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Reverse Mentors: Influence vs. Mutual Benefit

29 Mar

How I blog…  I see something that intrigues me, makes me laugh, makes me think…

I ran across a post a few days ago that spoke of ‘Reverse Mentoring’, how us old folk can learn from the current generation.  I put it aside for a ‘future’ blog, then this morning, I saw an blog from the Harvard Business Review that brought this topic back to life.  The blog, entitled “When Your Influence is Ineffective“, spoke of the 5 methods of influence Rationalizing, Asserting, Negotiating, Inspiring and Bridging.  What I found most enlightening was not the blog itself, but the comments.

 I would refrain from using the word influence. One should never try to influence, change or manipulate others for own benefit. One should rather work for mutual benefit –Sai Dattathrani

If we can just step back for a moment and observe our desire to influence someone, recognize its source, and then fit it into the larger picture of our work and our relationships, we’ll be able to be more fully present in our interactions. Instead of mindlessly launching into a habitual influence strategy, we’ll loosen our sense of compulsiveness around influencing others. We’ll be able to better tolerate situations where we don’t influence anyone, and paradoxically, end up in more situations where we influence people without even trying. – Kartik Subbarao

… but the latest comment is the one that really caught my eye.

..based on Kartik and Sai’s response , do we need to question  our pervasive use of the word influence when discussing leadership with people from different cultures? – notmd

That is where the light went on and the two blogs ‘collided’.  Is this really a question of cultures, or is it a question of generations?

I ask those of you that are parents, have you ever resorted to “Because I SAID SO” (asserting)?  In today’s world, that’s not any more effective in the workplace than the home.  Just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have agreement.  Nothing is more demotivating than “The management team got together and decided….”

I struggle regularly at my new job with this question: “Is my team agreeing with my assessment because they truly agree, or because I’m the ‘boss’?”

Going back to generations and the parenting analogy:

As my children have grown to become adults, I find myself relying on their opinion more and more.  The world changes so quickly, it is their world now.  Reverse mentoring has extraordinary value.

My closing thought?

Influence goes both ways.  A good leader is one who recognizes and welcomes the influence of others and then leads by example, not by edict.  That’s my goal.

– RTR

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You’re Going to Get Punched in the Face

26 Mar

Can I write a blog based on the alleged entrepreneurial wisdom of Mike Tyson?  Sure I can!

The title comes from a quote attributed to the former heavyweight champion of the world,  “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”  The origin of the quote was actually from another former champion, Joe Louis, who said:

Every fighter’s got a plan until they get hit

That’s what differentiates “entrepreneurs” from “managers”.  Managers manage.  They plan.  They build structure.  They strive for comfort.  Many “can’t take a punch”.  They use language like, “those are the rules”, “that’s how we do things here”. I believe that’s why many large companies have difficulty maneuvering.  It takes a different mindset.

Entrepreneurs KNOW they’re going to get punched in the face.  So what?  It’s just a punch in the face.  No big deal.

…. but what if you get knocked down?   You get back up.

…. but what if you get knocked out?  You start again.

Does that mean entrepreneurs are fearless?  I don’t think so, I think it’s that their drive, their belief, is bigger than their fear.

The first entrepreneur I ever met was my late uncle, Bill Ricci.  He never went to college (that was reserved for the oldest son in this 1st generation Italian-American family, Bill was #2).  Bill was a self-taught engineer, an idea guy with seemingly unlimited energy.  My mother tells the story of when he had mortgaged everything he owned and things he didn’t own (my grandmother’s house), to get through the tough times.  In all the years I knew him,  I never saw any sign of worry, concern.  He was emotional, yes.  Boisterous. Full of life. Angered easily, laughed easily, but I never saw any sense of uncertainty.  You were never in doubt on where Bill Ricci stood on a topic.

Cambridge Tool & Mfg, now part of Pace Industries, was started by Uncle Bill in 1945.  It was an incredibly successful company, mostly because Uncle Bill knew it would be.

That’s what it’s all about.

– RTR

Commenting on Team Building

20 Mar

While I have managed a team at various times during my career, my most recent assignment was more of an individual contributor role, and, I’ve not had to ‘inherit’ a team in quite a while.  With this in mind, I found this blog over at Harvard Business Review to be very interesting.

The blog was called “The Hard Science of Teamwork” reported by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland.  The author is the Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.   The ‘Hard Science’ in the title refered to the use of ‘sociometric badges’ to mathematically measure communication.  The blog stated with points related to the ‘new science of building great teams’.

Our data show that great teams:

  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

An interesting point made by Mr. Pentland was that content of communication (the ‘what‘) did not matter as much as they way that communication took place (the ‘how‘).  This makes sense to me.   Material presented in dull monotone will not have the effect as the same material present with passion.

One learning from this blog that did suprise me was Pentland’s assertion that communication (charisma?) can be taught:

In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills.

This bears watching.  In my new role, an effective team will be key to our continued success, and communication will be a very important factor.

More to come….

