October 1, 2010
I recently had the pleasure of hearing David Brooks speak about politics and his career as a journalist (now for the New York Times). He was both funny and insightful.
Mr. Brooks spoke on many subjects, but I was especially piqued by his observations about one specific character trait that makes President Obama unduly effective in his role as leader – extraordinary CALMNESS.
The story he tells about Obama’s calmness is as follows (paraphrased):
When Obama debated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, each man took turns at the lectern. Both could be seen writing notes onto the provided notepad. An observer later collected those notes. McCain’s notes were jotted words topical to the debate. Obama’s notes were six extremely straight drawn lines.
I deeply appreciate those who have mastery of calmness because I am personally a hyperactive, difficult to sit-still person. Yet I recognize that calmness is an essential ally in gaining mastery over new material or terrain. It is easy (and natural) to panic when a situation seems overwhelming and futile. However, panicking never breeds success.
Having pushed thorough to higher knowledge and performance many times before, I know that every obstacle must be overcome to achieve success. As I continue to push myself professionally and personally, I often find myself in over my head. At those times, I must channel calmness to proceed. My personal mantras (long view advice) for learning new things and tackling more demanding challenges are as follows:
- Breathe deeply through your nose (channel straight lines) – it helps to retain focus and minimizes irrational thoughts about quitting.
- Break down the problem – try simpler versions to validate the strategy or idea before incorporating into more complex scenarios.
- Ask for help – consult someone more knowledgeable and learn from them.
Although #2 (teach oneself) enables deeper learning, don’t wait too long to seek #3 (learn from another), because of #1 (irrational thoughts).
Would you benefit from channeling straight lines?
December 6, 2009
It’s easy to benchmark size when rating performance – it is visible and typically easy to measure. Yet other less accessible attributes can contribute importantly to success: agility, competence, experience, focus, knowledge, patience, skill, strategy, etc. Because these other attributes are less visible and are harder to assess, we often choose to measure on the basis of a simple benchmark like size.
In June, I got agitated about “how much playing time?” my son received at a tournament (see Applied to Soccer). Although my long view leadership advice in that post has merit, I now realize that on a systemic basis, I oversimplified my son’s soccer situation. There was more to learn and assess…
In the case of sports, bigger players benefit from their size on two counts: 1) they are physically more powerful and 2) youth coaches often select larger players over their smaller teammates on the reasoning “you cannot coach size,” and give them more opportunity early (for example, more playing time on game day).
However, having more diligently watched the dynamics of my son’s development as a soccer player a few more months, I now realize that being small (for a longer duration) is only a near-term disadvantage in terms of opportunity (passed over for the boys who have grown bigger earlier). In subtle ways, smaller boys, like my son, benefit from their size disadvantage over the long-term because they cultivate their game differently. For example, my son has impressive knowledge of the tactics and strategy of the game. His skill, agility, and speed are his primary tools for success (different emphasis than his larger teammates). When he finally achieves improved size parity within the next few years (he has more growth left than those who have grown early), perhaps like Lionel Messi, he will still be reasonably competitive due to his quiet mastery of the less visible attributes of the game?!
Today’s observation is simply a personal reminder to engage in long-view thinking everywhere when learning:
- Expand observations,
- Increase knowledge, and
- Cultivate more complex thinking for improved accuracy (include more attributes in mental models).
As a result of my agitation, I paid greater attention to the team dynamics, learned much, and now realize that it is all part of the beautiful game.
Nevertheless, I wish my son increased joy (and playing time) as he auditions for a different team in a slightly less competitive league. 🙂
Are you constantly expanding observations, increasing knowledge, and cultivating more complex thinking everywhere?
June 23, 2009
- Relativistic comparisons: “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.” (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
- Loss aversion: “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)
These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:
- Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team. Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
- Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters. Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer). Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
- Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance. (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)
This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development. I felt them as a soccer mom.
The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold: win games and develop players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury). The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players. Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games. This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.
My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials. During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback. At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?! Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games. Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…
Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys. He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible. He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time. With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.
This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…
My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament. Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team. The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games. My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final. Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.
It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final. Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.
From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):
- Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
- Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players. It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
- Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient. Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.
I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence. Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:
- Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
- Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).
I am not sure that will happen spontaneously. I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.
Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively? What is your perspective? Do you have advice?
June 12, 2009
Specifically, we discussed the challenges of coping with isolated HR (Human Resources) actions that benefit a single individual/group, yet create long-term unintended consequences for other staff. One example was a scenario where HR advocated offering a higher starting salary to recruit a new employee without adjusting other staff salaries for like positions. The problem is that even if current staff salaries are economically fair (from an entirely objective perspective), the salary differential will be perceived as unfair when (not if) the details become known. This is because humans are tightly bound to relativistic thinking. Watch this great YouTube video by Dan Ariely from his work, Predictably Irrational, Ch.1, to demonstrate the point.
How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.
The question that my friend and I discussed is the WHY would anyone advocate for such a scenario? I think that the biggest issue is that organizational policy-makers may not believe that negatives resulting from relativistic thinking are real. Concerns are dismissed by otherwise thoughtful and well-educated policy-makers because they want to believe that we should not behave that way *and* because they don’t “feel” it themselves. They are more likely to be insulated from accumulating these negatives, because their own (more senior) staff better model ideal behavior. Thus, their mental models, based upon their current experience, allow them to apply idealized logic to the expected behavior of more junior staff when assessing positives/negatives.
Intentions are good, vis-à-vis accruing an immediate (short view) positive for the single/group (improve employment competitiveness by recruiting new employee at higher salary). However, as noted by Jeffery Pfeffer in his book What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom about Management, pg.117, “…executives [can be] hopelessly out of touch and unable to empathize with or even understand the situation faced by front-line staff…,” underscoring the reality that long view negatives can be dismissed. The situation is more acute if policy-makers believe that that actions/policies will inculcate ideal behavior – it won’t! Humans are wired relativistically.
It is much better to avoid the conflicts than to have to deal with the unintended negative consequences. Thus, what is needed is for policy-makers to understand the effects that they are not currently considering. My advice:
- Teach Concepts: show the video clip to demonstrate the global concepts – Ariely has done excellent work to unequivocally demonstrate that relative thinking is universal and unavoidable,
- Explain Specifics: describe the specific logical effects of the proposal under scrutiny, and
- Gain Acceptance: get agreement that relativistic thinking causes significant negatives before you begin to discuss a direction for solution.
Are you taking time to teach concepts, explain specifics, and gain acceptance to those who do not “feel” them directly?
May 27, 2009
I just finished reading, “The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time that Will Change Your Life” by Zimardo and Boyd. It hasn’t changed my life, but it definitely gave me insight. Irrespective, it is a worthy read.
Before I began reading, I took the online Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) and discovered that I am an off-the-scale futurist scoring a whopping 4.92 in the future perspective. On all other time perspectives, I am at or below average.
The description of the “Future-Oriented Person” closely describes me (dominant in concern about long-term consequences, able to sustain the unpleasant for future benefit, health conscious, goal-oriented…) – how scary is that?! Perhaps that explains WHY I have a blog titled the LONG VIEW!
The basic point of the book is to get Futurists to be more Present and Past/Presents to be more Futurist – we all need balance. Indeed!
The good news for me is that Futurists tend to be very successful in business because they are well equipped to deal with the complexities of the modern world. The bad news is that Futurists tend to have less joy because we undervalue pleasure – work first, then play (if there is time).
The best news is that I didn’t need the book to get me going to achieve balance! Over the past many years, I have been actively working to Be Present much more – to enjoy the process, the road, the flowers along the road, and my traveling companions. The authors reinforce that great leaders are engrossed in the Present.
Some of the most interesting threads in the book revolve around the clash of time perspectives and how differences give rise to conflict. For example, Presents tend to be “in the moment” proceeding with what is interesting to them, viewing punctuality, specificity, and conformance as limitations. Futures on the other hand, value punctuality, specificity, and conformance. Understanding these differences and cultivating balance can lead to less conflict. ☺
Are you working to achieve balance? Is joy on your priority list?
May 26, 2009
I participate in a Ning Social Networking (NSN) site, called Triiibes. The site is composed of Seth Godin blog and book followers. I find it rewarding to converse with others inspired by Seth, because interesting dialogues develop and they push my thinking. Some of the dialogues revolve around requests for advice or opinion on a specific idea. Sometimes the threads can become tangential, but for the most part they stay topical.
