Wednesday, August 01, 2020

Slow Leadership has moved!

From today, August 1st 2007, all new articles for the Slow Leadership blog will be at a new URL, using the Wordpress platform.

To find the latest articles, use this link, or point your browser to http://www.slowleadership.org/blog/

See you there!

Carmine Coyote.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2020

Time and effort-saving ideas for busy people

However much you try to slow down and avoid activities that consume time and energy to no purpose, there will still be occasions when you are going to be busy and pressured. That’s a simple fact of modern organizational life. So how to deal with it?

Here are some ideas, taken from a wide range of sources (plus my own experience), that should help you to save time and trouble when things get hectic:


  • Always think ahead about the most likely consequences, not just the ones that you want to happen. The idea here is simple: to try to avoid causing yourself more problems and stress through a moment’s thoughtless action. One of the commonest consequences of being under pressure is a failure to look ahead. It seems so important to get a quick result. But cutting corners, taking risks without proper consideration, and rushing into precipitate action can all cost you far more time in cleaning up the mess afterwards than you saved at the time.

  • It’s always worth taking ample time to get a message across to others. It’s the same temptation: to rush through some phone call, message, or conversation because you can’t really spare the time and you have so much still waiting for you to do. Resist it! If people can see that you’re harassed, they’ll often try to be helpful by saying they understand when they don’t. Few situations are more maddening than discovering, too late, that someone you were relying on for a key element in a project misunderstood what you said that you wanted.

  • Consider every request to attend a meeting with the greatest skepticism. Your default position should be to stay away. Avoid any meeting with no clear agenda, no obvious ending time, and no purpose that makes sense to anyone except the organizer. Don’t assume you can go and quietly do work at the back. It’s more discourteous than staying away and it rarely works.

  • Practice at least a dozen firm but polite variations on “no” until you can say them in your sleep. Then use them whenever needed—which will be all the time. The best way to stop yourself becoming overloaded is to refuse to take an anything else. If the person giving you yet more work is your boss, ask for clear priorities, explaining that you need be sure what to drop to make way for the new piece of work. You’ll be surprised how often this will make a boss reconsider.

  • Learn the two key ways of reading: skimming for relevance and filleting for data. When you skim a document, your sole purpose should be to decide whether it contains anything worth reading. Let your gaze run down the page looking for key words and phrases. If you find any, put a small “x” in the margin and move on. Then glance over the number of “x” markings. Less than 5-6 means don’t mess with it further unless one of those is essential. Filleting is going back to the “x” marks and collecting the data you need. The best way is to make your own notes in a small book. Then toss the original.

  • Don’t accept what you’re told on trust, save from proven sources. When you’re rushed, the temptation will be to “save time” by accepting what you’ve been told. Always check. It’s well worth the time. You’ll look an idiot if the information isn’t true, and no one will accept the excuse that you were in a hurry.

  • Become familiar with the notions of estimates and orders of magnitude. You can often spot an error or problem almost instantly, without any calculation, by realizing that it is impossible. That’s especially true with numbers. If you know the answer has to be less than 10, and if what is on the page is 14.7, it has to be wrong. No more analysis is needed than that. One of the most useful skills I ever taught myself was the ability to estimate the order of magnitude of the right answer. I rarely needed to know any more to save myself huge amounts of time on analysis.

  • Know when to stop. The more you’re under pressure, the more you will be tempted to press on working well beyond the point where your attention and effectiveness begin to fail. Don’t do it. It seems as if it will help, but you’ll most likely either have to do all that work again or waste time clearing up the mess you made for yourself. And you’ll have denied yourself the rest needed even to do that properly.

Coping with turbulence

Imagine someone in a kayak, negotiating a river full of rapids. That’s you, facing all the turbulence and unexpected pressures of your work.

An inexperienced and foolish kayaker is totally occupied with trying to deal with every twist and surge of the current. His or her attention is fixed on what is happening right now. The ride is a nightmare of hidden rocks, violent eddies, and constant threats of being overturned and drowned. Time flashes by in a blur of near-panic. Any patches of calm water are used up in exhausted collapse, desperately trying to catch a breath before the next horror.

The more experienced kayaker faces the same perils. But that person has learned to look always a little way ahead, sensing the flow of the river and avoiding some at least of the hidden rocks and shallows. By doing so, he or she has more scope to find areas of slightly calmer water, where rest is possible and there’s a moment to look around and enjoy the view.

Although both kayakers may pass the same time in the rapids, as measured by the clock, the experienced one feels as if he or she has much more time. Time is always as much subjective as objective and when we’re in a turmoil of short-term fire-fighting, it passes with such speed that it causes stress by itself.

