Friday, December 30, 2020

The Best of 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2020

Press Picks up on Slow Leadership

Harvey Schachter has an interesting article in The Globe and Mail (a leading Canadian newspaper) for December 26th, in which he picks up a posting from this site about the usefulness of trust in cutting a leader's workload.

He also quotes some practical ways to cut back on unnecessary work thought up by a range of people. Here are a few, but it's worth reading the whole article.
"To reduce overwork, organizations must shift their structure away from silos, with staff operating in networks. Individuals would be assigned tasks by projects; reporting would be streamlined; meetings would only be held when necessary; and managers would be recognized for cutting outmoded tasks as well as shaving expenses." (From entrepreneur and journalist David Batstone)

SAVED BY THE BELL: Business coach Karl Ruegg suggests bringing an old-fashioned alarm clock to the next meeting that you run. Tell everyone: "This meeting will last 45 minutes. When the alarm clock rings, I'm out of here."

AVOID CHATTY CATHYS: Consultant Kenneth Zeigler says you can gain time and improve productivity by recognizing who interrupts you the most and taking your lunch hour opposite their break, so you are working steadily when they are gone.

SMOOTH SEGUE: When you are trapped in a phone call that doesn't relate to the business at hand, slip in a segue to the reason the person called: "It sounds like you are having a busy day, so I don't want to take up any more of your time. What can I do for you?"
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Wednesday, December 21, 2020

News Summary—Work:Life Balance

I collect articles and quotes relevant to Slow Leadership and they're building up. So I've decided to take a quick break from my holiday to share a few with you. Here are some on of those on work: life balance I've collected recently.

In England, Jaguar and Land Rover were this week named as winners of the first Women in Science Engineering and Technology (SET) Award at the Working Families Employer of the Year Awards. Part of the reason for the award was said to be "the development of detailed and comprehensive policies aimed at enabling employees to adopt self-help strategies to reduce any strain on their personal / home life as a result of demands of work." What's even more interesting is the business benefit from this kind of action. According to the article: "All this has resulted in 99% retention of women returning from maternity leave."

The situation seems much less rosy in Australia, according to an article in BRW magazine. It states: "Most companies have been largely unwilling or unable to give workers the opportunity to adjust their work/life balance. Employees must make the choices for themselves - and it could be a painful process. Want more pay? Then you must be prepared to spend more time in the office. Want to work part-time? Be prepared to jam five days' work into three or four. Want a seachange? Be prepared to live more frugally. Want a new job? Be prepared to move sideways or leap into another career entirely." The magazine has a series of somewhat gloomy articles on how Australians are joining others in the developed world in having more wealth, but less civilized lifestyles.

Even conservative church magazines are noting the trend. In the USA, has an article quoting Columnist Amy Joyce of the Washington Post, who has been following the lives of 80-hour-a-week Washingtonians. In 2004, she wrote about Lisa, whose father worked long hours and died before he could pursue any of his dreams and hobbies. This left Lisa "with strong feelings regarding the importance of maintaining a work-life balance." Then there's Kate, who has found a good balance: "Work will come and go, she reasons. But there is only one life." The same article also mentions Lisa Belkin, writing in The New York Times Magazine about eight highly successful women who "had it all" and found it all unsatisfying. While the heavy-handed emphasis in the article on motherhood as "God's will" is sadly retrograde, it's good that even such right-wing, conservative outlets have picked up on the real problems of meeting old-fashioned ideas of Protestant work ethic.

Also from the deeply religious and conservative South comes this article from the Huntsville Times of Alabama. The writer points to "lifestyle entrepreneurs": people who start a business to create the lifestyle they want, not just to make money. The writer says: "he common denominator for this type of entrepreneur is the desire to achieve balance. Specifically, that means balance between work and life. No more 14-hour work days, or being permanently tethered to a BlackBerry for these folks. You may see a lifestyle entrepreneur skydiving during the middle of the day, or cutting out a few hours early for a round of golf before the sun sets. These entrepreneurs even manage to spend a relaxing, uninterrupted weekend with their families. Whatever their pleasure, these special breeds of small-business owners are creating companies that support a desired lifestyle now rather than later."

Here's the part I like best: "they don't need to double margins over the next year, or buy a competitor to expand their production capabilities. Instead, they work on maintaining that targeted business level that feeds the corporate instinct but keeps stress levels in check." There's even a book you can read about this. It's called "How To Succeed as a Lifestyle Entrepreneur" by Gary Schine.

I'll maybe share a few more cuttings when I start to get "blog withdrawal syndrome" too badly.

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Saturday, December 17, 2020

Thoughts for the Holidays

This is my last regular posting before the holidays, so I thought I would leave you with something to mull over in spare moments between eating, drinking and opening gifts.

When did you last pay conscious attention to the categories your mind is using?

Your mind naturally fits whatever it perceives into one or more categories, so you know what it is and what to do with it. It's almost automatic; as are the categories your mind uses. Did you choose them deliberately? Probably not. Mostly they come from the society in which you live, the groups with which you associate and the beliefs you hold. From churches to employers, just about every recognizable grouping has its own way of seeing the world and categorizing it. If you're a member, you'll be expected to follow along, more or less. Too much dissension from "approved" categories will likely get you thrown out.

This has been going on for a very long time. I recently came across a quote by an Argentinean writer, which listed the categories of animals provided by an ancient Chinese encyclopedia (Don't ask!). They were:
  1. Belonging to the emperor.

