Wednesday, November 30, 2020

Another Worldwide Pandemic

The fears of a pandemic of bird flu are getting a great deal of publicity. This is justified. Yet there's another pandemic that maybe already here and that isn't getting nearly so much attention. It may even be killing people. It's certainly ruining many lives. It's the pandemic of long working hours and high levels of work stress.

According to China Online, the official Chinese news website, the Chinese Minister of Health has warned that Chinese "intellectuals" are in serious danger of death through overwork. The site reports the average life-span of "intellectuals" is 58 years, ten years short than "common people." (The Chinese haven't caught on to politically-correct terminology, it seems.) The minister blasted the "unhealthy lifestyles," pointing out that the average life of university experts and professors is only 53.3 years. BY his calculations, within a decade 400 million Chinese could be overweight and 210 million will suffer from hypertension. Since obesity is already a national epidemic in the USA, perhaps his words should be taken seriously.

The same site earlier reported the results of a survey of 1,030 residents of Beijing. A third reported they were suffering from health problems brought on by overwork, with employees of foreign-owned businesses most likely to claim problems. It also appears people in Beijing are already working an average of an hour a day longer than their contracted hours.

Japan claimed 143 deaths from "overwork" in 2001, and the real figure, critics claim, should have been higher. Nothing suggests it will have fallen since then. A survey reported in The Age, an Australian magazine, found 45% of the 1500 Australians interviewed reported work "always" or "often" conflicted with home life, causing marital tensions and lowered sexual activity. Few, however, actively wanted to work less. This either says something about their home life, or suggests the habitual nature of overwork — or maybe just the general willingness of people to trade comfort for more money and job security. Papers in India and Sri Lanka have also carried lengthy articles recently on overwork and the spreading culture of workplace stress.

A recent comment here on the Slow Leadership site is worth quoting in full:
"You hit the nail on the head. I live and work in Bangalore, and you are outsourcing some of your social problems here too. Because of overwork, no one has time to look after those most vulnerable — kids and the elderly. Any society that neglect kids and the elderly is heading for disaster. And we're going there faster than you can imagine. Divorce rates are spiralling, kids have the TV for parents, and grandparents have to suffer in old-age homes. I hope the US stops this overworking madness, becuase it is only then that we will follow suit."

In Great Britain, the BBC reported a survey showing Switzerland and Sweden at the top of the league of European countries reporting high levels of job stress (33% or respondents), with Spain and The Netherlands at the bottom (16%). A survey of 250,000 employed people in Britain itself, conducted by Lancaster University and Manchester Business School, found depression and anxiety were now the most common reasons for long-term sickness. Professor Cary Cooper blamed the trend on "a workaholic culture throughout the UK and Europe — a climate that is impacting negatively in the levels of enjoyment and satisfaction employees gain from their work."

In the USA, a survey by Spherion found 96% of employees agreed that an employer was more attractive when it helped them meet family responsibilities through flextime, work at home options, telecommuting and job sharing. Yet only 24% of employers offer a formal flex-time program, only 12% offer telecommuting and 11% offer job sharing. 60% of workers rate time and flexibility as a key factor in retention, but only thirty-five percent of employers feel the same.

What's your experience? Have you seen this pandemic spreading? Let me know. Post a comment here to share your experience.
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 29, 2020

Saving Time?

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”
(Will Rogers, in a letter to The New York Times, 1930)

There are some assumptions in business nobody thinks to challenge. One of the commonest is that saving time means saving money. Benjamin Franklin seems to be to blame for the phrase “time is money.” It first appears in his book “Advice to a Young Tradesman” in 1748. Since then, it has become one of those automatic assumptions of the world of business. Perhaps it’s time to see what, if anything, it might mean.

For a start, time cannot be saved. You can’t put it in a bottle to use later. You can’t pile it up, like a miser piling up gold coins, and gloat over your hoard. Time goes on at its own pace. You can spend less of it doing something. You can give up doing something and, in theory, make the time it would have taken available for something else. But you cannot, whatever you do, put that time aside and use it later.

There seem to be only two situations where saving time and saving money equate. If you can make or sell more goods in the same, or less, time, you might be able to increase your profit. The other situation is where employees are paid strictly for the time they work.

Will doing more in less time increase profit? It might, but several other factors are involved. You must first assume you can produce or sell faster with no increase in cost, or less increase than the returns on the extra goods. If you can’t, you’ve gained nothing except more output. If working faster costs you more — perhaps because of the capital cost of new machinery or processes — you’re worse off. Then, can you sell all that extra output at, or near, the price you did before? If demand doesn’t exceed supply before you start, adding to the supply will drive down the price — which is why the motor manufacturers are busily closing plants. More output without additional demand lowers prices and profits. Today’s companies often increase output first, then try to drive up demand to match it, which is truly putting the cart before the horse.

The other situation where time equates to money is when employees are paid by the hour. The more hours they work, the more money they earn, and the more their employer must pay. On this basis, every employer in the land should be rushing to force hourly-paid workers to accept shorter hours. Instead, we have an epidemic of overtime, which usually has a higher pay rate per hour as well. Why is this? Because the fixed costs of medical care and fringe benefits, which are paid per worker and not per hour, have escalated. It now pays employers to hire fewer workers, even if they must pay for longer working hours, rather than hire more people. Modern wage structures virtually guarantee continuing unemployment.

“White collar” workers aren’t paid by the hour, but generally command even more expensive fringe benefits. So the best way for companies to lower the costs of salaried employees has to be to hire as few as possible, then make them work long hours for no extra pay. As long as these people aren’t paid for their extra working hours, “saving” their time is unimportant. All the extra is free to the employer. Of course, since you’ve laid as many people off as possible, to cut your fixed costs, the remaining ones must do more work and work faster. Not to profit themselves, but to save their employer from having to take on more staff.

However you look at it, doing more work in less time produces nil benefit to any employees, salaried or not. If they’re paid by the time they work, using less time equates to being paid less. If they’re paid a more or less fixed salary, doing more in less time makes them work harder for the same pay.

It all looks very different from the employer’s point of view. People who produce the same output in less time are indeed working harder, so the employer needs fewer of them. And as long as there are high fixed costs per employee, there's an automatic incentive for the employer to encourage the process. The employer benefits for every time “saving” made. Even more if, as now, fear of unemployment lets employers also cut benefits and renege on pension benefits. Fewer people, lower fixed costs, longer hours for the same pay. We're turning the clock back to the bad old days of the Industrial Revolution. Only now it's more likely to be well-paid, highly skilled professionals who slave away for 60 plus hours per week than unskilled people on minimum wage or less.

What about the argument that higher productivity leads to higher wages and salaries?

Higher productivity means higher profits only if wage costs remain the same. If the increased productivity is reflected in higher payments to employees, wage costs will increase, wiping out some or all of the profit gains. Since Wall Street demands companies increase profits each quarter, they’re “forced” to make wage increases lag well behind any increase in profits from productivity. Which, of course, assumes they would have paid out all their extra profits in higher wages and salaries otherwise (Ho, ho, ho).

Slow Leaders ignore “saving” time because it can’t be saved. Do they ignore the equation between time and money? No, that’s real enough. But they do question what’s being done with both. People are working harder than ever and someone's getting rich on those extra profits. Sadly, it's two different groups of people. Amassing money at the expense of most other people's quality of life is an equation worth probing deeply.

What if you changed the saying from “time is (the employer’s) money” to “time is (everyone’s) quality of life?” I think that would make quite a difference to people's willingness to accept those longer hours. More time at work means less time for everything else in life.