If I had to sum all of this up as simply as possible, I would say that the key to coping with stress and pressure is to do just about the opposite of what feels most called for: slow down as much as you can, look ahead as much as possible, drop everything non-essential, and do the rest as carefully and thoughtfully as possible so you only have to do any of it once. And always, always, try to avoid making yet more work for yourself by rushing, cutting corners, and making needless mistakes.




PLEASE NOTE: from August 1st, tomorrow, this blog will leave the Blogger platform and re-surface on Wordpress. I will leave all posts up to that point on Blogger, at the current URL.

New posts will be found from August 1st onwards at http://www.slowleadership.org/blog/







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Monday, July 30, 2020

Getting comfortable with control

The secret of staying in charge and relaxed is knowing what is controllable

We live in a world obsessed with control: monitoring, measuring, assessing, rating, every kind of controlling. Whenever something goes wrong, we look for who is to blame; who should have been in control and stopped the problem before it developed—but didn’t. This is wholly unrealistic. It also contributes in a strongly negative way to the anxiety and stress that has become so common.
Trying to control the uncontrollable is a recipe for exhaustion and frustration. To be held responsible for what you cannot control induces anxiety and fear of unjust reprisals if it all goes wrong. The route to a better understanding of control begins with recognizing that there are three distinct facts that apply to whatever you are seeking to control:
  1. Some things cannot be controlled, whatever you do: the weather, other people’s thoughts, the results of most actions, external events.
  2. Some things can always be controlled: what you choose to say or do (with very limited exceptions), how you respond to your emotions and moods, what you believe.
  3. Many things that cannot be controlled directly, but can be influenced to a varying extent: public opinion, consumer behavior, other people’s actions, the effects of your actions.

The first group—the uncontrollable things—covers a great deal of what many of us are told that we must control. That’s why people get so stressed. You cannot, rationally, be held responsible for quarterly results, since they are not directly controllable by you . . . or anyone else. Part of the motivation for the scandals that erupt from time to time is people trying to to control the uncontrollable. If you can’t control results, maybe you can produce them by cheating or falsifying figures. All anyone can reasonably be held responsible for is making rational and sensible efforts to increase the likelihood of the desired results being obtained. Once that is done, the rest lies in the lap of chance.

Oddly, people treat the second group—things that are almost entirely controllable—as if they have little or no ability to control them at all.

They say they couldn’t help losing their temper (of course they could); they couldn’t stop themselves saying something hurtful (all it takes is not saying it); or they couldn’t seem to grasp what they needed to learn (which probably meant they failed to make the effort, or weren’t interested anyway).

None of this is true, yet we persist in excusing ourselves from responsibility in the one area where direct responsibility is possible: our own behavior. “I can’t help it!” people wail, when they certainly can. It may be tough or painful or unpleasant, but you are always responsible for 99% of your own actions. To pretend otherwise is to lie to yourself and to others.

Then there’s the category of what may be influenced, but not controlled. What are you responsible for there? Doing your best to influence things successfully, nothing more. You can influence customers to purchase, but you cannot make them do so by honest means. You can train, coach, support, and otherwise influence subordinates to do good work. You cannot force them to do so.

The limits of personal responsibility

It would greatly reduce stress, overwork, and macho management posturing if people recognized the limits of responsibility more clearly. It’s easy to toss slogans around and claim results are all that count and people must be judged by them. That doesn’t make it true . . . or even sensible.

Equally, to allow the notion that personal behavior is somehow outside people’s control is to open the door to an endless excuse for every kind of wrong-doing and laziness. Take the rubbish spread about motivation. No one needs to be “motivated” to take necessary action. You can do it, motivated or not. Nor can I motivate you or anyone else, since motivation is a feeling and other people’s feelings are firmly in the “uncontrollable” category.

The bad news is that a great deal of current management practice is deeply flawed because it assumes that people can—and must—control what cannot be controlled. You can measure, audit, analyze, rate, and chart it all you like, but you still can’t control outcomes, results, global trends, or market movements.

The good news is that no one needs to make their actions and behavior contingent on feeling inspired, motivated, happy, excited, or any other emotion. If you see a need for action and know what to do, you can simply do it. If speaking out seems right, then speak. If staying silent is correct and helpful, say nothing. It’s always your choice; always under your direct control.

Three steps to civilized attitudes on control

Work would be a far more pleasant and civilized place if we all followed three simple rules:
  1. Everyone must accept responsibility for his or her own speech and actions. No excuses.

  2. No one can be held accountable for results that are outside their control.

  3. Excellence is shown by controlling what can be controlled and skillfully influencing those areas where influence is possible.

That’s it. Follow those three steps and leaders would have to drop the macho nonsense of yelling for results at any price, and concentrate instead on skillful ways to draw the best from whoever works for them. Assholes and jerks would be held totally responsible for their noxious behavior, and no one would be allowed to wriggle out of personal responsibility by claiming that they “couldn’t help themselves” or “hadn’t been motivated.” Stress would be greatly reduced and no one would fear being criticised for what obviously was not their fault.

