I once saw a pinned tweet that essentially said the following:
“I love my job. I love to work. I’d work 100 hours a week if I could. But I also want to take lunch with a friend at a moment’s notice. And if a family member is sick, I want to take an entire month off and never check my email.”
While this example is relatively extreme, I think it nicely summarizes a paradox of working in the 21st century. Our willingness to work extremely hard is tied to how much flexibility we have.
For many, it’s more likely that we work somewhat hard and we have some degree of flexibility. Organizations aren’t just going to give employees extreme flexibility. That’s too expensive.
But if employees, in mass, staring demanding it - and offering extreme levels of commitment in return - it might just happen.
Ethics are important in the workplace. So important that you should error on the side of caution.
Just because you don’t have evidence that someone did something immoral, doesn’t mean you should ignore your gut when something doesn’t feel right.
Does it seem like they are leaving out details?
Does it seem like they are withholding their sources?
Does it seem like they are reluctant to share information?
These are important signals. Trust your instincts. Call them out or walk away. If you don’t, you'll be sorry down the down.
You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right? 80% of the value is created by 20% of your employees.
What if I told you that research suggests that it’s more like 5%, not 20%? Yes, 5 out of 100 people are clearly your “star performers,” producing far more value than the remaining 95%.
What are the implications for human capital strategy?
We should be spending more time finding our stars and cultivating those relationships. What would ensure that they stay at your organization, continuing to add value for years to come?
We should also stop encouraging stars to take on positions that aren’t a fit for them. The classic example is promoting the top sales performer into a sales manager position. Salespeople sell. Managing might not be their thing.
We consider all sorts of psychographics when managing human capital - personality, values, strengths, and the like. If we ignore what are arguably the more important factors - employee needs, drives, and preferences - we’re missing the boat.
"Can You Take The Lead On This?”
If you are my boss and you ask respectfully, then yes, I’m happy to do the work that you are assigning me.
But if you are my peer, this question is problematic.
What this typically means is “I don’t want to do the work on this, so it’d be awesome If you’d do the work instead.”
A better framing would be to ask, “what part of this project would you like to lead?”
The assumption that one of you will lead and the other will follow is also flawed. That’s not how teams succeed.
The best teams are those that repeatedly grant and claim team leadership roles as the situation dictates.
I know that sometimes it might feel “leader-like” to ask someone to take the lead on something. It’s not. That’s something a manager says.
I’ve worked on several projects in my career where the other party dropped the ball. It drives me nuts.
Typically it’s because they either changed their mind and re-prioritized or they took on more than they could manage.
Maybe it is what it is. Sometimes things just don’t come together.
However, you do have some degree of control and can limit the likelihood that it will happen in your relationships.
To prevent ball dropping, spend more time upfront talking about expectations. Make it clear that you don’t want to start the project unless X, Y, or Z is the final outcome. Then put it in writing - an informal email summarizing the initiative will suffice.
Still didn’t prevent the other party from going missing in action? Never, ever, work with them again.
There are too many people out there doing great things to get stuck on one relationship. If you don’t have that luxury, perhaps because they have been assigned to your team, do your best to not co-own responsibilities.
Ball dropping might be an unavoidable part of work. But it doesn’t mean you can’t proactively manage the probabilities that it will happen to you.
When it comes to leadership, we are inundated with contradicting suggestions on "what" to do.
We should have executive presence, but we should also be a humble leader. We should be proactive, but we should also have a clear goal in mind before taking action.
So which is it?
The more accurate (and more helpful) answer is that it depends on the situation. This is the "when."
Don't oversimplify. Add context. Challenge yourself to think through the when, not just the what.
We just can’t help comparing ourselves to others.
It’s not your fault - it’s innate.
From an evolutionary psychology perspective, comparing one’s self to others ensures that we are doing the right things (and not doing the wrong things) in order to survive.
The problem is that in a world where we’re all doing relatively fine, this tendency is problematic.
We take a hit to our self-esteem when we compare to people that are "better" than us.
To ensure that social comparisons are helpful instead of hurtful, we have to take the thought process a step further.
What sacrifices have they made? Is that really what I want? What knowledge, skills, or abilities do they have that I don’t? Is it realistic to acquire those talents?
Social comparisons can either be depressing or facilitate growth. The choice is yours.
Every so often I find myself stuck in a conversation with someone that I wish would end.
Sometimes I’m in productivity overdrive where every minute counts, and I just don’t have time for small talk with acquaintances. Other times it’s someone I know well and care about, but I’m in the middle of something.
This is especially problematic for those of us in “deep thinking” jobs. Losing your train of thought can mean a major loss of momentum.
I’ve tried body language. They don’t notice. I’ve also tried to be polite by going with the flow, keeping it short, and steering the conversation towards a close. It doesn’t work.
I think the solution is two-fold:
(1) Respond with purpose. Make it clear that you genuinely don’t have time or need to finish something. The context should dictate how much you explain.
(2) Respond Immediately. The chances of stopping a conversation after one back-and-forth are slim to none.
Although it might feel cold while in the moment, it’s actually more disrespectful to pretend you are interested or only be partially engaged.
Be prepared for your next encounter. The chatterbox always tends to appear when you are in the middle of something.
We know a great deal about leadership, the process of leading others towards collective goals.
Comparatively speaking, we know relatively little about self-leadership, the process of leading ourselves towards self-set goals.
Self-leadership is about increasing our self-awareness, which in turn, leads to self-regulation (see Bryant & Kazan, 2012). It’s in these moments of self-regulation where we get closer to being our ideal self.
Self-leadership is complex. It has to be specific to the individual because each of us has unique characteristics, goals, and circumstances.
Self-leadership is also challenging. It’s about what goes on inside our heads. This means that sometimes our assumptions and biases can get in the way.
That’s why I’ve started this blog called The Self-Leadership Experiment.
The goal is to create a community where participants can self-reflect, contextualize, and debate the merits of different strategies.
This approach recognizes that leadership is not a person, it’s a process. It takes ongoing experimentation—trial and error—to reach our goals. There are no quick fixes—it takes honest, intelligent effort over a sustained period of time.
My hope is that these posts spark ongoing conversations so that we can learn from one another. Through this dialogue, we can start to contextualize our ideas and challenge our assumptions, and in turn, make real progress on becoming a better leader.
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