HBS Level 5 Leadership

My response to the HBS article Level 5 Leadership, the Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve:

I’m not really sure where to start with my response.  Collins is definitely a good writer and the article was very easy to read.  As much as I believe in what he’s saying it’s hard to swallow at times.  Circuit City is closing its stores and he had Alan Wortzel, the former CEO, labeled as a level 5 leader.  This is the same type of leader that he’s labeled as the type of person that selects great successors so that companies continue to succeed even after they’ve departed.  Knowing that, it makes some of his claims hard to agree with. 

I do believe in humility though, but not in a shy non-aggressive way.  As he describes, it’s humility that packs a behind closed doors punch, the same humility that is backed by fierce resolve as he calls it.  It’s that these individuals are so engaged by progress there’s just no time for boasting.  They wouldn’t boast anyways because I believe these are the type of individuals that learned through high school that socially they aren’t anything outstanding.  It’s another reason why these level 5 people pour so much effort into progress and resolve.  That’s the situation where they feel most comfortable and where they get the most positive feedback.

I loved what Darwin Smith, the CEO of Kimberly-Clark, said “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”.  These level 5 leaders know what to do, but have a small part of themselves that don’t believe their own hype.  They doubt their own accomplishments just enough to keep themselves humble.  Mentally though, these type of people are extremely confident and are very quick to find answers.  They are passionately engrossed in finding solutions. 

Collins doesn’t believe that these 11 leaders that he’s talking about actually should credit luck as a benefactor.  Although, that’s the difference, to these leaders they recognize that part of it is luck and had nothing to do with them.  They just took what they had and worked with it.  It wasn’t about anything else besides doing the best with what you had.  These people always are working on something.  There’s no such thing as ‘down time’ for their minds. 

I believe that they’re drive is about reaching mastery in what they’re doing.  They don’t see it as this though.  That’s what so great about these leaders.  For them just about doing better and knowing that you can always do better.  As Daniel Pink describes, they’re continually approaching mastery believing that they will never get there, but they’re personalities tell them to keep working.  They just naturally work.  It’s where they find comfort.  Great article, great points, but unfortunately not all of the examples actually support his explanations.

The Dean’s Disease

My response to The Dean’s Disease: How the Darker Side of Power Manifests Itself in the Office of the Dean:

The influence of power has strong psychological changes in a person’s behavior.  Of course it does.  Most every strong influential environment will affect a person’s behavior in some way or another.  Situations shape personalities, in fact being a college student shapes a person’s behavior.  Being a construction crew apprentice shapes a person’s personality.  I’m not saying that it changes a person’s personality but it influences it in some detail.  When you’re the one in control people tend to except your opinion as more influential, because it is.  There is some level of respect that comes with being in a leadership role as well, most of the time anyways, as long as you’re a better leader than you are an ‘asshole’.  It is also true that there are people that have learned over time to just ‘obey’ people in power.  It’s been taught to them and they don’t challenge it.  Not all people challenge authority, in fact I would think most people don’t.  This somewhat, automatically gives a leader that deserved or maybe undeserved power.  It’s just situational.  Also, not all people in power have a reason to be followed.  As ‘a taste for power’ states, once you have that power, you don’t want to give it up.  This causes you to change your beliefs in order not to negatively affect your position of power.  In order to avoid this ‘deans disease’ there are some points to take.

I love the quote in the article that says “you can judge the quality of a dean by the quality of the people he has surrounded himself with”.  Replace the word ‘dean’ with ‘person’ and you can apply this quote to any situation.  I believe in order to really get a feel for people, listen don’t talk.  Ask question and listen.  Spend time out with people and get feedback, then you can start to form your opinion about somebody.  So when you trying to fill a leadership position really get to know your candidates and the people they surround themselves with.  When you have a person in that leadership role already, and they begin to get the deans disease, surround them with people that help fix the disease.  The people you surround someone with can be extremely influential and positive.

HBS Gary Loveman and Harrah’s

My response to the HBS article ‘Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.: Rewarding Our People’:

First, I like the attention that Loveman was giving towards employees in the first case.  Employees are assets and happy employees do make happy customers.  Loveman understood this and in addition Satre was smart enough to go after a person like Winn that was from within and had and liked operations experience.  That’s important when trying to connect upper leadership to employees.  Plus, now you have two people in Winn and Loveman that will focus on the right things.  They were separating financial performance from customer satisfaction something that I believe is the recipe for success.  I like the 45 day feedback process too.  It gives human resources a chance to connect with the employees and gain information into the job function.  It also opens up the opportunity for new ideas during the feedback process.  On the other hand and maybe even more importantly, it gives the newly hired employee a feeling of importance and gives the employee a chance to communicate and contribute.  I don’t like the incentive/bonus program though.  How do you continue to build on past performance?  Like the article states, what happens when all the low hanging fruit is gone?  How do you handle frustration when performance reaches an asymptote?  Furthermore, standardized testing is not something I’m a big fan of.  What’s wrong with gut feeling?  Why couldn’t Winn continue to strive for the goals she wanted without the tests?  I don’t believe the tests were necessary and I would have gone about it differently.  The rest of the process was great just don’t rely on a standardized test for hiring new employees.  Another interesting fact was that Satre felt that senior management represented management rather than leadership.  This is never good because of the disconnect it creates between employees and senior management.  You can’t underestimate leadership and it was important for Loveman to find the right people and get them into the correct jobs.

