So said Derek Sivers, although I suspect that, originally, it’s probably a core principle of Zen Buddhism. In this article I want to talk about management and leadership. But also about emotional intelligence and integrity.
I currently spend part of my working life as a Product Manager. At some organisations, this means that you’re in charge of the budget, and pull in colleagues from different disciplines. For example, a designer you’re working with on a particular project might report to the Head of UX. Matrix-style management and internal budgeting keeps track of everything.
This approach can get complicated so, at other companies (like the one I’m working with), the Product Manager manages both people and product. It’s a lot of work, as both can be complicated.
I think I’m OK at managing people, and other people say I’m good at it, but it’s not my favourite thing in the world to do.
That’s why, when hiring, I try to do so in one of three ways. Ideally, I want to hire people with whom at least one member of the existing team has already worked and can vouch for. If that doesn’t work, then I’m looking for people vouched for my the networks of which the team are part. Failing that, I’m trying to find people who don’t wait for direction, but know how to get on with things that need doing.
It’s an approach I’ve developed from the work of Laura Thomson. She’s a former colleague at Mozilla, and an advocate of a chaordic style of management and self-organising ducks:
Instead of having ‘all your ducks in a row’ the analogy in chaordic management is to have ‘self-organising ducks’. The idea is to give people enough autonomy, knowledge and skill to be able to do the management themselves.
As I’ve said before, the default way of organising human beings is hierarchy. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Hierachy tends to lean on processes, paperwork and meetings to ‘get things done’ but even a cursory glance at Open Source projects shows that all of this isn’t strictly necessary.
Last week, a new-ish member of the team said that I can be “too nice”. I’m still processing that and digging into what they meant, but I then ended up reading an article by Roddy Millar for Fast Company entitled Here’s why being likable may make you a less effective leader.
It’s a slightly oddly-framed article that quotes Prof. Karen Cates from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management :
Leaders should not put likability above effectiveness. There are times when the humor and smiles need to go and a let’s-get-this-done approach is required. Cates goes further: “Even the ‘nasty boss approach’ can be really effective—but in short, small doses—to get everyone’s attention and say ‘Hey, we’ve got to make some changes around here.’ You can then create—with an earnest approach—that more likable persona as you move forward. Likability is a good thing to have in your leadership toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the biggest hammer in the box.”Roddy Millar
I think there’s a difference between ‘trying to be likeable’ and ‘treating your colleagues with dignity and respect’.
If you’re being nice to be just to liked by your team, you’re probably doing it wrong. It’s a bit like, back when I was teaching, teachers who wanted to be liked by the kids they taught.
The other approach is to simply treat the people around you with dignity and respect, realising that all of human life involves suffering, so let’s not add to the burden through our everyday working lives.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The above is one of my favourite quotations. We don’t need to crack the whip or wield some kind of totem of hierarchical power over other people. We just need to ensure people are in the right place (physically and emotoinally), with the right things (tools, skills, and information) to get things done.
In managers are for caring, Harold Jarche points a finger at hierarchical organisations, stating that they are “what we get when we use the blunt stick of economic consequences with financial quid pro quo as the prime motivator”.
Jarche wonders instead what would happen if they were structured more like communities of practice?
What would an organization look like with looser hierarchies and stronger networks? A lot more human, retrieving some of the intimacy and cooperation of tribal groups. We already have other ways of organizing work. Orchestras are not teams, and neither are jazz ensembles. There may be teamwork on a theatre production but the cast is not a team. It is more like a community of practice, with strong and weak social ties.Harold Jarche
I think part of the problem, to be honest, is emotional intelligence, or rather the lack of it, in many organisations.
Unfortunately, the way to earn more money in organisations is to start managing people. Which is fine for the subset of people who have the skills to be able to handle this. For others, it’s a frustrating experience that takes them away from doing the work.
For TED Ideas, organisational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic asks Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? And what can we do about it? He lists three reasons why we have so many incompetent (male) leaders:
- Our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence
- Our love of charasmatic individuals
- The allure of “people with grandiose visions that tap into our own narcissism”
He suggests three ways to fix this. The other two are all well and good, but I just want to focus on the first solution he suggests:
The first solution is to follow the signs and look for the qualities that actually make people better leaders. There is a pathological mismatch between the attributes that seduce us in a leader and those that are needed to be an effective leader. If we want to improve the performance of our leaders, we should focus on the right traits. Instead of falling for people who are confident, narcissistic and charismatic, we should promote people because of competence, humility and integrity. Incidentally, this would also lead to a higher proportion of female than male leaders — large-scale scientific studies show that women score higher than men on measures of competence, humility and integrity. But the point is that we would significantly improve the quality of our leaders.Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
The best leaders I’ve worked for exhibited high levels of emotional intelligence. Most of them were women.
Developing emotional intelligence is difficult and goodness knows I’m no expert. What I think we perhaps need to do is to remove our corporate dependency on hierarchy. In hierarchies, emotion and trust is removed as an impediment to action.
However, in my experience, hierarchy is inherently patriarchal and competitive. It’s not something that’s necessarily useful in every industry in the 21st century. And hierarchies are not places that I, and people like me, particularly thrive.
Instead, I think we require trust-based ways of organising — ways that emphasis human relationships. I think these are also more conducive to human flourishing.
Right now, approaches such as sociocracy take a while to get our collective heads around as they’re opposed to our “default operating system” of hierarchy. However, over time I think we’ll see versions of this becoming the norm, as it becomes ever easier to co-ordinate people at a distance.
To sum up, what it means to be an effective leader is changing. Returning to the article cited above by Harold Jarche, he writes:
Hierarchical teams are what we get when we use the blunt stick of economic consequences with financial quid pro quo as the prime motivator. In a creative economy, the unity of hierarchical teams is counter-productive, as it shuts off opportunities for serendipity and innovation. In a complex and networked economy workers need more autonomy and managers should have less control.Harold Jarche
Many people no longer live in a world of the ‘permanent job’ and ‘career ladder’. What counts as success for them is not necessarily a steadily-increasing paycheck, but measures such as social justice or ‘making a dent in the universe’. This is where hierarchy fails, and where emergent, emotionally-intelligent leaders with teams of self-organising ducks, thrive.