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.

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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

Plan Ahead – Not Behind

By Guy Higgins

I recently read two articles about an organization that had chartered a study to determine the actual results of a policy that had been implemented two years earlier. Neither the organization nor the policy is of any importance to this post. The initial article reported that the study discovered that the policy had had significant unintended adverse consequences. At this point, I need to point out that these consequences were very much unintended but predictable. In fact, the organization had been warned that these consequences were possible, even likely, results of the then-proposed policy. The second article reported that the organization was directing a “do over” of the study. The original study had been conducted by an organization that I recognize and which has a good reputation. Other than that, I have no knowledge of the structure of the study, its assumptions or its methodology, so I’m assuming that a reputable organization chartered to do a (very public) study did a competent job. I don’t have any information on how the study was commissioned or how the goal was articulated. It’s possible that the study was poorly chartered, but that’s a topic for another time.

Okay, “so what has this to do with me?” says the Noble Reader. Continue reading

More on that Cognitively Diverse “Elephant”

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I wrote (yet again – seems to be a favorite subject) about cognitive diversity and the potential to improve performance by putting it to work. This week, I’m going to “talk” about where we can actually leverage cognitive diversity and how we might do that.

First, I want to do a bit of exploring – where might cognitive diversity actually deliver value? As I thought about trying to discuss the subject of where cognitive diversity can contribute to improved performance, I discovered that that is a harder question than I initially thought it would be. Caveat – the following thoughts are (pretty much) all my own. Continue reading

Measuring What Matters

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article, I’m Sorry But Those Are Vanity Metrics. I thought that the premise of the article was a very good one – will your metrics help you run your company or organization better, or are they a way to compare your company to your competition?

That question is important because the future of your company is more closely related to how well your company is being run than it is to how well you’re doing with respect to your competition. Certainly, how well you’re competing is important, but if your company is merely the best buggy-whip maker, your future doesn’t extend very far past lunchtime. Continue reading

The Right Way…

By Guy Higgins

Leaders have to get things done. It is very difficult to do that when the organization becomes too big. Okay, how big is too big, and what does the leader do about it? “Too big” isn’t very big at all in modern terms. I think that “too big” is any organization larger than Dunbar’s Number. (largest number of people that can maintain a solid relationship with one another). Dunbar’s Number lies somewhere between 100 and 250 – at least I haven’t seen any assertions outside that range. So, an organization larger than about 100 people starts to get too big for a leader to “run” by herself. Being smart, she starts to organize and create parts of the organization small enough to be run by one person. As the organization grows, those smaller parts begin to need even smaller parts. Pretty soon, the Leader (the top of the hierarchy) sees inefficiency throughout her organization because there are borders or boundaries between all the small and smaller parts of the organization. These boundaries hinder the free flow of information and cooperation between the organizational parts. I’ll use a term from electrical engineering for that hindrance – I’ll call it impedance. The Leader understands this and calls the leaders who work for her together and tasks them to develop ways to work together and eliminate this impedance. These leaders, being smart people too, develop some standard ways of working together – within and across organizational boundaries. They create processes and workflows. The Leader looks out and sees that this is good. Continue reading

The Internet of Things – Rose Isn’t the Only Color the Glasses Come In

By Guy Higgins

Recently, my reading has included Chaos, Making a New Science, a book by James Gleick, a Forbes article, A Smart Home is Where the Bot Is, and an Aviation Week article, Why Are Airlines Slow to Enter the Digital Age? At the same time, I “enjoyed” a couple of encounters with the digital world. In the oft-quoted words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” Continue reading

Change, Learning and Leadership

By Guy Higgins,

I was reading an article recently, Principles for an Age of Acceleration. The basic premise of the article was that everything is changing so fast that we can’t keep up with it. That change is driven by the pace of advances in technology – all kinds of technology, not just information technology. Driven by, but not isolated to, technological change. Technological change is enabling or forcing changes in society, health, governance, and ethics (and, maybe, everything else). I was disturbed by the article. Will artificial intelligence create massive unemployment? Will we find ourselves in an ethical swamp as we use genetic manipulation to grow replacement organs in pigs (and yes, that’s something being pursued today)? What will society look like when humans are no longer a necessary part of the economy? Continue reading

Employee Turnover

By Guy Higgins

I watched the American and National Football Conference Championship games this year. After one game, the announcers observed that both the losing and winning teams would make some changes before next season. Every year NFL teams draft around a dozen players from outside the NFL and may pick up one or two free agents. The teams are prepared to deal with the new arrivals. Interestingly, some teams “hire” players cut from other teams and turn them into good or even excellent players. Continue reading

Leadership “At the Front”

By Guy Higgins

Let me start with a short story about a trip I recently took. On my return, I was booked on a 1055 departure from an airport from which I had not previously flown, connecting to another flight in Houston, TX. I had no idea how slowly (or quickly) the security line would move, so I showed up with plenty of time (and, of course, went through security in about two minutes). There was no airplane at the gate when I got there because the airplane was coming from another airport, and making a stop at Houston. The weather was very foggy and did not improve. The flight that was supposed to arrive at my airport at 0925 couldn’t get into Houston and had to divert. This was known at about 0820. By 0900, with no airplane, we were told that the flight was being cancelled because there was no airplane. I was rebooked on a 1915 departure that evening. You can imagine all the fun that I and my fellow passengers had waiting around the (very small) airport all day. At about 1840, we were told that the inbound flight was delayed, but that it would arrive at about 1930. By 1930, with no airplane at the gate, we were told it was scheduled to leave Houston at 1950 and we would depart at 2040. When the flight arrived, we boarded and pushed back from the gate only to be held because of weather at Houston (my connecting destination). After waiting on the airplane for an hour with two status updates from the pilots, we taxied back to the gate, and we all lined up to get rebooked. I tried to rebook via telephone while waiting for the other passengers to work with the gate agents. After explaining to the phone agent that I would not connect through Houston to Los Angeles in order to connect to Denver – all the next day, I finally gave up and, working with the gate agents, was rebooked for a 0830 departure to Houston to connect to a Denver flight. Over a period of more than twelve hours, we were informed of the situation no more than four times. I know I was extremely frustrated, and I think my fellow passengers were too. This was not the worst experience that any traveler ever had, but neither was it a good experience. Continue reading