Archive | March, 2013

10 Awful Leadership Models

25 Mar

I love crappy ideas and apparently other people do to. Leadership in particular is an area that seems to get a lot of attention. Maybe these hucksters think they can make a quick buck by selling a few books. Maybe they just think so little of leadership that they’re willing to brand it on anything. Whatever the reason, I find this leadership models disturbing and hilarious. Here are my top ten.

The author is given credit for admitting that the approach is “light-hearted” and for putting a graphic description right up front. As Novak explains, there are five elements to the model; the captain, the crew, the mission, the strategy, and the treasure. What I love most is that the entire book is filled with mysterious numbered lists. Lists like, “the four characteristics of an effective captain,” or, “the three principles of pirate strategy.” None of which seem to be connected to any larger conceptual framework (other than numerology). The whole thing reads like a series of leadership platitudes interspersed with lines from Pirates of the Caribbean. Favorite quote: “Do you know what is more powerful than cannon, cutlass, or pistol? Reputation. Aye, reputation.” (page 34). Read this if your ideal manager wears an eye patch and expects you to sit on his shoulder and repeat everything he says.

Part self-help fluff and part personality theory, Watkins capitalizes on our obsession with seeing human qualities in animals (and vice versa). His four “power animals” the bear, the wolf, the eagle, and the horse, comprehensively catalog and summarize the wide diversity of human traits, personality, behaviors, beliefs, skills, perspectives, contexts, and motivations. I won’t get into some of the more technical problems with these descriptions since it clearly isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Favorite line: “The bear does not have the capabilities that allow it to communicate clearly. It is making decisions on the fly as to whether or not it needs to leave a situation, threaten severe consequences, or actually bring down the hammer. In the bear’s defense, even when they do maul people they rarely kill.” (page 13-14). There is little value here especially if one has successfully graduated from the 7th grade (or equivalent). Read this if you want to make the author’s grandmother feel like his career decisions weren’t “a delusional mistake.”

Jessamyn West once said, “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures,” and it when it comes to leadership theory it seems that some people would prefer to study imaginary people rather than real leaders. As with all of these models, there is some wisdom – some old wine in new HBO-branded wine skins, but the question then comes to mind: what was wrong with the old wine skins? Is the study of interpersonal and group dynamics just too boring? More than anything, this book is clearly an interpretive exercise for the author rather than a guide for questions about leadership. Favorite line: “I’m sure I would react skeptically if I heard about a book called Bart Simpson on Leadership or The Leadership Secrets of Ally McBeal.” (page xxvii). *please note the irony. Read this is you want something to plagiarize for your high school essay that you can be sure no one else will have read.

To be honest, this one isn’t a surprise. Star Trek fans are famously obsessive about their show. What I did find surprising was that the entire book was written as if it were Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s personal journal. This entry for example; “Captain’s personal journal: Observations on “Communication.” Stardate 45071.3 En route to Solarion IV.” (page 115). The entire book is written as a series of journal entries covering various missions and escapes in which the Captain was able to demonstrate his leadership skills. Not once does the book deviate from this style. The Captain even conveniently summarizes each journal entry with his own highlights about leadership (with the bold assumption that someone would actually make it to the end of a chapter). It contains almost no theory, very little practical advice, and even it’s title adage “Make it So” is never explained or expounded upon. All in all, this is one of the worst books on leadership you could hope to gag gift. Under no circumstance should you read this.

In general, I shied away from leadership models based on religious or historical figures. They typically fall into the “great man” theories of leadership which bestow almost supernatural powers to very mortal men (and they were always men). Not only do these theories typically ignore the complexities of historical context, but they place so much emphasis on innate character that leadership seems hardly worth developing. The Galbraiths eschew the second, but not the first by offering up the Rule of Saint Benedict, written for the administration of monastic living in southern Italy in 540 C.E. The problem is that running a monastery and running a modern organization have very little in common. Like the other authors, the Galbraiths spend so much time spinning straw into gold that they might have well just have written a book about their ideas of leadership rather than use a cover story.  Favorite line: “When, therefore, a guest is announced, let him be met by the Superior and the brethern  with every mark of charity. And let them first pray together, and then let them associate with one another in peace. This kiss of peace should not be given before a prayer hath first been said, on account of satanic deception.” (page 168). Read this if you’re the kind of person who understands what the hell that last sentence meant.