– RTR

Commenting on “The Only Question That Really Matters”

10 Feb

Every so often, I read something that knocks me back in my chair.

This morning, it was a blog by Tony Schwartz over at the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Most Important Question You Can Ask”.  The question is “Why are you here?”, Schwartz’ answer:

I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up.

Simple… Powerful… What a great philosophy!  Imagine a world where everyone felt that way?

Many realizations came hard on the heels of reading this statement.  Take social media, for example.  What blogs/tweets do I gravitate toward?  The ones that add value.  The ones that give me an additional insight on a topic.  What are the blogs/tweets that make me want to move off the grid?  The ones that are blatantly self-serving; thinly (or not even thinly) disguised marketing product pitches.  White noise.

Look at any credible sales training methodology (Jeffrey Gitomer and Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage are two that come to mind).  What do they preach? Add value, show a genuine interest in the other person (the key word being ‘genuine’).

BTW: One of my favorite tweets;  Deirdre Breakenridge simply tweets “Good Morning” every day.  It’s almost like greeting an old friend.  I find myself looking forward to it.  No veiled (or unveiled) message, no hidden agenda, just “good morning”.  As Schwartz points out in his blog, even the simple gesture adds value.

Back to the topic:

I’ve always felt that the credit crunch and the financial malaise of the past few years can be attributed to an attitude of “me first”, exemplified by a VISA advertising campaign from decades ago:

“Who says you can’t have it all?”

What a siren song!  Of COURSE I can have that big screen TV,  I DESERVE it.   People (or institutions, or countries) are using money they don’t have, then demanding a bailout when it all comes crashing down.

As we prepared to invade Iraq following the events of 9/11/01,  I was debating the merits of that strategy with a former co-worker.  His view, we need to take over Iraq for the oil.  Iraqi national sovereignty had no bearing on the discussion.  We need the oil.  It’s all about us.

It’s disappointing that our political system seems to fall into one of two camps.  The Democratic “The rich must give to the poor” and the Republican  “I’ve got mine, you can’t have it”.  I find myself disillusioned by both.

I’m looking for a party or candidate that truly lives by “I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up”,  I’ll follow him or her anywhere.

In the meantime, I’ll just strive to live up to that ideal myself.  I have a long way to go.

Thank you, Mr. Schwartz!

– RTR

Why Didn’t I Think of That? Intellectual Diversity

9 Feb

Bronwyn Fryer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Wanted: Idea Fusers”.  She uses examples such as Steve Jobs (everyone’s favorite example) and his fusion of calligraphy and technology in creating the Macintosh user interface.

In the closing paragraph, Fryer issues a challenge:

Now, take a good look at the people your company hires. Do they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences? My guess is that there may be a diversity policy on the books, and that there are people of different genders and races. But we need more diversity than that. We need much more intellectual diversity, and we need to find ways to put unlike ideas together in new ways.

Connecting the dots here, I thought of my own family.  One of the things I always admired about my wife is how she encouraged our children to be self-sufficient and find their own way at a very early age.  They learned to make their own meals, do their own chores MUCH earlier in life than I would have expected.  I remember our youngest filling a pot of water and putting it on the stove to make tortellini when he couldn’t even see the top of the stove!

When the kids were frustrated, she would say “Use your words”.  When they were punished for some disgression, they would not be allowed out of “time-out” until they could present a ‘plan’ for how they would act in the future when faced with a similar situation.

I was more old school, resorting to “… because I SAID SO!” as a reason way too often.

Our children became independent thinkers, unafraid to present what we now call ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.  All three of our children turned out to be great adults.

Ms. Fryer is really on to something with her comments.  Most organization do NOT gravitate toward people who think differently.

Our children took different educational paths when we moved to Cincinnati from Boston.  Our middle child started 1st grade in the local public elementary school, and followed the public school path through high school, the youngest was in Catholic school from Kindergarten on.   Regardless of the school choice, the boys (not as socially adept as their big sister) were sometimes a ‘challenge’ to the elementary school environment, due to their out-of-the-box independent thinking.  In both cases there were teachers along the way that saw their potential and nurtured it, but I sometimes wonder, what if my wife and I were BOTH “because I said so” parents?  What if our children’s educational experience had not included those teachers that saw their true value?

I think the same applies to business organizations.  We naturally gravitate towards people who think and act like us.  Free thinkers can be a burden.  They can be disruptive.  They’re not like us…

I believe that it’s a rare organization that can foster free thinking and idea fusing and survive over time.  Eventually the success of the free thinking culture is challenged by market forces, and management brings in a ‘proven leader’ to whip the organization into shape.  Think Apple during Steve Jobs ‘hiatus’.   The non-conformists desert, the company becomes another nameless, faceless organization and another ‘idea fusing’ start up kicks them out of the limelight.  What would Apple look like today if Steve Jobs had not returned?

It’s not enough to find idea fusers, you need to be able to foster their growth and understand that not all fused ideas will be winners.  It will be a wild ride, but definitely worth the journey!

– RTR