Obstacles or Challenges?

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article, Psychology’s Power Tools. The article addresses the use of cognitive behavioral therapy to help people deal with very difficult personal situations. The author of the article made the point that part of achieving success in helping people in those situations is “reframing” the situation (“reframing” is a way of viewing events, ideas or concepts to find a more positive alternatives or perspectives) and that, I think, applies to leadership. Continue reading

Leadership or Management

By Guy Higgins

My last post (about Elon Musk’s communication memo/email to Tesla employees) included a short comment about Mr. Musk’s use of “manager” and my preference for “leader.” I want to explore that more this week.

To provide some clarity in “communicating,” I want to start with my definitions of leadership and management:

  • Leadership is people-focused. The goal of leadership is to create and maintain an organization/team/company/whatever that can and does perform optimally (and I use that word intentionally) along numerous “dimensions” (such as employee morale, resource allocation, efficiency). Leadership is a skill. There are natural and learned components to it – just as there are to any skill. Some people have personalities and temperaments that contribute more to successful leadership while other peoples’ personalities and temperaments contribute less. People at both extremes can improve their leadership through education, coaching/mentoring and practice.
  • Management is resource-focused. Those resources can include people, but (I will boldly assert) people are only one resource among others. The goal of management is the efficient (and effective) allocation of resources in achieving goals. Metrics and monitoring are crucial to management.

Continue reading

Communication and Power

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article about an email with the subject, “Communication within Tesla” from Elon Musk to the entire workforce at Tesla. I found the email interesting, but also dangerous – dangerous for Tesla. Mr. Musk’s email is, apparently, aimed at eliminating communication bottlenecks (a good thing) by specifically authorizing, “Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.” Continue reading

What is a Leader’s Job?

By Guy Higgins

I just read a McKinsey post (I just happen to have subscribed to McKinsey – not that I think that they are any better or worse than any of the other big box consulting firms), Wellness at work: The promise and pitfalls. The post captures the thoughts of a number of leaders from various organizations about wellness at work. As you might expect, the thoughts cover a really broad range of ideas, expectations, and cogitation. As I read the post, I couldn’t help but think that, in my mind, every one of the ideas, expectations and all the cogitation revolved around good leadership. Continue reading

Rebutting False Information

By Guy Higgins

A recent online post from the Association for Psychological Science delivered, I think, a critical message for organizational leaders. You can read that post here. The gist of the post is that you can’t overcome false or fake information simply by denying it. You need to counter-argue it credibly and in detail.

I think that almost everyone has seen cases of people holding on to beliefs based on erroneous, false or outright fake information. The people holding those beliefs are, in the main, not stupid people, but they are people who have all the human tendencies and biases. Overcoming those tendencies and biases is hard and requires some hard work and intelligent planning. It cannot be done ad hoc. Continue reading

Workplace Diversity

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across two articles. The first, Yes, your kid will do something with that philosophy degree after all, was a newspaper column that addressed the potential power of a classic liberal arts education. The second was condensed from McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace 2017 and looked at how women are faring in corporate careers. Continue reading

The Smartest Guy in the Room?

By Guy Higgins

I came across an article recently, What Know-it-alls Don’t Know, or the Illusion of Competence. The article captures the results of some psychological studies that yielded what the psychologists today call The Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the cognitive bias of inflating a self-assessment, also known as the “illusion of competence.” One of the things I found interesting is that the bias is most pronounced among those people who are, in reality, the least competent. For example, eighty percent of all drivers believe that they are better than average drivers – with those people with the worst driving records being the most certain of their superior skills. Even more remarkable is how highly college athletes rate their professional potential. Forty to sixty percent (at least some of whom – by definition – are below-average college players) of NCAA athletes (men and women – for all those ladies who were nodding about how vain the male athletes are) believe that they are at least “somewhat likely” to play professionally. The actual percentages hover around one percent. Continue reading


By Guy Higgins

Recently, the national news in the U.S. has included significant coverage of a rash of accidents involving U.S. Navy warships operating in the Western Pacific. Before I go any further, the investigations into these accidents are far from complete, and the conclusions have yet to be drawn. Therefore, my speculations as to the causes are just that – speculations. My conclusions about the importance of training are not speculations. In the late eighteenth century, Captain Thomas Truxtun ordered his crew to “practice daily with the guns.” As a result, when his crew encountered the crew of the French ship L’Insurgent in the Quasi-war with France, Captain Truxtun’s crew achieved an overwhelming victory. Training today is no less important than it was for Captain Truxtun’s crew two centuries ago. Continue reading

Leadership, Behavior and Artificial Intelligence

By Guy Higgins

I’ve posted about artificial intelligence (AI) in the past and my skepticism about the capabilities of AI and the pace with which it will be introduced. I remain skeptical, and I will return to AI as a tool for leaders later in this post.

Presently, I’m reading Scale, a book by Dr. Geoffrey West (President Emeritus of the Santa Fe Institute). The book is about how plants and animals, surprisingly, scale (an elephant can be thought of as a mouse scaled up in size), how organizations, also surprisingly, scale (Los Angeles can be thought of as Ridgecrest, CA, scaled up in size) and is exceptionally interesting (at least to me). Dr. West’s research into the causes for these surprises revealed that scaling is an inevitable result of the networked nature of plants, animals and organizations.   In the section of the book devoted to cities, Dr. West discussed not only the physical networks (roads and utilities) but also the social networks (today, enabled by social media). As part of his discussion, he reviewed some of the psychological and social research work done by Stanley Milgram in the mid-Twentieth Century. Dr. Milgram did the original research that led to the concept of six degrees of separation (a network phenomenon), but he also did some foundational research that revealed the potential for any human being to exhibit behavior at odds with his or her personal ethics when ordered to do so by an authority figure. Related research done at Stanford University by Philip Zambardo revealed the potential for peer pressure to cause people to act in ways that violated their personal ethics. Continue reading

Leadership and Gandalf the Grey

By Guy Higgins

For the last two weeks, I’ve posted about the leadership exhibited by characters created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his classic, The Hobbit. This week, my final installment will look at the wizard who prompted the “adventure” and served as an advisor and a sometimes member of the troop – Gandalf the Grey.

Gandalf is a wizard, possessed of an impressive “intelligence network” and capable of exercising significant power, but he is far from being invulnerable or unbeatable. He is well regarded by elves, dwarves, hobbits and those few humans who actually know him. Continue reading