leadership-secrets-of-attila

This is actually Wes Roberts second appearance on the list (he also wrote Make it So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek) and following the Sopranos before it, the subject of this book is infamous for his ruthlessness. Strange nominations for models of leadership, these gangsters and tyrants prove that the power to lead doesn’t require good intentions. But that’s not my biggest problem with this book. I tried to avoid books on historical figures because they at least provide a little history lesson, but this book warrants its place on my list simply because of its historical inaccuracy.  It reminds me of the great line by Moses Hadas, “This book fills a much needed gap.” There is nothing here but a series of leadership platitudes that are (thankfully) only loosely connected to Attila’s story. Read this if you are planning on becoming an author but fear that your ideas are far too stupid to ever get published.

The book opens with this sentence, “ Wouldn’t it be more than a little strange if the bestselling children’s books in modern times contained some of the deepest wisdom that contemporary  business people  need for successful careers,  great relationships, and flourishing lives?” My answer is, “No, it’s not strange if you go looking for it.” I give this book some credit though, because using Harry Potter as a frame of reference is a smart choice. It’s an extremely popular story meaning that more people will be able to resonate with the leadership lessons. However, as with all of these models, the author has tried to bridge the gap between theory and story-telling, by writing a book that doesn’t do either very well. It’s equivalent to the old saying, “you can’t jump halfway across a hole.”  Either gives us logical insights for leaders or tell us a story that shows us leadership (as in the original Harry Potter). Trying to explain it all is like trying to explain the punchline of a joke. Favorite fact: Amazon’s shows that people who bought this also bought, “Trees of the Northern United States and Canada.” Read this if you’re the kind of person who would prefer to get cooking advice from Chef Smurf and tax advice from Scrooge McDuck.

Toy Box Leadership mines children’s toys for leadership metaphors. It covers popular past times like the Slinky, Play-Doh, the yo-yo, the Rubik’s Cube, and even army men. I can’t help but think that time would be better spent watching the Toy Story trilogy. There are some great examples, like the connection between Light Brite as a way to demonstrate the ratio of signal to noise in a leader’s communication, but there is no fundamental leadership theory that supports it all. It’s just a la carte insights, which makes me wonder why you’d order from this menu of choices rather than a more conceptually robust meal that may actually connect to a large leadership development program. If you were looking for physical objects to supplement a workshop, then sure, this could be a useful book to help you identify some games. Favorite line: “You’ve probably seen it on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker: ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ It’s cute but false. The real truth about toys is this: when you live out the lessons these toys teach, you can win today.” It’s platitudes like this that make me question whether human evolution really exists or are we just running around in circles. Read this if you want to set up a coworker for a bet that you can get the boss to buy 100 Slinkies for the next corporate retreat.

Sex, Leadership, and Rock & Roll certainly has a provocative title, but fails to fulfill that curiosity. The essential argument of this book is that we no longer live in the “orchestral age,” but rather a “rock-and-roll age,” in which our ideas of leadership should evolve accordingly. As a metaphor this is weak enough, but considering that the book was published in 2006 (rather than 1955) it makes me wonder just how many years the author had been working on it. Judging from passages like, “Leaders make and engage others with strategic decisions under conditions of high uncertainty of means, ends or both means and ends, (pg. 111)” I think he didn’t work quite long enough.  There are some unique gems including a list of “Rock tips for high performance,” which state without any further explanation  “get hair – in business this is called ‘grooming,'” “Build a massive wall in Berlin, a la Pink Floyd,” and ” Burn guitars after making love to them.” Of course it also includes the usual bromides about motivation, teamwork, decision-making, and vision presumably to help librarians decide where to shelve it. All in all, the whole thing reads like a bad acid trip, which is precisely as bizarre and as unsatisfying as it sounds. Read this if you run a methadone clinic for CEOs.

This is probably the best bad book on leadership I’ve ever read. For starters, the book is written in first person. As in, Santa Claus is speaking directly to the reader. “Another year, I had two reindeer come down with the flu right after Prancer pulled the plug, retired, and took off for Florida. That left me with a thirty-three percent delivery staff reduction (if you count Rudolph) with no immediate replacements (pg. 7).” Second, the book is filled with more empty aphorisms like “Make a list and check it twice,” and “listen to the elves.” There is not a single original thought in all of its 85 pages (the last 10 of which advertise the different “Santa Claus Leadership” courses and tools. There is truly nothing of value here, but I’m left wondering to whom were they marketing this book. Kids? Executives? I just don’t get it. Books like this lessen the credibility of leadership studies and frankly, they even lessen the credibility of Santa Claus. Read this if all other books have been burned up in an apocalyptic elf revolt and your gingerbread optometrist requires that you read something, anything, to maintain your vision.

