Few books open our eyes by revealing truths hiding in plain sight. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is one. Leadership B.S. by Jeff Pfeffer is another.
Many books, lessons, and word-of-mouth teachings about leadership are misleading, misrepresentative of real world experience, and based on feel-good ideals. There are five reasons why several things we are taught about leadership and management are wrong.
Lack of Rigor — Many leadership lessons based on someone’s experience are not based on a systematic analysis of complete data, comprehensive understanding of circumstances, and other available options at the time. What worked for the winner may be simply chance (luck), weakness of the opposition, or insufficiently acknowledged help from others. ·
Before and After — The behaviors that lead a person to a powerful leadership position are often not the same as the good qualities the person assumes later in life after they are already successful. Take the case of Bill Gates, who as a competitive businessman was a different person from the kind, caring philanthropist he is today.
Delusion — Human beings have a positive, good impressions of ourselves that are often not accurate. Studies have shown that about 80% of people believe they are better car drivers than average, better looking than average, and better human beings than others. The Overconfidence effect and above average effect are well documented. How a successful leader feels they act (morally) is often quite different from what they actually do based on observation.
Deception — Human beings, especially successful ones, lie, mislead, and often don’t give away their coveted secrets that given them their competitive edge. There is plenty of scientific evidence that lying is a common daily habit.
Leaving a Legacy — Many leadership books and articles are written to make the author look good, to build a good reputation and brand for the leader, and to make money. They are not primarily written for the purpose of making other people successful, even if the author thinks so. This could be due to delusion, deception, or a bit of both.
For the above reasons, my friend Jeff Pfeffer and I sometimes say that most leadership books and products should be labeled like packs of cigarettes: “Warning: This information will make you feel good in the short term, but is likely to be harmful to your effectiveness, career, and well-being.”
So how should you minimize your time and effort wasted learning ineffective leadership and management methods that are likely to backfire?
I highly recommend reading the excellent book Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University. It was finalist for the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year and Best business book of the week selected by Inc.com. This book will help you identify real and effective leadership and management lessons based on evidence that are more likely to work than platitudes.
In full disclosure, in the acknowledgements section of this book, Professor Pfeffer wrote:
This book was inspired in part by my interactions with Rajiv Pant. It was Rajiv who first used the phrase “feel-good leadership literature.” It was Rajiv who provided some of the stories and examples incorporated in this book. But mostly it was Rajiv Pant who helped me see how much damage was occurring because of the current incarnation of the leadership industry. Rajiv’s support and friendship mean a great deal, not only for this book but in my life.
Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time (pp. 221-222). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
The World Economic Forum and its partners have developed and shared a way for organizations to calculate the impact of cyber security threats. The framework, called cyber value-at-risk comes at a time when cyberattacks are increasing in velocity and intensity, and when 90% of companies worldwide recognize they are insufficiently prepared to protect themselves against them.
I feel honored to have been one of the participants in the development of this. The project is led by Elena Kvochko and team of the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Deliotte and other Forum partners.
The World Economic Forum announced this today at the annual meeting in Davos.
As I’ve worked at various news media companies, I have been impressed to see editor in chiefs and other senior editors spend most of their working time in cubicles alongside their teams where the action in the newsroom is. They use their offices only when needed for privacy.
Having access to a private office room is useful too, whether you are a manager, maker, or both. So as an experiment, for one day every week, I decided to share my office with my colleagues in the technology team who don’t already have an office.
Below is the memo I sent to my team. I’ll share the results of this experiment after a few months.
Dear Software Engineers and Technology Colleagues,
In the spirit of supporting our makers’ schedules, I’d like to make my office room available on Fridays to anyone in our technology team who does not already work in a private office. Here is how it will work. For any Friday, you can book my office in advance for a 2-hour period of your use. I will not use the room on Fridays. Instead, I will work at various temporarily available locations alongside other tech colleagues.
You can use my office for any productive work for your job. You can write code uninterrupted for 2 hours in a change of environment. You can pair-program with another colleague. You can use the dry-erase white wall in my office to hold a brainstorming workshop with fellow contributors. You can close the door and use the privacy to think of solutions to complex engineering problems in your work. Research indicates that a refreshing temporary change of environment can be helpful for such tasks.
I should also clarify what this is not meant for. If you need to hold a meeting, join a teleconferenceI suggest you continue to book regular meeting rooms. If you’d like to have a social lunch with colleagues, there are other more suitable places in our building. I’m offering my office to you on Fridays for maker’s work: to build software/systems, and to solve engineering problems in a temporary change of scenery.
This is an experiment. We will test, solicit feedback, measure and change. For example, if time-windows other than 2 hours work better, we will adjust the experiment.
I plan to run this experiment until at least the end of this year. If we determine that our software engineers and other tech contributors find this experiment productive, or even just enjoy having it as a part of our culture, we will consider continuing it into the next year.
