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Stop Complaining and Roll Up Your Sleeves (and Other Little-Known Leadership Lessons)

There’s no instruction manual for leadership, and even if there were one, you don’t need it. Experience is the very best teacher you can have.

College and even business school are important foundations, but the lessons that stay with you throughout your career are different.

During my four decades in leadership roles at Deloitte, I’ve learned a great number of lessons about what it takes to lead a team, or an office, or a company. Here are three of the most important (and yet, least talked about in management books):

1. Look for answers, not just problems.

As the 1960s slogan put it: “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”

Given half a chance, people will criticize just about anything. When pressed, however, most people don’t have practical answers about how to fix the problem. In many cases, they simply don’t want the responsibility.

When considering the facts at hand, a leader must separate constructive criticism that can improve performance from unhelpful whining. You can’t please everyone with every decision you make, nor should you try. What’s important is to listen carefully, hear all sides, and then act, making the best decision for the organization.

My point is straightforward: when you raise a tough problem, the hardest and most worthwhile course is to offer a workable solution – or at least a piece of one. In doing so, you become part of the solution that can help make your organization better.

I too have been guilty of complaining about problems without making an effort to find a solution. I made partner in Deloitte, Haskin & Sells in 1985. In 1989 my firm merged with Touche Ross to become Deloitte & Touche. When the newly-created Deloitte & Touche began the process of assessing who would be promoted to partner the next year, I complained to anyone who would listen that the new process (adopted from Touche Ross) was ineffective and simply “a beauty pageant” compared to the process I’d gone through a few years earlier. The leader responsible for partner admissions that year gave me a challenge, to join the effort and be part of the process. He already knew what I didn’t – that simply complaining helps no one, and gets you nowhere. If you want to change something, be ready to roll your sleeves up.

2. Make the world smaller.

Many big companies have discovered there’s a direct correlation between morale and office size: the smaller the size, the greater the commitment and the higher the morale. It’s that small business feeling that a smaller office creates.

Obviously, you can’t reduce the size of every office or every team, but you can make your world seem smaller – through the power of paying attention.

Successful leaders narrow the gap by making time for people. True leaders show an interest; they listen to ideas and concerns. By being closely engaged, they cue into the obvious and not-so-obvious issues that may arise within a project, an office, or a team. Big companies start to feel like small ones, where everyone knows everyone, and cares about their success.

Working to make your world smaller is an effective tool for any leader. When I started my current role as Global CEO of Deloitte, I set up a global advisory council, where partners from every Deloitte member firm around the world would be represented. Each council serves a one year term, and meets regularly to give me input on global strategy and initiatives. These partners are my sounding board, my advisors, and help strengthen my connection with the rest of their colleagues.

3. Bust the myths.

Winston Churchill said that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.” Rumors and conjecture always make better headlines.

Myths, rumors, and misperceptions are a drag on the process of any organization. But if you don’t set the record straight, who will? Please understand: no one is expecting you to play cheerleader or Pollyanna. But as a leader, you must strive to be candid and credible in telling the real story.

I was CEO of Deloitte U.S. when the global financial crisis first unfolded. I don’t have to tell readers of this blog how frightening this time was for many people. With headlines delivering more bad news every day, people at Deloitte were worried too. It was my responsibility as a leader to be transparent with our people. So I held a series of town hall events right across the country, where people could ask me any question, could raise any concern, and I promised to be straight with them. Sometimes the answers were difficult. Sometimes we just didn’t know yet what would happen. But I made sure we kept talking.

You don’t need to wait for a time of crisis to start straight-talking. Take the time to understand what your business stands for, what its core purpose is, how it makes a difference in the world, and what makes it special. And then talk about it with your teams, with your customers, with your stakeholders.

What lessons have you learned about leadership through your own experience? How did these make you a more effective or more inspiring leader? Please add your voice to the conversation in the comments section below.

Barry Salzberg is the Global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (www.deloitte.com/global). Click the ‘Follow’ link below to stay up to date with Barry’s exclusive LinkedIn Influencer content.

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CAN TECHNOLOGY REALLY CHANGE YOUR HABITS?