  2. Embalmed.

  3. Tame.

  4. Suckling pigs.

  5. Stray dogs.

  6. Frenzied.

  7. Sirens.

  8. Innumerable.

  9. Included in this category.

  10. Have just broken the water pitcher.

  11. From a long way off look like flies.

People's heads are full of untested categorizations. Mostly they use them without question; life feels more predictable that way. Bosses categorize employees from "A" performers (Try to Keep) to "C" performers (Try to Fire or Transfer). Your own department comes into the categories of "hard working," "understaffed" and "indispensable." Most other departments fit into the categories of "bloated," "untrustworthy" and "wasting resources we could use much better." You look around the meeting table, picking out "friends" and "enemies."

Fit someone in a category and—hey presto!—you know all you need to know about them in a second. Kathy is in the category "air head;" Bob is categorized as a "geek." So Kathy will not have any useful ideas and can only be given the simplest work; while Bob is clever, but you should never include him in any social functions. What more do you need to know? Look at all the time that saved. If you'd been a Slow Leader, you would have needed to get to know each of them and found out about the real person. Who has time for that?

We even create categories that apply to people and events in general.
  • Some people are never trustworthy (Those whose eyes are too close together, perhaps?).

  • The "bottom line" always comes first (Wouldn't that make it the top line?).

  • Profit always comes before people (So who, exactly, produces this profit? Chimpanzees?).

  • You must always cut costs (Seems like a great opening for highway robbers).

  • The customer is always right (Yes, I think that sub-machine gun would fit into your school bag. Would you like it wrapped?).

  • If you don't watch people, you have no idea what they may get up to (Working? Thinking? Changing things?).

  • There is always a right way and a wrong way to do anything (So much for "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover").

The more rushed and stressed you are, the more tempting it is to jump to an instant conclusion, based on some unquestioned categorization. How many shall we order? However many we ordered last time. What's the best way to lower costs? Fire more people and outsource the work to China. The Denver Region are asking if we would cooperate on a new promotion. The Denver Region is staffed by idiots who never have any useful ideas.

Of course, if you really can't allow yourself time to think, and you still want to be safe, you can always straddle a whole number of categories.
  • The guys in the Home Office say they must have the sales projection immediately. Take last quarter, add ten percent and include a note that the numbers aren't seasonally adjusted.

  • We've had three hundred of the new model returned because of manufacturing defects. Get someone to cross-tabulate all the defects by plant, date of manufacture, date of sale, region, customer type and nature of defect...and tell the Board we're looking into the difficulty, but it's too early to reach a firm conclusion until we've analyzed on all the statistical data.

And if all else fails, you can always send a message that your premises have been overrun by innumerable frenzied stray dogs and suckling pigs belonging to the emperor, which looked like flies from a long way off and broke every water pitcher in the place. Oh...and it's okay now, because we've had them embalmed.

Relying on shortcuts is the curse of all rushed working. When there's no time to think, about the best you can do is fit things into a preset category, usually based on a cursory look; then treat it the way that category has always been treated. There's no time to consider the context, the background, or the possibility that this event, this time is the exception that's going to destroy all the rules. Pressure to hurry always increases conformity and limits innovation, putting a severe penalty on considering anything beyond what's already known and categorized.

The mental categories you use produce the way you see the world. Now would be a good time to take them out and check them to see how much sense they still make. Especially the ones that deny you have a pet cat and insist it must be a tame siren, because those are the only two categories of animals left.

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Friday, December 16, 2020

Why Pick on IT?

ISR, the US employee research firm, has published data that suggests people working in IT have a worse time than other professionals when it comes to long hours and overwork. Apparently, 51% of US IT workers suffer job stress and 53% say their workload is excessive. The comparable figures for all US workers are 41% and 39%. Job insecurity seems to be part of the pattern, with 57% of IT people feeling their jobs are secure, compared to 68% of the workforce as a whole.

ISR's staff blame the shift from seeing IT as a source of business advantage to viewing it as a cost center. It seems that only 46% of IT professionals believe their companies reward innovation, compared to 64% as recently as 2001.

That may be part of the answer, but I can't help wondering whether IT is simply a victim of its own exaggerated claims in the past. Companies were led to believe computerization would remove most, if not all, clerical and administrative work, with a tremendous saving in costs and employee numbers.

The reality is very different. Computerizing functions is slow, costly and often causes considerable upheaval. Claimed savings aren't met, while more staff need to be hired to keep the rocky systems operating. Outsourcing has become an attractive option, shifting the problems onto a supplier, but removing many IT jobs in the process.

What has this to do with Slow Leadership? In their haste to jump on the computerization bandwagon, executives failed to give themselves time to explore some fundamental questions.
  • What will happen if the projected savings don't arise?

  • What will be the wider impact on customer and suppliers?

  • How will they feel about changing to suit our systems?

  • Will they get any benefits they care about?

  • What's wrong with things the way they are?

Slow Leadership, like Slow Food, always runs the risk of being seen as a Luddite movement, trying to oppose technological improvements. That, of course, is nonsense. Technology has enhanced everyone's life—and could do far more, if only we took time to decide how best to use it to make working more enjoyable. Instead, we've allowed ourselves to be rushed into seeing the most immediate—and most limited—possibilities from our technology: those associated with saving costs and cutting numbers. And, in their eagerness to "sell" their brainchildren, IT experts allowed the risks and timescales to be underestimated.

The answer is neither outsourcing to other countries, nor deciding IT is over-hyped and is just another cost to be minimized. The answer is to stand back and take the time to consider all the angles.

The answer is the practice of Slow Leadership by those making all key decisions.