Our organizational systems are out of balance. Education isn't providing the skills companies need. The cost of fringe benefits is distorting employment patterns. That's why we have people shortages and significant unemployment at the same time. Yet we rush ahead, convinced running faster will somehow cure the problem. One day, we will have to stop. Let's hope it's before we hit a brick wall of business and personal collapse.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 28, 2020

Read The Label First

My wife is a careful purchaser of any type of packaged food. She wants to know what’s in the jazzy packaging. In particular, she wants to see the ingredients. Since I sometimes do the shopping, I’ve learned never to bring home anything that won’t pass her “Did you read the label first?” test.

Slow Leadership is based, in part, on the ideals of the Slow Food movement that began in Italy. Slow Leadership aims to restore the healthful ingredients, interesting texture, rich taste and inherent goodness to the practice of being a leader. Since that’s our mission, reading the “list of ingredients” on leadership ideas is essential, before they can pass the Slow Leadership test of nutritional benefit.

Today’s highly marketed leadership fads are exactly like big food brands: a manufactured commodity, flashy on the outside, but filled with cheap ingredients, thirdhand ideas and articial additives dreamed up by marketing gurus. Natural ingredients take time and skill. They’re variable and easily spoiled. Throw them out, then, and replace them with the managerial equivalents of MSG or high-fructose corn syrup: ingredients you can be sure of, since they’re made to be standardized and homogenized.

That’s why so many books on conventional leadership are big on panaceas and instant solutions. They have eye-catching covers, usually splashed with exaggerated claims and a big picture of the author looking smug and prosperous. Like the sellers of chemical additives for food, these writers are selling you something they think any idiot, anywhere, can be seduced into buying. Of course, they think you are an idiot, so you’ll need an approach that sounds good to anyone with neither skill nor understanding. Never mind the carcinogens and the impact on obesity and tooth decay, feel the hype. This stuff is new! The latest discovery! And it’s low fat (or low carbohydrate, or whatever)! Just don’t look at the rest of the ingredients. Okay, it has more sugar than most people need in a year, but it’s still low fat. Six easy steps to leadership mastery, no previous experience or intelligence required. And if it doesn’t work, my new book will be out next quarter with an even fancier cover.

The difference between real leadership and the pre-packaged, instant, chemically enhanced kind is like the difference between making homemade soup and opening a package of powdered instant stuff. Homemade soup needs real ingredients. It takes skill and time to prepared and cook. It tastes good (if you’re a half-decent cook) and it’s highly nutritious. Packaged soup only needs water and heat. Sure, there were real ingredients there once, but the manufacturing process has reduced them to bits of undifferentiated dry matter, enhanced with salt and chemicals. The most nutritional part is the picture on the package. Best of all, no skill whatsoever is required for preparation.

Could you call someone a gourmet cook, if all they did was reheat frozen dinners and prepare meals from packages and tins? No more can you call someone a leader who rehashes pre-prepared, artificial approaches bought from some guru or consulting firm that’s adept in making cheap trash look like the real thing.

Highly-marketed leadership techniques share another trait with big brand, manufactured foods: they’re generally sold on the idea of saving time. No time to cook? Throw this in the oven with a pound of minced beef and a jug of water, and have a meal in ten minutes that will make your family’s eyes water (probably from the salt, chemicals and carcinogenic additives). No time (or inclination) to become a genuine leader? Follow these ten guaranteed steps to become a smash hit on your first outing as the person in charge. No need to understand or think. Simply follow the easy to grasp instructions, written specially for nincompoops like you.

Do the sellers of these “leadership” techniques make money? Of course they do. Just like the people who write “How to become a millionaire with no financial understanding and ten dollars to start.” They became millionaires on exactly that basis, by writing the book and selling it to people too careless and greedy to understand it’s all hype. If it really was that easy, the world would be full of multi-millionaires — and businesses would all be run by superb managers and leaders. Is that what you see around you? I didn’t think so.

Read the label first.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 26, 2020

Orchestral Maneuvers

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers. If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.” Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus. VISA International

One of the images I like best for Slow Leaders is the conductor of an orchestra. Not the leader. The leader of the orchestra isn't the conductor, it's the principal violin player. The conductor's there to set the right tempo and manage the interpretation of the piece the orchestra's playing. The conductor must also keep a close watch on the balance of sound between the various instruments, otherwise the louder brass might drown out the woodwind or the strings.

A good conductor works with and for the orchestra, allowing each instrumentalist to play at his or her best. Though some maestros have been terrible tyrants with massive egos, being a conductor is really an enabling role, not a directing one. A conductor's role is to bring the orchestra into unity, so harmony -- not discord -- is the result. An orchestra could certainly play without a conductor (some small orchestras do), but if they do they risk losing cohesion. As each player concentrates on his or her own part, someone has to be paying attention to the sound and performance as a whole. That's the conductor's job.

This image works well with today's organizations, especially when they're composed largely of knowledge workers. Orchestral musicians are experts in their own right. The conductor doesn't teach them to play their instruments, or pass judgment on their ability. He or she is there to help them contribute their expertise to the performance as a whole. Knowledge workers too know far more about their specialisms than their so-called superiors. They need coordination, not instruction and control.

I've watched many conductors at work. Some thrash around, intent on showing the audience how "artistic" they are and how deeply they feel the music. Generally, orchestras despise them. Watch the player's eyes. They rarely even glance at the antics on the podium. They simply get on with playing the music and let the idiot in front of them provide his (it's nearly always "his" with this type of conductor) own performance for the audience.

One of the best conductors I ever saw was Sir Adrian Boult. He was physically small, very quiet and courteous, and looked more like a butler than a world famous conductor. He was known for rarely, if ever, raising his arms higher than than his chest or even moving them much when he conducted. Instead, he held his baton between his right thumb and the next two fingers and moved it without moving anything else. But he could coax a virtuoso performance from even a rough and ready band. Players loved him, because he concentrated on them, not himself.

Slow Leaders do the same. They work for their subordinates, not the other way around. They set the tempo and watch the balance, so the players can create harmony. They don't show off. They have no time for that nonsense. They're too busy making time for things that really matter, and directing their attention where it's needed — on the performance and the players, not on themselves.

Time is finite. You cannot create more, only waste what you have. If Slow Leaders seem to be able to make time where others fail, it's because they use the time they have more wisely. If you cannot use time as it's needed most, if you let others determine how you use your time and that of your staff, you're neither a leader nor much use to anyone in a leader's position.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 25, 2020

The Traits of Slow Leaders

The difference between a Slow Leader and a traditional leader isn't what either believes. It's what they do that provides the contrast.

The Traditional Leader: Will be found either behind, driving people onward, or ahead, calling to them to catch up.
The Slow Leader: Will be found walking alongside, offering encouragement, support and teaching.

The Traditional Leader: Is always in charge. Runs a "tight ship." Feels responsible for everything and personally takes all key decisions, so is constantly overworked and harassed.
The Slow Leader: Stays in overall control, but delegates freely. Shares decisions and has time to coach and develop people to handle more responsibility themselves, further reducing pressure on the leader.

The Traditional Leader: Focuses on increasing productivity and lowering cost. Demands people do more with less.
The Slow Leader: Focuses on increasing innovation and imaginative use of resources. Helps people learn to do the most with everything they have.

The Traditional Leader: Leads by alternating between offering the carrot and brandishing the stick.
The Slow Leader: Leads by example, coaching and focused attention. Rarely, if ever, needs a stick. People mostly bring their own carrots.

