The Most Charismatic Leaders Are People You’ve Never Heard of

evil queen from snow white

When you’re in charge, you get used enjoying feeling like the linchpin. Take co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, Rich Sheridan, who used to think: “I liked being the person everyone came to…. There was glory to it. I felt like the smartest guy in the room.”

Back when he was a VP at a company called Interface Systems, he brought his eight-year-old daughter with him to work one day. Her candid observation about his job ended up completely transforming how he thought about management. When she told her dad that he must be very important — because “[a]ll day long… people came in here and asked you to make a decision for them. And you made a decision, and they went on their way” — that threw Sheridan for a loop.

He realized how this style of managing people created a system of bottlenecks and he began to conceive of the right way to manage as a decentralized, bottom-up approach of decision-making. Menlo Innovations now runs as a bossless organization, because being the smartest guy in the room was a liability.

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How Good Enough is Actually Optimal

Ten years ago, Jon Bell, now a designer at Twitter, told his wife that he’d be happy with how much he was making for the rest of his life.

I didn’t make much at the time. But that marked the day I began trying to fight back the impulse for “more” and instead try to discover how “enough” feels.

The conventional wisdom is that to be successful, you have to be really hungry for it, never content with mere sufficiency and outdoing everyone else. Surprisingly, Jon’s philosophy of aiming for enough is a better approach.

It all comes down to whether you’re a maximizer or a satisficer. A maximizer yearns for perfection — making the best decision after weighing all the choices while a satisficer goes for “good enough.” This doesn’t mean you have to settle for lower standards — but you do prevent yourself from “trying to maximize every single task outcome and ROI.”

Maximizer vs Satisficer list

That’s why high achievers fall into the peculiar trap of getting mentally caught up in what you haven’t done — there’s always something else to be working on because it feels like, the more you do, the more you gain an edge. But focusing too hard on maximizing your productivity and choices can come at an ultimate cost to your time, health, and happiness.

Ironically, maximizing doesn’t lead to the optimal result.

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When CEOs Are Proud to Be Powerless

powerless ceo

At Menlo Innovations, a software company in Ann Arbor, bosses aren’t the major decision-makers — even over how to hire and fire.

When James Goebel and Richard Sheridan founded Menlo, they went all in on their ideas of decentralizing power and rethinking modern management that they’d implemented at a previous workplace. In doing so, they crafted a strong identity and culture at their new company. The “Menlo way” is remarkably open, collective, and democratic.

One of the best tests of those ideas took place when Goebel, who is the COO, had a niece, Erin, who worked as an admin at the company for a few months.

The company’s employees wanted to let her go — having collectively decided that nepotism wasn’t something that fit the Menlo way. Firing someone is always a serious decision, and firing the boss’s family member can be particularly thorny. But the rules applied equally — Goebel wasn’t able to object to the final decision to fire her. “Actually, my niece lives with me,” he told New York Magazine. “And she was really pissed….it was a little frosty for a while.”

For CEOs and bosses reinventing the traditional top-down way of running a company, being a strong leader means less power. Their proudest moment is when they are weakest.

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How to Deal With a Bad Boss for the Sake of Your Happiness

bad boss from office space

Bad boss relationships run rampant, wreaking stress, demoralization, and dysfunction.

When psychologist Daniel Kahneman measured happiness levels through the course of the day, he found that among all daily events and interactions, the one thing that made people the most unhappy was spending time with their boss. It doesn’t just end there. According to psychologist Robert Hogan, 75% of people say the worst, most stressful part of their job, is “their immediate boss.”

This post isn’t for all you bosses out there. This is for all you sufferers of bad bosses everywhere. You aren’t doomed to unhappiness and feeling frustrated, anxious, and put down, as long as you’re ready to step up to the plate.

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How to Short-Circuit Procrastination by Starting Before You’re Ready

stop procrastinating ruleThe time between intention and action can be unending.

Whether it’s getting around to joining that gym or applying to a job — you can be in a zone of perpetual procrastination I call “yet” in which there’s lots of time “researching” on the internet. Whether it’s a trivial or life decision, when you get in this zone, you’re mostly left overwhelmed, tired, and discouraged — all before you’ve even started.

Louis C.K. is one of the most prolific comedians today, who also writes, edits, produces, and stars in his critically acclaimed TV show Louie. He credits the way he keeps moving forward to a system he came up with for avoiding analysis paralysis and this zone of yet.

He calls it his 70% rule of decision-making, and it kicks him into action when there’s that irresistible call to procrastinate that leads to opportunities slipping by.