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Thursday, December 15, 2020

Corporate Athletics

There was an article in Fast Company in April 2005 called "Extreme Jobs." The writer interviewed people who claimed to enjoy—even seek out—work where 100-hour weeks are the norm: investment bankers, management consultants and professionals in manufacturing and software development.

The comparison with people who play extreme sports was obvious. These people are exhilarated by the risks they take and the hours they keep. In the article, the word "addiction" kept appearing. One bond-trader talked of "re-wiring" her body to wake two or three times every night to check on market activity. Another explained he could only sleep three hours a night after a hectic business trip from Europe to South America, then back to several cities across the USA. It seems he only sees his girlfriend briefly between mutual trips away (she has a similar job and schedule) and resorts to "phone sex" in between times.

There's no doubt that extreme sports have a hold on some people. Even in conventional sports, top athletes can have brutal training regimes. But that's the point. They choose to live the way they do and something seems to them to make it worthwhile: the fame, the money, even the regular adrenaline "highs" such antics produce. What's worrying is when this spills over into becoming an expectation: a norm for everyone, including those who haven't chosen to accept such extreme pressures. Throughout the developed world, working hours are getting longer, as corporations ax jobs and redistribute the work to those who remain. A 40-hour week is becoming unusual, with 60-70 hour weeks common for many professionals.

Extreme athletes accept the risks to their health. What they choose to do is inherently dangerous. Top sports people frequently suffer injuries and breakdowns linked to the level at which they play. But while multiple knee surgeries may be simply an occupational hazard to a world-class tennis player, you don't expect a local club novice to accept the same risk.

Yet that's what is happening in the business world. Extreme corporate athletes may relish what they do, but the corporation quickly seems to expect everyone else to join them at the outer edges of what human beings can handle. That's why burn-outs and breakdowns are on the increase, and more people than ever are suffering work-related stress and health problems.

This is not sustainable. Since the "dot com" crash, tight labor markets and a weakened economy have allowed organizations pretty much free rein to set whatever work demands they want people to match. Hopefully, if economic times improve, they won't find it so easy.

Should we wait that long? Should it be acceptable for employers to demand whatever they can get away with? Or is it part of the duty of government, national and local, to protect people against exploitation? After all, someone has to pick up the bill for all the health and social problems these extreme work patterns are generating. And, too often, that's all of us who pay taxes. It's unrealistic to expect business voluntarily to reduce its profit potential, or step away from opportunities to get more work from its people for the same payment. That's why there needs to be a balancing force: someone who can call a halt to extreme demands on the basis that a healthy life is more important than corporate profit. It will only happen if people pressurize their politicians to take up this cause—for everyone's sake.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2020

Lowered I.Q. and Bad Manners Caused by Obsessive Communication

An article in The Guardian, a leading British newspaper, in April 2004 reveals that how you handle e-mails can affect your I.Q. The study used 1,100 people and was carried out by psychologists at Kings College, London University, on behalf of Hewlett Packard. The purpose was to see the effect of constant distractions on productivity and concentration.

Too many people are addicted to watching for new e-mails. As soon as one arrives, they stop whatever they're doing to read it, often taking more time out to reply at once. The result is continual distraction and changes of direction that produced similar levels of tiredness in a few hours to losing a whole night's sleep. In terms of I.Q., those who acted in this way showed startling falls: an average loss of ten I.Q. points, compared to the typical loss of only four I.Q. pints found in people who smoke cannabis. They also became sleepy, lethargic and lost much of their ability to focus. Not surprisingly, productivity fell sharply.

In the same study, it was found that 20% of the people taking part reported breaking off from social engagements and meals to handle e-mail messages and send replies. They also did this during business meetings or face-to-face discussions. Many simply couldn't resist answering a cellphone and making follow-up calls, even though 98% agreed it was rude. Significantly, around 30% felt the practice is "becoming acceptable" or showed "diligence and efficiency." Two thirds of the people questioned said they regularly checked work e-mails in their non-working time—even on vacation.

Far from showing diligence, the study proves this type of compulsive behavior leads to poorly-focussed, distracted thinking and lowered performance. Organizations that expect or encourage such actions are going against their own interests; while people who do this voluntarily are slowly destroying their intelligence.

Do you have your e-mail software open all the time your computer is on? Do you rush to check incoming e-mails as soon as they arrive? Do you drop whatever you're doing to send a response? Why?

My guess is there is no good reason for such behavior, however you try to justify it. It's a habit; a compulsion. Many people cannot allow a telephone to ring, even when they have an answering machine to take the call. Call it curiosity, or nervousness, or plain fear that this call, this time, may be something you can't afford to miss. Call it what you like. At bottom, it's insecurity run rampant.

Bad news will reach you quickly enough. Other news can wait until you're ready. One of the simplest steps you can take to cut down on stress and distraction is to refuse to deal with incoming phone calls and e-mails until a set time, determined in advance. Don't drop everything else to reply even then. Most "urgent" requests are nothing of the kind. The urgency is applied to everything.

Set your priorities and stick to them. Make people aware how you're proposing to work. Resist all their attempts to force you back into running your life by their imaginary deadlines. It isn't worth it. They aren't thinking about you anyway; they're only focused on themselves, and making you jump helps them feel important. Do you want to feed their egos? My guess is they're more than fat enough already.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2020

Atten ... shun!

In "The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business," Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck explain how depleted attention has become, for individuals and organizations.
"In this new economy, capital, labor, information and knowledge are all in plentiful supply...What's in short supply is human attention...At one point, software magnates had the ambition to put 'information at your fingertips.' Now we've got it, and in vast quantities. But no one will be informed by it, learn from it, or act on it, unless they've got some free attention to devote to the information."