The Traditional Leader: Wants everything done by yesterday — preferably sooner. All tasks are urgent.
The Slow Leader: Sets — and clearly explains — priorities everyone can understand. The few urgent tasks get done first and the rest follow in due time.

The Traditional Leader: Carefully maintains her distance to emphasize her authority.
The Slow Leader: Carefully maintains her involvement to show she cares.

The Traditional Leader: Acts as judge and jury, pointing out flaws and handing out punishments.
The Slow Leader: Acts as advocate and teacher, helping people recognize their difficulties and learn how to overcome them.

The Traditional Leader: Focuses on current costs and short-term results. Takes a tactical viewpoint.
The Slow Leader: Focuses on long-term value and untapped potential. Takes a strategic, visionary viewpoint.

The Traditional Leader: Noted for toughness and authority, coupled with impatience and outbursts of temper.
The Slow Leader: Noted for wisdom and foresight, coupled with patience and outbursts of fun.

The traditional leader model is based solely on the stereotypical "masculine" attributes of power, strength, toughness, resilience and drive. The Slow Leader approach loses none of these, but adds the "feminine" attributes of caring, nurturing, supporting, teaching and patience. It's just as strong and resilient, only more approachable, calmer and kinder. The traditional leader generally doesn't care what trouble he or she causes, so along as immediate results match or exceed expectations. The Slow Leader doesn't care what trouble he or she takes to help people deliver all they're capable of, today and in the longer term.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, November 23, 2020

Zero-sum Games

Life is not a zero-sum activity, where gain by one person can only come from loss by another. Polticians and many organizational executives think it is. That's because they treat winning an election as a victory over their opponent, not a rational choice between equally honorable alternatives. Corporations seek short-term market share by engineering a corresponding loss by a rival. The resulting spiral of competition usually means everyone loses. Look at the recent war of discounts among car manufacturers, each seeking to "buy" a few points of market share. The result? Tens of thousands of job losses as they try to repair their shattered finances and close over-capacity.

Those people have such narrow minds. In the real world, businesses only grow long-term by creating new markets, not grabbing more of existing ones, which are usually in decline. Success depends on creativity and growth, not competitive rivalry and cheap tricks.

People say the media loves winners. It would be more correct to say they love situations where there must also be losers. No event is complete without a close-up of the despondent loser and idiot questions about how they feel now they've lost. It's as if the joy of winning can only be savored if there's a nasty pleasure added by seeing the loser's misery. Sportsmanship used to honor winners and losers, so long as all played a good game. Now big money — and bigger egos — can only be satisfied when losers are crushed and humiliated. Is it any wonder so many turn to performance-enhancing drugs?

Slow Leaders know this, because they take the time to figure out the longer-term consequences of their actions. Take incentives. Giving someone a reward for personal achievement harms nobody else, so long as similar rewards are available to all who earn them. But sharing a strictly limited budget for salary increases on the basis of bogus measures like performance appraisals or 360-degree reviews automatically creates winners and losers. Since only a few can win, the majority lose, with all the feelings of shame, frustration and alienation that will bring.

Do we never learn? Why does terrorism exist? Because there are enough people who feel almost anything is better than being kept always on the outside, looking in at the lucky few who are winning. That's what provides the foot soldiers evil men exploit for their sick ideologies. Why are so many people under-motivated at work? Because they've been labeled as losers too often.

To be a Slow Leader means thinking through the consequences of actions most people take simply because they're conventional. You want to fill your organization with winners? It's impossible. As soon as you have two or more, someone must be a loser. Organizations exist because work demands cooperation, not to provide an arena for the crazy, competitive urges of a cadre of egotists. Winners and losers cannot cooperate when winning is all that counts. They can only compete until all but one are defeated.

The best things in life — love, companionship, growth, joy and learning — are infinite. Adding to my happiness doesn't require that you should be sad. If you learn something, no one is forced to forget to compensate. Life is not a zero-sum game. That's why any action to increase your gains that requires someone else must lose an equal proportion, is neither ethical nor sensible in the longer view.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Patricia Ryan Madson on Gratitude

Today it's our pleasure and honor to welcome Patricia Ryan Madson as Slow Leadership's first Guest Author.


I love this cartoon. It says it all. Linking gratitude to awareness is an excellent strategy. When we look at the world with “right perspective” (noticing the gifts inherent in everything) gratitude is a natural and inevitable response. What keeps us from seeing life this way? I think it is a desire to preserve our sense of ourselves as “good people.” If I notice all that others are doing for me, all the ways that my fellows, colleagues, family, even my government (that I often criticize) is taking care of my needs, supporting me moment by moment, then I may experience guilt or a sense of indebtedness. Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as “in debt.” But the truth of life is that we are. We are in debt, all of us.

When I stop for a moment and ask and answer the question: “Who or what is supporting me at this moment?” I begin to get a glimmer. Make a detailed list. Be sure to include things that you may normally take for granted (i. e. electricity, running water, fresh vegetables and meats easily available, paved roads, the Internet) as well as that which easily comes to mind. Imagine what life would be like if any one of these was absent.
Looking at life with a grateful eye is a habit, and can be cultivated. It is my favorite topic. And, since Thanksgiving is just around the corner it is a good time to reflect. Gratitude is more than a ‘warm feeling;’ I see it as the correct response to life. It shows that you are paying attention, moment by moment. Successful leaders know this. Great leaders model it.

Patricia Ryan Madson
Author, Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, Bell Tower, 2005
November 15, 2020
El Granada, CA
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 22, 2020

Right Gratitude

Most of what we have in life hasn't been earned. We were given it by someone else. Our life itself is a gift. No one can be born without parents, and even if they're not always what we would wish them to be, the fact remains they gave us life. Even our success at work is rarely due entirely to our own efforts. Someone has to provide us with office space, desk, computer and other basic services. It's fashionable to ignore this, and make fun of the "backroom types" who keep our world running, but that doesn't make it right.

What I call Fast Leadership — today's norm for most situations — isn't too strong on gratitude of any kind. It encourages us to focus instead on competing, grabbing, on getting our share and making sure we don't fall behind. Devil take the hindmost, we say. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you can't hack it, you're dead meat. Is someone weak and in need of help? Too bad. Let them go and hire someone who can stand the pace.

Take a moment to think — really think — about a world based on ideas like this. Can you imagine the misery and alienation? If you fall behind, even a little, no one will help you. Nobody will stop to give you a hand or say "thank you" for your efforts. Everyone is out for themselves. Every favor must be paid for, every advancement comes at someone else's expense. You're on your own, completely.

You can't live in such a world. Thank God, no one does — yet. Despite all the hype, people need other people. Gratitude is natural — even necessary. We're social animals, however self-obsessed and self-conscious we allow ourselves to become. Macho entrepreneurs may boast of being "self-made," but it's a lie. None of us can make ourselves. As children, we're totally dependent on others for food, shelter and warmth. That's why street children are such a disgrace to humanity. And that's why most of them die. We are where we are today because of the efforts of a few people we know and many hundreds we don't — tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, teachers, doctors, nurses, farmers, truck drivers, and all other groups that make our privileged lives possible.

How much of what you are today is due solely to your own efforts?  Not your birth, not your clothes, not your food, not your education, or even your ability to speak and write and read your native language.  People taught you how to do your job.  Others helped you win promotion and made your income and standard of living possible.  Still others made the car you drive and the house you live in. Are you "self-made?" Don't be ridiculous. It's not possible.
Slow Leadership demands we take the time to give proper appreciation to those who support us. It's strange that organizations and leaders fuss over motivation and incentives, when they ignore the greatest incentive of all — appreciation. What's more, it's free. It's even in unlimited supply, though the miserly way most leaders dole it out would lead you to believe they had to pay for it with their own blood.

