Mark Goulston, M.D., is a prominent psychiatrist, business advisor, and executive coach. He is co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership whose mission is: “Daring to Care.” He is the author of the bestselling Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, 2009) and subject of the PBS special “Just Listen with Dr. Goulston.” Featured in major media from Harvard Business Review to Oprah Radio, he also writes a Tribune syndicated career column and blogs for Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today. Goulston’s education includes a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.D. from Boston University, and residency in psychiatry at UCLA. He went on to be a professor at UCLA for more than twenty years.
John Ullmen, Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed executive coach who is on faculty at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He oversees MotivationRules.com and conducts popular feedback-based seminars on influence in organizations. Ullmen began his career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a lead systems engineer for a top-secret Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence program. He holds a B.S. from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
They are the co-authors of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, published by AMACOM (January 2013), and both live in Los Angeles, California.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of them. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Real Influence, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Goulston: The Dean of Students at my medical school who, when I hit a wall, or rather a wall fell on me, stood up for me when I couldn’t, believed in me what I didn’t, saw a future for me that I couldn’t see, and refused to let me fail.
Ullmen: My parents, though it took me a long time to realize it. They had very difficult childhoods, hard working lives and a challenging marriage. When I finally gained a long-overdue perspective on the sacrifices they made for me and my sister, I changed.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Ullmen: My mentor, colleague, dear friend and fellow erratic golfer Professor Sam Culbert. He gives me unconditional love and support, but also kicks in the caboose when I need do more or better.
Goulston: I am blessed to have leadership guru Warren Bennis as a mentor. I love Warren and he has told me that he loves me. Every day that gives me something to live up to.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Goulston: Actually it was in the past couple years when I realized I couldn’t work with people that I didn’t like, trust or respect and that I didn’t think I could come to like, trust or respect. Essentially I can’t and don’t want to work with people I can’t root for. I have made some exceptions with people who do great things for the world or others.
Ullmen: I was stressed for many years by my lack of career clarity, until a chance meeting and conversation w/the Chairman of a large organization that turned into an impromptu coaching session helped me discover it was there all along.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Ullmen: Earlier I mentioned my parents, who worked so hard to afford to live in a neighborhood with a good school so my sister and I could have a quality education. That had a ripple effect that led to opportunities at amazing institutions for my undergrad, masters and PhD. I’ll never repay enough what those teachers, coaches and mentors gave me.
Goulston: I don’t know if it is so much what I learned, but how I learned and I have used my education to be a life long learner and to do learn from many angles. That has enabled me to more easily go to the other person’s “there.”
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Goulston: To listen “into” people sooner and hear what they were not saying that was critical to understanding them.
Ullmen: Organizational politics and invisible lines of influence that are “off the org chart.” Learning to see those dynamics is like in the movies when they use smoke to show where the laser beams are that trip the alarms. It’s sometimes frustrating, but helps you get safely from here to there.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Ullmen: You’ll think I’m joking, but I’m not, mostly. I love how Meet the Parents highlights the compounding problems of being inauthentic—in this case it’s about family systems but there are parallels to organization systems. Ben Stiller’s character contorts himself hilariously in ill-fated attempts to impress his girlfriend’s father, a tough guy ex-CIA agent played by Robert DeNiro. Through this lens, the family dinner scene is a must-see.
Goulston: I don’t know if it’s because it is recent, but Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg has to be near the top. In the movie Lincoln seemed so principle and duty bound, that it gave him the perseverance he needed to make it through the Civil War and to not compromise on passing the 13th Amendment in order to end it sooner.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Goulston: Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis is a wonderful explanation about the importance of judgment to leadership. Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business and Influence Others by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas which shows the power of asking great questions to get people to open up and to connect with them.
