We've spent 20+ years studying leadership.
We've learned from thought leaders in the fields of behavioral, positive and social psychology at the world's top research universities.
People like Martin Seligman at University Of Pennsylvania, Barbara Fredrickson at UNC Chapel Hill, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont, and Dacher Keltner at UC Berkley (just to name a few) have had a significant influence on our work.
We've worked for many highly respected companies - PepsiCo, Charles Schwab, Amazon and Dun & Bradstreet (to name a few).
People like Steve Alesio - former CEO of Dun & Bradstreet, Van Skilling former CEO of Experian and Robert "Kam" Kamerschen - former CEO of Six Flags Entertainment have been wonderful collaborators, coaches and confidants through this effort.
We've researched, studied and observed many leadership best practices. We've developed, tested and refined many leadership "hacks", and we'll share them in the coming pages.
The hacks are based on principles we've developed through the years. These principles lead to the writing of this book, and the development of MentalNotes.com.
The Principles -
- "Management" and "leadership" are sibling rivals
- Leadership is a portfolio of perishable skills
- Leadership happens in 3-dimensions
- Self-coaching is the key to personal development
- Power isn't given - it's granted by followers
- Influence is based on "power plays"
- Reputation matters
Each of these principles are interrelated. They feed off one another. They provide the roadmap for the modern, post-Covid leader.
Let's dive a little deeper into each principle.
PRINCIPLE #1 - "MANAGEMENT" & "LEADERSHIP" ARE SIBLING RIVALS
"Management" and "Leadership" are two different disciplines.
"You manage things; you lead people". Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
Admiral Hopper was one of the first women to become a flag officer in the US Navy. She was also a tech pioneer. She helped developed COBOL, one of the first computer languages and evening coined the term "debugging".
Her observation, made in the mid-1900's, is the basis of our first principle.
You manage budgets, forecasts, schedules and projects. These are things. They're inanimate objects. No soul. No free will. Excel does what's it's told. No leadership needed.
You have to lead people. Power is given, it's earned. It's granted by followers (Principle #5). People have free will and minds of their own. They chose to follow your lead. The choice is there's, not yours. Leadership skills are required.
They call you a "manager" but expect you to lead. The terms are interchangeable, but different.
"Management" and "leadership" have much in common, though. For example, they're both processes.
Management is the process of planning, organizing, leading and controlling.
Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation. Leadership is a portfolio of perishable skills (Principle #2).
See the overlap? Leadership is a subset of management. They come from the same family of administration, but...
...."Management" and "Leadership" are sibling rivals. They're closely related and compete for your limited attention.
Like a parent, you try to give both duties the attention they deserve, but it's a constant battle.
Your greatest assets are time, attention and focus. Each are limited. They're finite resources. How you invest your limited time, attention and focus defines you as a manager.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
If a child feels neglected, they'll let you know. Siblings compete for your attention. Sometimes they lash out. They misbehave to get attention.
Leadership duties compete for your time and attention, too. Your time spent sitting in meetings, working on budgets or revising forecasts is time away from leading.
Employees can feel neglected, too. They subtly lash out by slowly disengaging. Some are less subtle. They decide to leave. We've all been caught off guard by unexpected resignations.
This is important because leadership responsibilities often take a back seat to management responsibilities. The reason is simple - your boss often loads you up with management tasks.
"Management" is the sibling with the loudest voice. Management duties often scream for attention. Your immediate attention.
As a manager, you have to respond to meeting requests, forecast updates and queries from on high. You also have to make time to lead. You have to strike the right balance between managing and leading. Both deserve your attention, or one will lash out.
PRINCIPLE #2 - LEADERSHIP IS A PERISHABLE SKILL
Some skills are perishable and others aren't. Swimming and riding a bike are skills you tend to retain, but leadership isn't. You lose what you don't use!
As managers advance through their career, leadership skills they once possessed often go dormant. There are numerous reasons.
Leadership isn't just one skill, its a portfolio of skills. It requires "communication", "delegation", "influence" and "time management". You can occasionally refresh one skill, but not a portfolio of skills. It's like golf.
Golf requires a portfolio of skills, too. You have to hit drivers from the tee box and irons from the fairway. You're allowed 13 different clubs in golf, and have to develop skills with each.
You have to learn how to putt, hit shots from sand and even from the deep rough (when your skills driving the ball leave you)!
You're leading people, and everyone's different. You might be skilled at influencing one personality type, but there are 16 different personality types! Each skill in the leadership portfolio can have 16 different variations.
Skills are just part of the manager's toolbox. Their knowledge and personal attributes influence performance, too.