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Why You Need a Business Coach But Won’t Admit It

business coaching friday night lights

You’re a founder who’s juggling a million priorities and tasks — from product to people to vision. There’s so much going on and so much to do that you feel simultaneously adrift and stuck, not sure what to do or where to turn next — even as you continue to work incredibly hard to get your startup on higher ground.

It’s time for you to get a business coach.

“Having a coach who can develop insights for you, to help you think through things is so, so helpful,” says Brian Wang, co-founder and CEO of Fitocracy — which began as a gamified fitness tracking app with an important social support element and now includes a platform offering coaching services. “It’s the next big element of health and fitness — and I would say productivity — to have coaching,” predicts Brian, “a human experience that moves beyond a self-serve tool.”

Even with Fitocracy’s move toward training services, Brian was initially skeptical about the value of a CEO coach for himself. But he soon found his business coach invaluable to the process of self-improvement as an entrepreneur and leader.

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What a Friends Episode Can Teach You About Team Communication


friends team communication

“Did you get my email?” is one of the most annoying questions of offices spaces across the land.

Artist Tom Sachs pinpoints what happens at work that gives rise to these vexing time-wasters:

‘[S]ent does not mean received’ is a profound thing. Half of your job in this studio is doing your work, the other half of your job is communicating that it’s been done. Because if you do it, and I don’t hear about it, how do I know what’s going on?

Despite the great advantage of asynchronous, turn-based communication like email, allowing people to both engage in conversations at their own pace and focus on their work — there are real drawbacks. Not feeling like your message was received or that you’re being left hanging leads to anxiety, stress, and blocks on making progress.

The challenge with team communication is that what’s efficient for the individual isn’t necessarily efficient nor effective for the group as a whole. So how do you extend information-sharing and banish unnecessary work about work for larger-scale productivity?

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How to Stop Working Too Much and Live Your Life

 

work diary balance boundaries

Humans aren’t made to work around the clock — but our working culture refuses to acknowledge this. We’re still checking our email before we go to bed, not taking breaks and vacations, and burning out by burning the candle at both ends. 

Even when we aren’t fuzzy from fatigue, we can understand that working long hours has not just diminishing but unhealthy returns. But actually changing our behavior is tough. Employers still don’t trust the employees they can’t see and a long history of work where more hours meant more output seems to have forged a persistent guilt about how we spend our time.

Since the key to being happier and more productive is to not feel like you’re working all the time, one of the most obvious fixes is to set some time limitations. The weird thing is that one of the best ways to do this is to spend more time thinking about work.

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How Tony Hsieh Inspired Long-Term Motivation to Grow Zappos Culture

In 2005, Zappos was on track to beat its yearly sales goal of $300 million.

But that was just the beginning. Before Zappos became the household name it is today, CEO Tony Hsieh held a long-term vision for the company that went beyond the gross merchandise numbers. His ambitious goal to hit $1 billion in sales by 2010 was part of a larger plan.

In a remarkable email update Hsieh wrote in 2005 to Zappos investors, employees, and partners, he explained:

Rather than maximizing short-term profits, we’re taking a long-term view and focusing on building the business for the long haul. We’ve grown quickly over the past 5 years, but we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

But it’s not the numbers that are the most exciting… It’s the opportunity to build a company culture and consumer brand that is centered around the service, not the shoes or the handbags.

One of the most captivating things about this email is to actually see the seeds of Zappos’s distinctive culture germinating — especially knowing that the vision that Hsieh lays out in this decade-old email has come to pass, and then some.

So how did Hsieh actually translate his vision for Zappos into reality and resist the siren song of those short-term profits? How did he corral his employees to stick with him for the long haul? The elements are all there in that email.

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Why Manage the Good, When You Can Coach the Best?

kawhi coach

“Thanks for pushing me.”

That’s what Kawhi Leonard — at twenty-two, the third youngest Finals MVP in NBA history — told his coach, Gregg Popovich, during the celebratory hullabaloo of this year’s Spurs championship.

To developer Kevin Lamping, Leonard’s simple utterance of gratitude is a meaningful example of the power of coaching, the difference between “managing the good” and “coaching the best.” Their multimillion-dollar salaries, Kevin observes, isn’t quite enough for players to motivate and develop themselves. It’s that critical outside perspective that helps push, challenge, and support you to improve, which is why elite performers from Olympic athletes to opera singers at the top of their fields still have coaches.

Of course the best bosses take time to develop their people. It’s even been proven by Google with its extensive analysis of over 10,000 observations about managers across over 100 variables. Their first and foremost evidence-based rule of good management? Be a good coach.

Then why isn’t coaching more often treated like part of the manager’s job rather than a nice extracurricular activity?

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