Ullmen: Frank McCourt’s amazing Angela’s Ashes reminds me how there is so much more to the people around us at work than we realize. We bring our whole selves and whole lives to work with us, and show a portion. The un-shown parts matter too.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Ullmen: What a coincidence. I use the last four lines in my MBA leadership class as the finale in a series of over a dozen quotes on leadership. (The first one is Machiavelli on how it’s “better to be feared than loved.”) Great leaders eventually work themselves out of a job, and take pride in it, because they develop the confidence and capabilities of people around them.
Goulston: When you enable your people to self-discover what’s important to their organization and themselves they take ownership of their lives instead of feeling that it belongs to others. This adds a wonderful sense of vitality to their lives.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Mark and John cordially invite you to check out the bonus resources by clicking here.
Kevin Cashman is a Senior Partner, CEO & Board Services, Korn/Ferry International. He is recognized as a pioneer in leadership development and executive development, focusing on optimizing executive, team, and organizational performance. He is the founder of LeaderSource, a premier global leadership and talent consulting practice, as well as the Executive to Leader Institute®, an interdisciplinary approach to leadership development and executive coaching, and Chief Executive Institute®, a comprehensive, integrated, globally delivered leadership ad coaching program for CEOs and CEO successors. Kevin’s best-selling book, Leadershp from the Inside Out, is a business classic, and his new book, The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward, has recently been released.
A frequent keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events, Kevin is a senior fellow of the Caux Roundtable, a global consortium of CEOs dedicated to enhancing principle-based leadership internationally. He is also a board member for the Center for Ethical Business Cultures, which fosters leadership in corporations.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write The Pause Principle?
Cashman: Our world today suffers from an epidemic of “hurry sickness.” Increasingly, we are going everywhere but being nowhere. We are moving faster and faster, but for often without a clear purpose. We trade speed for significance and performance for purpose, but at what costs? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Busy? The ants are busy.” The question we need to ask is, “Busy for what purpose?” The inspiration for writing The Pause Principle was to bring more authenticity and purpose to our leadership and our lives in order to balance our hyperactive, non-sustainable, busy-ness culture.
Morris: By what process did you formulate The Pause Principle?
Cashman: Paradoxically, pause powers purposeful performance. From observing, assessing, and coaching thousands of senior leaders around the globe for the last 30 years, one critical differentiating characteristic became apparent. Those leaders who stepped back, who practiced intentional reflection, had better self-awareness, better listening and coaching skills, and tended to make better personal, interpersonal, and business breakthroughs. In my work with senior leaders, I noticed that nearly all breakthroughs were preceded by some type of pause-through. An assessment, some feedback, a new strategy, or a boundary-breaking innovation was all born after some type of pause. Pause is the human mechanism for going deep to synthesize and emerging with insight and clarity.
Morris: Why specifically is “pause to lead forward” the “paradoxical leadership breakthrough”?
Cashman: Too often, we take for granted our simplest, yet most profound and transformative human capabilities. Sleep, for instance, is on the surface very simple. We lie down, sleep, and when we wakeup, we have renewed energy, vitality and perspective. Our superficial analysis of sleep says, “Yeah, no big deal. We rest and wake up. So what?” But take a moment to consider how profound sleep really is. Every night we go to sleep fatigued and possibly stressed from the day. Maybe we even have a little tightness or muscle ache somewhere in our body. When we awaken we feel completely rejuvenated. The muscle ache has gone away and the mental stress along with it. We feel energized physically, mentally and emotionally.
Sleep is a natural, transformative process that cannot be ignored if we hope to operate at peak levels of performance. What sleep is to the mind and body, pause is to leadership and innovation. Pause transforms management into leadership and the status quo into new realities. Pause, the natural capability to step back in order to move forward with greater clarity, momentum and impact, holds the creative power to reframe and refresh how we see ourselves and our relationships, our challenges, our capacities, our organizations and missions within a larger context. While losing touch with our ability to pause may be less obvious than losing our ability to rest, it can be just as devastating. Pause, like sleep, is also a natural transformative process that cannot be ignored if we want to operate at peak levels of performance. In our fast-paced, achieve-more-now culture, the loss of pause potential is epidemic. For many it has been lost, ignored or completely abandoned; for others it is completely unfamiliar, an unknown.
