The Transparency Paradox: How Transparency Can Force Your Best Employees to Hide

i love lucy chocolate assembly line to illustrate transparency paradox

The rule is one operator per station. But when nobody’s watching, there might 17 people for 13 stations on the assembly line at one mobile phone manufacturing plant in Southern China.

When managers comes around, though, they’ll see 13 operators, one for each station, exactly as prescribed by the leaders. Even with company values like learning and continuous improvement, this plant’s employees scrambles to hide exactly the kinds of refinements and creativity that management seeks.

Transparency is often touted as a vital ingredient for the best teams. And it’s true. For people to move fast and think for themselves, they need ready access to the information they need to do their job. Failing to provide a foundation of common knowledge and creating an uneven distribution of information opens the door for inefficiency and unhealthy power imbalances.

But the transparency paradox arises when there’s no trust and autonomy. Actually, it’s more like counterproductive monitoring — one-sided visibility to benefit the manager’s curiosity rather than equip the employees to do their best work.

Continue Reading

Don’t Preserve Startup Culture in Your Growing Company

startup culture like peter pan

Like seeing your kids off to college for the very first time, it’s always a bit jolting for startup founders who see their company grow beyond the plucky “move fast and break things” startup culture of its youth. It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic about that exciting age when everything was new.

LibinPhil4604_pv12-0-324-1106-1493-304

Phil Libin has seen his company Evernote shoot up from a small startup to a billion-dollar company in six short years. Growing the Evernote team from just tens of people to 400, Libin worried over what such fast growth would do to the young company culture.

When he talked to Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, who’d seen his own company grow precipitously, he asked him how to preserve the company culture that had helped get Evernote to such a successful start. Costolo’s answer was completely unexpected.

Don’t, Costolo said.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

The Boring Trait Google Looks For in Its Leaders

Google-Executives-Larry-Page-Eric-Schmidt-Sergey-Brin

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.

Continue Reading

3 Surprising Leadership Lessons from a Navy Captain

Navy Leadership Lessons

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 leadership lessons of exercising empathy and care then.

Continue Reading

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.

image

Continue Reading

Stop Fooling Yourself by Changing Your Mind

image

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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Khalil Fuller of NBA Math Hoops 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.”

NBA Math Hoops board game

Continue Reading