What do we all want? To be appreciated, valued, listened to and loved a little. Can you imagine a world where appreciation and gratitude is the norm, instead of the exception? Where leaders recognize they owe their position to the people "beneath" them and act on that knowledge? Would that be a world worth living in and striving for?

It's in our hands to create such a world, or destroy it. Leaders set the example others follow. So if you start remembering what and who you need to be grateful for, others will too. It could start a trend — and surely a better one than setting an example of climbing over the prone bodies of others on your heedless way to the top.

We're pleased and honored to announce that tomorrow's Guest Author will be Patricia Ryan Madson, best-selling author of "Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up". Make sure you read her inspiring posting.
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 21, 2020

Guiding on the Journey

Winter is almost here and the sound of winter, for me, is the sound of geese flying overhead. When I lived in England, we would walk by the shore to see — and most especially, to hear — the tens of thousands of migrating geese that come down from the Arctic to spend their winter in largely snow-free Southern England. The cry of flying geese is the essence of wildness. In many parts of Britain, the yelping of geese migrating by night was thought to be the Yell Hounds, huge white hounds with blood-red ears, paws and tails — and no eyes: The pack of Herne The Hunter, a Celtic God who has vast antlers sprouting from his forehead. If they were on your scent, nothing could save you.

Though I live now in the Arizona desert, I still go at this time of year to see and hear the first flocks of Snow Geese that spend their winter with us, their whiteness dazzling against the deep blue of an Arizona sky. Their cries don't have quite the eerie quality of the Greylags and Barnacle Geese of Northern Europe, but it's close.

Migrating geese fly in vee formations. The leader is always at the very point of the vee, setting the direction for all the rest. Scientists have proved that flying in a vee cuts down on the effort needed by flock members — except the leader. That goose has to work harder than the others, as well as provide a point for the rest to align on. Migration is tough work. Geese fly high, fast and far — many thousand of miles, often over open ocean. And all the time they call to one another, so they can keep in formation, even in the dark.

Leadership is like that. Being the person at the point of the vee is hard work, but without you the flock has neither direction nor formation. As leader, you set the speed as well. If the lead goose flies too fast, the flock will crash down exhausted before it can reach a safe landing place. If it flies too slow, they'll be vulnerable to predators and starvation amongst the frozen lakes they must leave until next spring.

Learn from the geese. Be a leader who can choose the correct tempo. Guide your team on its workplace journey at a pace it can sustain as long as is needed. It won't always be easy. Geese, sensible creatures, swap leaders every hour or so. Humans appoint a leader and expect him or her to carry the burden for years.

Being a leader is being a guide, not an autocrat. Slow Leadership is about finding the correct tempo, neither too fast nor too slow. It's bringing the flock to safe landing places, fit enough to carry on next day. If you fail in that, you fail in everything.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 19, 2020

The Curse of Overwork

In "Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure," Juliet B. Schor explains why over the past 20 years working hours in the US have increased by around nine hours per year: the equivalent of one month per year taking that period as a whole. Beginning with the "young Turks" on Wall Street, the spread of "power lunches," "power exercise" and "power naps" allowed these twenty-something urban professionals to create a hectic lifestyle that brought them vast material rewards at a younger age than ever before.

The downside — stress, health problems, wrecked personal lives and burnout before age 40 — only showed itself later. Now, it seems, it's spreading to other parts of the world as they embrace similar patterns of youth-obsessed working styles. This passage is from the Deccan Herald in Bangalore, India.
"Laksmi, a postgraduate in computer science, works for an MNC. She is 28 years old and married to Ganesh, an engineer with an MBA degree from a foreign university. He too works for a big company as a solution expert. Laksmi and Ganesh work for 10 hours a day, excluding three hours that they spend on commuting. Their communication at home usually begins with simple comments like “you left the fan on”, “you did not switch off the TV” that invariably leads to a quarrel. Dinner is served with the television on and there is some more channel swapping before one of them falls asleep, perhaps with the remote resting on the lap. This routine is going on for the past three years. They hesitate to demonstrate physical intimacy and concern for each other seems to be at the thought level only. Their interest in sexual activity is at its lowest."
Later in the article, the writer (a psychologist) remarks:
"Even though non-participatory relationships seem acceptable to them, each one feels helpless and indecisive regarding simple problems. This new kind of a social malady attributed to ‘work pressure’ is seen expressed on a successful professional platform like IT."
The Work Ethic has a stranglehold on the American psyche that isn't mirrored in other parts of the world, especially in the East. So what appears to be happening is the exporting of a systematic organizational pattern of overworking, not a cultural viewpoint. Perhaps with the outsourcing of American jobs, the developed world is outsourcing some of its growing social and psychological handicaps too.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 18, 2020

Are You a Workaholic?

In "Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them," Bryan E. Robinson explains the difference between being a hard worker and being a workaholic. Here's some of what he says:
"There is a big difference between hard work and workaholism. From time to time, all of us put more hours and effort into working than we do into being with loved ones or relaxing...Workaholics operate in this fashion all of the time, using their jobs as escape...True workaholics are driven by deeper, internal needs, rather than external ones —not that it's tax season or baby needs a new pair of shoes, but that the process of working satisfies an inner, psychological hunger."
Try this checklist of workaholic traits. The more that apply to you, the more likely that you're suffering from workaholism.
  1. People close to you habitually accuse you of neglecting them in favor of work demands.
  2. You often use work pressure as an excuse to avoid people and the demands they place on you.
  3. Your work is what defines you. You need it to feel a complete person.
  4. If things slow down or work is slack, you feel compelled to create or find more work to fill the void.
  5. You prefer times alone when you can get on with your work to time spent with others.
  6. You find your thoughts are about work all the time, even when you're doing something unconnected with work.
  7. When you aren't working, you feel restless and bored. Getting back to work is like going home.
  8. You don't have time to use or enjoy what work lets you own. Others get most out of your income and lifestyle.
  9. You're never satisfied with your accomplishments. There's always the nagging sense you ought to have done more.
  10. You know your life is unbalanced, but you tell yourself you like it that way. Maybe you'll put it right sometime, but never now.
  11. The thought of being out of work (or retiring) terrifies you. You cannot imagine what you would do in place of work.
  12. You often wake several times in the course of most nights, or have trouble going to sleep, because your mind is occupied with thinking about work and work issues.
Work addiction is voluntary. You don't catch it like a cold. You suffer only because you chose to sometime — and still choose it over the alternatives. It's like alcoholics. They first chose to drink and only later became addicted. Now they can't stop themselves without terrific effort and outside help. They chose the poison that's slowly destroying them. If you're a workaholic, so did you.

Unlike alcoholism, the cure for being a workaholic isn't total abstinence from work; just a sensible balance between work and everything else in life. But you'll likely still experience "cold turkey" as you break out of the addiction. That's just how it is. But it'll still beat life as an unreformed workaholic.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, November 17, 2020

The Price of Speed

"In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed" was the book that started me thinking about Slow Leadership. In it, Carl Honoré challenges the idea that working long hours may be bad for individuals, but still good for productivity and corporate success. This is what he says:
"Companies also pay a heavy price for imposing a long-hours culture. Productivity is notoriously hard to measure, but academics agree that overwork eventually hits the bottom line. It is common sense: we are less productive when we are tired, stressed, unhappy or unhealthy. According to the International Labor Organization, workers in Belgium, France and Norway are all more productive per hour than Americans. The British clock up more time on the job than do most Europeans, and have one of the continent's poorest rates of hourly productivity to show for it. Working less often means working better."
Quality issues are also hard to pin down. Once you go beyond limiting defects, adding quality to a product or service isn't an obvious route to better business. Costs rise and there's the risk higher quality won't translate directly into more sales or more loyal customers. If there seems to be greater mileage in cutting costs, maybe it's because quantifying costs is so much easier. That's why we unthinkingly equate productivity with producing more in less time and at lower cost, ignoring what it is we produce that way.

