Leadership Update is a free electronic monthly newsletter. In it, you’ll find strategies for helping you realize your full professional potential.
- Quotable: The Pundits Speak
- Leadership Lessons: Looking Back at You
- Business Meetings; Abandoning the Conference Room
- Readers’ Forum: Your Observations
- Subscription Information
Quotable: The Pundits Speak
“You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
“A wino made a nuisance of himself so the bartender picked him up and tossed him out into the street. A minute later the wino was in again. Again the bartender heaved him out. This happened half a dozen times. Finally the wino said ‘Do you work in every joint on this block?'” – Milton Berle
LEADERSHIP LESSONS: LOOKING BACK AT YOU
The biographies of well-known leaders prove something you may have always believed: If you want to know why an adult is the way they are, look at their childhood.
That’s exactly what Mark Leibovitch did recently for his Washington Post profile of Steve Case, the reclusive, competitive genius who presides over the America Online empire. How did “You’ve Got Mail” — the greeting notifying AOL users that someone dropped them an e-mail — become a household phrase and the title of a popular movie?
It should come as no surprise that the man whose company is so strongly identified with its electronic mail feature prefers to communicate with his staff and others via e-mail. In fact, most of the “interviews” for Leibovitch’s article were e-mail exchanges.
Looking back at Case’s childhood, it’s also not surprising is that he reportedly spent hours alone up in his room as a child, typing letters or ordering things out of scientific catalogs. He loved getting mail. His rise to power at AOL and the current expansion and dominance of the company have been achieved through a combination of his competitiveness and his invent-the-rules-as-you-go style, which mirrors the conditions under which the Internet has surged in growth.
Were those qualities present in Case the child? Yes, according to friends who knew him growing up in a cul de sac in a suburb of Honolulu. Neighborhood basketball games would bring out a fierce competitiveness in Case, oddly juxtaposed against his quiet side. When he and his brothers found themselves losing a game, they reportedly changed the rules to give themselves an edge. This tendency was so pronounced that neighborhood children referred to it as “Case Rules.”
A look into the childhood of leaders reveals patterns that contribute to defeat as well as success. Richard Nixon reportedly enjoyed saving mementos as a child from experiences both important and mundane. This childhood desire to preserve memories may well have led him to record his own conversations with others as President, one of the many facets of his personality that led to his political self-destruction.
You may not be deciding which media company to buy, or whom to fire among your cabinet members. But it’s still important to review your own life history to understand your motives and behavior as a leader today. This professional life review involves thinking back to the very first thing you ever did to earn money and traces the transitions you’ve experienced from that very first job up to the current one.
Were your first ventures bold or safe? Independent or partnerships? Inspired by a parent, or something you heard about in school? Looking at the choices you made and the thinking that preceded those choices can reveal patterns that provide rich information about why you do the things you do. And that awareness can make you a more savvy, effective leader.
For more information about creating your own professional life review, call me at 610/667-7900.
Reader’s Forum: Your Observations
“As Brit, I found your article on the subject of Casual Dress or “Dress Down Days” very interesting. My staff are of the opinion that my head will fall off if I undo my tie! I have worked in wide range of different countries, companies and cultures for over 25 years.
What do I find? That the article is correct. Yes, we can always find examples to support any case. Many people DO work effectively in casual dress. Does it work for everyone? No. Just like flextime, I believe that it works very well for a small minority and poorly for the majority.
I have absolutely no doubt that smart dress and tidy workplaces correlate strongly with a more professional approach. But then I guess I am old fashioned – I still believe in courtesy and good manners too!”
— Clinton Wingrove, CEO, Pilat/NAI, Annandale, NJ
BUSINESS MEETINGS: ABANDONING THE CONFERENCE ROOM
Jerry McLaughlin doesn’t like corporate conference rooms.
That’s why he’s held client meetings in a pet shop. Or why he meets with his staff in a dumpy barbecue joint called Redneck Earl’s, where the waitresses serve beer in Mason jars and suggest that patrons eat with their hands.
In fact, according to a recent article in the New York Times, McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Branders.com, a promotional products company in Foster City, CA, would rather meet just about anywhere but in a typical corporate conference room.
And he’s not alone. At NaviSite, a web hosting company in Andover, MA, chief technology officer Peter Kirwan began holding “fireside” chats with employees in front of a fake fireplace to create an environment more conducive to open dialogues. He wears slippers and a robe and offers employees hot cocoa from cups brought from home.
Other companies cited in the article have held brainstorming sessions and other meetings on rooftops, in parks, and even in church choir lofts. Many dot-com executives around the country have found that typical meeting spaces tend to produce typical results as people play expected roles within a hierarchy, rather than thinking creatively and sharing their ideas.
And the traditional layout of corporate conference rooms tends to reinforce the idea that the person of the head of the table speaks and everyone else listens, according to Tom McDonald, president of a business communications consulting firm who was quoted in the Times article.
Also, meeting in the same sterile room over and over again doesn’t provide the kind of novel stimuli that distracts some people just enough to get creative ideas flowing, and loosens others up so they feel comfortable contributing their ideas.
Here are some suggestions for breaking out of the same old same old:
- For brainstorming sessions, get out of the office. Go to a local restaurant, a club or even a museum to place employees in a novel environment.
- If you find a location that’s particularly effective, stick with it. Peter Kirwan’s fireside chats have been working for two years.
- While you can continue to use your traditional conference room for formal staff meetings and other more basic problem-solving meetings, consider creating an additional space that’s more relaxed and conducive to small group discussions.
The tendency of conference rooms to stifle creativity is just one aspect of office life that affects communication. A much more significant issue is how the layout of your entire office affects the way in which employees interact with one another. That issue will be discussed in the next Leadership Update.
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