The demanding pace for global leaders has never been more challenging. Digitally connected every moment, we are increasingly tied to a 24-hour global clock. We are expected to perform constantly in the face of a global recession with all its pressures, including downsizing and mergers, and the related stresses and expectations. The list of demands, personal and professional, never ends. This is the “new normal.” Could it be that going faster and driving harder are not the answers? Could there be another way to creatively sustain high performance? Could it be that the source of our real value as leaders might come from different thinking and different choices rather than from perpetuation of the incessant pace we are straining to maintain?
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Kevin cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website:
The Strategy Book
Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World
Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche
Max Mckeown (Agility)
John Perry (The Art of Procrastination)
Kevin Allen (The Hidden Agenda)
“How to Make Sure You’re Solving the Right Problem”
HBR‘s Management Tip of the Day
“Why It’s Time to Rethink Recruitment”
“New Research on Working Parenthood: Men Are More Egalitarian, Women are More Realistic”
Harvard Business Review
“You Don’t Have To Be Loud to Lead”
“How Business Schools Can Teach ‘Character 101′”
“Deconstructing Executive Presence”
Harvard Business Review
“How to become more strategic: Three tips for any executive”
Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar
The McKinsey Quarterly
“The Imperfect Balance Between Work and Life”
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Harvard Business Review
“Organizational health: The ultimate competitive advantage”
Scott Keller and Colin Price
The McKinsey Quarterly
You can check out these and all the other content by clicking here.
To sign up for a subscription, please click here.
Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets. His book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, offers strategies for how to thrive in the creative marketplace and has been called “one of the best books to date on how to structure your ideas, and manage the creative process and work that comes out of it” by Jack Covert, author of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and founder of 800-CEO-READ. You can connect with Todd here, or learn more about how to hire him to speak at your event or train your team.
Here is my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Accidental Creative, a few general questions. First, Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Henry: I have a counter-intuitive answer to this. Probably the biggest influence on my personal growth was a 20th-century mystic and monk named Thomas Merton. It seems strange that a man who lived the biggest part of the late years of his life in isolation and contemplation would have much to say to a 21st-century, tech-immersed creative, but I found his writings to be deeply reflective on the nature of humanity, and also an illumination on the mechanics of doing important work.
If I were talking only about contemporary influences, I would have to say that I’ve been incredibly blessed to be around a group of mentors who, over a period of several years, really made it a project to develop me and help me understand both my capacity and my limitations. It was in this virtual incubator for leadership that I first discovered my voice and began reflecting deeply on the creative process.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Henry: I was a leader in an organization trying to scale a team while helping them handle the pressures and demands we were facing, and in my effort to do so I reached out to several other creative directors who I knew would be dealing with the same issues. My biggest question for them was, “How do you serve your team, and help them do their best work without burning them out?” They stared at me like I was from another planet. “What you mean?” they almost unanimously asked. In other words, it had never occurred to them that it might be possible to exist in any create on-demand environment and be simultaneously healthy in the way you approach your work. This began a long journey for me of exploring whether or not it was possible to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy simultaneously in life and work. This research eventually led to my company, which now shares these insights with teams around the world, and then eventually to the book, The Accidental Creative.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Henry: It may be cliché but I believe that the biggest contribution formal education made to my career accomplishments is that I learned how to structure my uncertainty and questions into a format that could be pursued and digested effectively. I learned to deal with ambiguity and suffer through process. When I was in school, information wasn’t so readily available, and there was more risk involved in pursuing a specific avenue of research. It was much more difficult (and costly!) to pivot mid-course, so it forced me to stay focused while going about my work. This allowed me to develop the capacity of deep, intermittent focus that has served me in my work as a professional creative.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?