If you want to lose weight, improve your memory, even stop using technology so much, as the saying goes: there’s an app for that.

There are hundreds if not thousands of apps designed to help you change behaviors and drop bad habits.

There’s the Freedom app, which blocks you from the Internet so you can focus on work; the Fitocracy app, which uses gamification to reward you with points, allow you to accept challenges from other users, and advance to other levels; the Lift app, which allows users to choose what behavior they want to achieve, such as “run” or “eat breakfast.” Once the behavior is completed, users can check-in and track their progress.

These apps are efficient when delivering “rewards” to users, whether that’s a simple check-in or seeing the progress you’ve made on a graph. Many of these technologycompanies are teaming up with psychologists to understand what kind of rewards drive people to use their products.

Rewards are key to long-lasting behavior changes. “What we’ve learned in the last 10 to 15 years is that there’s an automatic behavior and then there’s a reward after, which is really important because that’s how our brains latch on to behaviors,” says Charles Duhigg, business reporter at The New York Times and author of the book The Power of Habit.

A habit forms because you have repeatedly practiced an activity and your brain creates a neural pathway, made up of neurons, and this exists for the rest of your life. These behaviors become unconscious habits and only when you stop practicing the behavior does your brain destroy the connecting cells that formed that original pathway.

WHAT TYPES OF REWARDS WORK

To change a behavior, you need to receive an even greater reward than the one you get with the old habit. For example, when you exercise and you give yourself a reward like a piece of chocolate, that behavior, after some time, becomes automatic. But if your schedule changes and exercise makes you late, then the reward of not exercising (not being late) becomes greater than the reward of exercising.

A reward will lose its effect over time so to make your behavior long-lasting, the reward needs to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. An intrinsic reward is a sense of achievement that comes from within you, such as the endorphins and pride you feel after exercising. It’s a conscious satisfaction that can’t be taken away. On the other hand, an extrinsic reward is something that is tangible or physically given to you for doing something, such as that piece of chocolate you eat after exercising or the trophy you get for winning a race.

If technology can provide the rewards needed to change your behavior, what happens to your behavior after you stop using the app or program?

DO APPS WORK?

The answer comes down to the behavior you were originally trying to change, saysArun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business whose research program focuses on how information technologies transform business and society.

According to Sundararajan, there are three kinds of behavioral changes.

  • The first includes changing behaviors that you learned through experience, such as the way you manage your time.
  • The second involves retraining your biomechanical system to behave differently, such as not pressing the breaks constantly while you’re driving.
  • The third has to do with physiological behaviors such as smoking and exercising.

The behaviors that have the highest chance of changing even after app usage are the second and third. Why? “Because they’re not changing you. They’re training you to do something differently, so once you’ve trained yourself, you can stop using [the app],” says Sundararajan. When it comes to learned behavior (the first one), there’s a greater chance you’ll revert back to your old behavior after using the app.”

If the app only changes your reaction to feedback, such as reprimanding you for checking your social media, then there’s a good chance you’re only changing your behavior because you’re using the app. When it comes to changing, Sundararajan says your best bet is to not put too much stock in the digital and technology.

“Over the last decade, we’ve started to overestimate the power of technology and we reduce the importance of things like community,” he says. “A big part of behavior change has to do with changing the environment that you’re in and changing the interactions that you have with people.”

There’s no pill or app that will stop you from gambling or stop you from checking Facebook every hour. Technology can certainly help you track your progress and remind you when things need to be done, but, at the end of the day, we’re complex people and only way you can really change is to do it yourself.

Facebook’s Lessons in Leadership

Facebook’s Lessons in Leadership

In his book, How to Create the Next Facebook: Seeing Your Startup Through, From Idea to IPO, author Tom Taulli lays out the specific steps that took Facebook from college dorm room to $100 billion dollar social media platform, and how budding entrepreneurs can use those lessons to launch their own successful business. In this edited excerpt, Taulli details what every would-be founder can learn from Mark Zuckerberg’s journey to becoming a successful CEO.

