The mission of the IESE Business School, where I teach about 1,000 EMBA, MBA and Senior Management participants each year, is to “develop leaders who aspire to have a deep, lasting and positive impact on people, firms and society” and I have spent a lot of the last 13 years attempting to find a way to achieve this mission.
A leadership decision will always look wrong from somebody’s perspective. Leadership decisions are always difficult because they play off between values. We learn from Homer’s great hero Odysseus is that a leadership decision is always a decision between two bad outcomes. If one path led to a good outcome, then the decision is an excel spreadsheet decision… not a leadership decision. Leadership will always be hard because you can never be right from all perspectives.
What stops someone developing as a leader? What is the single greatest obstacle we face in developing Leaders?
We are born aware of how we view others, but unaware of how others view us.
Some learn quickly to see how others see them.
Some never learn.
Some face an insurmountable challenge (psychologists call this a “boundary experience”) and realise that it is they themselves that must change. It is they themselves that act in ways that make their goals unachievable. It is only a major failure in their life that forces them to reflect and see that they are responsible for the behaviours that are causing failure.
How do those institutions that develop leaders open human beings up to the nature of their self-delusion? How do I as a teacher help someone realise that they don’t know everything?
I was reading “Return on Character”, a book by Fred Kiel this week – it is a 10 year study into the financial impact of having a leader who behaves with 4 “leadership character qualities”. He worked with many CEOs. He surveyed the CEOs, and he surveyed the direct reports of CEOs.
Great CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 80%.
Poor CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 50%.
Every one of his CEOs think they show these 4 categories of behaviour over 80% of the time…
Integrity – clear sense of right & wrong; tells the truth; seeks the truth
Responsibility – self control; fixes own mistakes
Forgiveness – cooperation; conflict resolution
Compassion – empathy; builds attachments; shows and receives affection
And, by the way, the answer was yes, leadership character matters to direct reports. In a big way.
The Challenge of Self-Delusion
An individual is delusional about their qualities as a leader.
This is the teaching challenge – students do not believe that they have poor behaviours around integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.
How do you get people to realise that they are not as good as they think they are? (how to get them to actually listen to direct reports and to team mates feedback?) Now… that is our teaching challenge.
A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way. The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.
The bad gardener fights what arises. The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.
The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.
In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting! I wouldn’t have expected that.” Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.
Good Teaching as Good Gardening
I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.
Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.
A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way. Nature is difference. Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.
I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions. I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.
We collect habits, items, people that served us in a given moment, but are not serving us now. Human beings come pretty well designed for Systematic Accumulation, adding more and more plans, projects, dreams to my bucket list.
As we move through life we accumulate dreams, fantasies, projects, stuff. I often think about what else I would like to add to my life, but rarely think about what to let go.
I joined a private conference with Professor Ernesto Beibe last night. He spoke about “middle age” and the challenges that a person faces as they enter the period of life called “middle aged”.
His metaphor was that life is like climbing a mountain – but the summit is not death, the summit is middle age. The idea is that all the way growing up our whole world view was what we had already seen, but as we stand on the summit for the first time in our lives we have a glimpse of what is way down the other side of the mountain – we now know and believe that life is finite, time is finite, resources are finite.
The challenge we have is to let go of all the dreams, fantasies and projects that we have collected in our walk up the mountain of life and decide which projects will get the focus.
Accepting that I will not achieve some of my dreams is painful.
What do you do to let go of dreams, projects, plans that are no longer realistic to achieve?
I once believed I would play football for Manchester United. I remember the day that Ryan Giggs took to the field at age 17 and I knew that my dream was never, ever going to happen. It wasn’t so hard to let it go because football had become less and less important to me as I went from 7 to 17.
The equation for human performance is the following:
Performance = Potential – Self-Sabotage
That is it. You achieve not what your boss lets you, not what the others let you… you achieve what you don’t screw up for yourself.
In the years since I first wrote this equation up in a class and people said “No… it can’t be that” I have become more and more convinced that the greatest devil in our own lives is the 4 Arts of Self Sabotage.
The 4 Arts of Self-Sabotage
Distraction: Lack of Focus
Fixed mindset: “I have what I have now because of who I am, not how hard I have worked”
Arrogance: sometimes seen as Denial, sometimes as Nostalgia, sometimes as Victim, sometimes as Sole Hero
Inability to Handle Anxiety (or anger, or rage, or fear)
Success in life, whether sporting success, writing success or financial success has more to do with overcoming these 4 arts of self-sabotage than any level of original brilliance or one-time shots of luck.
In the next 10 years through to 2024, 1 Billion jobs will be taken over by machines. Google cars will replace taxis. IBM’s Watson will replace customer service staff. We cannot out-reason the machines.
We must change the way we teach, the way we parent and the role of “I don’t know” in our society.
I ask for your help. I will ask for your commitment not to say “I know”, when you don’t. I will ask you to use “I don’t know” more. Let’s let our connected intuition have the space it needs to work as it was originally designed.
You can’t begin to improve at something until you are “knowingly bad”.
If you are not aware of the lack of something, you haven’t got “taste” yet. If you think you are the best blogger in the world, two things could be true:
You really are the best blogger in the world
You are blind to the real criteria for what makes a great blogger
Taste is the beginning of Knowingly Bad
The development of taste is the beginning of “knowingly bad”.
Taste is the ability to tell what is good. Taste is what you develop as you progress that actually grows your disappointment with your results. As you go through development, your talent grows slowly, but if you are going to be good, your taste grows rapidly.
As taste grows, the disappointment grows.
Ira Glass says “For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.”
Don’t Quit at Disappointment
When you have posted your 8th blog post and you feel it is going downhill, your posts are getting worse, your progress feels like it is backwards… do not be afraid. This is the beginning of “Taste”.
I know 2 types of anxiety-free public speaker. Type 1 has never developed “Taste” and so has no capacity to concern himself that he could do poorly. He is blind. He makes no connection between the audience’s use of email on their phones and the bad-ness of his speech.
Type 2, if you are interested? Type 2 cares so much about the message that the speech is not about him or herself. The message is so important that his own performance doesn’t even enter the equation. The message is so important that he has given the speech 100 times, over coffee, in airport lounges.
If I want taste in writing, I have to read a lot. I have to know why one author is better than another, and specifically what that author does that I am not yet able to do.
If you are writing and and not satisfied with the paragraph you are producing: Great! You have taste.
If you are speaking and are not satisfied with your quality of impact on the audience: Great! You have taste.
If you are leading a team and are not satisfied that you are a good enough leader: Great! You have taste.
If you are a parent, and are not completely satisfied that you are doing it well: Great! You have taste.
The Role of Teachers
Great teachers focus on developing taste as well as developing talent – because with taste, you can grow beyond the teacher. If they don’t help you with taste, you depend on them. I spend more and more time these days helping the participants in my seminars give structured feedback on themselves than I used to. If I tell them what to improve, that’s ok… but if I help them develop that ability in themselves, they are getting “Taste”.
I love this little Dilbert storyline from Scott Adams:
Employee: “I find it rather demotivating that you never praise me for a job well done.”
Boss: “You’ve never done a job well.”
Employee: “That’s because I’m demotivated.”
Boss: “You have to go first.”
Employee: “Wouldn’t that make me the Leader?”
The 1-minute Leader
Ken Blanchard’s popular and accesible book The One Minute Manager suggests that a leader does 3 things, in the following order:
1-Minute Praising: Hunt for something the person does well, and publicly praise them – immediate and specific positive praising on actions. Praise the Person.
1-Minute Goal-Setting: Agree on goals (no more than 5) with staff. Make sure each goal is clearly written on a separate piece of paper and kept visible daily. Keep Goals limited and focussed.
1-Minute Reprimand: If the person has the skills to do something right, and it is not done right – in private let them know “I know you are a great person, but this behaviour/result is not up to your talent. Reprimand the Behaviour.
The 4 Most Important Traits of Leaders
Jim Kouzes has spent over 30 years asking millions of people “what do you admire in the leaders that inspire you?”. He has compiled the information over many years into his bestselling book: The Leadership Challenge.
The top 4 traits that followers seek in leaders are:
Work harder on honesty
Honesty is 3 times more important than the rest of the top 4 traits combined. There is no point in working on competence, inspiration or forward looking if people don’t now perceive you as honest, as trustworthy (Read: What is Trust?). People hate it when a leader doesn’t play it straight with them. People hate it when a leader doesn’t have the courage to speak the honest truth about their performance, about the state of the organization, about what is going on in the team.
Credibility is the Base
The traits honesty, competence and inspiring are really about perception more than any absolute. It is not enough to just be honest, you need to be perceived as honesty by the group. It is not enough to be competent, you need to be perceived as competent by the group. It is not enough to spray out messages that you think are inspiring, you really need to be perceived as inspiring by others.
Forward Looking is the Leadership Differentiator
Credibility gives you the permission, but that alone does not make the leader. You need to build an ability to create a shared vision of the future, a forward looking but real-feeling sense of direction for the group. How can you do this?
There are 3 aspects to being able to share a forward looking vision.
WIIFM: I show others how their long term interests can be realised
Connect: I appeal to others to share an exciting dream
Storytelling: I describe a compelling image of what our future could be like
The key here is not the ability to see the future, it is the ability to communicate it meaningfully and tangibly to the people around you. The crystal ball is not as valuable as the ability to communicate persuasively. (My free online course “Speak as A Leader” can help http://bit.ly/practicespeak )
"All the Great Speakers were Bad Speakers at first" Emerson || Join 1,262 participants free online speaking course http://t.co/wp87ry6SWU
In the last issue of IESE Insight magazine, Carlos Ghosn offered three key lessons he has learned during his career.
First, he said, “Every problem has a solution,” but business leaders have to be prepared to pay the personal or collective price that will come with a given solution.
Second, things have to get worse before they get better. “It’s easier to improve a company in trouble than a company with an average performance,” he said.
His third lesson was that “you learn management by doing” and nothing is as instructive as highly stressful situations. When faced with adversity, often “you cannot sleep, you cannot eat,” he said, but in the end, such situations are often what teach managers the most.
What lessons have you learnt?
What would you share?
Thanks to Sergio C. for alerting me to these wise words from Carlos Ghosn.
This post is a follow up to the TED-Education post yesterday: What Aristotle and Joshua Bell teach us about Persuasion. If you haven’t already watched the lesson, you’ll need to as background to the material in this post. You can watch it here on TED Education.
What could Joshua Bell do to get his music heard in the subway?
What could you do to improve the chance that someone listens to your ideas? How do you work on the Logos, Ethos and Pathos of your ideas that you will to share?
My answer is available in the 1:20 audio clip here on the blog:
What do you think?
How do you work on the Logos, Ethos and Pathos of your ideas? Comments welcome here.
I finished my first expedition into the world of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – this week. I have completed a 10 week course on Coursera run by a team led by Dr. Struck of Penn State University. The course was titled Greek and Roman Mythology.
How was the experience?
In four words: Hard work. Enriching. Fulfilling.
Coursera stated up front that the course would require 8-10 hours per week. I assumed that given how smart I am (yes, the arrogance remains strong…), I would be able to do it in half the time… but no. I was wrong. The course consisted of 1-2 hours of video lectures each week, 3-4 hours of readings and a 20 question multiple choice quiz covering the week’s learning. Two short essays were required in week 6 and week 9. I found myself submitting the second essay at 2:34am on a Sunday night.
The course was more work than I had expected. The quizes required a dedication of attention that was far beyond the mere background watching of TED talks or other educational youtube videos. The essays encouraged a deeper reflection on the material.
