I think we need to make 2012 a year of learning – but, it won’t be easy.
I believe in life-long learning. I am a big fan of every effort to keep learning. Our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis is designed to whet the appetite of such life-long learners. I like to read, I like to hear new things, read new ideas, “stretch” a little.
But – do we actually learn very much? (Do I actually learn very much)? Not all that much, I suspect.
(Quick – find me a dozen people who believe that Jerry Jones has learned anything in recent years about more effectively running the Dallas Cowboys).
I wish it were otherwise. I wish that we learned, and then did these new things we learned. Now, some new learning is easy. I have learned/can use most of the apps on my iPhone. I can do a couple of things around the house that I could not before. But, for the most part, though I read words, and can “recite back” the concepts, I still pretty much function the way I have been functioning for quite a while (as in, years!). I haven’t changed much – I haven’t learned much.
These thoughts always bring me back to the great quote by John Henry Newman: “To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have learned much.” But what really prompted this blog post was this paragraph, which I read in Tyler Cowen’s blog post The Danger Of Storytelling, (from his TED talk):
One interesting thing about cognitive biases – they’re the subject of so many books these days. There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book, like the one-title book, all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse.
So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias. Often, people buy them as a kind of talisman, (emphasis added) like “I bought this book. I won’t be Predictably Irrational.” It’s like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It’s why there’s such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that’s maybe the bigger fallacy. It’s just like the evidence that shows the most dangerous people are those that have been taught some financial literacy. They’re the ones who go out and make the worst mistakes. It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.
Look again at these words: “I bought this book. I won’t be Predictably Irrational.” How many books have you read, and at the end of the day, you tell yourself (deceive yourself?): “Well, I’ve learned the stuff in this book,” – but, you don’t actually implement any of the wisdom that you read in the book?
Maybe we all need a new discipline: when we finish reading a book, attending a seminar, attending any presentation, watching any TED talk, then — right then! – we set aside a chunk of time – a noticeable chunk of time – and ask, “so, what will I do now with this new information/insight/wisdom?” And then, write it down, and start doing it. And keep doing it. Quit being irrational; quit ridiculing your team members; quit being so self-centered… quit the bad things, and then add the good things.
Without this “after we’ve learned” step, then, in reality, we haven’t learned at all… Without this next step, then learning is just an illusion.
How and why to cope with a leadership evaluation and development crisis to produce more effective leaders
As Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis suggest in Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, leaders define themselves by their choices. They assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”
Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran suggest that many (if not most) organizations define themselves (for better or more often worse) by their evaluation and development of effective leaders, by how many of the important calls their leaders get right when deciding whom to hire, whom to promote, and whom to support. As they explain in the Introduction, they devoted decades of research to develop a model for effective leadership. They share in this book their response to the question posed by the title. More specifically, they identify and then rigorously examine seven leadership attributes that are the most vital: integrity, empathy, emotional intelligence, vision, judgment, courage, and passion. No news there. What caught my eye and what, I think, will be of greatest interest to other readers is what Cohn and Moran offer when explaining “how to decode and connect these attributes…how they fit together. Our breakthrough insight is an overall framework for making leadership selection decisions.” These are among the “smart calls” to which Tichy and Bennis also refer.
Think of the challenge as a “puzzle” and the attributes among the most important “pieces.” How to put all the pieces together? Cohn and Moran devote a separate chapter to each of what they characterize as the seven “building blocks,” then reveal in Chapter 8 “A Better Way to Choose Leaders.” The information, insights, and recommendations provided within the book’s narrative are research-driven, primarily by interviews of more than 100 CEOs and other leaders. For example, those among the “A-C group” include Lance Armstrong, Jeff Bezos, Bono, Richard Branson, Michael Capellas, Richard Clarke, Jerry Colangelo, and Delos (“Toby”) Cosgrove.
Other resources include decades of research conducted by James Kouzes and Barry Posner;also, various leadership development programs (e.g. AT&T, Allianz SE, McKinsey & Company, “New CEO Workshop” at Harvard Business School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Team USA). They also picked the brains of thought leaders such as the aforementioned Tichy and Bennis as well as James MacGregor Burns, Daniel Goleman, K. Anders Ericsson, and Roger Martin.
Of course, it remains for each reader to determine what is most relevant among the abundance of material provided by Cohn and Moran in their book. The same is true of another recently published book that I also hold in very high regard, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, in which George Anders focuses on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why.” What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
All organizations needed leadership at all levels and in all areas. Although the two books take different approaches to an immensely complicated and critically important subject, executive talent evaluation, each can be of incalculable value to those who are guided and informed by the material provided. In fact, I highly recommend that both be read and (preferably) re-read, then frequently consulted by every one involved in an organization’s recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and leadership development initiatives.