Power, presence and perceptions

Following from a few conversations I’ve had recently, I thought I’d re-blog this as I think it’s as relevant today as it when I wrote it.


A bit of pondering on an autumn afternoon off…
As we move up the ladder at work, whether we become lecturers or administrators or managers or other holders of senior positions, we change and grow and our knowledge increases and our experience broadens. Our skills and abilities stretch and our opinions become more robust. Our viewpoints change as we see the bigger picture. Maybe we have to become more focussed on strategy, perhaps appearing less caring about the smaller things – and I’d say that’s natural and is probably the only way those responsible for large organisations can function effectively. We may also dress differently – more formally perhaps – which changes the physical perception of our presence. Power always adds presence (I think because of the obligations that come with it), whether we recognise it or not.

But I’m willing to bet that inside, we feel the same as…

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You can’t bank spare time… so make sure you invest it wisely.

Time is finite and is arguably our most precious commodity, but it’s all too easy to let it trickle through our fingers, forgetting that we can’t stash even a second of it away for later use. Every day has just 1440 minutes in it. We spend a considerable number of those minutes asleep and in doing the things we must do: eating, showering, caring for others and so on. For most of us, the rest is spent in travelling, ferrying children to and from their activities, working, and, heavens help us, in meetings. Then there is ‘spare’ time, which is usually spent in leisure activities, hobbies, exercise and so on. And of course there is the time that just ‘disappears’ , very often online and on social media.

I’m not suggesting that every minute of every day should be scheduled, but it really is easy to let precious time go to waste. To use it more wisely and productively, how about thinking of time in investment terms?

As an example, when you travel, do you consciously invest your time wisely? It doesn’t really matter what you choose to occupy your mind during the journey – it could be listening to music, thinking about your new book or paper, discussing things with your travelling companions, learning a new language or planning anything from a lecture to project – all these things are productive and show a measurable return on investment. So can (as long as it’s not you driving!) staring out of the window, enjoying the view and being grateful for the time to do so. The ROI there is in the refreshment of your mind and ideas.

Time spent with friends and other loved ones can also be considered a great investment. I’ve recently been moving books and amongst them were the works of Khalil Gibran, whose most well known work is ‘The Prophet’. In that, on the subject of friendship, he says “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.” Worth considering I think.

So, how could you use your ‘spare’ time more productively this week?



It seems delegation is one of the things we find most difficult to master as we climb the corporate ladder. During our early careers much of our success is measured by our outputs, the things we actually produce ourselves, whether they be projects completed, academic papers published, lectures prepared and delivered or, in manufacturing, widgets produced. As we progress into management and leadership, our success is measured by the success of the group of people we manage. So why is it often so difficult to delegate responsibilities to others in our team?

One reason may be perfectionism. When we believe that no-one but we ourselves can can be trusted to do a job properly, we may be unwilling to delegate, in case things go wrong. But how will anyone else ever learn if we don’t trust them to try? That doesn’t mean we breathe down their necks and micro-manage them either. When you delegate responsibility, you must also delegate authority, but if you are to do so effectively, you must set clear guidelines and put in place clear and well understood reporting and feedback mechanisms.

Another may reason may be fear of not being seen as achieving things ourselves. However, the more strategic our role, the less we should actually be doing and the more we should be thinking ahead, planning, and supporting others in carrying out the the tasks our work group needs to complete.

Sharing power is a means of developing and motivating people. By analysing the qualities needed to bring a particular task or project to successful completion you should be able to choose an employee with the skills, strengths and interests needed to succeed. You are literally setting that person up for success, with all the benefits to their self-esteem that brings. Delegation can be a key development tool.

When you delegate, make sure that both you and the person to whom you are delegating have:

  • mutual clarity about what the project involves
  • mutual clarity about what is expected in the form of outcomes or deliverables
  • mutual clarity about the level of autonomy you are giving
  • mutual clarity about time scales and reporting mechanisms
  • mutual clarity about priorities

Bill Gates said “Develop your people to do their jobs better than you can. Transfer your skills to them. This is exciting, but it can be threatening to a manager who worries that he is training his replacement. Smart managers like to see their employees increase their responsibilities because it frees the managers to tackle new or undone tasks”

I hope you’re a smart manager. You have the future in your hands.

Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple

I was speaking with a former colleague (now retired) last week who used the expression “I’m trying to…” so many times in our conversation that I was reminded of a posting I made last year. Personally I’ve stopped ‘trying’. It took conscious effort, but I think it was worth it. Now I either actually do whatever it is, or I don’t do it, but i don’t ‘try’ to do it. Life’s too short for that!


Break Bad Habits by Keeping Your Plan Simple – http://pulse.me/s/oTbdX
Research from the British Psychological Society suggests strongly that trying to change too many habits at once doesn’t work, whereas focusing on one at a time does. This should be no surprise to anyone who’s ever over-committed themselves, but it’s still tempting when you’re in ‘let’s make changes’ mode to attempt too much all at once.

Here’s one habit I’m breaking – a bit at a time. I have decided to avoid ‘trying’ at all costs. This may seem an odd thing to say, but I know from experience that you can waste all your effort in ‘trying’ without ever actually doing whatever it is that needs to be done. So here’s the challenge: expunge ‘trying’ from your vocabulary.

