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

Leadership and Thorin Oakenshield

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I started a series of leadership posts by talking about Bilbo Baggins. During that post, I touched on Thorin Oakenshield. Today, I want to look a bit more deeply at Thorin.

Thorin Oakenshield was the son of Thrain and the grandson of Thror, who had been King Under the Mountain until the dragon Smaug killed him and stole everything in his kingdom, including the Arkenstone (symbol of the kingship). Thorin wanted to reclaim the Arkenstone and thereby the dwarf throne. Continue reading

Leadership and Bilbo Baggins

By Guy Higgins

I first read The Hobbit in 1971 when I was in flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, and I’ve been a J.R.R. Tolkien fan ever since. I’ve read and re-read The Hobbit and, of course, The Lord of The Rings (LOTR for aficionados). I’ve also read The Silmarilion and his other lesser known works. Over the last week, I’ve been watching Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy of films. While the films depart from the book in some areas, I think that they are reasonably true to Tolkien’s original vision in the one area I want to discuss in this post. Continue reading

Working vs. Organizing

By Guy Higgins

I was reading a short article in the Wall Street Journal, Adapting to the Future of Work (and yes, that’s the same article I referenced last week – sometimes, there’s just too much to capture in a single post).

The article starts out talking about the senior leadership in companies and “the organization.” It ends with the observation, “This shift from a “top-down” to “side-by-side” organizational construct will be a critical component to the future of work. CMOs (I believe this is defined as Chief Management Officer) will play an important role, enabling an empowered network of employees capable of acting autonomously rather than waiting for direction.” Continue reading

Transparency in Communications

By Guy Higgins

As I recently read a Wall Street Journal/Deloitte article on the future of work, Adapting to the Future of Work, I was struck by this comment, “About three in five (59 percent) of corporate leaders say transparency in communications is a critical priority for achieving their organization’s goals.” For me, transparency of communication means open and honest communication.

Now, this was written by someone from either the Wall Street Journal or from Deloitte (or jointly by authors from both organizations). Both are well respected companies that employ solid professionals. Therefore, I will take the authors at their word. That, to me, then raises the question, who are these two out of five corporate leaders who fail to understand that the purpose of communication is (or at least should be) to communicate. That, in turn, would seem to subsume the idea of transparency. If statements from leaders at any level of the organization are not transparent, they must, perforce, be hiding something. If they are hiding something, the most pertinent possible question is, “Why?” Continue reading

James Damore’s Communication Skill and Leadership at Google

By Guy Higgins

I’ve read, in its entirety, James Damore’s ten-page memo, Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, which captures his concerns about the ways in which Google approaches diversity issues and what he (Damore) thinks Google could do achieve a more representative workforce. I’ve also read some of the related op-ed pieces by columnists of both liberal and conservative bents. For those who’ve read my posts over the past six years, you may appreciate that I’ve read about and investigated a number of sources concerning diversity and differences. I, therefore, read Mr. Darmore’s memo in the context of what I’ve learned from those sources. I think that I understood his memo the way he intended for it to be understood. I want to post about two factors that I think have contributed to the firestorm that Mr. Damore’s memo has generated: first, his failure to effectively communicate his ideas on a highly emotional topic without creating “hate and discontent” and second, the failure of Google’s leadership to respond in a positive manner thereby generating more “hate and discontent.” Continue reading

Heroic Actions or Mindless Mistakes

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article, What not to do in a disaster, courtesy of the BBC. It’s an exceptional article, and it opens with the astute observation that surviving in a disaster is not about taking heroic actions, but rather about avoiding mindless mistakes.

Dr. Leonard Marcus of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that, in the face of an emergency or disaster, every single human being will, without fail, automatically behave in one of three ways; we’ll freeze in place, we’ll flee the scene or we’ll fight. Dr. Marcus calls those responses, “going to the basement” because they’re governed by our limbic complex, the base of our brain. Dr. Marcus also says that, while people will eventually recover from that initial reaction and get out of “the basement,” they’ll recover much more quickly if they have a plan and have practiced that plan, even just in their minds. Everyone who has ever flown should recall from the flight attendants’ preflight safety briefings that they are supposed to have looked around and found the nearest emergency exit. What’s not said is that we should all then think about how we would actually get to that exit, and we would do so without stopping to retrieve our baggage from the overhead bin (which will probably be jammed), and then get out of the airplane. I’ve practiced emergency egress from an airplane. It’s not as easy as you might think. Continue reading

Skills Shortages

By Guy Higgins

I just came across an article, The Only Manufacturing Skills Shortage That Matters. The article addresses two concerns. The first concern is that there is a serious shortage of Americans with the skills needed by manufacturers. The second concern is that people are being replaced by automation – specifically by systems with imbedded artificial intelligence algorithms. I’ll come back to that one skill later in this post. I’ve also noted a plethora of articles about the imminent destruction of all jobs as a result of the spread of artificial intelligence and automation. Seems that the talking heads are foreseeing a future in which human beings no longer have a purpose. I can’t help myself – I have to comment. Continue reading

Plan to Get the True Answer

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I looked at the problems that can arise when someone asks for a study or an investigation and doesn’t plan for the situation in which the answer is not the one expected, wanted or needed. Now, I want to follow up on that with “Asking Questions for Dummies” (tip o’ the hat to the folks who publish the For Dummies books of which I have several). Continue reading

Inequality and Cause and Effect

By Guy Higgins

I want to start out by telling you that this post is going to be somewhat different and potentially politically charged. In 2011, Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers, a book of anecdotes about successful people. In it, Mr. Gladwell asserted that luck was one factor in the success achieved by the people he chose to include in his book. Earlier this year, I read an article titled inequality (and I apologize because I’ve lost the reference and there are thousands of articles on inequality). The author asserted that no one achieves success through their own efforts or merits, but rather through the luck of the draw. We’re lucky to have been born to caring and nurturing parents; we’re lucky to have had access to good schools; we’re lucky to have had a good memory and good cognitive skills. You get the idea. Continue reading