Henry: The definition of innovation I use is “progressive and useful change” which typically involves (or at least begins with) a creative act. Creativity, at the heart of it, is problem solving. A designer might solve a problem visually, while a manager might do so by thinking up a new system. But that creative act is only innovation once it’s applied and creates useful change.
Morris: What do you say in response to someone who says, “I’m just not creative”?
Henry: I would say they are wrong. We are all creative, because we all have the ability to solve problems and create value with our mind. I think the biggest reason people say “I’m not creative” is because they confuse creativity with art. The very act of holding a conversation – which most of us can do – is a creative act, because it’s based on improvisation! Once we re-frame creativity as problem-solving, it helps people see their own creative capacity in new ways.
Morris: Isaac Asimov once observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…’” Do you agree with him?
Henry: Yes! Steven Johnson has called this the “slow hunch” and I agree. Brilliant work is most frequently the result of focused, laborious effort punctuated by moments of insight, all of which is driven by curiosity sourced in the slow hunch. It’s only when we stay with the problem long enough to recognize those anomalies that we are positioned for breakthroughs. To do this we must develop the ability to ask incisive questions. The questions are – in my opinion – far more important than the answers. Every answer must lead to a new question.
Morris: Here is another quotation, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” By what process can one get to “the other side of complexity”?
Henry: The trouble is that we get to the other side of complexity for a moment, only to find that there’s far more complexity to be conquered. The creative process is the perpetual assault on the beachhead of apathy, which means that we must fight a daily battle against our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone. Steven Pressfield calls this battling “Resistance” and I’m in 100% agreement. To get to those flashes of clarity – simplicity – requires persistent daily, and sometimes seemingly fruitless effort. At the same time, I don’t know that the illusion of simplicity lasts for long. Most creatives I know experience a brief, shining moment of satisfaction before they begin to see holes in their work. That’s what propels us to keep striving – the promise of greater clarity and simplicity.
Morris: Many major breakthroughs in creativity and innovation are the result of counter-intuitive thinking. For example, combining a wine press with separable type (Gutenberg and the printing press), removal of burrs from a pet’s hair with an attachment (George de Mestral and VELCRO), and leather softener with skin care (Mark Kay Cosmetics).
Here is my two-part question: What are the major differences between intuition and counter-intuition? What (if anything) do intuition and counter-intuition share in common?
Henry: I think intuition and counter-intuition are all about framing. A problem framed in a certain way leads to an intuitive solution. When framed in a different way, the same solution appears counter-intuitive. I believe that so much of this is determined by the focus of the individual solving the problem, and the stimuli that prompt their search for a solution. That’s why I believe it’s critical to maintain a proper level of focus on the true problems you’re trying to solve. If you don’t regularly define your work, you’re likely to drift and you’re less likely to notice those moments of intuitive or counter-intuitive serendipity.
Morris: Of all the books you have read, from which one have you learned the most about creativity and innovation? Please explain.
Henry: From an innovation standpoint, it’s really hard to top The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He thoroughly nailed the dynamics of living and working in a marketplace that requires perpetual reinvention, and I believe also unintentionally defined the single biggest factors that cause creative professionals to feel frustrated, under-utilized, and disengaged in their daily work. Purely from a “mechanics of creativity” standpoint, I’d say that I learned the most from Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I also greatly enjoyed Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a synthesis of his research into creativity across multiple domains.
Morris: Within the last few years, there have been several excellent books published in which thought leaders such as Roger Martin, Chris Brown, and Roberto Verganti discuss the design of business. In your opinion, why has this subject attracted so much attention?
Henry: Over the past many years it’s become obvious that design can’t be an after-thought, because it’s actually good business as well. We are in an age where ideas flow freely and with less friction, and many of the traditional means of creating and distributing goods were based on creating friction rather than eliminating it. Great design is about eliminating friction so that consumers can identify, connect with, and consume what they want when they want it. Good design, from operations all the way through the final point-of-sale communication, is critical in eliminating that friction, especially now that consumers have so many choices.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace environment within which creativity and innovation are most stimulated, nourished, and when necessary, protected?
