The Four skills of Daring Leadership

One of the most important findings of my career is that daring leadership is a collection of four skill sets that are 100 percent teachable, observable, and measurable. It’s learning and unlearning that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with your whole heart. Easy? No. Because choosing courage over comfort is not always our default. Worth it? Always. We want to be brave with our lives and our work. It’s why we’re here.

Brené Brown, Dare to Lead 

Child rearing is an art

Child rearing is an art, and what makes art art is that it is doing several things at once. The trick is accepting limits while insisting on standards. Character may not be malleable, but behavior is. The same parents can raise a dreamy, reflective girl and a driven, competitive one—the job is not to nurse her nature but to help elicit the essential opposite: to help the dreamy one to be a little more driven, the competitive one to be a little more reflective.

Adam Gopnik writing in The New Yorker

 

 

Attributes of a high-performing Leader

A decade long study published in Harvard Business Review set out to identify the specific attributes that differentiate high-performing CEOs: 

Our findings challenged many widely held assumptions. For example, our analysis revealed that while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.

We were also surprised to learn that virtually all CEO candidates had made material mistakes in the past, and 45% of them had had at least one major career blowup that ended a job or was extremely costly to the business. Yet more than 78% of that subgroup of candidates ultimately won the top job.

We discovered that high-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains. In our data, people who were described as “decisive” were 12 times more likely to be high-performing CEOs.

Read more about the CEO Genome Project in the Harvard Business Review

Adaptability: Critical to Effective Leadership

A decade long study published in Harvard Business Review set out to identify the specific attributes that differentiate high-performing CEOs: 

Our analysis shows that CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed. CEOs themselves told us over and over that this skill was critical. The adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term. Adaptable CEOs also recognize that setbacks are an integral part of changing course and treat their mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. In our sample, CEOs who considered setbacks to be failures had 50% less chance of thriving. Successful CEOs, on the other hand, would offer unabashedly matter-of-fact accounts of where and why they had come up short and give specific examples of how they tweaked their approach to do better next time. Similarly, aspiring CEOs who demonstrated this kind of attitude (what Stanford’s Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”) were more likely to make it to the top of the pyramid: Nearly 90% of the strong CEO candidates we reviewed scored high on dealing with setbacks.

Read more about the CEO Genome Project in the Harvard Business Review

 

Motivated by Screaming

I had the most satisfying Eureka experience of my career while attempting to teach flight instructors that praise is more effective than punishment for promoting skill-learning. I was telling them about an important principle of skill training: rewards for improved performance work better than punishment of mistakes. This proposition is supported by much evidence from research on pigeons, rats, humans and other animals.

When I had finished my enthusiastic speech, one of the most seasoned instructors in the audience raised his hand and made a short speech of his own. He began by conceding that positive reinforcement might be good for the birds, but he denied that it was optimal for flight cadets. This is what he said,

“On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver. The next time they try the same maneuver they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better one his next try. So please don’t tell us that reward works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.”

This was a joyous moment of insight, in which I saw in a new light a principle of statistics that I had been teaching for years. The instructor was right – but he was also completely wrong! His observation was astute and correct: occasions on which he praised a performance were likely to be followed by a disappointing performance, and punishments were typically followed by an improvement. But the inference he had drawn about the efficacy of reward and punishment was completely off the mark.

What he had observed is known as regression to the mean, which in that case was due to random fluctuations in the quality of the performance. Naturally, he praised only a cadet whose performance was far better than average. But the cadet was probably just lucky on that particular attempt and therefore likely to deteriorate regardless of whether or not he was praise. Similarly, the instructor would shout in to a cadet earphones only when the cadet’s performance was usually bad and therefore likely to improve regardless of what the instructor did. The instructor had attached a causal interpretation to the inevitable fluctuations of a random process.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow

bosses: don't be jerks

After decades of being bossed, and 16 years of bossing, I’ve developed a prime directive for bosses which will probably not be taught at Harvard Business School: Don’t be a jerk. Organizations need hierarchies and leadership, so yes, you get to call some shots. You can be tough and demanding. But remember that your authority over other human beings is an artificial construct. You are not better than the people working for you. Fire people if you must, but humiliate no one. Be kind. Granted, many bosses don’t operate this way, and I can understand why women in positions of power want the right to be as obnoxious and tyrannical as their male counterparts. But wouldn’t it be better still if no boss could get away with acting like a jerk?

William Falk writing in The Week Magazine

Paying Creative People

Most of the time, when you hire people you don’t want to specify exactly what they are to do and how much they would get paid—you don’t want to say if you do X you will get this much, and if you do Y you will get that much. That type of contract is what we call a complete contract. Creating one is basically impossible, especially with higher-level jobs. If you try to do it, you cause “crowding out.” People focus on everything you’ve included and exclude everything else. What’s left out of the contract tends to drop out of their motivation as well. You are taking away from their judgment and goodwill and teaching them to be like rats in a maze. It’s like the difference between asking someone to help you change a tire and offering them $5 to do it. The moment you introduce money, you change how the person views the exchange. They say, “Oh, this is work. I don’t work for $5. Give me $150 and we can talk.”

When I was at MIT, they told us we had to teach 112 points per year. They had a complex formula for how many students and how many hours and so on would translate into teaching points. Basically, MIT was conditioning me to put the least effort into getting the most points. This became the game. I was quite good at it. And I taught very little.

It happens with all kinds of compensation. A consulting company once told me they made a rule that if you stayed until 8 in the office, you could order food and use the car service to get home. So what happens? A ton of people are there at 8. Nobody’s there at 8:05. It’s the same with pay: If you are hiring the right people, you don’t want to include anything too specific in the contract. You want people to buy into the objectives of the company. Be specific about those, and then trust people to quickly understand how they can help maximize the objectives at each point in time. People actually know to a high degree which actions are good for the company and which are not—regardless of what you pay them for.

Dan Ariely