Managers Are Blind to How the Sausage Gets Made, Literally

SUCCESS

When Toy Story broke box office records and Pixar was the biggest IPO of 1995, it seemed that company co-founder and president, Ed Catmull, had finally made it. He not only met his twenty-year-long goal of making the first computer graphics movie, he also created a successful company. “As a manager, I felt a troubling lack of purpose. Now what?” he wondered. Would he “merely” run a company? What was special about that?

His outlook changed upon learning he’d been completely oblivious to something that had put Pixar at risk, throwing his beliefs about success into a new light. Managing in a successful company is in fact a demanding, evolving, and rewarding job. The special challenge is to cultivate and maintain conditions, context, and culture that you can’t always see.

Just because you think you can see how the sausage is made doesn’t mean you really know what’s going on in your team and company. In fact, success and great qualities can even obscure problems, creating a peculiar blindness for diligent managers on their toes. Even when you have what seems like a winning combination of talented leaders, rising fortunes, and good intentions, you can still miss something vital.

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The Boring Trait Google Looks For in Its Leaders

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The prototypical leader is a hero: gives the rousing speech, inspires the troops, and shows up at the last minute to save the day. At least that’s how leaders are portrayed. but that’s not at all what Google discovered as their most important qualities.

At Google, they’re obsessive about looking at data to determine what makes employees successful and what they found in the numbers was surprising.

The most important character trait of a leader is one that you’re more likely to associate with a dull person than a dynamic leader: predictability. The more predictable you are, day after day, the better.

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3 Surprising Leadership Lessons from a Navy Captain

I made the decision to join the military because of an idealized notion of what life in the military would be like. Before I shipped off to Navy Officer Candidate’s School, I’d thought a career as a Naval Officer would be like something from Crimson Tide or Top Gun. The reality of life on a ship and at sea turned out to be far more pedestrian.

One bright spot was what I learned from my Captain by observing how he dealt with his crew and, more specifically, how he dealt with me. Looking back at my previous life before I’d joined the service, I realize I would have been a much more effective leader if I’d learned these lessons of exercising empathy and care then.

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Why Poor Leaders Are Valuable

Thomas Edison famously replied when asked whether his repeated failures (ten thousand plus) at creating a working light bulb frustrated him: “No, I just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When someone demonstrates poor leadership, he or she is showing you one way not to make your light bulb.

My father gave me similar advice while I was attending Navy Officer Candidate School after I had complained about some of the leadership traits of my peers and senior candidates in charge of us:

Correct in yourself what you do not like in others.

This single phrase helped me see people’s weaknesses or inabilities not as a chance to point out their blemishes but to look inward and see what I could change about myself.

When people miss this lesson, it’s a wasted opportunity. You may never be able to change the person above you, but you do have the power to create a better work environment for those under you.

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Stop Fooling Yourself by Changing Your Mind

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Here’s a way to arrive at what you believe: first, decide that you believe something. Then, throw your very best arguments against it until you believe something else. Repeat as many times as possible.

Most people do this in some capacity, probably subconsciously and very quickly, but I recommend doing it consciously, slowly, and deliberately. You may be surprised by what you find.

Now, no blog post by a (former) physicist is complete without a Feynman quote, so let his words enlighten us here:

  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
  • “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
  • “I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong.”

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3 Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned on the Path from Intern to CEO

Khalil Fuller is the CEO of Learn Fresh, which makes NBA Math Hoops, a basketball board game and mobile app that uses math problems and real-world NBA and WNBA statistics to improve students’ math literacy and engagement. He’s also a college senior, studying education and social entrepreneurship at Brown University.

image Growing up L.A., Khalil saw his friends become increasingly disengaged from school, especially math class. “I started tutoring kids and realized there was nothing fun to make math really relevant to them, so they didn’t make the connection between math class and the rest of the world. And they didn’t want to do their homework — they wanted to go outside and play basketball.”

At Brown, Khalil met Bill Daugherty, an entrepreneur and former NBA executive who’d teamed up with Tim Scheidt, veteran math educator and inventor of a prototype math board game. “For the earliest versions, it wasn’t Kobe and LeBron,” Khalil recounts, “it was Johnny SlamDunk and Andrew ThreePointer. Bill and I said, ‘if this is somewhat fun and the kids like it, it could be much more powerful if it had real NBA players.’”

When it was clear that the kids did like it through some early testing and incubation with Big Picture Learning, they brought the game to the NBA to see about those real-life players. “The NBA really liked the fact that we had a purely social mission,” Khalil reports. “They actually gave us a royalty-free license for the first time in their history.”

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Management, Leading and Success: The Best of the Internet

Weekend edition of link love! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs this week! 

8 Myths Startup Founders Hate

LinkedIn CEO’s Unconventional Meeting Technique

Brainwriting:  the solution to brainstorming’s loudmouth problem.

12 Things Successful People do Differently

3 Differences Between Managers & Leaders

imageDundee’s Tip of the Week: Sign up for our very new newsletter for thoughtful posts on how to work better, useful tips, & exclusive content here.

 

8 Awesome Tech & Startup Newsletters You Should be Reading

While we’re launching our own exciting newsletter here at iDoneThis, we wanted to highlight some of our favorites from the tech and startup world.*

The common thread running among these eight newsletters is a sense of community and care, that these curators and creators want to share content that bestows value and connection. Subscribe to these newsletters not only to stay up-to-date but to help yourself, your teams, and your communities grow.

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The Shit Sandwich and Other Terrible Ways to Give Feedback

Giving feedback well is one of the manager’s most difficult skills to master, because, as famed tech founder and investor Ben Horowitz points out, it’s incredibly unnatural.

If your buddy tells you a funny story, it would feel quite weird to evaluate her performance. It would be totally unnatural to say: “Gee, I thought that story really sucked. It had potential, but you were underwhelming on the build up then you totally flubbed the punch line. I suggest that you go back, rework it and present it to me again tomorrow.” Doing so would be quite bizarre, but evaluating people’s performances and constantly giving feedback is precisely what a CEO must do.

Here are three fundamentally flawed approaches that inexperienced managers take in trying to perform the dark art of giving feedback, and how to avoid them.

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3 Reasons to Shut Up and Listen Well

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The way you listen is telling, a compass that points to the true focus of your attention. For good listeners, that needle points to the person talking. For bad listeners, that needle points to themselves.

The thing is that it’s really obvious. Great listening requires you to show that it’s happening, and that it’s happening sincerely. Much of that sincere communication comes down to lighting up to show “message received”. Instead, some people fall into a bad habit of putting on a show of listening, mumbling sounds of non-contextual agreement, or interrupting with “yes, but —”, or pretending to be attentive but mishearing everything.

Listening isn’t simply waiting for your turn to say something or show off your brilliance but engaging with what’s being said, building on it, reacting with thoughts and emotions, and showing that you understand or want to know more.

While the art of listening is touted in business, it’s rarely practiced. Bad listening is bad business, and here’s why:

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