Cramming and cutting are the price we pay for speed and the search for numerical, quantitative ideals of productivity. You either cram more work into the same time (and yet more into those long, long hours); or you cut costs, resources and time for thinking, creating, rest or enjoyment. Your quantitative productivity increases. Your qualitative output falls. You produce more and more of what's less and less valuable. What craftsman was ever concerned with simply producing more? What producer of basic commodities has time to be concerned about craftsmanship?

In your life too, you have a choice. Do more and more in less and less time; or do less and value whatever you do more. Leaders have special responsibility. By setting the pace for your team, you either limit or enhance the quality of their work and their lives. Think about it. How do you want to be remembered? As the person who beat all output records and created a culture of overwork, stress, misery and frustration? Or as the one everyone wanted to work for, since doing so enriched their lives and brought them joy as well as success? The choice is yours.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, November 16, 2020

The Mania for Competition

In 1889, Andrew Carnegie wrote: "While the law [of competition] may sometimes be hard for the individual it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department."

This is still the prevailing view of many people 116 years later. But it's a view soundly challenged by Peter C. Whybrow in his book "American Mania: When More Is Not Enough." In a chapter called, "The Time Trade" he writes:
"For many Americans the "free moments" that once glued a busy life together have almost disappeared. We cut corners where we can — with fast food, fast service, fast banking, fast cars, and fast communication — but as the demands of the workplace have increased and family time has eroded, Americans have been forced to invade those hours previously reserved for sleep. As a result, the nation is now significantly sleep deprived. A survey conducted in the winter of 1997 by the National Sleep Foundation found that during the work week the average American borrows up to two hours each night from his or her sleep bank. For individuals living at the leading edge of our manic society, a chronic sleep debt, driven by sixty- to eighty-hour workweeks, is nothing unusual and sometimes boasted of with pride. And for the majority, the traditional eight hours of sleep — commonplace in the agrarian economy of a century ago — has been replaced by fatigue, an alarm clock, and a desperate hope that the weekend will bring relief."
Whybrow tells the story of a woman who fled from Vietnam and found success as a corporate attorney in the USA—until she ended up in a hospital in Paris suffering from an anxiety attack caused by exhaustion. Aided by a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Whybrow dissects her experience and shows how she began trying to escape from the Darwinian aspects of that same American Dream she fled Vietnam to find.

The notion of survival of the fittest is widely misunderstood. It isn't about naked competitiveness. Nor does it suggest the toughest, most ambitious, most driven people and organizations will succeed. What it points to is the need to adapt to prevailing circumstances. It means fitting the needs of the times, not being physically fit or mentally aggressive. Part of it is balance, for anything unbalanced is poorly adapted to its task. Competing may be natural, but the basis for successful competition is complex. In our mania for instant, black-and-white answers, we've lost sight of the competition rules. And that's why people feel lost and uncertain. They're playing one game and the universe is playing something quite different.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 15, 2020


While many authors explain the nature of our modern addiction to overwork, and show the dark side of the wealth and lifestyle if makes possible, few offer much practical advice on how to deal with it day-to-day. The choice is generally seen as keeping up the pace (and facing physical and mental breakdown) or opting out altogether.

In "Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going," Dr. David Kundtz sets out a different approach to coping with too much to do and too little time to do it.

He defines Stopping as:
"Stopping is doing nothing as much as possible, for a definite period of time (one second to one month) for the purpose of becoming more fully awake and remembering who you are."
Its purpose is to ensure you move in the direction you want to go and replaces compulsion and obsession in your life. It's a technique designed for people who have to cope with pace and stress, but don't want to lose their health and their minds as a result. It's worth trying.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 14, 2020

Choice, Freedom and Overload

One of the basic principles of Slow Leadership is to replace automatic responses and habitual compulsions with reasoned choices. We need to get off the track that's leading us into the type of working life more and more people are finding unsatisfying and impossibly stressful.

In "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less," Barry Schwartz explores the nature of freedom and choice and comes to conclusions that refute conventional thinking. In summary, he says:
"1. We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.

2. We would be better off seeking what was "good enough" instead of seeking the best (have you ever heard a parent say, "I want only the 'good enough' for my kids"?)

3. We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions.

4. We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible.

5. We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing."

His finding that we suffer not from too little choice, but rather from "choice overload," certainly mirrors my own experience. Coming to the USA from England, one of the hardest things to get used to was ordering a sandwich. By the time I'd gone through the list of options – bread, filling, type of cheese, mayo, drink, chips – I'd usually lost my appetite. How I longed for the British tendency to offer a single choice – take what we have or go without.

At the end of the book, Schwartz sets out eleven steps to deal with choice overload. I wish I'd known about them in 2000 when I crossed the Atlantic and settled in the US.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 12, 2020

On the Road

I'm on the road next week, with limited Internet access, so postings will be shorter than usual. I'll try to keep to the usual schedule, but that may not prove possible. To fill the gap, I've decided to draw your attention to some ideas and writing that anyone interested in Slow Leadership should find useful.

In Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, edited by John de Graaf, Carol Ostrom's has an article called "Jobs to Share" that makes the case for job sharing, based on her personal experience of trying to sell the idea to skeptical bosses.

Here's what she learned the hard way:
"Lesson Number One: Getting a job share is not about you. It's never about you, no matter what our company says. It's about your company's needs.

Two: To get one, you'll need to figure out what the job share is about, from your company's perspective.

Three: Once you get the job share, the real work, especially the PR work, will begin.

Four: It's not going to be easy to teach those you work with to appreciate the benefits of your job share."

Her article is worth reading, whether you're contemplating a job share yourself or wondering whether to allow people in your team to work that way.

Technorati tags:
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 11, 2020

The Thought Police

In the totalitarian world imagined by George Orwell in his book "1984," the Thought Police prevented or punished improper ideas. It wasn't acceptable just to act in the prescribed way, you had to think only acceptable thoughts as well.

Joe Robinson picks up this idea in "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life," his guide to escaping the trap of compulsive working. His Thought Police are armed with a fearsome weapon for bringing people into line – guilt. What's more, they live inside our head, so nothing escapes their notice.

Have you been thinking about slowing down, or moving to a less stressful job? Have you started to believe you should actually take that three-week vacation you've dreamed about for years? Such thoughts are blasphemous to the Thought Police, since they're the bastard children of Big Brother Work Ethic. The minute they notice such thoughts, they'll pile on the guilt to slap you back into line. The only way to placate them is to work even harder.

For leaders, the Thought Police have devised a specially potent form of guilt. It's called "Letting yourself down" and it goes like this:

1. You're a leader, and leaders are supposed to set the highest standards and act as role models for the people they lead.
2. As a leader, you have a privileged position, higher pay and better perks. You should be grateful for this, since plenty of other people probably wish they had your advantages.
3. Sometimes, you'll have to admonish others for failing to meet their obligations. You may have to fire them for laziness or not matching up to the standards you're paid to enforce.
4. If you don't work harder, and put in longer hours, than the people who work for you, how can you criticize or discipline them? It'll prove you're an idle, ungrateful hypocrite who doesn't deserve your position. Even thinking it is almost as bad. People can probably sense you're a fraud and they're whispering behind your back already.