So there you have it. 10 awful leadership models. What is it that compels us to see leadership lessons in everything that we do? Could it be that our need for true leadership has gotten so bad that we’d look to anything to find it? A horse, a make-believe wizard… Play-Doh? Is this really the best we can do?

MORE AWFUL LEADERSHIP

My Little Pony and Leadership

http://www.succeedtolead.org/pdfs/articles/leadership/pony_crawford.pdf

Viking Leadership
http://timmarks.com/blog/viking-leadership/

Five Leadership Lessons from Batman
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/07/30/five-leadership-lessons-from-christopher-nolans-batman-trilogy/

Leadership Lessons of Indiana Jones
http://www.refreshleadership.com/index.php/2011/11/lessons-indiana-jones/

4 Leadership Lessons from the Lord of the Rings
http://www.forbes.com/sites/geoffloftus/2012/07/18/4-leadership-lessons-from-aragorn/

Leadership Lessons from the Toilet Seat
http://www.perrynoble.com/blog/leadership-lessons-from-the-toilet-seat

Muppet Leadership
http://dailygenius.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/introducing-muppet-leadership/

Superhero Leadership
http://www.tonycooke.org/free_resources/articles_leadership/leadership_superheroes.html

Leadership Lessons of Kung FU Panda
http://grafsata.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/leadership-lessons-of-the-kung-fu-panda/

Shrek: Leadership Lessons
http://www.getnside.com/atx/magazine/business/032011/articles/2054-Shrek_A_True_Executive_Leader/

Pee Wee Herman and Leadership
http://www.starkscommunications.com/speechwriting/speechwriter-embraces-pee-wee-hermans-philosophy/

Leadership Lessons from Moby Dick
http://www.inc.com/samuel-bacharach/your-own-private-whale-leadership-lessons-from-moby-dick.html

Six Leadership Lessons from Deadliest Catch
http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2012/10/19/six-leadership-lessons-from-the-crews-on-deadliest-catch/

Leadership Lessons from the Godfather
http://www.fastcompany.com/1826672/offer-you-cant-refuse-leadership-lessons-godfather

Star Wars Leadership Lessons
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/02/24/star-wars-leadership-lessons-even-geeks-need-guidance/

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Late Bloomers

22 Mar

The following is excerpted from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 article “Late Bloomers.”

Ben Fountain was an associate in the real-estate practice at the Dallas offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, just a few years out of law school, when he decided he wanted to write fiction. The only thing Fountain had ever published was a law-review article. His literary training consisted of a handful of creative-writing classes in college. He had tried to write when he came home at night from work, but usually he was too tired to do much. He decided to quit his job.

“I was tremendously apprehensive,” Fountain recalls. “I felt like I’d stepped off a cliff and I didn’t know if the parachute was going to open. Nobody wants to waste their life, and I was doing well at the practice of law. I could have had a good career. And my parents were very proud of me—my dad was so proud of me. . . . It was crazy.”

He began his new life on a February morning—a Monday. He sat down at his kitchen table at 7:30 a.m. He made a plan. Every day, he would write until lunchtime. Then he would lie down on the floor for twenty minutes to rest his mind. Then he would return to work for a few more hours. He was a lawyer. He had discipline. “I figured out very early on that if I didn’t get my writing done I felt terrible. So I always got my writing done. I treated it like a job. I did not procrastinate.” His first story was about a stockbroker who uses inside information and crosses a moral line. It was sixty pages long and took him three months to write. When he finished that story, he went back to work and wrote another—and then another.

In his first year, Fountain sold two stories. He gained confidence. He wrote a novel. He decided it wasn’t very good, and he ended up putting it in a drawer. Then came what he describes as his dark period, when he adjusted his expectations and started again. He got a short story published in Harper’s. A New York literary agent saw it and signed him up. He put together a collection of short stories titled “Brief Encounters with Che Guevara,” and Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, published it. The reviews were sensational. The Times Book Review called it “heartbreaking.” It won the Hemingway Foundation/pen award. It was named a No. 1 Book Sense Pick. It made major regional best-seller lists, was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews, and drew comparisons to Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Stone, and John le Carré.

