Come Drive with Me

Come Drive with Me

Today I walked out of the office and into the fresh air. I stopped, looked across the parking lot, looked to the sky and began to walk. I took my time. I took long, deep breaths and felt the clear, unfiltered air filling my body. My head cleared and I scanned the horizon. What was in front of me? Opportunity as far as I can see. Sometimes I drive alone, and sometimes I travel with colleagues. I am always interested to observe the way that people change once they step outside of the office. Do they loosen their ties? Run their fingers through their hair? Do they take a moment to pause and take in the world around them? I particularly like it when there is more than two of us. Three or four is great. We get to my car and I wait and watch, Who will take the passenger seat? Who offers to sit in back? Is this a transaction or an experience? It is a small thing, but it is important. It reveals plenty. This episode reminded me of Seth Godin’s recent article on the “front row culture”. It is a style of culture that I very much strive to foster: The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable. The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead. In both cases,...

Start with Your Own Why

In this great TEDx talk, Simon Sinek explains exactly why some businesses – like Apple – inspire fans rather than “have” customers. It’s partly a function of biology. Sinek explains that the biological functioning of our brains is comprised of the limbic system – the evolutionary, older area that is responsible for emotions, behaviour and decision making; and the neocortex – the newer, homosapien brain responsible for rationalizing and language. Interestingly, the limbic system – what is also called “the emotional brain” – has no capacity for language. This explains why we make decisions with our “gut instinct”. It’s not our “gut” at all – it is not instinct – it’s our limbic brain making the decision that has not yet been processed through the neocortex. What this means for leaders, is that if we want to achieve our goals, we need to engage our teams, our colleagues and our entire ecosystem in ways that appeal to, and activate, the core of the brain – the limbic system. It’s an inside-out approach. We have to “speak” to the non-linguistic brain. We need to enter a conversation with that part of the brain that controls behavior, trust and loyalty. We need to reach the decision maker directly (as any good sales person will tell you). How can we do this? Sinek has a short, snappy line that we all should remember: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Say it with me (and say it out loud) – “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. If you want to become...

We All Need to be Critical

Over the course of my career I have been presented with new roles and new opportunities. Each time, as I meet with my new colleagues, I spend a great deal of time listening, trying to capture and understand their context and mapping this against my own experience and expectations. What I am looking for is the space to create a perspective. An angle. And in any people driven business – and today, which organization wouldn’t classify itself in this way – it’s essential for leaders to understand the angles and where they lead to. Almost without fail, it is during this time of investigation that I will meet with people who consider themselves critical to the business. They believe – whole-heartedly – that without their personal contribution, that progress would not continue, that the business would not grow and that innovation would dry up like a river in drought. They instil this direction in their own teams. They explain to direct reports and wider teams, the vital role that each is making in pursuit of the corporate agenda and they empower these people to help drive the business forward. And then, a few days later I meet someone else. Someone who considers their role critical to the efficient and profitable running of the business. They present as lynch-pin, deeply embedded in the fabric of the organization. They’re the beating heart if not the soul of the company. And still later I meet with my new direct reports. They too explain the central role they play in owning and delivering on the strategy. They map out responsibilities and show precisely...

Learning from Smart Women in Technology

I am not alone in writing about the lack of women in technology-based leadership roles. But often, the focus of such posts is on the startup sector – on the web based businesses that gain a large share of the popular press. Yet this is a more widespread issue – it’s not just technology industries where women are noticeably absent – almost all other industries tell the same story. Partly this is a problem of prominence, partly a problem of support. Yet, as Don Dodge points out, there are plenty of outstanding women leaders for us to follow as role models. Here is a list of smart women leaders on Twitter. Where possible I have added their blogs. Go beyond the obvious, read their tweets, see what they are thinking about. Read their websites and take a look at the topics, the challenges and the opportunities  that face us all. Twitter Blog @Sarahcuda Blog Sarah Lacy, author of several books and writer for Techcrunch @MarissaMayer VP of products at Google @Padmasree Padmasree Warrior, CTO at Cisco @Caro Caroline McCarthy – writer at Cnet @JolieOdell Blog Jolie O’Dell, writer at Mashable @GinaTrapani Blog LifeHacker , blogger, techwriter @Missusp Blog Christine Perkett, Boston based PerkettPR agency @Mollydotcom Blog Molly Holzschlag – open web, blogger, conference speaker @Caterina Blog Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr and Hunch @XeniJardin Blog Editor at Boing Boing, contributor to Wired Magazine @Halley Blog Halley Suitt, exec at Communispace @ShiraLazar Blog CBSnews, Media personality, always at tech conferences @Alexia Blog Alexia Tsotsis – writer at Techcrunch @Jhurwitz Blog Judith Hurwitz, Consulting Group – digging into the world of...

Leadership Is About Skills Not Gender

The current political scene has brought an important issue to the forefront.  Specifically, how, if at all, are leadership and gender intertwined?  While in the past I have written about leadership and women, what the current situation clarifies for me is that it’s not really about gender at all; but rather, it is about skills and, ultimately, the performance of a leader that matter most. With Sarah Palin now a central focus of the Republican presidential ticket, people are asking if she has what it takes to be the vice president and “one heartbeat away” from the presidency.  To be fair, some ask these questions in a completely gender-agnostic way, questioning her credentials and experience.  However, there are those that ask the question from the perspective that she is a woman and a mother of five children, one a special needs child.  As far as I am concerned, it is completely appropriate to inquire about a candidate’s viability for the role they are seeking.  But again, these inquiries ought to come from the perspective of qualifications, not gender.  No father of however many kids has ever been asked this, so why ask Sarah Palin?  Mind you, I’m not defending or admonishing Sarah Palin for joining the Republican ticket.  As a citizen of the United States, my concerns are more about identifying and electing the ticket [including both the president and vice president] that can address the issues of importance to me and our country. In fact, it would be interesting if we were able to hold “blind campaigns” wherein candidates campaigned based solely on their views, policies and credentials...

Democratic Dictatorship

When it comes to leadership, no matter how much a leader may seek the valuable input from their village, at the end of the day, the final decision, regardless of the matter at hand, is the leader’s all alone.  This fact makes for interesting management of the decision-making process.  To be sure, leaders have different styles of leadership and management that they employ throughout their careers … in fact, even throughout any given business day.  Some leaders are inclusive and seek input from as many people as possible, while others retreat to their offices to individually contemplate the best course of action.  Leaders realize that the buck stops with them and regardless of the outcome, they own the result. One thing that leaders must learn, especially those that lean toward an inclusive style, is that they are, as with George W. Bush’s nickname, the “decider”.  While they are happy to solicit thoughts and input from others, they must be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will be pleased with the final decision.  But they are not in friendship positions, they are in leadership positions. A leader’s ultimate responsibility is to the best interests of the business not to any individual or group within the organization.  Of course, ideally, leaders want to be both respected and liked.  However, ultimately leaders must live by the expression “it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected.” This is what I mean by “democratic dictatorship”. The success of a leader is in the making of decisions and successfully achieving outcomes or as Jim Estill succinctly...