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Tuesday
Apr222014

People Want Autocrats

Learn from my experience: People want you to tell them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The reason they do it and the rationale behind how they do it run far secondary in importance to clearly detailed and outlined instructions.

Yes, this statement goes against a lot of today’s leadership folderol, which tells people at the helm to set targets and then let their employees determine how to hit them. People want to feel in control of their work. They want to develop the how and the why and the when.

Nice notions, all of these.

As an entrepreneur, I like to set my own path and sincerely dislike following rules that seem arbitrary. The dominant wisdom about how people prefer working actually describes how I like to work.

However, as I’ve learned with sales, you can’t assume everyone does things the way you do them. Nor can you assume that people think just like you do, like the same things you like, or want you to treat them just as you’d like them to treat you.

So much for the Golden Rule.

People want to feel that leadership has everything figured out—no nebulousness, please—and that it has plotted their clear path to success. (They will still complain. Annoyingly, people get satisfaction from complaining.) Employees want autonomy in improving the path, not in setting it.

Feeling that leadership doesn’t know what it wants done or how it wants it done makes people nervous. When, in the spirit of following today’s set-their-own-path wisdom, I asked my team how they thought we should reach a goal, they figured my asking the question meant I didn’t know how to get there—rather than that I wanted them to take part in setting the plan. They didn’t know how to proceed. Uncertainty fed the natural human tendency to inertia, and they just stopped.

The dominant “wisdom” misleads management. In wanting to give a team flexibility and autonomy—which the gurus tell us they want—we throw out all structure and leave people floundering. Instead, we need to allow for adjustments and accommodation and we need to stay open to great ideas from our team—but we need to give them parameters within which to work.

For people to think “outside the box,” we need to give them a box.

Sunday
Apr202014

On Experimenting with Illegal Substances

I’ve never tried marijuana. Not even a puff from which “I didn’t inhale.” (Soon, that Clinton-era reference will mean nothing to anyone, making me feel ancient.)

So it should mostly go without saying that I’ve never tried any other illegal drugs, either, although surely some people go directly from straight-edge living to, say, crack cocaine. (Not everyone needs a gateway drug to get to the hard stuff, right?)

Trying marijuana hardly seems edgy today, especially with the drug’s expanding legalization in the United States. I’ve never tried marijuana because daredevil behavior and breaking laws don’t really appeal to me. (Ah, such a goody-goody, that Leslie Farnsworth.) And I never found marijuana particularly intriguing for many of the reasons I don’t drink: Dulled senses and thinking processes seem especially unappealing.

Though I can definitely grasp the appeal of other illegal drugs, from heroin to cocaine to methamphetamine and beyond. After all, we have pretty clear evidence that these substances make people ecstatic and euphoric and full of energy and unstoppable. People on many illegal drugs feel so fantastic that they readily ruin their lives—and the lives of their families and friends, when necessary—to get their fixes.

Let’s face it:

If you’d sell your mother’s house and go to prison and wreck your health and even die for something, I can’t dispute that the something in question makes you feel pretty damn fantastic in the moment.

So when people ask if I’ve ever experimented with these drugs or even imply that everyone should experiment with illegal substances, I wonder what they could possibly think needs testing. I need no experiential support to prove that illegal drugs make people feel amazing—I have enough observational evidence. Thank you very much.

And I don’t need to tempt fate in trying something that may make me feel so fantastic that I can’t stop wanting more. I have enough problems fending off cravings for far less harmful substances that I really shouldn’t consume. Sweets, for example. (Mm. Cookies.) I see no value in adding highly addictive illegal substances to the mix.

Do you think people should experiment with drugs?

Friday
Apr182014

Meditation and Mindfulness: The Leslie Version

Sure, sometimes I need rest days. Here and there. Once a week, at most.

Yet even when I don’t want to do it and even when I struggle through the doing, I always feel better once I’ve gotten it done.

For some people, this would describe reading the morning paper over coffee. Or brushing their teeth. Or gardening and mowing the lawn.

For me, the above describes exercising. And writing.

When I don’t exercise, I feel sluggish. I know this, but many days, I don’t want to hit the pavement or the heavy bag at the gym. I force myself into the activity through routine or guilt or tough love. And even when I do, sometimes the effort feels awful. My limbs feel like lead pipes. My motivation never arrives. I just get it done.

Yet after I’ve gotten it done, I my entire system—brain and body—works better.

When I don’t write, I feel unmoored. I’ve learned this more recently, as I’ve exercised regularly for longer than I’ve written regularly. (Acknowledging this makes me sad, not because I should have sacrificed exercise for writing, but because I should have gotten back into writing earlier.)

Yet many days, I don’t want to sit with my laptop, stare at the white page, and type. Sometimes I force myself to the open computer and press out one painstaking word after another; writing even a meagre hundred words takes half an hour or longer. (The next time you plow through one hundred pages of text in a couple hours, stop to think about how long it took the writer to pen them and marvel a moment.)