In Facebook‘s early days, Mark Zuckerberg was a terrible CEO. He didn’t communicate well, kept things to himself, and often riled his employees. He also had a bit of an attitude. One famous example was his business card, which stated at the top: “I’m the CEO, Bitch.”

In late 2005, things were getting worse. Zuckerberg was spending most of his time hanging out with media moguls, flying private jets and dining at elite restaurants. These pastimes may have been a great ego boost, but employees were becoming demoralized, and it was harming the company.

The company’s in-house recruiter, Robin Reed, confronted Zuckerberg and said, “You’d better take CEO lessons, or this isn’t going to work for you.”

It was a pivotal moment. Zuckerberg was mature enough to evaluate the criticism and act on it. It was critical for the company’s growth. From that point on, Zuckerberg set out to get CEO lessons from people who included some of the world’s best leaders.

Related: Should You Pass on a CEO?

Being a CEO can be lonely. You can’t say something like, “I have no idea what to do. Any suggestions?” It’s important to find mentors — especially those who have several rungs more experience than you.

But a CEO also needs to encourage an open environment. Employees should feel free to say negative things. Else it will be nearly impossible for the CEO to understand the company’s problems. The fact that Reed was able to criticize Zuckerberg was an encouraging sign that Facebook had a culture of openness.

Zuckerberg’s mistakes provided him with another crucial lesson: the perils of corporate imprinting. This is a natural human behavior in which employees copy their leader. A CEO needs to be constantly aware of their actions. How will they be interpreted? Is the right example being set?

Related: 3 Secrets of Happy Employees

Having fun is a good thing, but there are boundaries. When things go too far, a company can alienate its employees and even trigger lawsuits. It may also result in chaos.

Among the key factors of Zuckerberg’s journey to becoming a great CEO:

Just say no. As your business gains traction, you will inevitably attract lots of interest from third parties. There will be requests for partnerships or even buyouts.

Don’t get sucked in. Perhaps one of a successful CEO’s most valuable traits is the ability to say “no.” Otherwise you’ll get sucked into too many trivial activities and not have enough time for the important things.

Zuckerberg has nixed many projects, even though significant resources had been invested. But it didn’t matter, because the efforts were not getting much interest. As the saying goes: “Fail fast.”

Speed. There’s something a small company can do that a big company can’t: move fast. It’s a key advantage.

As your company grows, a CEO may become cautious and start avoiding risks. But according to Zuckerberg, a company needs to keep moving “fast and break things.” If you aren’t making mistakes, then that’s when you know you aren’t working fast enough.

Zuckerberg has taken a direct, quick approach to making decisions. This means clearly stating his positions, listening to others, and then taking clear-cut action.

Politics are the enemy of innovation. If employees are more concerned about their own agendas–and career paths–then they are about the business, it will be tough for a company to grow for the long haul.

Politics can be managed; Zuckerberg has made this a focus of his Hacker Way, which declares: “Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win–not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people … Code wins arguments.”

Related: Sean Parker: Running a Startup Is ‘Like Eating Glass’

Be data-driven. Many CEOs ignore information to the contrary and think that their business is doing well. That’s possible during boom times; just look at the dot-com era. Showing metrics such as surges in users was enough to raise huge amounts of capital. But when the VC market collapsed, many companies were wiped out. Only those that focused on sound business models — like eBay, Priceline, and Google — were able to survive.

You need to constantly track data and understand the trends. Although the implications may not always be clear, you’ll be in tune with your company’s reality.

Don’t accept the conventional wisdom. It’s often wrong. Zuckerberg has always been good at asking his team “Why?” especially those who say something can’t be done. It’s been effective in reaching deeper truths, which may point to great product ideas or innovative business models. For example, when he thought about having a photo-sharing concept, it seemed like a bad idea. Did the world need another way to share pictures? But Zuckerberg found a way to use Facebook’s social graph to make his version a game-changer.

He has also focused on getting to the essence of things and striving for simplicity. Consider that some of Facebook’s best features include basic concepts like friends, Likes, and events.

This story originally appeared at Entrepreneur.com This story originally appeared at Entrepreneur.com

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