Today’s First Big Idea comes from the Harvard Business Journal — Five leadership voices every executive must cultivate. Communication is an important leadership skill that deserves more of our attention.
Our second big idea focuses on the age-old debate: Which executive is more likely to perform better and thus move ahead — the person who puts in the longer hours, or the executive who sticks to a set work schedule with no nights or no weekends? The answer may surprise you.
But first we begin with a look at the concept of leadership voices.
The HBJ article on leadership voices caught my attention for a lot of reasons not the least of which is my firm belief that in today’s high speed economy, communication is an essential skill for any leader.
Beckers’ Leo Vartorella wrote that leaders must be able to not only evoke authority but also utilize a number of different voices to effectively inspire and guide their employees.
Here are the five voices that the HBJ said a leadership must be able to call on:
First, the voice of character. This is important because it is central to who you are and how you feel about a range of issues. Employees want and need to know who you are and whether you can be trusted. This could also be called your voice of truth.
Second, the voice of context. At its core, this voice relies on your past experiences to help frame the conversation. Drawing on those experiences, both successes and failures, can help your team understand why a certain decision is being made.
Third, the voice of clarity. Leaders who fail to communicate with clarity run the very real risk of losing the support of those that must carry the burdens of a particular job. When you share ideas, be sure you are being clear with those who will be listening.
Fourth, is the voice of curiosity. One of the worst criticisms that can be leveled at an executive is that he or she is not curious. Most leaders do not like to admit they don’t know something but that should not limit your ability to look for new ideas or solutions. Show your employees you are committed to learning new things. That is a strong message that a leader can transmit through the organization.
And finally fifth, the voice of connection. As you advance in your career, and as your professional network expands, it can be difficult to keep up with productive communications. This is an important investment you can make for your career. Take the time to be sure that your voice of connection is honest and reflects in tone and actuality a level of honesty as well as a willingness to learn.
Those are the five important concepts to remember as you advance in your career.
The essence of leadership is the ability to be able to effectively communicate your ideas, your values and your personality.
Our second big idea is how to succeed at business by doing less.
A proud parent I know once bragged about her son had just been accepted as an associate with an elite New York law firm and he was going to earn $200,000 as first-year employee. Standing next to her was a partner with a large regional firm who quipped, “You mean they are only going to pay him $20 an hour?” I am not sure she got his point that long, long hours were going to be a big part of that young man’s life for several years to come.
In law, investment banking, consulting and some other professions, the culture of long hours is baked into the system. So the concept of working less and producing a better work product is definitely a contrarian point of view but Morton T. Hansen has come to learn the old adage that those who work the hardest, and/or the longest, will get ahead based on effort may be just be conventional wisdom, which is to say it is seldom right.
Dr. Hansen, a professor of business at UC, Berkley said he once held that point of view as a 20-year-old freshly minted college graduate who had just landed his dream job with the Boston Consulting Group’s London office.
To impress his bosses, Dr. Hansen said that for more than three years he toiled 60, 70 even 90 hours a week, relying on weak British coffee and a supply of chocolate candy bars he kept in his top desk drawer to keep himself moving.
Then came the day when struggling with a particularly difficult assignment, he sought out another team member, Natalie, whose work he discovered was actually better than his own. When he went to her desk in the early evening, he found that Natalie had already gone home. A colleague who sat at an adjoining desk explained that Natalie never stayed late — she worked from 8 AM to 6 PM, no nights, no weekends. She had similar credentials and experience as the young Mr. Hansen and they had both been selected by the same screening process, but Natalie’s analysis was clearly better and Hansen found that realization enormously troubling.
It was an issue that bothered him for decades. He often referred to it as “The Natalie Question.”
After leaving hallowed halls of consulting to study workplace performance as an academic, he decided to zero in on his Natalie Question.
Why did Natalie performed better with fewer hours? In a broader context, Dr. Hansen wanted to understand why some people do better than others?
He quickly learned that the difference had nothing to do with talent.
The answer was selectivity. Whenever they could, the top performing executives selected which meetings, tasks, customers, ideas or steps to take and which ones to discard. Less, it would appear, produces more.