Henry: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, though many still try to find it. In my experience, the most innovative and productive workplace environments have less to do with physical space than psychological space. Is there clarity of purpose? Are we rewarded for the things that move the needle, such as taking measured risks, asking good questions, and spending ourselves on behalf of the work? Do we foster an environment of conversation, or of secrecy? No one goes to work in the morning hoping to crank out a mediocre pile of misery, yet over time our work environments either reward continual growth, or encourage systemic mediocrity. You’re either growing or dying, there is no stagnancy. But growth is difficult and messy, and requires persistent effort. Many give up when it’s “good enough.” (One of the best examinations I’ve read of teams who accomplished great, innovative things is Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.)
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Todd cordially invites you to check out the resources at The Accidental Creative website by clicking here.
A 21st century version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
In his comments in the “Editor’s Note” section that precedes the Introduction, Warren Bennis acknowledges that he was fascinated by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan’s “gutsy aspiration to integrate an interdisciplinary slew of disciplines as disparate as brain science, linguistics, organizational theory, and complex adaptive systems with a few fundamental laws of human and organization behavior that could lead to palpable and profound change in both domains.” Frankly, I had no idea what to expect when I began to read this book but soon realized that Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan would be focusing on an especially serious challenge that most people face every day: How to develop the ability to “rewrite the future”? That is, “rewrite what people know will happen.” In this brilliant book, they explain how Three Laws of Performance can help their reader to complete a natural shift “from disengaged to proactive, from resigned to inspired, from frustrated to innovative.” Part I (Chapters 1-3) “takes these laws one at a time, and shows how to apply them” and answers the question “Why do people do what they do?; then Part II (Chapters 4 and 5) “looks at leadership in light of the Three Laws” and answers the question “What are the interrelationships between language and occurrence?”; and finally, Part 3 (Chapters 6-8), “is about the personal face of leadership” and answers the question “How does future-based language transform how situations occur to people?”
Note: “What exactly does [the word] occur mean? We mean something beyond perception and descriptive experience. We mean the reality that arises within and from your perspective on the situation. In fact, your perspective is itself part of the way in which the world occurs to you. `How a situation occurs’ includes your view of the past (why things are the way they are) and the future (where all this is going”). Indeed, they assert, “None of us sees how things are. We see how things occur to us.”
Throughout their narrative, Zaffron and Logan urge their reader to keep in mind that the Three Laws of Performance really are laws, not rules, tips, stages, or steps. Each of the three “distinguishes the moving parts at play behind an observable phenomenon. A law is invariable. Whether you believe in gravity or not doesn’t lessen its effect on you.” Nor does any of the three lessen its effect on performance. The challenge is to understand them, to understand how there are interactions and even interdependences between and among them, and most important of all, how to apply them effectively, productively, and consistently.
Bennis and the others have their own reasons for thinking so highly of this book. Here are two of mine. First, Zaffron and Logan’s ideas about “rewriting the future” may at first seem (as Bennis’ suggests) “astonishing” but not after understanding exactly what they mean by it. Specifically, to “rewrite” is to overcome the quite normal tendencies of not seeing and hearing what is but, rather, only what we expect based on past “occurrences”; of protecting and defending what James O’Toole so aptly describes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom;” of encouraging and, if necessary, forcing others to accept our determinations of what is and is not real; and of using descriptive language (i.e. that which accurately depicts the world as it once was or is now) rather than future-based language (also called generative language) to “craft vision, and to eliminate the blinders that are preventing people from seeing possibilities.” In essence, “rewriting the future” involves using future-based language that projects a new future that replaces what conventional thinking predicts, once a process of “blanking the canvas” has been completed. Zaffron and Logan explain that process on Pages 74-81. I also suggest re-reading the discussion of “Rackets” on Pages 45-47.