Details on how the sign up and feedback process will work to follow.
You can post these slides as signs in your meeting rooms and offices or include them at the start of your presentations. You can also open the original Google Slides document to print or leave comments.
Every time someone calls a meeting, they should consider using this simple template.
[ meeting-invitation-template begins ]
The desired outcome of this meeting is:
e.g. Come to agreement on solution for issue X
e.g. Make a decision about Y.
e.g. Share announcements about topic Z.
e.g. Continue to grow a good working relationship with each other by socializing in person.
Note: Explain what this meeting is meant to accomplish, instead of providing a description of the meeting. Focus on the desired result of the meeting. A meeting should accomplish one or more of three things:
Share knowledgeand agree to act on it and/or make it a practice
Knowledge, as in: data –leads-to–> information –leads-to–> knowledge –leads-to–> practice
You should come to this meeting because:
e.g. You are likely to have input into potential solutions for issue X
e.g. You are one of the folks who has a viewpoint on what decision to make regarding Y.
e.g. It would benefit you from hearing the announcements in this meeting.
e.g. This is your opportunity to ask questions about topic Z.
Note: Give the attendees at least one good reason to attend. Sometimes attendees have no idea why they are invited to this meeting. Don’t be seen as a waster of others’ time.
The guidelines for participating in this meeting are:
e.g. Please come prepared having read the document about ChaosMonkey.
e.g. Laptops & mobile communication devices are considered contraband during this meeting. If it is critical for you to have a computer during this meeting, bring a desktop computer :-)
By default, we should only attend meetings where we are active participants, not passive attendees with not much to contribute to the desired outcome of the meeting. There are some exceptions to this like training sessions, educational presentations or others where the purpose for attendees is to learn something.
When I receive a meeting request, I often reply with the following text.
May I please request the following information in advance of this meeting? It will enable me to prepare, participate and be productive in the meeting.
What do you recommend I should prepare in advance of this meeting?
What decisions do we need to make at this meeting?
What problems do we need to solve at this meeting?
Thank you in advance,
Time Management Tip: When you receive an invite for a meeting at work where you believe you may not add much value, reply to the invite with a polite message like:
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It seems from the subject, agenda, and attendees list that I’m not a required participant for this meeting. If I’m mistaken and my presence is required in this meeting, please accept my apologies and let me know that I should attend.
This is preferable to ignoring the meeting invite or declining without comment that may come across as rude.
To save time, you can save the above templates as text snippets to be inserted via a keyboard shortcut/macro or in a place from where you can quickly and easily copy and paste.
Companies should, by default, avoid scheduling meetings that start before 10am or end after 5pm. If an employee comes to the office at 8am on some days, it is often to use the two hours of the morning before meetings to catch up and/or get a head start on the day. Meetings that start before 10am are often harmful overall since they put the attendees in reactive catch up mode for the rest of the day. Similarly, meetings that go on beyond 5pm (or worse, start after 5pm) take away valuable time from employees that they use to absorb information and events of the day, catch up with replying to email and get ready for the next work day.
i.e. Companies should consider any time outside the 10am to 5pm window to be not available for meetings and definitely not any weekly recurring meetings.
Preferably, employees who are ‘makers’ should have one 4-hour continuous block of time each day when they are free from meetings. (‘Makers’ differentiated from ‘Managers’)
If you manage a team, value your team members time and want to improve productivity at your workplace with a simple change, consider implementing the 50/25 Meeting Recommendation that some companies are embracing. You can communicate something like the following to your team:
We deeply value your time, your productivity and your comfort at the workplace. As a part of our initiative to make your workday more productive, less hectic and better manageable, we recommend a 50/25 meeting format. It is simple concept: As much as possible, let us take all our meetings that are 1-hour long and shorten them to 50 minutes. For our meetings that are half-hour long, let us limit them to 25 minutes.
You will find that a 50 minute meeting will accomplish no less than a 60 minute meeting did and a 25 minute meeting will be as productive as a 30 minute one was. In fact, by having clear 50 minute and 25 minute deadlines, our meetings are likely to be better focused, on topic and more attentive. (For example: Since you will have time after the meeting to check email, there is likely to be less temptation to check emails during the meeting itself.)
The extra 10 and 5 minutes will give you valuable time back that could be used for many useful activities: Getting in the frame of mind for the next meeting or task; checking your messages to see if there is something urgent that needs your attention; or simply taking a bio break.
Please note that this not a mandate, but a recommendation. We realize that you may not be able to do this for every meeting. What we ask is that you consider doing this for meetings that you organize or can influence. As a result, we will make our great work culture even better, less stressful and even fun.
Further Reading & Thoughts:
NYTimes article about Larry Page, Google’s founder and new CEO instituting the same 50/25 meeting recommendation at Google: