5 little things put a Leader in the top 10% of performance

I come more and more to the conclusion that excellent performance is not about complex innovations, but about small habits.

Excellent performance is about small habits

I am reading Leading with Emotional Intelligence by Redlan Nadler.  He quotes from book The Extraordinary Leader by Zenger and Folkman.  They found that doing 5 specific things really well put a leader in the top 10% of performance.

Small efforts in these 5 areas make a major difference.

  1. Giving Feedback
  2. Building Human Relationships
  3. Dealing with Poor Performance
  4. Self Management
  5. Managing Upwards

The table below gives specific examples of the difference between average leader behavior and top 10% leader behavior. If it doesn’t display properly via rss, view it on the blog here.

Good Leader Great leader
Giving Feedback
“Mary, thanks for getting the report to me.” “Mary, great job on the report because it was well-written. I appreciate you checked-in with me on the process.  I like how you collaborated with others.”
Building Human Relationships
Works in office on a project and then takes a break.  On the way to get coffee, nods at a few people and walks past some without even looking.  Heads right back to the computer. Takes a break and stops at several people’s desks to check on how they are doing.  Asks about projects and inquires about issues or challenges.  Asks about family or hobbies.
Dealing with Poor Performance
John is not performing as I would like him to. “John, let’s make sure you do everything to get this right.” “John, let’s spend time going over the next assignment together. You haven’t been performing like I know you can and I want to help. When can we meet?”
Self Management
“I’d better work through lunch because I am behind and can catch up if I eat at my computer.” “I am feeling tired and need to recharge. Going to lunch will help keep things in perspective and I will come back refreshed and better able to deal with these next challenges.”
Managing Upwards
“I don’t know what my boss thinks of me and how I am doing. I know she is busy and probably doesn’t need another interruption. “ “I am not sure what my boss thinks of me or how I am doing.  I will schedule some time with her and clarify expectations and make sure I am doing what she wants. It will also give her visibility on my projects.”
It does not take that much longer.  How do you approach these 5 areas?  Do you manage upwards well?  Are you clear on what is high performance in your role?  Do you deal directly with poor performance… or do you cross your fingers and hope?
Have a great day.

Chronic Partial Attention

In a recent article Tom Friedman of the New York Times ponders whether we have evolved from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Age of Interruption, in which the “malady of modernity” is that we are now all afflicted with chronic multi-tasking and chronic partial attention induced by cell phones, email, the internet, handhelds, and our other many devices.

He wonders whether the Age of Interruption will lead to a decline of civilization as our ideas and attention spans shrink like slugs sprinkled with salt, and civilization at large gets collectively diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Friedman then asks “Who can think or write or innovate under such conditions?”

In contrast, Friedman describes his local rain forest guide who:

“carried no devices and did not suffer from continuous partial attention. Just the opposite. He heard every chirp, whistle, howl or crackle in the rain forest and would stop us in our tracks immediately and identify what bird, insect or animal it was. He also had incredible vision and never missed a spider’s web, or a butterfly, or a toucan, or a column of marching termites. He was totally disconnected from the Web, but totally in touch with the incredible web of life around him.”

Do we collectively suffer from Chronic Partial Attention?

I found an interesting academic paper on designing user interfaces in the age of Interruption here.

Student, Use University Well.

I just came across a talk from Derek Sivers to the class at Berklee school of Music.  He shares “6 things I wish I knew before starting”.  Powerful stuff.  It applies to anyone currently at or going to a college or university:

  1. Focus, Disconnect and Do Not be Distracted – don’t let the casual ones tell you to relax. They will live casual lives, have casual skills and will not amount to much.  Practice matters.
  2. Do not accept their speed limit – The classes are set at a pace that the average student can keep.  If you are average, that’s your pace.  If you don’t want to be average, don’t accept the mediocrity speed.  “The standard pace is for chumps.”
  3. Nobody will teach you anything, you have to teach yourself – Its like a library.  The teachers will present information to you.  It is up to you to use it in your life.  University is the best environment for learning, but you have to teach yourself.
  4. Learn from your heros, not just theirs – Teachers will give you rules to follow, heros to be inspired by…  but they are their rules, their heros.  Take the time to look at your own heroes and understand their lives, and draw your own lessons.  “Never think that their heros are better than yours.”
  5. Do not get stuck in the past – “Innovation is needed more than imitation.” High performance people much prefer doing the wrong thing well than the wrong thing poorly.  It is scary to innovate. 
  6. When done, be valuable – Use university, but use your life.  “Making money is nothing more than neutral proof that you are adding value to people’s lives.”  It is easy to do it doing things that others’ don’t want to do, a fulfilling life is making money doing things that others’ have not worked hard to be great at.
Derek finishes with a wish for his audience:

Be one of the few clever enough to make money making music instead of pretending it doesn’t matter;

Be one of the few that has the guts to do something shocking;
Be one of the few who takes lessons as starting point and pushes yourself to do more with what you learn;
Be one of the few that knows how to help yourself instead of expecting others to do it for you;
Be one of the few that does much more than is required;
Be one of the few that stays in the shed to practice while everyone else is surfing the net, flirting on myspace and watching TV.
Watch Derek Sivers’ video here:

How to tell if you have a good idea

A good idea? or…?

Greg Digneo of Cloud Marketing Lab wrote a beautifully simple explanation over at Triiibes of how to test an idea before you spend any money building.  Even “small” ideas like hosting a webinar or writing a short/free ebook to give away on your blog can be tested even before putting time into creating it.

4 Steps to Test an idea

Here’s what Greg does:

  1. Use Unbounce to create a simple landing page. You are trying to get the idea tested as quickly as possible, not creating a landing page work of art.  Basic templates work fine.  (no affiliation with unbounce, just like their product).  You get 30 days for free which is more than enough time to test your idea.
  2. Marketing to consumers? Buy Facebook ads.  They generally cost less than $1.00 per click. Marketing to a specific business function?   Use Linkedin ads.  They generally cost around $3.00 per click.
  3. Test and tweak the ads and the landing page for about a week. Include weekends. You’d be surprised at how much activity happens on a Saturday and Sunday.
  4. If there is enough interest in that week, then implement the idea.  If not, then you’ve wasted a few bucks (learnt a lesson) and not ploughed a lot of time into something that no one wants.

Test an idea.  Surely you have one?  Try it.  Nothing to lose.  Maybe a big gain.
Have a great weekend – and do some cheap tests of your ideas before you spend any time writing business plan, developing code, doing UI design.  Please.  Only Kevin Costner can do “Build it and They will Come”.

Thanks to Greg for sharing these simple steps.

6 Ways to get your Email Ignored

In 2010, 294 billion emails were sent per day for a total of 90 trillion in the full year. 1.9 billion users sent an email during 2010.  The average business user in a 1,000 user organisation receives 110 emails per day (of which 13 are spam) and sends 36 emails.  (source Radicati Group Email Statistics Report 2010)

Lost in a forest of spam?
credit: satosphere

How do you ensure that your email gets acted upon?

When you send to friends and have regular correspondance they will act because they know your name.  When you send to someone who may not know your name what must you do to break out of the forest of spam?

6 ways to end up ignored in an inbox

I read a little section of Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book “Power: Why some people have it and Other’s don’t” where he talked about poorly thought through requests for his help via email.

He outline 4 ways to fail to engage the reader when you ask for some help via email:

  1. Fail to indicate the social connection between sender and reader – where did you meet?  who put you in contact?
  2. Fail to understand the readers perspective – what context (background information) does the reader need to take a decision/act upon the email?
  3. Fail to explain why the reader was specifically selected as a source of potential help.
  4. Fail to show that sender has already made some effort to understand the domain before asking for help.
I would add two further failures that I see in email requests
  1. Fail to keep it short.  Many emails are much too long – the sender has no edit process before sending the “draft” email.   I was referred to a nice email policy called three.sentenc.es by a recent blog post from Mark Suster.  The requirement to write your email in 3 sentences forces you to be concise.
  2. Fail to clarify exactly what is wanted: No effort to clarify what you are asking for.  “Help” is too vague.  I expand on this below.

How to clarify your communication objective:

In my classes on communication at IESE I start by making every student define their objective prior to starting to prepare any communication.  This might sound too basic to be important, but I can guarantee that more failure in communication occurs because the requester really has not clarified what they want and thought about whether it is realistic to expect.

Finish this sentence: “When the reader has finished reading this email he will _________________”

The sentence must be completed with an active verb.  “meet on thursday”, “phone me immediately”, “vote for me”, “visit my web site” are all active.  “understand more about the situation” is not active.  Most communication fails at this step – lack of clarity of the realistic, do-able, specific next action that will move you closer to your overall objective.

Over to you

I hope your emails don’t risk hanging out with the spams in the inboxes of the world.

Any other thoughts on getting your emails read and acted-upon?

Regional Culture Explained

Can we understand a region’s culture by looking at the main cereal crop of five thousands years ago?  This is a little thought experiment.  This has no basis in science or fact and is merely a little story I am telling today…  I very much welcome reflections and comments.

  • Asia – rice
  • Northern Europe – oats and apples
  • Mediterranean – wheat and olives

What is a culture of rice farming?
In most regions of Asia, the food source of the last thousand years has been rice.  Rice is a plant that requires backbreaking constant work to produce a crop.  If a farmer and his family works 10 hour days, he gets a full crop.  If he works 5 hour days, he gets much less.  If he does not work each day, he gets no crop.

First the farmer and his family must build walls to allow an area to be flooded.  River water must be  channeled into the paddys.  The farmers replant the rice plants multiple times to ensure that each has the space it needs.  All of this work is done with feet underwater and back bent at 90 degrees.

Rice = The harder you work, the better your crop.

What is a culture of oats and apples?
In the north of Europe, the food sources have been orchards, oats and barley.  These require a daily effort, but only in maintaining some order in the fields and orchards.  If you work 2 hours a day, you get a full crop.  If you work more, you don’t get any extra benefit.  If you don’t work, you don’t lose everything, but your crop will suffer.

Oats = It is important to work, but there is nothing to be gained by over -working.

What is a culture of wheat and olives?

In the areas around the mediterranean, the crops are wheat and olives.  A farmer plants wheat and then returns 5 months later to harvest his crop.  There is nothing he can do to improve the yield.  There is no gain to be had by working once the wheat is planted.  If the rains come and the sun shines, you get a crop.

Wheat = There is little a human farmer can do to increase the yield except hope for sun and rain.

Is this an interesting analysis of Culture?
Our cultures of today: habits, style of eating, urban architecture, songs, languages, buildings arise out of cultures that were built around these core activities of food production.

A more serious analysis of Culture… (very much worth a read)
One of the best resources on cultural understanding is the framework of Geert Hofstede.  He identified power distance, individualism vs collectivism, masculinity vs femininity, uncertainty avoidance, time horizon and indulgence vs restraint as components that differ, and are important to understand if you are dealing with people from another culture.

Photo credits: ImageMDRaeA, David Bradbeer

Plant Acorns. Grow Oaks.

This post is inspired by a talk “You and your research” by Richard Hamming.

One life to live

Richard Hamming

“Now, why is this talk important? I think it is important because, as far as I know, each of you has one life to live. Even if you believe in reincarnation it doesn’t do you any good from one life to the next! Why shouldn’t you do significant things in this one life, however you define significant? I’m not going to define it – you know what I mean.” Richard Hamming speaking to Bellcore, 7 March, 1986.

My summary of Hamming’s lessons for success (as a scientist, but I believe easily applicable to any profession) are:

Hammings 13 Lessons for Success

  • Work hard
  • Accept ambiguity
  • Work on important problems
  • Plant acorns to grow oaks
  • When opportunity appears pursue it fully
  • Keep your door open sometimes, closed sometimes
  • Do your job in such a way that others can build on it
  • Even scientists have to sell (learn to speak well)
  • Educate your bosses
  • How you dress matters
  • Be good to secretaries
  • Let others fight the system (you can do great work or fight the system, not both)
  • Always look for positive not negative
  • Know yourself, your weaknesses, your self-delusions (we all have self-delusions)

All the talent, but don’t deliver

Richard Hamming says about people who have greatness within their grasp but don’t succeed:

  1. they don’t work on important problems (Bad work, good work, great work)
  2. they don’t become emotionally involved,
  3. they don’t try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and
  4. they keep giving themselves alibis why they don’t. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck.