Not quite Nirvana, but a good step along the way there.



PLEASE NOTE: from August 1st, this blog will leave the Blogger platform and re-surface on Wordpress. I will leave all posts up to that point on Blogger, at the current URL.

New posts will be found from August 1st onwards at http://www.slowleadership.org/blog/







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Saturday, July 28, 2020

News and Views: July 28th 2007

The manager who makes every little problem a three-alarm fire can burn your business

“Pyros are bosses who compulsively light one fire after another in their organizations. These constant emergencies are highly destructive. They waste time and resources while diverting attention from the important issues facing the business. Employees become too busy to do their regular work, and while the pyromaniac boss focuses on the minutiae, the business may miss the chance to head off more dangerous long-term threats.” [Read more >>] [via]

Stop working longer hours! Start working wiser hours!

“Your ability to time manage can make or break your career! After all, if it doesn’t matter how fabulously talented you are, if you don’t have the time to show off your fabulous talent to others — or — if you’re so overwhelmed by your schedule, that your fab talent gets reduced to low-level, disorganized, shlock work!“ [Read more >>]

Observe your future self

“If you’re a ‘young blade,’ as my Grandma likes to say, you need to take a good look at the veterans of your industry. I suggest:
  • Meet them.
  • Observe them
  • Hang out with them.
  • Ask questions of them.
Then: create a picture of the type of person that someone who does what you do often becomes.” [Read more >>]

Forget the “hols” completely?

“Millions of stressed Brits cannot leave work behind when they go on holiday and spend their break sending emails from the beach, a shocking survey reveals. A whopping two-thirds of workers have had their hols interrupted by bosses and 80 per cent worry about their work while away, according to a poll. A staggering 20 million British employees think they have to take work with them on holiday, the survey suggests. It also revealed how today’s technology means many hard-pressed workers can never escape the boss wherever they are as a third always pack a laptop or Blackberry with their swimming trunks.” [Read more >>]

Why fear rules the workplace

“What is it about the workplace that makes millions of people around the world, regardless of national culture, afraid of their bosses? Fear can be dangerous; it can turn into a mindset in which things aren’t questioned and unthinking obedience to authority is normal. In fact, most of the advice we hear in the workplace with regards to bosses says one thing and one thing only: don’t complain about your boss, however bad.” [Read more >>]

Time for time off

“People in business need to take more of their vacation time. This is important for ongoing work-life balance as well as to allow workers to get recharged for the work ahead. The good news is that businesses tend to be generous in allocating vacation time, with 75 percent of senior executives and managers being entitled to four or more weeks a year. The bad news is that only 39 percent of those people take four or more weeks off, based on our global research.” [Read more >>]

U.S. organizations encourage bullying

“Organizational culture in many American workplaces actively triggers, encourages and even rewards bullying, according to new research, with employees in the U.S. bullied up to 50 percent more often than those in Scandinavia. New research to be published in the September issue of the Journal of Management Studies compared data for the U.S. and Scandinavia and found that what it terms "persistent workplace negativity" is between 20 percent to 50 percent higher for U.S. workers than for their Scandinavian counterparts.” [Read more >>]

Don’t wait until you’re dead to relax

“Tension feels natural to most people because they have been practicing it for most of their lives. It is a little bit like sitting in a good posture; it feels weird if we normally slouch (and yes, I am guilty of that one) because we are asking our body to do something it isn’t used to doing. Of course if we persevere it will start to feel natural and we will get the health benefits. It is exactly the same with relaxation and being relaxed will suddenly feel a lot better than tense all the time.Relaxation helps maintain health, reduce stress and promote good sleep and if that isn’t enough, it can help you look younger too!” [Read more >>]

Do you need to be a competitive jerk to succeed?

“Having an actual opponent sometimes requires a competitive edge. But in most pursuits competition simply isn’t important. Inventing an enemy keeps you from thinking rationally. You will overvalue potential threats and become blinded to opportunities.” [Read more >>]

Employees who are given the flexibility to juggle the needs of their families and careers respond by working harder and longer.

“Ms Bourke, a partner at organizational change consultancy Aequus Partners, will today release a survey of 3400 employees at Insurance Australia Group that she said reveals ‘employees who feel they have job flexibility are the same employees who have more trust in and more commitment to the organization. The old adage give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile isn’t borne out in the research,’ Ms Bourke said. ‘It’s more give them an inch and they’ll give back a mile to the organization.’” [Read more >>]



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Friday, July 27, 2020

Whole Foods, but not the whole truth?

Why truth matters more in business life than many currently believe.