Neat, isn't it? To avoid the fantasy guilt for something you haven't done, you have to resolve never to do it – and still feel guilty because you thought about it.

Of course, you can always fire your Thought Police instead. Don't expect them to go quietly. They're worse than termites at gnawing away in dark corners, but if you stick with the program of refusing to notice the guilt they try to stick you with, you can starve them out.

Guilt is a pointless and worthless feeling, especially fantasy guilt that isn't even based on an action. And work ethic is a bully and a tyrant, if it's allowed to run the show. You don't need it. Work isn't good in itself, whatever people say about the devil and idle hands. Work is simply a means to an end, and only the end has value.

So round up the Thought Police and kick them out. Reason will tell you what's needed to live the life you want to live, and be the type of leader you aspire to be. And reason doesn't need guilt as a weapon.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, November 09, 2020

Right Enjoyment

There’s no way out of using a cliché: life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. Even the Buddhists and others who believe in reincarnation don’t teach this life doesn’t matter. For them, how you live now determines many lives to come.

Most people are familiar with the work ethic: the belief that work is valuable in itself, and that what you get through hard work is somehow better than what comes to you by chance or gift. It’s one of the foundations of conservative American society (and many other, similar societies as well). But it has one aspect that isn’t quite as familiar to people, though it’s just as common. In psychological jargon it’s called delayed gratification. Put simply, it’s accepting dry bread and water today in the hope, or expectation, of a gourmet feast sometime in the future.

My father-in-law was a world-class proponent of delayed gratification. During the first part of his life, he worked hard, saved regularly and dreamed of retirement, when he could relax and enjoy himself. It never happened. He’d trained himself so well he simply wasn’t able to spend the money he’d saved. Other things intervened. Illness. Increasing frailty. Yet he still denied himself even simple pleasures, like adequate household appliances and a relaxed lifestyle. Until he could no longer shop for himself, he found every possible way to save a few pennies on special offers and goods already past their best. He became obsessed with leaving a legacy to his children and grandchildren, though none of them needed it, and they all urged him to put his own comfort first. When he died, he’d spent 91 years in delaying gratification.

You have a right to enjoyment. The US Declaration of Independence speaks of a self-evident right to “the pursuit of happiness” right up there with the rights to life and liberty. The people you lead also have that right. When you delay gratification for yourself, you do the same for them.

Enjoyment needs time. You can’t enjoy anything in a rush. Nor can you rely on reaching that future time when you can at last relish all the pleasure you delayed for so long. Life is too uncertain. Careful plans and saving may be wiped out by a hurricane, a flood, a sudden illness, or a stockmarket crash.

“But there isn’t time,” you say. “I have so much to do. There’s too much pressure right now. Maybe later I can slack off a little.”

Everyone has exactly the same amount of time available, so long as they are alive: 365 days each year, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. Add 24 hours each leap year. Every person has an identical time allocation. It’s how they choose to spend it that makes the difference.

The right way is nearly always the balanced way. Slow Leaders understand that, so they make some time for enjoyment as well as work. Workaholics and those enslaved by the work ethic have no sense of balance. That’s why they suffer higher rates of divorce, heart disease, mental illness, stress-related sickness and alienated children. In the past, the rich avoided work. Work was for the peasants. Now work has become so highly esteemed even those with more money than they can ever spend in a lifetime go on working crushing hours to earn still more.

Is there a better definition of respectable insanity?

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

The Perils of Quick Thinking

Who’s the hero in most organizations? The person noted for quick thinking and the ability to “think on her feet?” Or the one who takes time to consider the options and weight the alternatives, even if the answer appears clear?

No contest, right?

In his book ”Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for snap judgments of all kinds. Yet even he includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us "mind blind," focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to "the Warren Harding Effect" (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president).

Are snap judgments always right? Surely not. Are considered ones always better? No, they aren’t. Speed neither guarantees being right, nor always prevents it. To spend time on minuscule details is often wasteful. To ponder the nature of intervention when the person at the next table is choking is idiotic.

That’s the problem with the fashion for black and white thinking. Answers must be right or wrong, where reality is messy and inconclusive. Fast decisions are sometimes essential, sometimes not. It all depends on the circumstances. But because marketers credit the average person with an attention span of a few seconds, they shun products or ideas whose message cannot be compressed into a 30-second sound bite.

Yet when a situation looks like one you’ve met before — or your instant reaction is to say “yes” or “no” without further thought — can you be sure you’re right? Might things look the same, yet be quite different on closer inspection? A friend of mine tells the story of doing business with a supplier in the Far East for many years. Each transaction was the same. An order was placed, the goods were made and despatched, together with an invoice, and when they arrived and were seen to be satisfactory, the invoice was paid.

A new manager judged this process was unnecessary. Despite the protests of those who had dealt with that supplier for years, he immediately directed payment should be sent with the order. That was the way he had always done it. You can guess what happened. The containers arrived full of old lumber and the supplier could not be located.

Leaders and their businesses easily fall into the trap of believing they act with proper thought, when their thoughts are either instant, gut reactions or simple repetitions of what has gone before. By thinking fast — taking your intuitive reaction as correct — you greatly increase the chances of being blinded to important changes in circumstance. Second thoughts arrive too late.

In ”Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less,” Guy Claxton describes a simple experiment that proved rapid thinking prevented people reaching the correct conclusions. Even when forced to wait before giving an answer, those who still got it wrong were found to have used the extra time thinking about unrelated matters. They relied on their immediate conclusion and saw no need to waste more time questioning it. Those who used to time to realize the correct answer, didn’t spend more effort on the problem itself either. But by thinking about the nature of the problem and what its purpose was, they realized they had underestimated its complexity and so to reevaluate their answer.

How you think may produce different answers to the same question. You can’t be certain in advance an instant answer is right or wrong, but taking time to produce an alternative may well tell you which it is. Our minds are easily fooled by appearances and far too attracted to past answers. In our thoughtless worship of speed, we forget how poorly it copes with ambiguity, change or novelty. Thinking on your feet can lead to falling on your face.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 08, 2020

The Curse of Long Hours

Kathy Sierra's blog has a great post on this topic. You should read it. I especially like this comment:

But things happen, and we understand that there will be times when we (the workers) just can't get it done during normal business hours, and the schedule just can't slip. Still, the difference between being expected to put in the long hours and being worshipped for doing it cannot be overstated. If we want to make happy users, we have to be happy. Our employers/managers/clients need to accept that, and act accordingly. If you're making us work late all the time because of lousy management, that's inexcusable. If you're making us work late because you're greedy and just want as much business as you can (im)possibly handle, that's inexcusable. But if you need us to work late because things happened that nobody predicted, or because this demo means something drastically important to the company, for which we will also be rewarded... then sure, we'll be willing to pitch in. But spend the extra few bucks to treat us as well as your clients. You should be wining and dining us, not them, when you're asking so much from us.
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Problems with RSS feed

I have been having some problems with the RSS feed on this site. I have now switched to Feedburner, so things shuld be better. Please resubscribe using one of the buttons on the left or use this URL:

Sorry about the hiccup. Hope to be back to normal very soon.
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Paying Attention

In her marvelous book "Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up"Patricia Ryan Madson devotes a chapter to paying attention. Here’s part of what she says:

“Life is attention, and what we are attending to determines to a great extent how we experience the world. We are usually focused on ourselves — our problems, desires, fears. We move through life half awake and ruminating, living in our heads — thinking, planning, worrying, imagining. The detail of each day takes place in front of us, moment by precious moment. How much are we missing? Almost everything.”