How success and fame can ruin you

“When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn’t the way things go. So that is another reason why you find that when you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you.”

How to keep it going for life

“Somewhere around every seven years make a significant, if not complete, shift in your field. Thus, I shifted from numerical analysis, to hardware, to software, and so on, periodically, because you tend to use up your ideas. When you go to a new field, you have to start over as a baby. You are no longer the big mukity muk and you can start back there and you can start planting those acorns which will become the giant oaks.”

“It is better to solve the right problem the wrong way than to solve the wrong problem the right way.”

Thanks to Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator for sharing this talk on his blog.  The full text of the talk is here.

What do you think?

Are you planting acorns?  Are you fighting the system? or doing great work?  Is it true that you cannot do both?  (sometimes the system is wrong…  what should I do?)  Join the discussion here.

4 Lessons Learnt on Entrepreneurship (plus 1 for life)

  1. You have to sell.  Yes, you.  You have to sell. You have to get good at it. (7 steps of the sales process, how to pitch a brilliant idea)
  2. You need lots of help.  More than you can imagine. You need to learn to ask for it. (Ask better questions, 17 habits for a fulfilling life #13)
  3. Incremental Improvements always win. (Deliberate PracticeLean startup philosophy, Eat that frog)
  4. Learn to Motivate yourself.  Self-Discipline first. (The Magnet and The Hammer – tool 3, Who would Warren Buffett bet on?, Writing to Reflect)
  5. Listen. Not just to the words.  To the emotions of the other.  To the real reasons underlying her position.  To the hidden messages in their communication.  To yourself. To how you feel.  To your unconscious.  It is a very very clever beast.  It just doesn’t do directness very well.

The New Laziness

Busy-ness (on the Wrong Things) is the new Laziness

“What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?”

Paul Graham

Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?
  2. Are you working on one of them?
  3. Why not?

Paul Graham suggests that you can summarize these three questions into “What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?

Seth Godin says that there is a new laziness.

Years ago, laziness was about shirking from physical labour. Avoiding chores.

The New Laziness

Today’s laziness is more insipid. It doesn’t look like physical laziness. In fact, only the individual self can know that they are being lazy. The new laziness is fear based. It is procrastination. It is self-sabotage. It is avoidance of standing out. It is taking the tested path. It is doing what everyone else does and then being frustrated when you get paid the same as everyone else, of how you will be let go when you are 40 and a 20 year old will do the same work, with more energy, and for less money.

“There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practiced in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.” Sogyal Rinpiche

Busy-ness on the wrong things is the new laziness.

4 ways of dealing with Anxiety

There are 4 ways of dealing with Anxiety

  1. Remove the source of anxiety – avoid the stress.  This is a poor coping strategy.  There is no growth in capability. There will always be a reduction of my performance levels when the stressor is present.
  2. Manage my level of anxiety – learn to auto-adjust down (relaxation techniques, visualisation) or up (“come on, fight this point! never back down!”)
  3. Tolerate anxiety – Accept the existence of the anxiety without it affecting my level of performance.  I learn to co-exist with the anxiety.
  4. Enjoy the anxiety – Lean in to the stress!  Accept the emotions and feel it 100%  Some sports stars have learnt to deliver more than 100% in the most extreme situations – world cup final penalty, Ryder cup putt on the last green with the whole world watching.

Pep Mari, Psychologist for the Spanish Olympic Team

This comes from work of Pep Mari (check out Pep Mari’s youtube channel, in spanish).  Pep is the head of psychology for the high performance athletics center that is part of the Spanish government’s plan to help create a generation of Olympic gold medal winners.

How do you deal with Anxiety?

How do you deal with anxiety?  Do you manage your stress levels?  Are there any stresses that you have learnt to enjoy?  How did you achieve this?

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