Diamonds in the Data Mine

My response to a HBR article on ‘Diamonds in the Data Mine’:

Attract loyal customers then reward them, then challenge them to earn more rewards by increasing their loyalty.  Seems simple.  The idea is to make the customer feel like a high roller.  Make your customers feel like they own the joint.  This method is no surprise for me because I live in Nevada and these casinos like Harrah’s are referred to as ‘local’s casinos’. 

24hr Fitness is a great gym to have a membership too because no matter where you are in the country there’s a chance there’s a gym nearby and your membership works at every one of them. 

Harrah’s has the same approach.  Give customers who are traveling, a comfort zone; a place they’re familiar with.  Give them a place where they can use their loyalty awards even though they’re across the country. 

Casinos have a lot to offer consumers and Harrah’s has developed a niche slightly different than its competition to help set them apart.  It’s a great idea to capitalize on the locals who simple enjoy gambling and the experience. 

It is interesting though that Harrah’s uses bonuses to reward its employees.  People like Daniel H. Pink, author of ‘Drive’, would say to remove the bonuses, pay your employees fairly and set other rewards for them.  Such as, rewards that make the employees feel like they are making a difference, intrinsic rewards that drive self motivated performance.  Maybe now that Harrah’s has a grasp on the customers and their wants it’s time to focus on the employee’s.  If customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal it’s likely that very happy and motivated employees will even further boost the customer’s happiness.

HBR: Evidence-Based Management

My response to HBR’s article on Evidence-Based Management:

I agree with the article’s view on evidence based management and especially in the counter argument against forced ranking.  It does make sense to pay your higher performing individuals more, at first glance.  As the article states, the larger the gap between senior leaderships pay and the rest of the employees the more likely the chance that the product quality will be poor.  I’ve seen this at my own company.  You end up with resentment and a disengaged team of employees.  Creativity breaks down and the system runs like a motor that hasn’t had its oil changed in thirty thousand miles.  Moral maturity takes a couple right hand jabs that force frustration and lead directly to inefficiencies in time management.

Many managers use intuition to make decisions but that intuition should be supported by evidence based facts.  I would counter that it can’t be the only deciding factor in the decision making process but it should play a vital role and that judgment falls on the managers. 

Evidence based techniques could potentially play an important role in the decision making practice.  Implementing the system will be difficult though as long as the manager is not engaged and invested in the plan.  Training anyone, including yourself, to avoid some of the six or so different pitfalls the article mentioned is difficult.  When you’re comfortable with a certain method or limited by past experience or not aware of other possibilities moving to the articles methods will come with some obstacles and as I see it, will depend heavily on leaderships commitment.

Good to Great, or Just Good?

My response to Good to Great, or Just Good?:

The article states that there are two fatal errors in GTG and that they are data mining and mistake association for causation. Data mining is the process of collecting patterns, formulating explanations and treating the underlying causes. The problem with data mining is that it relies on the specific time period and circumstance as per the article states. The article continues on to state that Collins identified an association between great firms and five characteristics and then deemed them those five characteristics to be the driving force behind the greatness, ignoring the firm’s position in time and other factors. He did not show ‘how’ the characteristics made the firms great. The article seeks to prove Collins’ invalid by measuring the performance of the 11 companies for the 10 years after the study and also by comparing stock return performances to the S&P 500 during different periods in time. Of course, this article is assuming the leadership and the commonalities have stayed the same though out these periods in time. When measuring results of a firm from 1964 through 2005 there will be an incredible amount of disparity from leadership changes and process accountability. I had a hard time buying into Niendorf and Beck’s opinions, especially when they’re comparing the five characteristics with the results of a company. As the article points, these 11 companies are ranked average at best when compared to the S&P 500, but these companies during the study period rose to be a top 500 company. They got there for reasons such as the five characteristics that Collins points out. Once that time period is over, many things change including leadership and systems, so accountability afterwards wouldn’t make any sense. I would think that common sense tells us, after reading the five characteristics, that yes they are commonalities that you would find in excelling companies. Is that not what Collins is saying? Not to mention that the book was voted in as one of the best business model books of all time.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

My response to CBC News Online’s report on pre-Iraq war intelligence:

I had never heard the term groupthink before today.  After reading and comparing the symptoms and guidelines for preventing groupthink, as described by Irving Janis, I’m astonished by how many decisions are results of groupthink.  The article points out the CIA’s intelligence-gathering efforts when seeking information before the steps that lead to the Iraqi invasion back in 2003.  The US select senate committee proposes that stereotyping of the enemy, rationalization and shared mental models lead to the ‘quick’ decisions.  Maybe more devil’s advocates inside the senior officials group would have helped prevent what the article describes as a failure of Intelligence Community managers. 

I’ve taken these concepts and models and applied them to some my own decisions and group actions and can completely see the mechanics of Janis’ explanations.  Some of the more dominant symptoms that I’ve seen are illusions of invulnerability and peer pressure.  To avoid criticism and to build loyalty and group empowerment are very powerful symptoms.  It’s easy to see why groupthink can finds in way into the decision making process.  I believe that the idea of one or more devil’s advocate and really having a leader that holds their ideas until they’ve heard the group’s opinions are the best ways to avoid this phenomenon.  A great leader listens before they commit to a decision.