Your attention is precious. It’s also finite. You have only so much available, so if you fragment it between tasks, thoughts, fears, daydreams and memories, what’s left may not be sufficient to achieve much of what you wish. Outside events and people are also greedy claimants for your attention. The ever-present cellphone, television, advertising, all those folk who want “just a moment of your time” to persuade you to buy, taste, vote or donate, all clamoring for as much attention as they can grab.

Leaders have extra demands. They must pay attention to the needs and concerns of those they lead. They must set direction and deal with corrections when events push them off course. And they must often take part in the wider process of corporate strategy setting, contributing their expertise and input on topics beyond their departmental brief. When all this distraction is compounded by haste and the stupidity of multitasking to show how well they can cope, it’s little wonder their attention span shrinks below that of the proverbial goldfish. If, as is reported, the average American’s attention span is now measured in seconds, the typical leader’s must be mere fractions of a second.

This is neither a sensible way to live nor a wise way to run an organization. Jumping from topic to topic in a frenzy of superficiality ensures nothing — and no one — gets the attention needed.

Slow Leadership can help you take back control of how and where your attention is directed. Cherish your attention. Defend it against attention thieves and those who want to waste it for their own ends. Like money, once attention is spent, it’s gone. But unlike the cash in your pocket, there are no places you can go to borrow more.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 07, 2020

Overworked and under-concerned

Maybe people are finally getting the message that overstimulated work ethic doesn’t provide sound values for life. A survey by the Families and Work Institute In New York reports a third of Americans feel chronically overworked, while the American Sleep Institute claims 50 percent of people are willing to accept less pay in return for shorter hours.

It’s even reaching cartoons. A cartoon by Rich Tennant shows a man working on his laptop in an airport lounge, while all around him people have cell phones to their ears. “I can be reached at home on my cell phone,” the man says, “and on the road with my pager and PDA. Soon I’ll be reachable on a plane with e-mail. I’m beginning to think identity theft wouldn’t be such a bad idea for a while.”

In his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honoré blames Frederick Taylor’s “Scientific Management” for some of the problem. Taylor said, “In the past, the man has been first. In the future, the System must be first.”

This creed of subordinating human needs to the demands of efficiency and productivity has become the norm in Western industrialized society. We’re constantly told that time is money. Maybe we even believe it, though there’s no logical link between them. Many of the richest people alive make money through their investments, doing nothing while the money piles up. Left-wing commentators blame the problem on institutionalized greed and the capitalist agenda of profit as the only measure of success. Right-wing pundits talk about the vast increase in living standards (at least in that same industrialized world) and talk about self-reliance and the intrinsic value of hard work.

The truth is more complex and less obvious. Faced with a choice between using technology to increase output or reduce input, organizations have chosen the former. We use our machines to produce more, not to maintain output and work less. And since it’s assumed people are an expensive resource, we’ve added the notion that cutting their numbers is the best way to increase profitability. Do more with fewer people is the modern mantra. In the work that cannot (yet) be mechanized, this can only mean making the reduced number of people work faster, harder and longer hours. Meanwhile, politicians worry about unemployment and outsourcing jobs to Third World economies. As usual, we want it all: greater production, more profit, fewer employees and full employment. How we propose to square that circle isn’t clear, though current actions suggest we’re trying to do it by increasing consumption.

What we’re creating is a feedback loop. To raise profits, jobs are cut. That means fewer people with spending money. But sales must also rise, because output is increasing and lower sales will once again limit profit. Those who have money must spend more of it on consumer goods. Profits go up, but no one is satisfied. Back to cutting or outsourcing jobs. Is it any wonder the right and becoming fewer and richer and the poor are becoming more plentiful and poorer. Keep the feedback loop going long enough and you’ll have all the necessary conditions for widespread social unrest and terrorism. Is that what we’re already seeing in large parts of the world?

Elephants are large, slow and live long lives. Shrews are small, incredibly fast and active and die within two years or so. Giant tortoises move incredibly slowly and live for centuries. Nature has fixed a link between speed and shortness of life. In our rushed and harried world, we rely more and more on medical technology to fend off the diseases due to the stress our lifestyle produces. I wonder how healthy and extended people’s lives would be if we could devote our know-how to that objective, instead of patching up our walking wounded?

As long as we do nothing and accept the status quo, we cannot expect anything to change. Politicians and industry leaders always ignore inconvenient problems and hope they’ll go away. Look at global warming. Even after the destruction of this year’s hurricanes and floods around the world, there’s little urgency to take actions that might interfere with the usual pursuit of profit. Of course, in time change will be forced on the world. Nature is still stronger than man, especially when it comes to man’s own biology. Do you want to wait until some crescendo of disasters forces us to slow down and recognize that man, after all, has to come first?

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 05, 2020


Actors, comedians and professional speakers all know the difference between success and failure is often a matter of timing. Get that wrong and everything else falls flat. It's the same in the business world. If you present an idea, contact a customer, speak to a supplier or try to deal with an underperforming subordinate at the wrong time, your changes of success are close to zero.

Timing is something people learn by experience. Of course, there are some obvious things to avoid, but it's mostly about knowing two things: how to be patient and how to choose your moment. Rushed, time-limited leaders and managers usually fail on both. They can't wait, so they're unable to choose any moment but now. How many good projects have been sidelined because they were presented when people weren't ready to listen? How often do great ideas go to waste because the person with the idea rushed to tell people when they were distracted or unreceptive?

Hesiod, in 800 b.c., knew the importance of timing, when he wrote: "Observe due measure, for right timing is in all things the most important factor." Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th century Japanese warrior and strategist wrote: "There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing in the way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this." And in our own time, US senator George McGovern was quoted as saying: "You know, sometimes, when they say you are ahead of your time, it's just a polite way of saying you have a real bad sense of timing."

How do you improve your timing? The keys are patience and careful observation.

You must be ready to wait if you sense the timing isn't right. Never rush ahead anyway. In many cases, there will be only a single opportunity to present your idea or make the correct impression on an important customer. To be able to choose your time, you must be willing to pass over opportunities that don't feel right. Haste breeds anxiety, which is fatal to good timing.

Timing isn't something you're born with. It's a skill. You develop it by watching other people and monitoring your own actions. When did things work well? What were the signs? How will you spot similar situations which are likely to be just right for what you have in mind? And when did things go wrong? What should you have realized before you lost patience and spoiled your chances? Learning too requires time and attention. If you try to cut corners by following one or two "hand me down" techniques, you'll never be more than a clumsy beginner.

Slow Leaders make sure they master the art of timing and use it to their advantage. Because they're never rushed, they stay calm, attentive and focused. They're always ready to wait if the time isn't right — and prepared to step in immediately when they see that it is.
  • Don't be a bull in a china shop.

  • Don't allow impatience and anxiety to ruin your chances before you even start.

  • Slow down. Learn patience.

  • Learn how to time your actions perfectly. Your success will multiply as a result.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 04, 2020

Right Relationships

Dealing with people takes time. You need time to get to know them, time to establish trust and respect, time to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and time to help them develop and grow. Perhaps the worst aspect of the frenetic management pace that's becoming the norm is the way it deprives leaders of the time to spend with the people they're charged with leading.