Truthfulness is often an early casualty in the path of macho management. Such “soft” virtues as honesty and truthfulness are treated with disdain by hamburger managers, obsessed as they are with getting results and winning by any and all available means. This is a bad mistake, and one that is nearly always punished in due course.
Here’s an interesting piece from yesterday’s Huffington Post on the topic of trust. The starting point is the case of the CEO of Whole Foods and his anonymous blogging that hyped his own business (and even praised his hair style) and knocked the competition.

A few short extracts will give you the flavor:
What signal does Mackey’s behavior send to Whole Foods executives and employees? That deception is practiced by their CEO and therefore an acceptable practice? What signal does this send to Whole Foods suppliers? That representations may not be what they seem?

Stephen M.R. Covey’s important recent book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, reminds us of the business case for being trustworthy and being seen as trustworthy. Character is first among equals in leadership requirements. Reputation takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

And Thomas Friedman’s excellent op-ed piece (“The Whole World Is Watching”) underscores a new fact of life these days: your behavior, words and deeds are part of a permanent record, enabled by the internet.
Hopefully, we are coming to an end of the tolerance given to unethical and unpleasant behavior by leaders, just as long as it “produces results.”

Of course businesses need results: their survival depends on them. But how those results are obtained isn’t irrelevant. Business is part of life and our society. It isn’t some separate sphere with its own rules and standards, independent of the demands of a free and civilized way of living.

People have always held their leaders accountable for their behavior—eventually. It may take a while. There’s often a period when leaders are given the benefit of the doubt; or when the novelty of an approach, or the presence of a fresh face, can obscure what is going on. Yet in the end, even the most ruthless and devious leader will make some error. At that point, all the envy and dislike that has been building up tends to come out and cause a violent delight in hastening their downfall.

Truth is too precious to ignore

Truth is the basis for all civilized societies. Without knowing, truthfully, what is happening, democracy is neither effective nor, ultimately, possible.
No one can be truly free if they are being kept in ignorance at the same time.

Truth is also essential to trust. Despite the faux-sophisticated sneers of macho managers and financial whiz-kids, all business depends utterly on trust. You have to believe that, in the vast majority of instances, people will honor contracts, deliver what they promised, and pay what has been agreed. Where there is no trust, every small thing has to be checked constantly; no one can be allowed to work without constant supervision; no message can be transmitted with being checked and re-checked every step of the way.

No truth = no trust = massive waste of resources

Can you imagine what all this would cost? How much every transaction would be slowed down by all the checking and auditing involved? How much time, energy, and money would go to waste on the conflicts, lawsuits, and bickering that would result? There is enough erosion of trust as it is to suggest just a tiny fraction of what would happen if trust broke down more significantly.

There used to be a time when society forced business leaders to practice greater honesty and trustworthiness. Sayings like “my word is my bond” summed up the prevailing notion that dishonesty and lying were not to be tolerated among those who controlled the business world.

Of course there were rogues too. There always have been. But they weren’t praised and excused in the way that they are today. Making money was more often seen as a slightly distasteful business: an activity that had to be conducted with one hand held over the nose. To be rich through business might well not win you respect in polite society. The only way to avoid the stigma of “trade” was to be known for your absolute probity—even if it cost you some of the potential profits.

This seems quaint today, when being rich can appear to absolve you from every character flaw and sin. In reality, that isn’t true. Lying, cheating, and betraying others to enrich yourself are still, I believe, intensely distasteful to most people. The public may be dazzled for a while by fame and glamor, but it always wears off.

For long-term success, the truth isn’t just something, it’s everything

From time to time, people ask me how they can choose the right path in life; how they can avoid stress and burnout; how they can be happy.

If I knew all those answers, I would be some kind of superman and I’m not. All I know are a few of the most important questions. And I know that telling and facing the truth is such an essential part of any answer to life’s problems that it’s hard to overestimate its importance.

If you don’t tell the truth, especially to yourself, you are living a lie and are so far off any sensible course that disaster seems inevitable. How can you find any answers to the problems of your life if you won’t be truthful about them, even to yourself? How can you get people to help you if you lie to them?

If you won’t face the truth, you’re a fool. You may be able to convince yourself of your deceptions and evasions. You may be able to convince other people too, at least for a time. But you can never, never, deceive reality. Try all you want, reality will proceed on the basis of a strict adherence to the facts. It will treat your fantasies with contempt and you with impersonal accuracy. All you will have done is compound any problems by closing your eyes and letting them come at you out of the dark.

Whether what the CEO of Whole Foods did was malicious or just foolish is almost beside the point. What really matters is that so many leaders believe that deceptive actions and suppression of the truth are acceptable. That’s the thing to worry about.

When our leaders become ethically blind, they ought to forfeit the right to lead. It’s up to all of us to enforce that law, before the universe enforces it for us.



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