Friday, October 31, 2014

How do you lead?

Seth wrote an interesting article a few weeks ago I haven't been able to get out of my head. For those that don't know, he's the author of the most popular blog in the world, and it focuses on business. The article in question is about how going around the room to see what everyone has to say is a waste of time. I'm not sure that I agree with him totally, but I have been trying to come up with an argument to dispute the idea, and the one time from my experience when it really makes sense was in grad school when our lab group had our weekly group update. We were all working on similar projects, so when someone had a breakthrough or needed help, he or she could share that and likely enlist help of others, or help others through the same breakthrough. I liked it because we didn't all sit by each other so we didn't talk about our research every hour, which is to say physical proximity is a huge benefit for collaboration. Plus, rather than unexpectedly going around the room people often had a slide presentation to show to prepare for a conference, and you knew that every week you would have to give an update on your progress.

What really intrigued me was the thought that leaders fail when saying, "let's go around the room". In other words, meetings are usually not the best use of everyone's time, everyone knows that, but the idea that a leader can fail... I just don't think in those explicit terms. I mean, for the leader of a meeting the meeting is most helpful and not a waste of your time, afterall you called it, you want everyone in the room at the same time. Yet this reminds me of my favorite Lao Tzu quote,

"Of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.” 


In other words, calling a meeting, and having people actually show up, means you are something of a leader. If you were not a leader in some manner, they would not show up. (Shoutout to W.L. Gore organization studdies, and Gary Hamel, for making this explicit for me!) Yet at the same time a good leader is not necessairly the one getting the credit. Much of today's organization in many organizations is based on military efficiency, platoon leaders report to the company leader, who reports to the battalian leader, who reports to the regiment leader. In that way, status reports go up the chain and orders go down the chain. This structure ultimately rewards much of the credit to the generals at the top. This structure works, it has been around a long time, but just because you are a leader, and you get the positive credit for your team's work, does not mean you are a very successful leader. If we say that people work a 40 hour week, one hour is 2.5% of that time. Two hours is 5% of that time. The point is, getting the best out of the team usually means letting people do the things they are skilled at and not slowing them down with bearaucracy. 

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