Then they focused an enormous amount of energy on the select tasks in order to excel.
In our John G Self Partners Q&A of executive candidates, we ask: Are you better at intensely focusing on a few tasks or are you the kind of executive that likes a full desk of work, keeping a lot of balls up in the air?
Not surprisingly, candidates usually answer that they fall into multi-tasking bucket. They say that they like the multi-tasking environment. But thanks to research from Dr. Hansen and others we now know that long, brutal hours including weekends and holidays does not produced a better quality work product. Taking few tasks and obsessing over getting them right is the answer to success.
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See you next week.
© 2018 John Gregory Self
There is a wonderful story about a middle-aged man who was suffering through more than his share of career upsets and financial woes. One night he experienced the most vivid dream of his life, he dreamed that God told him that he was going to win the lottery. He awoke refreshed, optimistic and ready to tackle all of his problems.
But when Wednesday came and the lottery numbers were drawn, our protagonist did not win. The Saturday drawing came and went, and again, he did not win. The same for the following Wednesday and again on Saturday, despite his recurring dream, our down-on-his luck executive did not win.
In the depth of despair, he prayed to God, asking why his divine dream that he was going to win the lottery was not fulfilled. “You promised me.”
Then the voice of God responded, “You have to help me out. You have to buy a ticket.”
So ends the most important lesson for career management and, most especially, career transition.
The transformation of healthcare means that our old image of being a “layoff-proof” industry that was not subject to the vagaries of the economic twists and turns that affect other industries is not even remotely accurate and, truth be told, hasn’t been since the mid-1990s. Today these realities are just that more stark.
You cannot sit back and think that focusing on career management and strategic network development is for some chump that can’t hold a job for more than two years. You hold on to that fantasy at your own peril. The pressures will become more intense, the challenges more daunting. If you hope to successfully navigate these turbulent times, you will have to get serious about investing time in career management, you will have to “buy the ticket.”
So as you decide whether to get off your duff and begin doing what it takes to thrive in this challenging environment, let me offer these ideas. They are predicated on this: having a great job, a good income and strong performance evaluations are not necessarily a guarantee that you will escape the turmoil.
If you do not buy a lottery ticket, there is no way you can win.
© 2018 John Gregory Self
Getting stuck in the mud is a terrible feeling. You are powerless and there is not a neat, easy way to escape the muck. You are going to have to get your hands dirty. So much for that nice outfit you are wearing.
Vehicles are not the only things that get stuck. Careers are susceptible, even more so. When driving down a rutted wet road your chances of getting stuck are very real and most of the time, avoidable. You cannot always see the muck when guiding your career. The chances of ending up in a quagmire of the unexpected is more common when it comes to career management. Accepting the wrong job or finding yourself in a dead end because of the arrival of new technology or some other evolutionary occurrence, or even finding yourself dragged in to some internal political nastiness between warring executive silos can be just as messy as finding yourself stuck on some country road in bad weather with no one around to offer a helping hand.
We cannot always see the risks, but we can protect against potentially damaging career bogs by cultivating mentors and friends who will offer a helping hand or, more importantly, who will hold you accountable. As executive coach, Dr. Johnny Parker, has written, “You cannot know yourself or grow yourself by yourself.”
A lot of what executive coaches tell their clients is strangely similar. You know that if you have read more than four or five books from authors whose day jobs involve helping executives enhance their skills or how to avoid potentially dangerous mud holes. You will find that they promote “engaging your community” for challenging and helpful interactions in which your conventional thinking is questioned and your performance is challenged. In Dr. Parker’s model you want to surround yourself with “safe people whose objective view is to hold you accountable because this is critical to improve your life’s story. The protagonist never reaches their destiny without a support cast consisting of a mentor, coach, or a friend.”
As you go through your professional life, it is not if you will encounter a messy quagmire, it is simply a matter of when it will happen. Those who are prepared excel.
This is National Mentoring Month. What better time to offer a healing hand.
© 2018 John Gregory Self