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What are you Seeing?

lensPerhaps the most powerful sense we have in business is our ability to see.  By observing our products in action, our customer’s habits, and our supply chain and vender’s facilities we get a huge breadth and depth of information.  Arguably, seeing how your business works provides you with the most control over how you interpret the information you are presented with.

Yet how many of us spend the majority of our days holed up in our offices, sitting in meetings, and waiting around in conference rooms? Even when were active we’re probably running to catch the right train or hurrying to get home by a certain time.

You can always monitor interactions and relationships from your office in part, but how can you expand your view of business opportunities?  Can you really make good decisions when you rarely see your customers shop for and experience your product or service?  Can you generate “out-of-the-box” growth opportunities when most of your time is spent “inside your box?”

Is your world view unnecessarily limited because you are not seeing the world?  It is so easy for us — from entrepreneurs to corporate executives to professional service people — to fall into this routine. And it can be stifling your organization.

Designers and other creatives understand this more than anyone. Indeed, the very best creative people “see everything” and are constantly looking at everything. They know that through their eyes will come their next big idea or inspiration.   They have a sense that the more they see and the broader they see, the more they can inspiration they can tap into for future projects.

Managers, executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals need to adopt this mindset to be effective and innovative in today’s environment. You need to see more. You need to look wider.  And you need to look deeper. Your sense of sight will transform you, your organization, and, perhaps, your industry. If you remain planted in your Aeron chair (itself a product created by several very talented leaders who used their observations to create an innovative seat for the modern worker) you will never be able to grow, learn, or change.

This week do yourself and your organization a favor. Step out of the office.  Go someplace you haven’t been. Go see your customers or products in action. Go observe something new and really consider it. Keep those observations in the front or back of your mind. Do it the following week and see how it changes the way you lead.

Picture cred: Andrestand

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How to Stay Humble

As discussed in a previous article, Don’t Let Hubris Be Your Downfall, arrogance and overconfidence can lead to the demise of many leaders. So what should leaders do if they start to go down the wrong path and feel they are losing touch with their humility? Following a few pieces of key advice can make all the difference between a leader who is disliked and must worry about maintaining authority and one who thrives with employees’ admiration and respect.

1. Stay in touch with employees in all levels of the company.

Staying in touch with employees at different levels of the company is really important as it showcases well-rounded involvement with the company and enhances presence. It is also a direct way to detect real problems that are happening throughout the company early. To implement, it can be as simple as regularly visiting other office floors and sites.

2. Go into nature

Many classic poets and novelists knew this secret. Nature can have a powerful humbling effect on the mind. When leaders spend a great deal of time reigning over their man-made kingdom, it helps to get out and see the parts of nature that are more powerful than what they have created. One can take a weekend hiking trip or catch views of a powerful waterfall.

3. Spend time with family and people who like you for you

Along with success comes the presence of opportunists. Sometimes it’s hard to stay grounded when surrounded by people who just want to flatter and praise in order to extract something. It is really important to spend time with family, pets, friends from college, or any people who are more interested in quality time than what you can do for them.

4. Do some hands-on philanthropy

Many leaders are generous and supportive of a multitude of causes. Going out and doing real philanthropy hands-on is another experience. Even if the monetary donation is not high, hands-on charity work has a powerful humbling effect and allows one to appreciate all that one has.

5. Consider moving your office location

Several CEOs have described the benefits of moving their offices to more centralized and accessible locations. Like staying in touch with all employees by moving around, central office locations increase visibility and give other employees the feeling that the leader is directly involved in all company matters.

6. Create systems of checks and balances

One of the best ways to stay humble is to keep your opinions in check. A leader can do this by surrounding himself with people who maintain company values. Limit absolute powers so that several knowledgeable people are involved in making important decisions.

7. Encourage dissent

Maybe it sounds good to hear everyone agree with your views, but how many novel solutions are you really going to come up with if you do not encourage employees to digress? A humble leader knows that having a great idea is not an exclusive act. Besides, ideas are usually enhanced when everyone is encouraged to speak up.

8. Admit and fix mistakes

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you made a mistake. In fact, admitting that as a leader, you still make mistakes is admitting that you are human and real. It is one of the best ways to stay humble as proud leaders are less likely to ever admit that they were wrong.

9. Treat everyone with respect

It is easy to blame people when they make mistakes and ignore achievements of different employees. It is much more fruitful to forgive people for their mistakes, and provide mentorship and motivation so they fix their own errors. Forgiveness and respect go a long way in making you well-liked.

10. Don’t lose the traits that got you there in the first place

Many leaders change their working style once they attain a certain position. However, if the skills that led to your success include things like the ability to collaborate, then it does not make much sense to suddenly become a one-person act. Remember which traits directly contributed to your success, then work on honing those skills, not abandoning them.

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Yahoo takes the Lead

In an industry-defining moment, Marissa Mayer taking on the position as Yahoo’s new CEO marks the youngest CEO to head a Fortune 500 Company, and the first woman to take on the role while expecting.