One of the things that I really like about NSN and blogging is that both are asynchronous. I can participate when I have time and contribute much or little. No one is ever late or overstays. Everyone comes and goes at their pace.
Because I am only somewhat active at Triiibes, I have not collected many “friends.” My “friends” are those folks whom I have shared dialogue, experience, or camaraderie – folks with whom I have developed an online relationship.
Last week, a member of Triiibes posted about a specific business idea that led to many responses. Most applauded her idea and encouraged her to proceed. One participant requested clarification on why someone should do business with her. When I read her response, I was dissatisfied because half of her responses were either slightly negative or negative. If she reframed her responses (and thinking) to be much more positive, she would benefit from the Law of Attraction, which follows the long view advice of Create Positivity (Headwinds and Wobble).
I knew as I prepared a well-intentioned response post that, even if I was thoughtful and kind, I was unlikely to receive an acknowledgement because I was offering unsolicited constructive advice to someone with whom I did not have an established relationship. As such, my response post was an experiment. Does one have to first establish a relationship before one can lead (offer advice) in the NSN medium as is required in the face-to-face (F2F) medium?
Predictably, my post went unacknowledged. The author responded to many other posts around my own, but mine was unmistakably invisible (although other participants commented on my suggestions). This reaffirms the long view principle that my horse taught me (Remembering Wyo): Build a relationship before you ask to lead (including the giving of constructive advice).
Although I hope that I personally would welcome all constructive advice (because it is part of long view thinking), I realize my own humanity (and vanity) and am not sure if the situation were reversed that I would have thanked the unsolicited advisor myself. I will continue to strive to achieve what Scott suggests – be open-minded enough that people do not have to “be careful what they say.”
In the meantime, I am glad that I got the “expected outcome” (no acknowledgement) because the unexpected result would have challenged my assumptions and caused me to do additional testing and/or wonder why NSN was different!
May 8, 2009
One of the best pieces of coaching advice that I received from one of my mentors is “find the teachable moment.” My mentor taught me that we could amplify learning by delivering education just in time. As leaders and mentors, if we pay attention, we can often observe the moment of realization and then amplify the learning by reinforcement.
Today, as I participated in “A Celebration of Giving” by my son’s 7th grade class, I realized that there is one better – create a sealing moment. Let me explain…
Over the past many months, the 7th graders embarked on an integrated curriculum project to raise awareness for justice in and repair of the world. Students each selected a charitable organization that was meaningful to them. They learned about their organization through research, interviews, and discussion. Once engaged, they advocated and raised funds for their respective organizations. These 7th graders collectively raised >$29,000 to support 25 different worthy organizations – amazing! Since they raised the money together, they divided the money among their many organizations. They prioritized allocation funding to the different organizations. None received the same amount.
As I listened to the students speak today, I reflected on the comments that my own son made over the final few weeks during the allocation process (“it was hard…”), I realized that the allocation process was in fact the sealing opportunity for them. Although they learned much through the preparation of research papers and demonstrated commitment to their organizations through formal oral presentations, it was not until they had to lobby each other for allocation support that their passion and advocacy truly kicked in. Although it would have been “easier” – less painful, less acrimonious, less divisive – to simply divide the money equally, it would have lessened the learning. Sealing came from the harder process of truly engaging, participating, and negotiating.
Their sense of fairness and justice required each of them to listen objectively to the others and to regard their own project as one among many. They had to decide the minimum level of funding for every project and the maximum funding for the highest priority project. Although their compassion, commitment, and ability to be proactive was excellent before allocations, it was very clear that those attributes increased 10-fold by having to negotiate. They had to both advocate for their own organization and be objective toward the others. Their compassion, commitment, and ability to be proactive were sealed through the negotiation process of allocations.
As leaders, we know that it is imperative to achieve “buy-in” because it creates commitment and loyalty. This point was clearly demonstrated by these 7th graders. Their learning was amplified 10-fold by being part of the decision-making.
As leaders, if we truly desire commitment and loyalty, we must take the long view to ensure that we create sealing moments. We must ensure that the hard work of active participation, engagement, and negotiation is not short-circuited by the need for expediency or ease.
What are you doing to ensure active participation, engagement, and negotiation?