well as motivation to their lives.
Not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself, “Is this what you want to do or something you have to do?”
Chances are, if it’s something I have to do, I wouldn’t be asking that question….I’d be doing it.
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Rod Steiger (1925-2002) received an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of a sheriff in In The Heat of the Night (1967) and he could well have received other “Oscars” for his work in other films such as On the Waterfront (1954), The Pawnbroker (1964), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Ironically, he turned down the opportunity to play roles in films for which other actors received one, notably Ernest Borgnine in Marty and George C. Scott in Patton. Steiger was still appearing in small film roles or preparing to when he died of cancer in 2002 at age 77.