People often confuse attributes and skills. Attributes are personal characteristics like "confidence", "empathy" and "patience".
Attributes can emerge, evolve and expand. Knowledge is the same way. The longer you work in an industry, profession or company, the more knowledge you acquire.
Your knowledge, skills and attributes are interconnected. Leaders develop skills that leverage whatever knowledge and personal attributes they possess at the time.
As your knowledge grows and your personal attribute evolve, some of the skills you developed may become outdated.
Have you ever watched a young child shoot a basketball? They learn the "granny-style" shooting technique.
Using two hands, they rock the ball back and forth between their legs. They're building momentum before they hoist the ball skyward with an underhanded heave.
As they grow, their knowledge and personal attributes change.
They've acquired knowledge by watching games on TV. They see how the pro's shoot. They learn the hard way how easy it is for opponents to block their granny-style shot.
They get bigger, taller and stronger, so they can shoot the ball from above their head. They can adopt the 1-handed shooting style the pro's use.
The kids that become high school, college or even professional basketball players outgrow the granny style of shooting and develop new shooting techniques.
The skill doesn't change. It's still a shooting skill. But the execution of the skill - the techniques they employ - that changes. It's the same with leadership.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
Leadership skills have a shelf life. As your career advances, so do your knowledge and personal attributes. Like shooting the basketball granny style, skills can become outdated.
As managers advance in their careers, a false sense of security can emerge. "I must be doing something right, I keep getting promoted!"
The problem is, you're likely managing more and leading less.
Remember, "management" and "leadership" are sibling rivals, and management responsibilities have the louder voice.
Imagine if that kid stepped away from basketball and picked up skate boarding. They're spending more and more time at the skate park and much less time on the basketball court.
Someday, maybe in jr. high, they join in a pick-up game of basketball. They know what they're doing, right? When they were younger they used to shoot all the time! Then it happens.
They realize that that old reflex, shooting the ball granny style, it doesn't work anymore. They're exposed. Their skills became outdated. The expiration date came due.
Let's hope that kid doesn't want a career in basketball. But you're making a career in management, and your leadership skills can't be allowed to erode or become rusty. That's why this matters.
PRINCIPLE #3 - LEADERSHIP HAPPENS IN 3 DIMENSIONS
Think about your typical day. Set aside your management duties and focus on your leadership duties. Here's how a manager might characterize their typical day -
- Had 2 coaching conversations - 15 minutes each
- Gave direction to new project manager - 15 minutes
- Sent "attaboy/attagirl" note - 5 minutes
- Answered various questions (by phone, email and Slack) - 30-40 minutes total
- Gave 2 pep-talks - 15 minutes each
- Problem solving call w/project team - 30 minutes
- Interviewed a summer intern - 30 minutes
- Talked to troubled employee on way home - 20 minutes
We've studied hundreds of managers as they go about their typical day, and we found they have much in common.
- Leadership interactions happen throughout the day
- Managers initiate some interactions and employees initiate some
- Some interactions are preplanned and some are reactive
- The interactions are relatively short
- Various forms of communication are used
Some of the leadership interactions are more comfortable than others. For example, if you don't give much negative feedback, it's uncomfortable when you do!
The rest of the leader's day is spent on management duties like analyzing, budgeting, forecasting and scheduling. It's a constant segue between "managing" and "leading".
One thing's for sure, leadership is a dynamic process. The circumstances are fluid.
It helps to put leadership activities into proper context. It makes it easier to self-assess and develop your skills.
In the old television series Star Wars, Captain Kirk and his Vulcan first-officer "Spock" played 3-dimensional chess. It's a good way to think about leadership.
Kirk and Spock played three chess boards at once, and could play their chess pieces across each board.
Leaders segue between management duties and leadership duties, between various communication vehicles, and from group settings to 1-on-1 settings. It's like playing multiple chess boards at once.
The 3-D game took tremendous skill, because it required simultaneous focus across three different dimensions. Decisions made at one level impacted every level. Leadership is the same way.
Leadership plays out in three settings - the personal, interpersonal and group. Think of these as a 3-dimensional chess board.
THE DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP SETTINGS
Leaders act alone. This is the "personal setting". Decisions are typically made in private. All the activities that precede and follow decisions occur in private, too. Your analysis, judgement, planning, rehashing and second-guessing all occur in private.
Leaders act 1-on-1. This is the "interpersonal setting". Leaders influence individuals. They’re motivating a person to do something, not a team. The direction, feedback and coaching is targeted to the individual. The personal relationship is key.