How do your staff know you're interested in them? I mean truly interested in their welfare and progress, not just focused on them as "worker bees" with a tough budget to meet in honey output. The answer is simple: the amount of quality time you spend with each one. It's worrying how many people feel their bosses aren't interested in them. When this happens, it usually leads to lowered interest in work objectives, less commitment and minimal trust. This isn't some "touchy feely" aspiration. Staff who feel neglected and undervalued are less productive, less cooperative, show less initiative and are more likely to call in sick or start disputes.

Holding team meetings isn't the answer. They may be useful for passing on information, but who feels the boss is showing interest in them by sitting them in a room with ten or fifteen others? People need to be valued for themselves, not just as a member of the team. They want to have the boss's undivided attention regularly — not just at appraisal time. That's like only talking with your teacher once a year at report time. If there's any criticism, it's too late to explain or show you can do better. One of the reasons people dislike appraisals so much is their bosses spring negatives on them with no opportunity to affect the "final score."

The need for time is still greater if there are people problems to deal with. What's the first thing an angry or upset person wants? They want to be heard. They want someone to take the time to listen to them properly. They don't want to be brushed off with a ready-made response or handed to the HR department to deal with, like an unwanted puppy. They want the boss's time. Deny them this and the problem will escalate. I suspect the reason many people start legal proceedings against their employers isn't simply money. It's the satisfaction of forcing the organization to pay attention to them and spend time dealing with their grievance. If their boss had spent enough time with them at the start, maybe the organization wouldn't be facing legal bills and court proceedings later.

Everything that applies to staff applies equally to customers. Think about your own experience in a store or a restaurant. How do you feel if the sales associates or the waiting staff obviously spend as little time on your needs as they can? Will it encourage you to buy? Will you return another time?

Right Relationships is a principle of Slow Leadership because it demands the correct use of time, and rushed, harassed people get it wrong. Leaders are leaders because they supervise people. Dealing with people is leadership. So if you can't or don't make enough time for that, what do you make time for?

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, November 03, 2020

Right Direction

The primary task of any leader is to set the group's direction and see that it's maintained. Like the captain of a ship, it's his or her responsibility to set the course.

Direction isn't the same as vision, mission or purpose. The first two are ideals: mental images of what can be achieved. To stick with the nautical metaphor, they're the port the ship is heading for and the justification for the voyage. Purpose answers the question "why bother?"

Direction is about how to get there. It's one of the principles of Slow Leadership because it takes perseverance as well as understanding. The captain of our imaginary ship knows she has to sail west, say, but also has to hold that course despite currents, storms, reefs and other obstructions. Sometimes she must change bearing to stay on the true course. Sometimes the course is lost and she must figure out how to return to the correct heading.

Whatever happens the captain must keep the right direction in mind, and ensure the crew do so too. It's the same in business. Leaders need always to remember where the business or the group are headed, whatever temporary distractions push them off course.

Anyone who's worked in an organization for more than a few years probably knows the destructive effect of constant changes of direction. Those initiatives announced with fanfares and drum rolls that are forgotten six months later. The continual emergencies, as the organization lurches from one fashionable "solution" to its business needs to another. The constant hiring of fresh consultants to provide the direction the corporate leadership cannot. And how each fresh "restructuring" undoes any benefit from the last.

Much of the blame for this lies with leaders who rush into ill-cnsidered actions, simply because they feel they must be seen to be doing something.

Don't join them. Thinking, reflecting and considering in depth is doing something – something essential. Choose your direction carefully and stick to it until you achieve what you wanted. That's Slow Leadership in action.

Technorati tags:
Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, November 02, 2020

Dealing with Distractions (Part 2)

Technology has improved our lives in important ways, but it's also created a new group of distractions. By giving us the ability to contact others, and be contacted ourselves, almost any place and time, it's created an expectation that was never there before.

Not so long ago, it was understood that there were times when people were out of contact. They were away from their office; it was after working hours; they were on a plane or train. Longer ago still, when letters were the principal way of staying in touch, it might take weeks for something to be sent and a reply received.

Since instantaneous contact is now expected, so are instant answers. Not only do people interrupt you on a whim, they want an answer or an opinion on the spot. This may be the new norm for the media, who have people available to "analyze" an event or a speech before the echoes have died away, but does it make sense for leaders who take their job seriously?

Immediate responses are more likely to be poorly informed, inadequately thought through and wide of the mark. They also demand that you play safe. With no time to think, it's the only way to avoid playing Russian roulette with your credibility. You can't stop people demanding instant answers (though you can limit the danger, as I explained in Part 1). But you can make it harder for them to reach you and catch you unawares.

There are three major culprits in the crime of breaking in on you when you don't expect it: cellphones, email and instant messages.

I've already suggested that cellphones should be silenced or turned off, emails ignored and instant message software shut down for significant parts of the day. It seems so simple, yet people don't do it. There has to be a reason.

In face, there are several. Fear is one: the fear that something important will happen and you won't know about it. Another is the lust for control. If you forbid anyone else from making decisions, you'll need to be contactable nearly all the time. Then there's ego. I believe the primary reason so many people try to stay in touch all the time is that it makes them feel important.

I can already hear people complaining they don't want to be interrupted anytime, anywhere, but that's what the corporation expects. It's not their fault. That may be true, but there's still no need to collude with the process. Besides, if you're in a significant leadership role, you are the corporation – at least for your group.

Let's look at this logically.
  • People need time to think and time to do their own work.

  • Constant distractions impact productivity and lower quality.

  • Instant decisions and opinions tend to be poorly considered and are rarely necessary. They may even do harm.

  • The cult of instantaneous contact relieves people from prioritizing or judging whether any contact is needed.

  • People waste large amounts of time on unnecessary emails, instant messages and calls.

Now ask yourself why the organization tolerates, let alone expects, such actions?

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 01, 2020

Active Acceptance

Slow Leaders save themselves time and effort by recognizing what they are responsible for dealing with and what they aren't. They don't get distracted or upset by things they cannot change. I call this Active Acceptance.

Active Acceptance means seeing and accepting reality, then finding ways to live productively whatever the circumstances. It isn't the same as being passive, or "accepting" in the sense of simply letting things be if they aren't working. It's trying to understand what's going on as objectively and fully as possible, then acting with the knowledge there will be some circumstances you cannot change. Sorting what you can do something about from what you can't is the first step in focusing on correct action.

This takes time and thought, which is why those leaders who rush at everything often get it wrong. It also requires humility. Large egos act as if everything in the world depends on them. They hurl themselves at obstacles they cannot break and ignore simpler, more personal areas where they have absolute control.

For example, you cannot control external events. Things happen. Good or bad, most of them have little or nothing to do with you or what you want. But some do. They result in part from your past behavior. And while the outcome of what you did or said may not be completely under your control, your present actions and responses are. You can complain you're too busy, too stressed or that life is unfair (which it is). Or you can accept responsibility for your actions, do what you can, and get on with your life.

Once it's clear whether change or action is possible, your job is to live as productively as possible in the real world. This means changing whatever is blocking or restricting progress and is within your power to change. It also means finding ways to cope with what can't be changed or ways to go around it.

Active Acceptance is worlds apart from fatalism or the dull belief nothing better is possible. It's about first accepting what must be accepted and making it part of the reality you are dealing with; then finding ways to live productively just the same. It's learning to focus on what matters and withdrawing attention from the rest. It’s doing whatever you can to live productively and be an effective member of society. Since just about everything we have we owe to someone else — parents, teachers, benefactors, taxpayers — to live productively is also to give back to others what we have received, by doing what we can to make the world a better place.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.