Yet, after I’ve written, I feel so much more psychologically settled. I’ve worked through something. I’ve created. Playing with words soothes me.

The last few years have brought intense mainstream interest in mindfulness and meditation. Executives and celebrities—Oprah, Jeff Weiner from LinkedIn, Steve Jobs—have touted both as keys to their success. Mindfulness means relaxing, focusing on the activity at hand, fully existing “in the moment,” unplugging, eliminating distractions, simplifying. Meditation has a similar bent, though it leans a bit more on either emptying the mind or concentrating it on one concept.

During the part of yoga when the instructor tells you to focus on your breath or a concept, my mind wanders to my to-do list. I have the same problem in Zen-like spaces intended for meditation. I’ve tried, but they don’t make me feel grounded and centered and peaceful. Instead, they make me think of things should do that this “meditation” keeps me from doing.

With exercise, I think about nothing but the activity. My mind clears completely. With writing, I focus intently on one concept, I approach it from many angles, I think about it deeply. Writing induces deep contemplation.

For me, writing and exercise mean meditation and mindfulness.

Without writing and exercise, I don’t feel “right.” I feel slightly off kilter physically and emotionally. I can take an occasional day off—but taking more than one rest day here and there makes for a less optimal Leslie.

What count as your daily meditation?

Wednesday
Apr162014

You Lie: The Difference between What People Say and What They Do

You see them, too: Studies that report on what researchers learned from people about what they like, what they trust, and how they live.

Take a 2012 Nielsen study that reported on consumer trust in social and mobile advertising. Based on survey responses, Nielsen reported that people then trusted on-line ads more than they had previously—and that they trusted traditional (print and broadcast) ads less.

Findings from Nielsen's 2012 study on self-reported trust in advertising.

Every time I see these studies, I roll my eyes. You can’t ask people to self-report. And if you do, you can’t trust what they tell you.

People lie.

Unconsciously and accidentally, people won’t give honest answers when asked about their preferences and actions. In truth, they don’t know what they like. They don’t know how they act.

Time and again, research finds that people underestimate their number of daily calories. Per numerous studies, people fail to accurately assess their amount or intensity of physical activity. We cannot imagine a single cinnamon roll packs half a day’s caloric needs. We think ourselves more—or even less—active than our lives actually allow.

With ideas, people rarely like something they haven’t seen before. They need to warm up to new concepts. Asking people whether they like something and making decisions based on their responses may lead you astray.

In marketing, “psychographics” describes people’s self-concepts—and recognizes that they may not behave accordingly. That guy who just tossed a plastic water bottle into the trash? He pays more for products described as “eco-friendly” because he believes himself environmentally conscientious. That woman who said she doesn't trust magazine ads? She just purchased a box of granola bars promoted in her favorite fitness magazine.

Smart people observe their fellow humans’ behavior—as the adage goes, “actions speak louder than words”—to determine what they really believe and how they truly act. Trickier, more time intensive, and more expensive? Yes.

But observation provides the only route to truth.

How closely do your self-concept and reality align?

Monday
Apr142014

Interviewing and Dating: The Similarities

Take it from an often-hiring CEO who has stayed single for a while and dates fairly regularly: Dating and interviewing have a lot in common.

Awkward to admit, but true.

  • First impressions matter too much: The location they choose or the state of the office, the first few seconds of the encounter and what you thought of their appearance and demeanor, and whether you liked each other after a little conversation matter more than they should, given that the focus should rest on determining long-term compatibility.
  • Stilted conversation: You want to make each other comfortable, but you need to elicit critical information through slightly intrusive questions that wouldn’t come up in natural conversation. And you’ll never learn enough through a few awkward exchanges.
  • Off-limits topics: Dating and interviewing etiquette (and, with hiring, laws as well) warn us against no-go conversations. Don’t talk about your recent relationships—or ask about his. If she asks what you do for fun, don’t say “video games,” even if true. Don’t confess how much your last boss annoyed you. Don’t ask about his personal life or beliefs.
  • Limited information: You can’t know much about someone or your compatibility with him until you collaborate. Yet with interviewing, as with dating, you must make decisions based on very little data.
  • No test run: Having someone work contract or dating someone casually for a few months would prove the best way to gauge compatibility, but most people want quick commitment.
  • Awkward partings: Saying goodbye at the end of the session feels stilted. Shake hands? Kiss on the cheek? Ask for the job? Ask for another date? Did he like me—and did I like him? How long should I wait for a call before following up?

I’ve actually learned from interviewing about dating—and vice versa. I’ve seen the pitfalls in both setups, and I’ve tried to develop techniques to avoid them, focus on what matters, recognize obfuscations and distractions, and make smarter decisions as a result.

How do you get to what really matters in a date or interview?