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Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You

I came across these three little tricks on Life Hacker this morning and thought they were worth sharing.

1) ‘Get Big’ – in other words, recognise your irritation for what it is – an irritation. It’s only a little thing in the big scheme of things. Change your perspective by growing taller and looking down on the problem

2) Float down the stream. imagine yourself somewhere calm and beautiful, floating weightlessly down a stream. The irritation is gently slowly soothed away…

3) Give them a mental hug. Not sure I can go this far, but the principle is that you empathise with the person who’s annoying you.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to smooth your path through the working day?

Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You – http://pulse.me/s/sGtA5

Can You Take Your Strengths Too Far?

From the HBR Blog Network – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/10/can_you_take_your_strengths_to.html

Can You Take Your Strengths Too Far?

by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman  |   2:04 PM October 2, 2012

For the past decade, leaders have been encouraged to focus on developing their strengths rather than always gravitating to working on a weakness. But is this too much of a good thing? Lately, a number of business thinkers have suggested so.

It’s tempting for those of us strongly committed to developing leadership strengths to ignore such dissent on the grounds that any new practice will attract critics. But the debate has practical significance to leaders. How should a hard-driving executive respond when given high scores for his ability to drive for results but low scores on building strong relationships with peers and subordinates? Is this evidence that he’s taken his strength too far?

We don’t think so. We would absolutely advise this person to keep driving for results; we suspect that his intense drive is what got him this far in the organization. But we don’t see this as a zero sum game — we don’t think he needs to stop doing one thing to start doing something else. So we’d also recommend he develop additional strengths in relating to people.

Like many of those who are raising doubts about the limits of developing leadership strengths — as Robert E. Kaplan and Robert Kaiser have done in the pages of HBR, and more recently Tony Schwartz has done on this site, we believe that a single strength by itself doesn’t serve anyone well. A leader needs several strengths to succeed. And balance is required. Strengths in combination are far more powerful than any one alone, our research has confirmed. Our data show, in fact, that possessing five strengths is a surefooted way to become an exceptional leader. One-trick ponies don’t last long in the center ring.

We also strongly agree with them that serious weaknesses should not be ignored. We’ve called these “fatal flaws,” and we certainly advise people to fix them first. That’s critical for the roughly one-quarter of leaders our data tell us appear to have such serious defects. We submit, however, that the rest should be working on their strengths.

People can and do behave inappropriately — and they do things to excess. In his blog, Schwartz describes how he learned that his own unbridled candor was hurtful and unproductive. Kaplan and Kaiser similarly described how either “forceful” or “enabling” behaviors could be taken too far and have negative consequences. They observed that if a leader overuses the “forceful” strength by being exceedingly directive — always taking charge, making every decision, and constantly pushing people — the leader’s effectiveness diminishes. That’s a conclusion that we suspect most would accept. And so do we. They also observed that a leader who is too cautious, gentle, understanding, mild-mannered, and almost exclusively focused on others will also be less effective. We completely concur.

Where we part company is in labeling any those behaviors as a strength.

We find it constructive to use a definition of “a strength” based on the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, among others. By his definition, a strength is a behavior that is:

  • Executed effectively
  • Broadly used in a variety of situations or settings
  • Lasting in its effects over time
  • Consistent in producing positive outcomes
  • Valued for its intrinsic worth, as well as its positive outcomes
  • Not specific to one culture
  • Harmonious with, rather than opposed to, other strengths

By these measures, “being forceful,” or “exhibiting righteous honesty unmediated by empathy,” are not strengths.

Our analysis of behavior that does fit our definition of strengths comes from data generated in the 360-degree evaluations of 30,000 managers by 300,000 of their colleagues. From examining 12 years of such data, we’ve identified 16 competencies that describe the most effective leaders and distinguish them from average and poor leaders. When done extremely well, these behaviors become leadership strengths. They included qualities like displaying integrity, exhibiting superior problem-solving skills, being highly technically competent, being innovative, taking initiative, inspiring and motivating others to high performance — and, yes, driving for results.

We’ve found no evidence that extremely high scores on any of these competencies has negative consequences. That is, we haven’t found anyone who scored at the 90th percentile for any one of these behaviors who was perceived by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports as less effective than someone who scored in the 60th or 70th percentiles. We haven’t found the business results of any high scorer to be inferior to the people who received lower scores. Nor have we found subordinates and peers writing more negative comments about a higher scorer than about any individual with a more moderate score.

Instead, we find the data tell a consistent story. Those with the lowest scores on a competency receive many negative written comments, and their objective results are inferior. Those with the highest scores produce the best outcomes on everything we’ve been able to measure. If this is overusing statistics, then so be it. Our profession needs more leadership analytics, not less, in our opinion.

Some might think strengths-based development was discovered by a social scientist or consulting company, but the real credit should go to Peter Drucker, who in his classic 1967 book The Effective Executive made the compelling case for focusing on strengths. In fact, he argued, it is the role of the organization to leverage people’s strengths and to make their weaknesses irrelevant.