What are the symptoms of this kind of corporate Attention Deficit Disorder? According to Davenport and Beck, they are:
  1. An increasing likelihood of missing key information when making decisions.

  2. Diminished time for reflection on anything but simple information transactions such as e-mail and voice mail.

  3. Difficulty holding others' attention (for instance, having to increase the glitziness of presentations and the number of messages to get and keep attention).

  4. Decreased ability to focus when necessary.

Does all this sound familiar? It should, since these are the symptoms of massive workplace stress, leading to burn-out. People haven't enough attention because they're overworked, stressed and trying to do too much in too little time.

All Slow Leaders understand they only ever have a fixed amount of attention. It's a finite commodity. That's why idiotic ideas such as multi-tasking are so dangerous. People get the notion they can somehow increase their attention by doing several jos at the same time or in quick succession. But all they do is fragment what attention they have. And that leads to distraction, muddle and still more tiredness and stress.

There's only one cure for attention deficit in business: focus on what truly matters and ignore everything else. Above all, ignore those insidious thieves of attention called e-mails, cellphones and Instant Messaging. They can steal so much attention; they can become so addictive; they can divert so much time and energy, you won't have enough left for your real work. You only ever have 100 percent of your attention. Split it a hundred ways and nothing gets more than one percent.

Harassed executives worry they don't devote enough attention to strategic thinking or long-term staff development. Incipient workaholics fret they can't give their families the attention they crave. People die on the roads, because their attention was grabbed by a phone call, or diverted by problems at work. Attention deficit kills. It's a plague, verging on a pandemic.

And it's self-inflicted. Nobody has to live like this. Organizations do not have to drive their staff to the edge of insanity in the name of the Twin Gods, Profit and Competition. We choose to live this way. And we can choose to stop doing so.

Stress, hurry, harassment and overwork all destroy attention, just when it's needed most. Slow down. Give yourself time to pay attention properly. Why destroy even more of a resource that's already perilously stretched?

NOTE: Please note that I will be taking a break between December 19th and January 9th, so postings will be fewer and less regular. I have a book to finish and an important conference to attend. Sorry.

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Monday, December 12, 2020

Saving Time Through Trust

Sally P. was overworked, burned-out, stressed and exhausted—the whole nine yards. So her boss asked me to talk to her and see if I could help. It didn't take long to discover the truth. Sally routinely stayed at her desk until 9.00 or 10.00 p.m., though she started work before 8.00 in the morning.

"What do you do?" I asked her.

"All day I'm busy with meeting, customers and staff matters," she told me. 'It's madness. I only get to do the stuff I need to do after everyone else goes home."

"And what's that?"

"Reading through things. Checking everything has been done correctly. Sorting out tomorrow's schedule. That kind of thing."

What it came down to was this. Sally checked nearly all the work her subordinates did, even down to correcting typos in their reports and re-ordering "faulty" priorities. When I suggested this was a total waste of her time, she got angry.

"Not at all," she said. "It's essential. You've no idea the mistakes I find. It would be dreadful to let things like that slip past."

"And what do you say to your people?" I asked.

"Well, I tell them, naturally. Sometimes I get cross with them."

"And…? Has it changed?"

"Not really. I mean, you can't get good people today, can you?"

It took quite a while to get Sally to admit the truth. Her staff didn't check their own mistakes because they knew she would do it anyway. And they didn't change because she treated them like naughty children, so that's how they saw themselves. Besides, they knew she didn't trust them to do better, so why bother?

Lack of trust is probably the single greatest cause of overwork amongst leaders at every level. Because they don't trust others:
  • They can't delegate anything other than the most mundane jobs.

  • They have to attend pointless meetings, in case something is said or decided behind their backs.

  • They have to be on every circulation list for the same reason.

  • They have to re-do, vet, double check and edit their subordinates' work, because they don't trust them to do it properly.

  • They have to devote time to regular boot-licking, because they suspect no one trusts them either.

Organizations are full of pointless activities that are only needed because nobody trusts their boss, their colleagues, their subordinates, their suppliers and, least of all their customers. Whole departments exist entirely on the assumption that, if you didn't have them, corruption, embezzlement, petty theft and misappropriation would be general. Then, of course, you need another group to make sure the first aren't abusing their position to do all those things themselves. Look how HR departments, supposedly there to help find, train and develop good employees, are being slowly transformed into another branch of compliance and legal services.

Yet these same employees, who aren't trusted to behave reasonably in working hours, are apparently worthy to choose a government, act on school boards and in positions of public trust, bring up children, handle their own finances and fight and die for their country.

If you pay peanuts, the saying goes, you get monkeys. Well, if you treat employees like naughty children or incipient criminals, that's pretty much what they'll become—at least during working hours. And you'll be like Sally: overworked, stressed, burned-out and neurotic—the typical image of today's version of Organization Man.

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Saturday, December 10, 2020

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

"Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the mid-day sun."

                 Noel Coward

Why do people do what they do? The most common reason is the simplest. They're trying to do their best to deal with the circumstances they find themselves in. Since many of our corporations and institutions are crazy, people are forced to cope with an environment of insanity—so they start to do mad things themselves.

Take asking someone for a piece of information. In the past, you probably had to walk along to their office. Perhaps the door was shut, or they were in a meeting—that meant waiting or coming back later, sometimes more than once. Or you might scribble a message and leave it with their secretary. If it was a formal request, you'd write a memo (by hand), get it typed, send it via the internal mail and wait for a reply. If they worked in another location, that could take several days. Meanwhile, you got on with the rest of your work.