More than anything, it is the symbolic aspect of this event that makes the story so compelling. Only 37 years old, Mayer has already proven that she has the credentials for the post. Since joining Google in 1994, she has been an engineer, designer, product manager, and key spokesperson for the company. She held key roles in Google Search, Google Images, Google News, Google Maps, Google Books, Google Product Search, Google Toolbar, iGoogle, and Gmail. She also oversaw the layout of Google’s famous search homepage.

Many industry experts were surprised to hear Yahoo’s choice for the young new leader of the company. To couple the news, hours after Yahoo’s public announcement, Mayer sent out the now-famous tweet that she will soon be expecting a baby boy.

Yahoo’s move makes a bold statement in a season when the debate on female leadership and work-life balance has taken center-stage since the publishing of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” A former director of policy planning at the State Department, Slaughter has become a central critic of the inflexible work culture that she claims made juggling high-profile government work along with raising two sons near-impossible, and led her to step down from her government post.

In recent years, Yahoo has been struggling to define itself as a relevant internet directory and search engine. Perhaps then, the company has decided to boldly begin its process of transformation in the spirit of progress.  When Mayer revealed her pregnancy to Yahoo’s Board of Directors last month, she claimed that no one raised any concerns, which implies Yahoo’s evolved thinking. She has also stated that she plans to take no more than a couple of weeks off for maternity leave and will work through it from home.

Many women are analyzing Mayer’s decision in light of the struggle for work-life balance. While some criticize her as a poor role-model for working women, many others hail her for embracing two challenges at once. Mayer herself seems to indicate that she simply prefers to stay in the rhythm of things. In any light, Mayer certainly has her work cut out for her in upcoming months.

Between a company that has many problems to fix and a woman who is supremely intelligent and eager to take on the task, one can hope this leadership transition marks the start of a synergetic relationship, as well as a cultural shift for women executives.

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Leaders, Russian Literature & Ping-Pong: The Value of Daydreaming

In a soon to be published paper in Psychological Science written by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California at Santa Barbara state, “creative solutions may be facilitated specifically by simple external tasks that maximize mind-wandering.”

In other words, daydreaming may help you solve complicated problems.

In a series of tests Baird and Schooler gave students tasks that required inventive problem solving skills. When the students were given a break half of them were told to sit and do nothing while the other half were given a tedious task–like reading  a dry passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

When the break was over the group that had free time performed worse then the group who were told to complete monotonous chores. Why?

Those that were given a boring job were driven to daydreaming. They let their minds idle, wander, and explore whereas the group that had all the free time in the world busied themselves with more proactive thoughts.

To the researchers surprise the mind lost in daydreams isn’t lazy. In fact, it’s busy subconsciously untangling large, looming problems. As Jonah Lehrer of the New Yorker points out, this is the very reason why Silicon Alley businesses have so many ping-pong tables. Ping-pong, played leisurely, helps the mind wander while it addresses larger, more complex problems. It encourages productive daydreaming.

With this in mind, leaders need not feel guilty if they want to tuck into a bit of Tolstoy instead of checking their emails before bed. Taking time to yourself and allowing your mind to wander can help you figure out looming problems.

As an aside, if you’d like a ping-pong table at work, show this article to your boss.

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Team Leadership & Talent Retention

It’s easy to retain people. It’s not a big trick. Pay them fairly and well and they’ll hang around and do the work. HR specialists have mastered the skills of compensation. They can match your compensation structure to meet your organizational constraints, your organizational goals, the organizational personnel, and the resources the organization has available.

A rational economics approach to retention is straight forward. The problem is, at a certain point, a normative, psychological, approach may be even more important.

Sure, I can retain people with money, but that has a leveling effect. Retention through compensation does not guarantee commitment and personal investment. They’ll stay, but will they be committed and truly invested in your effort?

At a certain point, you’ve got to promise a bit more. Involvement, commitment, entrepreneurship, and risk taking requires not only an economic contract, but a social psychological contract.

That social psychological contract is created by leadership. Specifically, if you want to retain the entrepreneurs, the risk takers, the experts, and the great managers it will depend on your ability to lead. They will stay because they are recognized, engaged, challenged, developed, and optimistic.

You can retain zombies with money, but if you want to retain real organizational players, it’ll come down to the issue of your leadership.

Can you lead your team? Over and over again organizations debate the issue of retention by restructuring retention programs, playing around with the compensation systems, etc. But individuals do not necessarily stay because of the organization. They will stay for their team, they will stay for their team members, and they will stay for their team leaders.

Therefore the retention challenge is a team leadership challenge.

The better the leadership, especially at a group level, the greater the probability of retaining talent.

This is especially true in recent years. As the social contract between employees and their organization has broken down, it has been somewhat replaced by the personal, informal contract that emerges between employees, their teams, and their team leaders.

No longer is the sense of identity couched in the organization. Now it’s couched in teams. Employees speak of “my team” and “my group”; rarely do they speak of the organization with any sense of collective.

As such, team leadership training, which has always been an integral part in making organizations more innovative and creative, is also at the front line of talent retention.