Another reason why I think so highly of this book is that, in Chapter 6 (“Who or What Is Leading Your Life?”) Zaffron and Logan share some especially interesting insights about “taking on some deep work – the kind of work that needs to be done for us to be leaders in our lives. And we really mean being a leader in all respects of our lives, including at work, in relationships, with family, with community, even with all of society.” As I worked my way through this chapter, much of the material resonated with material in another book that I also highly admire, Alan Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. With regard to the subtitle, Watts explains that there is no need for a new religion or a new bible. “We need a new experience — a new feeling of what it is to be `I.’ The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
This is precisely what Zaffron and Logan have in mind when stressing that each individual must first understand and then be guided and informed by the Three Laws before attempting to transform others. In the final chapter, they urge their readers to take on and then sustain seven commitments that, when made with integrity, will break the “performance barrier” in various conversation, first with one’s self and then with others. For example, commit to creating a new game by declaring that something is important. “That is what you are putting at stake, and it is what you are holding yourself accountable to. When others commit to the [new] game with you, they join you on the field.”
This what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras have in mind when advocating that an organization commit to what they call a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. As they explain in Built to Last, it is “a huge and daunting goal — like a big mountain to climb. It is clear, compelling, and people `get it’ right away. A BHAG serves as a unifying focal point, galvanizing people and creating team spirit as people strive toward a finish line…a BHAG captures the imagination and grabs people in the gut…Indeed, when you combine quiet understanding of the three circles with the audacity of a BHAG, you get a powerful, almost magical mix.”
Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan are world-class pragmatists. They have no illusions or delusions about how difficult the challenges will be for those who make the seven commitments. However, they offer this strong reassurance to their reader: “There are no circumstances in business or in life that you can’t handle with the Three Laws. No matter what hurdles you have to jump, challenges have to face, unfamiliar territory you have to cross, you’re ready for it. Play the game passionately, intensely, and fearlessly. But don’t make it significant. It’s just a game.”
How to make complex decisions and recommendations about the best way to deploy assets
In a book I very much admire, Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis 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.”
One of the most challenging decision a leader must make, every day and often many times each day, involves allocation of resources, especially of time. It is a common complaint among C-level executives with whom I have worked closely that their daily agenda comes under severe attack almost immediately after they arrive at work. I agree with Stephen Covey that many (most?) executives spend too much time with what’s urgent and not enough with what’s important. I also agree with Steve Sashihara that many (most?) of these same executives need to “change the fundamental approach to how their organizations are led, decisions are made [about but not limited to allocation of resources], and assets are managed,” especially those for whom they are primarily responsible.
Sashihara focuses on companies in which there has been reinvention of the decision-making process in order to maximize all of the company’s assets. They include Amazon, Google, Marriott, McDonald’s, UPS, and Walmart. However different these companies may be, here is what they share in common: Their leaders asked the right questions such as these and then obtained the answers needed to make the correct decisions with regard to optimizing assets and resources:
o What are our under-utilized assets?
o Where and how are repetitive decisions about key assets being made?
o When and how are we forecasting? How accurate are our forecasts?
o When and about what are we repeatedly having lengthy debates over strategy decisions or operational issues?
o What does “best” mean?
It is important to keep in mind that, as Sashihara explains, optimization is presented not simply as a technology “but as a set of principles and a way of thinking that are achieving superior business results as they reshape businesses, industries, and the competitive landscape.” Indeed, it not only harnesses the new breed of software but also makes explicit recommendations that help business leaders to achieve their organization’s strategic goals. “This is particularly useful in areas where the data are voluminous and change rapidly, which when you think about it, are those facing just about every manager today.”