Not so today. Because an e-mail can reach across the world in a few seconds, you expect a reply just as fast. Never mind that the other person is in a different time zone. People call you on your cellphone and expect, even demand, you drop whatever you're doing to attend to them right away. How often does anyone ask if it's a convenient time to talk? Mostly they jump straight in with their own needs.

Organizations demand this kind of craziness. There was a time when being on a plane or train—just being out out the office—meant having time to ourself. Now people drive with one hand while the other supports the cellphone surgically attached to their ear. Thy walk onto planes while frantically tapping out e-mail messages on their Blackberries. What's the very first move you see people make when the plane lands? You've got it. Grab the cellphone and get busy with those messages.

Here's part of a comment posted on David Batstone's blog Right Reality on November 30th 2005:
I've concluded that responding quickly just increases people's expectations, and since they know that they can get a quick response, including detailed letters, agreements or what-have-you delivered by email in a matter of seconds after the work is done, that's what they come to expect.

On the Wed. before Thanksgiving, I spent an hour dealing immediately with an email I received from a demanding client. I got it done by noon, and we closed at noon. However, to address that email, I had put off getting a letter done to another lawyer, and I had to get that response done and out Wednesday, so I went home, and I worked on that until almost 9 PM. During the afternoon, I got an email reply back from the demanding client that I needed to contact a 3rd party about my earlier response. If I didn't have access to office email at home, I never would have seen that email until Monday morning. If we were dealing with snail mail, he wouldn't have gotten my Wednesday response until at least Friday or Saturday. As it was, I felt I jumped through hoops on Wednesday, and I did other things for other clients that I'd been ignoring on Monday. Then early Tuesday morning, I got a "snotty-gram" from the demanding client, because I hadn't contacted the 3rd party yet.

The lawyer who wrote this also said he felt overworked, stressed and on the edge of burn-out, rarely getting more than five hours of sleep. Still, he was about to take on an even greater workload to cover for a colleague recovering from major surgery. Will his clients offer patience? I doubt it.

The number of people with a home office is rising fast. Do they have an "office bedroom" to compensate? What do you think? The working environment, with all its demands and pressures, is invading the home, not the other way around. Letting your personal, family affairs and worries impinge on work is still frowned on.

"You need to keep home and work life separate," the boss says. "By the way, I tried to call you at 10.30 last evening and couldn't reach you. It's important to be easily available, you know."

Because something can be done, it doesn't mean it should be. Still less should it become an expectation, then a duty. Try calling the Chairman of the Board at 10.30 p.m. on Sunday night for a quick chat about an idea you've just had to improve project handling—and see how far you get.
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Friday, December 09, 2020

The 600-pound Gorilla

The new film of King Kong is opening soon. Since Fay Wray screamed her way through the original film, people have been mesmerized by the idea of an oversized ape destroying buildings and falling in love with a woman he can hold in one hand – especially if she's dressed in her underwear. Here's the other news. There's a 600-pound gorilla dominating the lives of people all around the world, and this one isn't susceptible to feminine beauty. It's called Work.

In 2004, IT Week reported that the Chartered Management Institute in Great Britain found only half of IT managers questioned used their full vacation entitlement, compared to two-thirds in 2003. When they went on vacation, 39% took a laptop or PDA to stay in contact with their work. Almost half expected to return to 100+ e-mails after a week away. 80% claimed work interfered in some way with their time off.

In December 2005, the Hindustani Times ran an article which claimed US studies show nearly a quarter of heart disease is now due to work stress; and that it could be prevented if work was "limited" to ... nine hours per day.

What do we know? Overwork and stress impacts the heart, the brain and the immune system. It increases the tendency to avoid exercise. It stops people sleeping properly. It fuels addiction to drinking too heavily. Too much work pressure is a leading contributor to rising divorce rates and soaring numbers of people suffering clinical depression. It's even lowering people's appetite for sex.

Stand back a moment. Suppose you read a newspaper report that some drug had been found to increase heart attacks, interfere with the immune system, cause obesity and liver problems, promote alcoholism, wreck family life, and ruin your sex drive. Oh, and by the way, it's addictive and available everywhere.

What would you think? Wouldn't there be a public outcry, demanding the drug be taken off the market at once? Wouldn't the manufacturer face more lawsuits than there are lawyers to bring them? Instead, it seems, people are quietly accepting it's alright to work 60-70 hour work weeks on a regular basis — even praiseworthy. Never mind that hypertension is an international epidemic on a par with the fears of Bird Flu. Forget that people — men and women — are having heart attacks at a younger and younger age.

"That's modern life," people say. "Crazy, isn't it?"

No. It's the people who live that way who are crazy. It's all of us who dumbly accept what's happening instead of howling for change…now.

Unless another Fay Wray happens along to stop it, that 600-pound gorilla is headed to destroy millions more people this time.

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Thursday, December 08, 2020

Pushing The River

Rivers, at least ones that have water all year, are rare here in southern Arizona. Most spend the bulk of the year as dry, sandy depressions in the desert. Any water is deep underground. Only when the thunderstorms of the monsoon come do they turn into rushing torrents that last, maybe, a day or a few hours.

That’s the interesting thing about rivers. They flow at their own pace, depending on how much water is in them and how steep the land is through which they flow. Steep mountain streams flow fast; broad, muddy rivers in the lowlands sometimes scarcely seem to flow at all. You can’t change this. It’s the way things are.

Events in our lives and businesses are like rivers. They have their own pace, depending on the geography of the circumstances. Sometimes they sweep us along and we feel close to drowning; other times their progress is agonizingly slow and turgid. Sometimes, like our desert rivers, they go underground or dry up completely.