Ben Fountain’s rise sounds like a familiar story: the young man from the provinces suddenly takes the literary world by storm. But Ben Fountain’s success was far from sudden. He quit his job at Akin, Gump in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the nineteen-nineties. His breakthrough with “Brief Encounters” came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write at his kitchen table. The “young” writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  -George Eliot

Conscious Leadership or Leader Consciousness?

20 Mar

Up until a month ago, the term “conscious leadership” was new to me. However, as I’ve immersed myself in the literature and community, it’s become clear that while it may be a new term, it was not a new concept. I’ve been studying the great contemplative traditions for a long time and they in turn have exploring the boundaries of consciousness for thousands of years. So, while the term may be new, the truth it points to certainly isn’t. The benefit comes from the fact that conscious leadership is taking these mystical insights, integrating them with the best research and theory from organizational and leadership studies, and wrapping them it all up in business language that Westerners can stomach.

I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it also means that some things might be lost in translation. The sheer complexity of consciousness studies is awe-inspiring. The history of the great mystical traditions is overwhelming by itself. Then you add the important insights from philosophy of mind, and more recent contributions from good old cognitive-development psychology, and you have this massive amount of great information to pull together. And this is before you add all of the crappy information.

Now, I’m not one of those people who says that you shouldn’t even bother trying to define words like “consciousness” or “leadership.” Trying to define the words you use is an important exercise. It forces us to make difficult choices and create elegant solutions. So, for the purposes of this article, I’d like to offer my own definitions of both and see where that takes us:

Consciousness – The state of being aware of sensory forms (both internal and external).

Leadership – The process of intentional influence of one person upon others.

You’ll notice a few things. First, they are short definitions. This is because I believe that simplicity amplifies meaning. Second, notice that neither of these definitions includes a moral dimension. This is because I believe that the distinction between TRUE and FALSE is much more relevant than GOOD versus BAD. Third, the two primary verbs are awareness and influence. When we put these two definitions together, we start to see that conscious leadership is primarily about the ability to be aware and the ability to influence based on that awareness.

Now, most leadership models would have you believe that you need to be aware FIRST, then you influence others (this would be accurate linguistically because “conscious” modifies “leadership”). This would certainly fit the hero-style leadership models of the past. The leader is worshiped as an omnipotent deity and the central lever when it comes to organizational change. But we know that this is only one side of the coin. The primary focus on the individual is often shorthanded as “leader development” and the collective focus is often called, “leadership development.” The whole of the field is then called, confusingly, “leadership development.” Clearly, we need to do a better job with our definitions.

The field of conscious leadership seems to be a bit confused on this point. Conscious leadership is used almost exclusively to mean the individual awareness of a leader. I would like to submit that there should be an equal focus on “leader consciousness,” which would be the collective counterpart. As much as I respect the efforts of thought leaders in conscious leadership, I think it sells itself short if it just repackages ancient wisdom. It’s a noble service on it’s own, but it won’t really contribute to the leadership literature if it doesn’t expand its questions. What would collective leader consciousness look like? How would it operate? To me, these are far more interesting questions.

Five Simple Rules for the Successful Entrepreneur

13 Mar

Stanford professor Tom Byers knows a lot about starting companies. His expertise is in high-technology ventures and serves as the faculty director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the prestigious Mayfield Fellows Program (MFP). As an early employee of both Go Corporation and Symantec and an expert in what works and what doesn’t when trying to start a company, Byers offers the following five rules as essential for would-be Zuckerbergs:

1. Show up on time

2. Be nice to people

3. Do what you say you’ll do

4. Deliver more than you promise

5. Work with enthusiasm and passion

These five rules won’t give you all the answers for how to be a successful entrepreneur, but they are essential and elegant.

Lower Your Standards

10 Mar

stafford

The poet William Stafford used to rise every morning at four and write a poem. Somebody said to him, “But surely you can’t write a good poem every day, Bill. What happens then?” “Oh,” he said, “then I lower my standards.”

Mary Rose O’Reilley, Radical Presence.

“…No One Need Wait a Moment…”

8 Mar

anne_2148996b

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway… And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!”
– The Diary of Anne Frank

Desire isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing

7 Mar

Image

An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.

Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly – and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, explaining  “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”

To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl- “like a withering tree on a rock in winter” – the point of spiritual practice?  Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness  instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.

Excerpt from Tara Branch’s book Radical Acceptance (page 143-144).