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.