But humans are impatient creatures. We want events to go at our pace, not theirs. So we try to push the river along faster.

Companies set themselves goals and raise expectations in their investors. Often they do this with virtually no regard to circumstances. Profits rose by a certain amount last quarter, or last year, so they must rise by more in the year to come. Sales must increase, so let’s find ways to make people buy. And, since you’re a leader, it’s your job to make this happen, on time, every time.

The river isn’t flowing fast enough? Get out there and push it. Push harder.

You can’t push the river. It’s flowing already and nothing much will change that rate of flow, save a thunderstorm or days of torrential rain. Can you produce that? I thought not. You can push and push, but all you’ll do is make waves and wear yourself out.

That’s exactly what too many leaders are doing today. To content those who expect them to change geography or generate a thunderstorm on cue, they push and they push, making lots of waves and accomplishing nothing at all—except exhausting themselves and their staff. Hey, look how hard I’m pushing. Look at the waves I’m making.

In Britain, there’s a well-known story of a Norse king called Canute. When his courtiers flattered him and claimed he could cause the world to bow to his will, he had them set his throne on the seashore. As the tide came in, Canute ordered it back. The king got wet feet and the courtiers, hopefully, learned something about setting realistic expectations. It’s a shame more CEOs don’t share Canute’s clarity about the limits of human endeavor.

Don’t push the river. Things will happen in their own time. So save your strength…and try to still be around when they do.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2020

Tempo, Maestro

“What do you mean, Slow Leadership? Why slow?”

“Well, what it means is...”

“Slow, for heaven’s sake. You might as well say dull.”

“Not really, you see...”

“Who wants to be slow? Why not brisk?”

“Because it wouldn’t mean the same thing...”

“But really...slow. Don’t you mean something else?”

With Fast Leadership, it’s not the speed that matters in itself: some activities need to be done quickly. What’s wrong with it is the single-minded pursuit of simplistic, homogenized and, above all, profitable approaches, regardless of their wholesomeness or suitability for civilized life. Fast Leadership is about making a quick buck, and to hell with the consequences. Slow Leadership isn’t slow for the sake of slowness. It’s slow because some beneficial and healthful ways of dealing with other people can’t be hurried.

When the movement for Slow Food began, it was in revolt against everything the words “fast food” stood for: pre-packaged, microwaved, manufactured, sugar packed, fat drenched, flavor-adjusted, “gobble it quick and get out” kind of food. What those behind the Slow Food movement want to avoid isn't speed itself; it's the reduction of food to an over-manufactured, tasteless, unhealthy, industrially packaged commodity, created purely for profit. That kind of food isn't wholesome, or nutritious, or conducive to good conversation and fellowship around a table. It just needs to be simple to heat (no cooks required), utterly consistent (the same in ten thousand outlets worldwide), and cheap (so avoid fresh ingredients or those that can’t be supplied in 50 gallon drums). And if some chemical manufacturer offers you a substitute that costs even less, take it, regardless of health hazards, carcinogenic qualities, or the knowledge you're adding to the millions of obese children risking early diabetes.

If you want to get to know your people properly; if you want fully to understand their capabilities and needs; if you think it’s important to pay close attention to what’s around you and pick up subtle indicators of market changes; above all, if you want to enjoy what you do and feel the world is, in some small way, a better place because of your efforts, you need to take your time.

Sure, you can breeze through being a leader, substituting formulaic actions for true expertise and understanding, but why would you want to do that? If you have no time to pay attention, beyond setting financial targets and hounding people to match or exceed them, can you call yourself a leader at all?

People follow a leader from respect, admiration, even love. All take time and care to develop. Of course, you can more easily make employees toil to meet crazy financial targets through fear and harassment, but doesn't that put you on much the same level as Saddam Hussein? Slave labor will always produce goods more quickly and cheaply than free employees, so long as you aren’t concerned about the welfare—or even the survival—of the slaves. Hitler’s Germany built massive constructions in record time by using slave labor, but that doesn’t make it right or desirable.

And there’s the crux: if output is all that matters, especially if it needs to be gained as cheaply as possible, there’s no mileage in treating people well. It costs money and interferes with getting the most out of them in the shortest time. We rightly abhor tyrants and criminals who exploit and enslave other people, purely for their own ends; but are their methods so different from corporations that cut costs by forcing people to work longer and longer hours for the same pay? Or those who outsource manufacturing to Far Eastern sweatshops they take great trouble never to admit to knowing about? Or those that renege on pension entitlements to boost short-term profits?

To be civilized means you value doing things in the right way, not simply the least costly way. It means setting ethical standards that transcend corporate profit. It means being public-spirited: a concept that's almost extinct in the corporate world. It means believing that society’s welfare is more valuable than individual gain. When Mrs. Thatcher, Britain’s formidable (and often deeply disliked) Prime Minister declared: “There’s no such thing as Society,” she was backing the idea that individualism counts for more than the general good.

It was, of course, nonsense, and she knew it, but it made a memorable sound-bite, which is important to a politician. If individualism is all there is, the strong have no reason to hold back from oppressing the weak, and we’d better all get used to taking orders from the ones with the largest guns and smallest scruples.

Slow Leadership is civilized leadership: leadership based on acting in ways that increase the benefit for all, not simply the profit for a very few; leadership you can feel proud of before the severest moral critic. That’s why it takes time. That’s why it’s slow. And since it also stands for leadership it’s a pleasure to be part of, why would you want to hurry it anyway?

A good musician plays fast music fast and slow tunes, slow. A bad one plays it all at the same speed—the only speed he or she can handle.