I learnt more in this 10 week online course than in my own university courses. Firstly because the course is well designed and the structure doesn’t allow me to leave the hard work for the last week of the class. Secondly, because I truly wanted to read these ancient myths and think about what they mean for us as human beings.
The role of the bricks and mortar university is going to change. It is already changing. There is still an important role in bringing people physically together. There is still a role in certifying progress, in providing credentials. However, the process of learning is not well served by 300 people in a lecture hall listening to an academic. Learning online, directly from the best, structured in an optimized digital format is the future of the knowledge and skill learning aspect of education.
“This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths.
Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over?
This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.”
We read and analysed the following works during the class:
Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Demeter
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
My Final Essay. What relationship is at the core of Myth?
This is the last essay that I submitted for the course. Finished at 2:34am on Sunday night. Yep, flashbacks to my days of university were frequent 😉
Question: We’ve seen numerous kinds of relationships under scrutiny in the myths we have studied: (1) relationships between humans and the divine; (2) familial relationships, e.g., fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, etc.; (3) relationships between individuals and communities; (4) relationships between the individual and himself/herself. For this essay, you need to decide which ONE of these 4 types of relationships is most important for the myths we have read, and explore why it is so. Of course, a wise person will see that there is at least some importance in all of them, but for this question, you must choose the most important ONE, and then explore why it is.
My Answer: Myth is about the Relationship to One’s own self
The early Romantic German philosopher Novalis said “The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.”  Myth is this meeting between inner and outer world. As heroes meet gods, kings, queens, monsters and challenges, they discover themselves.
Joseph Campbell speaks of the two paths: the left hand path, and the hero’s journey . The left-hand path is finding one’s role in society. The hero’s journey is a journey of self-discovery.
The most important relationship in the myths that we have read is the relationship between the individual and himself. The relationships to the divine, to family, to communities are important but serve as a canvas for the hero to discover himself.
The first inscription above the temple of Delphi is “Know Thyself” . Each hero is seeking to “Know Themselves”.
As discussed in the course lecture week 8, the central question of Oedipus Rex is “Who am I?” Is Oedipus who he is because of land (Cithaeron, Thebes, or Corinth) or genes (birth parents, adopted parents). “Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes.” 
In the Odyssey, a person discovering themself with the help of the divine is Telemachus. In Book 1 he is a victim until intervention by Athena allows him to discover his hero, leader aspect. Upon this transition, he commands his mother: “Nay, go to thy chamber, and busy thyself with thine own tasks, the loom and the distaff, and bid thy handmaids ply their tasks; but speech shall be for men, for all, but most of all for me; since mine is the authority in the house.” [7, line 356]
In the Bacchae, the god Dionysis wonders if he is really accepted by the pantheon of gods. He is different, his rites and rituals are different. Gods are not immune from the process of self discovery. Even gods are not blessed with self belief. They too must find their own identity as they face the challenges of life.
Virgil’s hero Aeneas follows a parallel journey to Odysseus, but with a “Pietas” character that the Roman culture valued highly. Virgil is writing at a time of Roman Empire and Stability as opposed to Homer at at time of Greek Exploration and Expansion. [5,8] Pietas, or sense of duty, requires that Aeneas finds his identity in a context of an obligation to society. He is not free to just be himself. He must find the integration of who he really is with what his society needs from him.
The central question of the myths is “Who am I?”. Relationships with others are important – me to Gods, me to family (Oedipus), me to society (Aeneas in Games), me to father/mother (Telemachus), but they serve as a canvas for the central relationship, “knowing myself”.
Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. David W. Wood, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007.
The Power of Myth. Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers: Anchor, 1991.
Dr. Peter Struck, Course Notes (Announcements Week 8).
Homer. The Odyssey, A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.
Sophocles. The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles. Sir Richard Jebb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1887.
Euripides. The Tragedies of Euripides, translated by T. A. Buckley. Bacchae. London. Henry G. Bohn. 1850.
Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. New York: Vintage, 1990
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