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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Failure & Cake: A Guide to Spotify’s Psychology of Success

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Nobody enjoys failing. It’s never really what you set out to do.

At Spotify, failure is cause for celebration, because it’s seen as an opportunity for growth. Jonas Aman, who is part of Spotify’s People Operations team, told us that instead of treating setbacks like speed bumps you rumble over in the course of running a business, they “celebrates thing that don’t work. It’s about the effort, not the result.”

Sometimes, failure calls for cake.

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Cells, Pods, and Squads: The Future of Organizations is Small

Think small and you will achieve big things. That’s the Yoda-esque, counterintuitive philosophy that nets Finnish game company Supercell revenues of millions of dollars a day.

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So really, how do you build a billion-dollar business by thinking small?

One key is the company’s supercell organizational model. Autonomous teams, or “cells,” of four to six people position the company to be nimble and innovative. Similar modules — call them squads, pods, cells, startups within startups — are the basic components in many other nimble, growing companies, including Spotify and Automattic. The future, as Dave Gray argues in The Connected Company, is podular.

Still, small groups of people do not necessarily make a thriving business, as the fate of many a fledgling startup warns. What is it about the cells and pods model that presents not just a viable alternative but the future of designing how we work together?

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Do You Take Work For Granted or With Gratitude?

When I first joined iDoneThis, I hated our weekly meetings. They were demoralizing and amorphous. We rambled on, drowning in circuitous discussions about product that led nowhere. The meetings became a chore, making us feel like sulky high school students waiting for the bell to ring.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner noticed a similar bad meeting phenomenon of tending to “devolve into a round robin of complaints.” His unconventional solution was to change up the meeting format by promoting something you wouldn’t expect:  gratitude.

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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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The Art, Craft, and Science of Great Management

When you meet management consultant Anne Libby, you can’t help but notice her passion and clarity in talking about how to bring workplaces to their senses.

Great management, according to Anne, is a “mixture of art, craft and science” — which can be a foggy path to navigate. Throughout our interview, Anne offers both practical tips and food for thought to help managers and the people around them do their best.

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3 Simple Systems Tweaks for Growing Your Business

In Part 1 of this series, guest poster Mandi Ellefson showed how focusing on systems within your business brings out the best. In Part 2, she explains how to choose what to target for the most momentum.

If you want to grow your business more sustainably, be proud of every project you deliver to clients, and get the best out of your team — build systems. Focusing on your business processes empowers you and your team to do great work and see more creative, reliable results.

But if you’re impatient like me, you want to see that improvement quickly. The good news is you can begin right away with this simple method: Start small, and change one thing at a time.

Why? You’ll get immediate feedback. By focusing on one change at a time, you can isolate the results of every change you make. Putting more than one change into the mixing pot makes it tricky to analyze. Even small changes can have larger consequences. Your business is an ecosystem, so tweaking one thing can cause multiple effects.

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How to Get More Out of Your Team Without Being a Micromanaging Jerk

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(Part 1 of 2 in a guest post series on setting up successful systems.)

Anthony Gatto is one of the greatest jugglers ever. He has over twelve world records to his name.  Throw him four, five or six balls, and he’ll keep juggling away, no problem. Give him a seventh, and he’ll struggle to keep juggling for ten minutes. Throw an eighth ball into the mix, and he’ll barely last a full minute.

No matter how sublime a juggler’s skills, give him too much to handle and he’ll mess up. Push a juggler too far, and he’ll never be totally Russian — juggler slang for doing a dropless show.

As a boss or manager, you can’t do it all. You must clear your plate to keep growing. So you hire and delegate only to see tasks come back late, incomplete, or low-quality. When that happens, you’ve either got to redo it yourself or submit shoddy work to your clients. Doing either hurts. You wonder if everything would be better if you handled it all yourself, and then you’re back at not being able to juggle it all.

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A Winning Formula for Building Successful Teams

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You need great teams in order to build great products. The way senior software engineer Rich Paret creates such teams at the Twitter-acquired Crashlytics — which provides mobile crash reporting — is to “hire for the culture you have, and the culture you want to have.”

The company culture at Crashlytics isn’t a collection of perks or a bunch of abstract values. It’s how people get stuff done together. When we visited Rich at Twitter Boston this past May, he emphasized how it’s the quality of a team’s communication that determines its outcomes.

How does a project become late?” he asked. As our minds ran through various scenarios and the complexities of managing a team, he broke our pondering pause with his simple answer — “Day by day.” Just as you can build meaningful progress day by day, you can also increasingly get off track to the point of failure. Communication losses accumulate, a slow but steady snowball, as the days roll by, when you’re not careful.

Consider the distribution and flow of information within a company. Too often knowledge is guarded amongst the people at the top, or cooped up in people’s heads, or trapped in silos. What happens then? As Rich puts it, islands of information” emerge. When different people know different pieces of information, it becomes progressively harder to reach across the waters just to know where the puzzle pieces are, let alone put the puzzle together.

One approach to avoiding islands and fostering a bridging, communicative culture is to hire smart and work smart. When you align people and process, you ultimately create strong values, culture, and behaviors.  Here’s a look at Rich’s formula for building awesome teams and in doing so, awesome company culture:

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Does Anybody Listen to You? 4 Steps to Becoming an Influencer

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The things we do at work matter, but our achievements alone don’t necessarily add up to a successful career. For people who have reached a certain level of success through sheer hard work (as many high-achievers do early on in their careers), this can be a hard lesson to learn.

After all, if you’re putting in long hours and knocking critical tasks off of your to-do list every single day, shouldn’t you be the most successful person on your team? Unfortunately, many people reach a plateau in their careers because their hard work doesn’t carry them forward the way it used to. So what’s missing?

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