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Monday, December 05, 2020

Hurry Up And Wait

Do you need to save time and money? Do you want to cut costs and increase productivity? Would you like to know how to do this with no budget cuts, no lay-offs, no travel restrictions, no forced savings? Cut out waiting time.

Even in our frantic, rushed and frenetic organizations, people spend an inordinate amount of time simply waiting.

• Waiting for information from others.
• Waiting for the paperwork.
• Waiting for someone to make a decision.
• Waiting for permission.
• Waiting for agreement.
• Waiting for certainty.

Bosses wait for their people to “get it” and start doing what they want. Wouldn’t it be quicker and easier to begin a conversation and find the real cause of the problem? Team members wait for others to take the lead (why not you?). People wait to see what the boss will say or do (why not ask?) Those with urgent needs are told to wait until the new budget (why let your accounting package run the business?). Everyone waits to see what will happen next (why not make something happen now?).

When times are uncertain, or when petty tyrants take charge, waiting increases dramatically. If you’re not sure, or fear the results of getting it wrong, what do you do? You wait. And you make others wait. Maybe even customers, who may decide they won’t wait — and take their business elsewhere.

How much time is wasted around you by people waiting? How much could you save if you instituted these changes?

• People were allowed to make their own decisions.
• Unnecessary asking for permission was removed.
• Everyone was clear about what to do — and knew they would be trusted to do it.
• Paperwork was minimized and information made available to all.

Waiting time is nearly always wasted time. If waiting is inevitable, at least encourage people to use it productively by reading, thinking or just noodling around with a creative idea. And put yourself in the forefront of the “eradicate waiting” movement. If you hound people to do it yesterday, then keep them waiting on something you should have done, how do you think they’ll feel?

Right. Only with more expletives.

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Slow Leadership in Practice

Ricardo Semler inherited his Brazilian family's firm, Semco, over two decades ago. After an "epiphany," brought on by collapse from overwork, he decided to reshape Semco's management style. Semler had been working 7:30 a.m. to midnight days, flying the world to raise capital and find new companies to buy: all the things a tough, go-getting young executive was supposed to do. He worked the archetypical workaholic lifestyle that's typical of corporate executives throughout the world. When he collapsed, doctors told him he was headed for a heart attack. He was 21.

But unlike so many workaholics, who deny their addiction and try to stay with their dysfunctional lifestyle, Semler did something. He stopped, took note of reality, and started to read. He read all the management books he could get and then acted on what they taught him. He still needed to make a success of Semco, but he wanted to find a way to do it that wasn't going to kill him prematurely, or ruin the lives of his workers. What he found was the more freedom he gave his staff, the more adaptable, innovative, productive and loyal they became—and the better Semco performed.

His description of the culture at Semco is now summed up as “he who manages least, manages best.” Semco trusts its employees to set their own salaries and working times. Staff themselves purchase the IT they need, and go to meetings only if they think they need to. Everyone gets fully detailed company financial statements, so they can see how the business is performing. There's no "them" and "us." The company has no official structure, no organizational chart, no business plan and no corporate strategy.

Has it worked? Semco has been wildly successful, despite breaking nearly all the commonly accepted "laws" of business. The workforce is deeply loyal. Revenues have increased by more than 700%. But this isn't a fairy tale. Semco has had ups and downs, and Brazil's economy is much more volatile than those of the USA or European countries. But Semler has stuck with his approach. Why? Because it works. Contrast the hard-driven, workaholic styles of people like Bernie Ebbers and the top guys at Enron. Where would you rather work? More important, where would you rather invest your money? Who's more likely to stay out of jail?

You can read about Ricardo Semler's ideas and approach (I see it as a working model of Slow Leadership) in "Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace."

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Saturday, December 03, 2020

Benign Neglect

My father was a wonderful gardener. His garden was the envy of the neighbors, and the food he grew kept our family supplied with fruit and vegetables year-round. People used to ask him if he spent all his time in the garden. Of course, the answer was no. He had a job to do and plenty of other things to keep him occupied.

The secret of his success with plants was simple. He made sure the soil was in good condition, planted at the right time, kept the weeds in check and...left the plants to grow.

“Neglect ’em a bit,” he used to tell me. “Don’t be fussing around too much. Plants thrive on a bit of neglect.”

Good leaders and managers do the same as my father. They practice benign neglect. It’s the idiots that cause the problems, always fussing around their staff, probing and peering and generally interfering with them doing their jobs. They’re like children who plant a few seeds and want to dig them up the next day to see if they’re growing. You can forgive children, but adults should know better.

One of the best ways to help your people find success and develop themselves is to do what my father did. Make sure they have the right conditions — the authority, the resources, the training and clear direction; start them off at the right time — when they’re ready for the challenge; and then let them get on with it. It’s their job, not yours. If they’re busy, you don’t need to be. Neglect them a little. Do your own work.

A major part of that work should be keeping down the weeds. Keep others away from interfering with your people’s jobs. Cut down unnecessary demands. Pull up useless meetings and slice off pointless reports. Weeds like that can choke any hope of good results. Be ruthless. Clear a space for your team to thrive and grow.

What’s most often missing from people’s working lives is time and space to do their job and develop as they should — plus the sense that the boss will let them get on with it, unless they call for help. Benign neglect works. It shows you trust them. It shows you believe in their commitment and ability.

Plants thrive on a bit of neglect and so do people. Try it.

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Friday, December 02, 2020

And The Magic Ingredient Is...Time.

“Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come.”