Leaders act in front of groups. This is the "group setting". Leaders influence teams. They share values, set standards and promote teamwork. They create a work environment, team dynamic and culture for everyone to experience.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
Like 3-dimensional chess, leadership requires your multi-dimensional attention. But leaders prefer particular settings.
Their preference is largely influenced by their personal attributes.
Charismatic leaders enjoy the group setting. Empathetic leaders enjoy the interpersonal setting. Introspective leaders prefer the personal setting.
This matters because leaders develop blind spots. Hyper-focus on one game board comes at the expense of other game boards.
If a leader prefers or is more comfortable in one setting, that's where their attention tends to focus. When under stress, leaders focus where they find confidence.
To be a complete leader, you have to discipline yourself to play the 3-dimensional game.
PRINCIPLE #4 - SELF COACHING IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
We all have an "inner-voice". Your inner-inner voice produces the thousands of thoughts you experience each day.
Your inner-voice generates your ideas, beliefs and attitudes. It explains what's happening around you and to you.
You perceive whatever your inner-voice tells you to perceive. You see whatever your inner-voice wants you to see.
Your inner-voice determines your self-image and self-worth. It influences your goals, confidence and motivation.
The thoughts produced by your inner-voice are largely subconscious. We rarely stop to think about what we're thinking.
These thoughts influence how you feel, and your thoughts influence what you do.
The problem with your inner-voice, is that it's not always accurate. Thoughts are often misguided. A misguided thought triggers misguided emotions. Misguided emotions trigger misguided behaviors.
We've all been wrong. We've all misread situations. We've made bad decisions. We've been needlessly worried. We've over reacted or under reacted. We're human, and our inner-voices often misspeak.
The human mind is a powerful computer, but like any software, it has some programming glitches. These bugs in our mental software can lead us astray.
We're wired to think fast. The inner-voice prides itself on making snap decisions. In doing so, we fall prey to thinking traps.
We think we can see into the future, but we can't. We think we can read people's mind, but we can't. We fear the worse, when we shouldn't. We over generalize, when we shouldn't. We trust our gut instinct, when that's not always the best idea.
Your inner-voice needs checks and balances.
Think about your favorite teacher or coach. What made them your favorite?
Chance are, you trusted them. You knew they'd tell you the truth. They didn't always say things you wanted to hear, but they always said the things you needed to hear.
They cared about you, too. You knew they had your best interest at heart. They wanted you to grow, succeed and prosper. At times, your success seemed to mean more to them than it even did to you.
They were optimistic. They saw a better version of you than you could see. They had positive expectations of you. They invested in your potential. Not what you were, but what you could become.
Finally, they held you accountable. They gave constant feedback and held you to a higher standard. When you fell short, they told you.
Your inner voice needs checks and balances. It needs a trustworthy, compassionate and optimistic coach to hold it accountable.
That coach needs to demonstrate the same things you remember about your favorite teacher, coach or mentor. But it's hard.
Leadership often occurs in the personal dimension. When leaders are left to their own thoughts, there's no one around to pick you up. To deliver that much needed pep-talk. That's why your "inner-coach" is so important.
Your inner-voice develops on it's own. It doesn't need any help. It starts voicing it's opinions in early childhood and becomes even more vocal into adulthood.
Your thinking traps become thinking habits that are hard to break. That's why we tend to repeat the same mistakes.
Developing your inner-coach takes work - a lot of work.
We tend to beat ourselves up, but our favorite teacher never did that. It's easy to grow pessimistic, but our old coach wouldn't allow that.
Self-coaching is a personal commitment to improving the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and reflexes that influence your behavior.
It's a relationship between your "inner-voice" and "inner-coach".
Everyone has an inner-voice. Few develop their inner-coach.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
Your inner-voice is either your greatest asset or greatest liability. It's that simple.
Life comes at you fast. In the post-Covid workplace, it's coming even faster. There's more change, more uncertainty and more stress. Your inner-voice is on over drive.
You have to be the best version of yourself, and that takes a conscious effort to produce your best, most productive thoughts. To feel your best, most productive emotions. And to engage in your best, most productive behaviors.
Managers that practice self coaching cope with stress better, enjoy the job more, and develop in the role more quickly. It's that simple.
DISCOVERY #5: POWER IS GRANTED BY FOLLOWERS; SUSTAINABLE INFLUENCE IS EARNED
Power is the ability to “stir others into collective action”. It’s the capacity to influence.
Managers are put in power, but effective leaders earn their power. There's a big difference.