Readers will appreciate Sashihara’s provision of a “Final Note” section at the end of each chapter that can help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points. He also includes other reader-friendly devices throughout his narrative, such as Figures, checklists, and mini-commentaries that may seem to be digressions but, in fact, complement the flow of his narrative.
I commend Sashihara for achieving his objective to “create a clear, compelling picture of the power and potential of Optimization, so that a great number of people across industries and disciplines will be motivated to step up and take a ‘swing’ at turning the images presented here into reality, now and well into the future.”
In other words, do much more and do it better with much less, faster, and at a much lower cost, with fewer people involved.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out the aforementioned Judgment as well as Kevin Murray’s Language of Leaders: How Top CEOs Communicate to Inspire, Influence, and Achieve Results and Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Power of Persuasion.
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.
Note: I recently re-read this book to assist with the preparations for an interview and even more impressed by the book now than I was when it was first published fuve years ago.
A Special Place Where “Extraordinary Ideas” Are Born
As Frans Johansson carefully explains, this book is really not about the Medici family, although the community of creative people its members funded exemplifies all manner of exciting possibilities for collaborative productivity; nor is it really a “business book,” although Johansson asserts — and I wholly agree — that there are lessons to be learned from that community which can be of substantial value to organizations in the 21st century. For example, to corporations which rely on multi-lingual communications and multi-disciplinary initiatives to compete successfully in a global marketplace.
So, what is this book’s core concept? The idea behind it is simple: “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary ideas.”
Johansson achieves three specific objectives: He explains what, exactly, “the Intersection is and why we can expect to see a lot more of it in the future”; next, he explains “why stepping into the Intersection creates the Medici Effect”; finally, he outlines “the unique challenges we face when executing intersectional ideas and how we can overcome those challenges.” With regard to the third objective, I am again reminded of a passage in Leading Change where Jim O’Toole observes that there are always unique and formidable challenges when threatening what he characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
In Part One, Johansson focuses on the Intersection which, for most of us, offers the best environment in which to innovate. Next, he explains how to create the Medici Effect within that creative and collaborative environment. Then in Part Three, he offers specific suggestions as to HOW to make intersectional ideas happen. I share Johansson’s faith in what an Intersection makes possible, no matter who is involved, no matter where that Intersection may be located. I also agree with him that we can all create the Medici Effect because we can all get to the Intersection. “The advantage goes to those with an open mind and the willingness to reach beyond their field of expertise. It goes to people who can break down barriers and stay motivated through failures.” There are countless examples of groups whose talented members created the Medici Effect. For example, the research laboratory which Thomas Edison established for himself and his associates in Menlo Park (NJ) in 1876; he relocated it to West Orange (NJ) in 1883.
Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman examine more recent examples in their book, Creating Genius: the Disney studios which produced so many animation classics; Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which developed the first personal computer; Apple Computer which then took it to market; in the so-called “War Room” which helped to elect Bill Clinton President in 1992; the so-called “Skunk Works” where so many of Lockheed’s greatest designs were formulated; Black Mountain College which “wasn’t simply a place where creative collaboration took place” for the artists in residence from 1933 to 1956, “it was about creative collaboration”; and Los Alamos (NM) and the University of Chicago where the Manhattan Project eventually produced a new weapon called “the Gadget.”
Although the brief excerpt which follows is taken from Johansson’s Introduction, it serves as an appropriate conclusion to my brief commentary: “We, too, can create the Medici Effect. We can ignite the explosion of extraordinary ideas and take advantage of its individuals, as teams, and as organizations. We can do it by bringing together different disciplines and cultures and searching for places where they connect. The Medici Effect will show you how to find such intersectional ideas and make them happen. This book is not about the Renaissance era, nor is it about the the Medici family. Rather, it is about those elements that made that era possible. It is about what happens when you step into an intersection of different disciplines and cultures, and bring the ideas you find there to life.”
If there is another book published in recent years which is more intellectually stimulating than this one, I have not as yet read it.