(Christopher Marlowe: Doctor Faustus)

You’re standing on the beach of your dreams, watching a sunset that flares with every color you can call to mind, plus a few you can’t even name. You’re listening to a piece of music that sets your body and soul tingling with pleasure. You’re making love with an intensity of feeling you never imagined could exist.

“All right, time’s up. Move along there now. Next one, please.”


“Your time is up. We haven’t got all day. You should have done all you need to do by now.”


“No buts. If you can’t manage Nirvana-like ecstasy, plus a couple of world-shaking orgasms, in three point five minutes, that’s your problem. I’ve got a universe to run here.”

Far-fetched? Not really. That’s where our world is headed. If it can’t be done in five minutes or less, forget it. No time.

Slow Leadership isn’t slow for the sake of it. It’s slow because that’s what it takes. Strip away enough time and you’re left with a picture on a calendar, a ringtone on your cellphone and a quick fumble behind the filing cabinets. The stuff of great experiences? I don’t think so.

Wine has to mature to become great. Cheese needs time to bring out the flavor. Gabble through the greatest poem at the speed of a sports commentator and you’ll be left with disappointment. Why rush through life? It’s the only one you have. Do you want it to be over so soon? Doesn’t it take time to appreciate its joys and experiences?

Money isn’t a substitute for time. However much you make, without time you can’t spend it or appreciate what you spent it on. Nor is wealth a substitute for love. And making more money for the business is definitely no substitute for leadership.

How much of other people’s time are you worth? A few minutes? An hour? A day? How long should they take to appreciate the full flavor of who you are as a leader and a person? Would giving you less time mean they sold you short?

Fine, so that’s how much of their time you’re worth. Now, how much of your time should you give them?

Time is the magic ingredient. Take it away and what’s left is worthless. Rushed, frantic leadership is no leadership at all.

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Thursday, December 01, 2020

A Slow Leadership Christmas Booklist

There are several reasons for offering you a booklist at this holiday time. You’re probably looking for suitable gifts and any of these books might very well fit the bill, especially for any workaholic friends. You may be wondering whether you need to have some holiday reading set aside for yourself. And reading is a quintessential Slow Leader activity, combining the chance to step away from immediate tasks with the opportunity to learn and develop. Fast types don’t read much, if at all. It takes too long and requires too much concentration. That’s why they stay stuck with limited outlooks and narrow minds.

So here’s the list of books. They’re all worth reading. Clicking on any link will take you straight to the relevant page on

Let’s start with books directly relevant to Slow Leadership...

Carl Honoré’s “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed was responsible for starting me writing on the topic of Slow Leadership. It takes a very broad view of “slowness,” covering topics as diverse as working life, raising children and having sex. Sometimes the author stretches the concept of “slowness” almost to breaking point, but it’s always interesting and it contains some great ideas.

Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going, by Dr. David Kundtz is a book I wish I’d found years ago. I wouldn’t have found it now, but for a helpful recommendation from Patricia Ryan Madson (see below). It is truly a book that can change lives. With a holiday approaching, there could be no better time for “doing nothing, as much as possible, for a definite period of time, with the purpose of becoming more awake and remembering who you are.” And if you want practical exercises to help you retreat for a moment in the midst of a busy life, try his companion book: “Quiet Mind: One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World.

Western-style approaches to personal and behavioral problems are often focused on symptoms. The approach called “Constructive Living,” pioneered by Dr. David K. Reynolds, traces its origins to Japan and the quiet wisdom of the East. It’s aim is to find ways to outgrow your problems permanently, not patch them up by means of drugs or therapeutic interventions. Most of it is personal, but it can just as easily be applied to the organizational world. Above all, it’s based on solid, practical ideas and actions anyone can use. As an introduction, try “Constructive Living or “ A Handbook for Constructive Living.

The ideas in “Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, by Gregg Krech, also come from Japan. Naikan can enrich anyone’s appreciation of life and the world around them. This book won the award for “Best Spirituality Book of 2002” from Spirituality and Health Magazine.

Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, edited by John de Graaf, is the official handbook of the national “Take Back Your Time Day” movement. It has articles covering topics from detailed analyses of the reasons for overwork and its consequences to solutions for the workplace and beyond.

And for those who would like something completely different, and far more controversial, you might want to turn to Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize winner, renowned mathematician and one of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century. Russell was always a controversial figure, especially for his political views, but he could write with a fascinating mixture of accessibility, rigorous logic and total unconcern for the consequences. “ In Praise of Idleness is an essay Russell wrote in 1932, when Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s Fascism were starting to compete for the prize of world domination. With a combination of logic, historical analysis and devastating candor, Russell makes the case against the work ethic. His politics proved unsatisfactory, but his logic is still difficult to fault.

I can’t end without some “fun” books with slightly less direct relevance to Slow Leadership. But even these have useful points to make.

Let’s start with Lynne Truss’ new book: “ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. If you’ve read her earlier book “ Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” you know what a treat her books are. Politeness and listening to others are the first casualties of a rushed lifestyle, so Truss’ attack on discourtesy of all kinds is music to a Slow Leader’s ears.

I’ve recommended Patricia Ryan Madson’s book “ Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up before, but I can’t resist doing so again. Take a careful look at her sixth maxim (pay attention) and her eleventh (act now). Better still, read the book and act on it all. You won’t regret it.

My final recommendation is “Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal. Drawing on a lifetime’s research into the behaviors of mankind’s closest living relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo, de Waal offers fascinating insights into the reasons for human behavior. And when you consider the aggressive, power-based society of the chimpanzee, and the supportive, fun-loving and openly sexual society of the bonobo, you can perhaps understand why mankind has such a split personality.

That’s all. I hope you find some of these books useful.

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