When you get hired or promoted into a management role, the company is granting you certain power. They "put" into power. They're telling employees that you're in charge, that you can be trusted and that you'll operate with their best interests (and the company's best interest) at heart.
An effective leader earns their power. Through word, and more importantly - deed - they demonstrate that they are a consistent, trustworthy and caring leader.
There are two types of power - “temporary” and “sustainable”. To be an effective leader, you need sustainable power. When you’re put in power, you have temporary power. When you earn power, it’s more sustainable. It’s also fleeting.
When leaders use coercive power to influence employees, they’re leveraging “temporary power”. Fear provides momentary motivation, not sustainable motivation.
Leaders that demonstrate empathy and gratitude develop “sustainable power”. They build trust by consistently doing the little things that are good for others.
People follow leaders that are good for them and good for the group. People reject self-serving leaders. You’re never really “in power”. You’re momentarily empowered by others to lead. People choose to follow over the long term. And they follow people who have their best interest at heart.
We’re social animals, and people want leadership. We want people to step forward and make things better. Employees understand and appreciate the value of leadership. Good leadership. Effective leadership.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
There are two big reasons why this principle is so important - 1.) Leadership has become more horizontal, and 2.) Power is dynamic.
Leadership is no longer hierarchical. The vertical power structure is gone. Companies rely on cross functional alignment. The power dynamic is horizontal. In addition to influencing your team, you have to influence the teams in which the co-exist.
Power is dynamic. Teams of employees, whether cross functional or your direct reports, take a wait-and-see approach. They’re waiting to see if you make their lives, their jobs, and their collective efforts better.
A title and box on an org chart gives you a window of opportunity. That’s all. A window of opportunity to earn your influence. Think of it as a tryout. Managers that are put in power don’t always stay in power. Their capacity to influence is dynamic. Power is dynamic.
PRINCIPLE #6 - INFLUENCE IS BASED ON "POWER PLAYS"
“Power” is at the heart every interaction a leader has with an employee or team. Every email, phone call, meeting, text or IM demonstrates your use of power.
Leaders use “power plays” to develop and exert influence. These power plays are executed on the fly as the balance management and leadership tasks.
These power plays are largely subconscious. They become reflexive. Managers develop leadership "rules of thumb" that can be played out with little thought. Time is of the essence. Remember, executives are balancing the management/leadership sibling rivalry (Principle #1).
For some, their reflexive power plays are coercive.
COERCIVE POWER PLAYS
- Limited communication - says that people are on a "need to know" basis
- Unilateral decision making - says that "I'm in control"
- Limited input - says that their opinion doesn't matter
- Specific direction - says that you doubt their abilities
- Micro-management - says that "I'm checking on you"
- Provide limited feedback - people aren't sure where they stand
- Ultimatums and consequences - says that "you're easy to replace"
- Favoritism - says "you've not earned your way into my circle yet"
There's a time and place for coercive power plays. There are times when decisions must be made with limited input, when leaders have to micro-manage and communication has to occur after the fact. But leaders that over rely on coercive leadership "power plays" tend to lose influence over time.
Sustainable power plays are more inclusive.
SUSTAINABLE POWER PLAYS
- Ask the right questions - says that you're curious, open and interested
- Offer encouragement - says that you believe in their positive potential
- Connecting people - says that you believe in collaboration
- New ideas - says that you're forward looking
- Recognition - says that appreciate people's effort and accomplishments
- Giving responsibility/empowerment - says that you value and trust others
- Asking others for input - says that you value diverse thinking, experience and perspective
- Acts of generosity - says that you're kind
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Sir John Acton
It's easy to develop an over reliance on coercive leadership "power plays". You're balancing the management/leadership sibling rivalry (Principle #1), juggling the 3-dimensional leadership challenge (Principle #3), and trying to preserve the perishable portfolio of leadership skills (Principle #2).
You're put in power and it feels good. Research by Cal-Berkley Psychologist Dacher Keltner refers to the "power paradox". The skills that allow us to rise to power and lead effectively deteriorate once we have power.
PRINCIPLE #7: REPUTATION MATTERS
Workplaces are social networks. Even remote workers are connected via email, text, IM and Zoom meetings.
WHY THIS PRINCIPLE MATTERS
These principles are the fundamental truths this system of leadership hacks are based upon.
You can think of these principles as "realities".
- When you're managing, you're not necessarily leading
- When advancing, you're not necessarily growing
- Success in one leadership context doesn't necessarily translate
- You're the most important coach you'll ever have
Leadership is a life-long journey of discovery. The more you discover about yourself, the more you'll see in others.