Tom Peters 11 Lessons for Life (Right Now)

Tom Peters 11 Lessons for Life (Right Now)

In an episode of internet procrastination, I came across this tweet… and it led me down a rabbit hole.

Tom Peters, the Original Management Guru

Tom Peters wrote the book “In Search of Excellence” back in 1983 and began a major shift in Business studies. In place of scientific management, business began to look at what leadership might be… and begin to treat employees not as robots, but as human beings. The role of leadership is not to maximise production, it is both to achieve productivity and to make sure that employees, customers, owners and communities benefit in the process.

I came across a recent interview with Tom Peters. He spoke with Vala Afshar of Salesforce and Ray Wang of Constellation Research. I’ll share Vala’s summary of the interview (original article here)

11 Lessons on Life from Tom Peters: 

1. The most important leadership lessons were taught to us in middle school.  

Peters has advanced college degrees from Stanford and Cornell, and yet he remembers his 4th-grade teacher as one of the most influential people in his life. Peters said that his 4th-grade teacher loved him and the other students. It is about people who deeply care about other people. Care about your people. Teach them to be better humans. 

2. Never hire anyone who does not have high emotional intelligence (EQ).

And never, ever promote anyone who does not have a sky-high EQ.

“We only hire nice people” is a mantra that Tom Peters admires. Don’t hire the jerks, regardless of their deep expertise. Can we train for higher EQ? Peters thinks that if we have institutions that are thoughtful, caring, and people first, then we will have teaching opportunities to increase emotional intelligence.

3. Positive reinforcement is 30X more powerful than negative reinforcement. 

Peters talked about a Google study of their top employees and what made them perform. They discovered all of the top 7 attributes of their top employees were all soft skills. Project Oxygen had surprising results — the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last.

The six top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills:

  1. being a good coach;
  2. communicating and listening well;
  3. possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view);
  4. having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues;
  5. being a good critical thinker and problem solver;
  6. being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Peters also talked about the negative impact of categorising players as A-players vs. B-players — the fastest way to demotivate half the population. 

4. Always start with honesty and humility. 

No living human being today knows what they are doing. There are no experts in unsolved problems. Regardless of the size of your business, we must all admit that we do not have the answers. Instead, let’s work together to make forward progress. Be human and care about people. Peters weeps about a 20-person restaurant owner who is struggling now. Peters talked about mangers who had to execute layoffs, but when doing so with compassion and empathy, the workers effected ended up hugging their hiring manager. Be human. 

5. Take care of your employees by protecting their safety, health, and future. 

Peters read a memo from the Blue Mountain Community College, Boardman, Oregon that was communicated to their employees during the work-from-home quarantine: 

  1. You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
  2. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are extremely important right now. Take care of yourself!
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. Be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. Be kind to others and don’t judge others on how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.

6. It is about stakeholder value, not just shareholder value. 

Peters talked about long-term thinking companies have produced vastly more income, jobs, and wealth as compared to short-term thinking companies. You cannot expect customers to love your company before your employees do. Caring about your employees, customers, partners, and the community is good for business. If you take care of people, you will make a lot of money, this according to Peters. Maximizing shareholder value is no longer the path to sustainable growth. Values create value. 

7. This is the time to listen, learn, care more, and change. 

Tom Peters was not willing to comment about racial tensions in our country because he said that “I am part of the problem.” I asked Peters to talk about the current state of health, economic, racial, climate, and leadership crisis and he said that no one should pretend to know the answers to these unsolved problems.

8. What you have done in the past two months, and what you will do in the next two months will define your leadership legacy.  

Peters strongly urged business and community leaders to recognize that who they are as human beings will be defined by what they are doing now. Leaders emerge in times of crisis. How you behave, the degree which you were helpful, the degree of thoughtfulness will define you. 

9. There are two kinds of virtues — resume virtues and eulogy virtues. 

What will people say about you at your funeral?

Peters referenced the work by David Brooks and his article on eulogy virtues. Brooks wrote: 

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues, and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

David Brooks

Peters reminded us to focus on the eulogy virtues — this is how you can live a recommendable life. 

10. Leadership Team Must No. 1: Put more women in charge. 

In the age of COVID-19, Peters released a new piece titled “Excellence 2020: The 27 Number Ones,” succinct guidance about where to focus your leadership — from hiring and training to culture and management — now and always.

Tom Peters shared several research findings regarding why women are better leaders than men. Peters also talked about the importance of pay equality. Women should be paid the same as men for the same work. Peters also shared encouraging news about more women are graduating from colleges than men. When Peters graduated from Cornell, there was only one woman graduate out of 800 engineering students. Today’s Cornell graduating class consisted of 51% women graduates. 

The final story that Peters shared with us was an emotional story for Peters. The story involved Dwight David Eisenhower and the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landing, where Eisenhower went to the beach, putting his arms around the soldiers and wishing them Godspeed. I want you to see the video (35 minutes, 40 seconds into the video) because the delivery from Peters will bring tears to your eyes. 

11. Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind. 

Tom Peters referenced the famous quote from Henry James. Peters said that this mantra should be the guiding principle for all schools and businesses. Let us behave well as individuals now. Let us hold ourselves to a higher standard. 

Check out the original article by Vala or watch the full interview here below:

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