April 15, 2018


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


In this issue of the 8020Info Water Cooler we highlight the benefits of leading from behind, finding the true value you bring to clients, different workstyles of makers and managers, and some tips from a recent presentation on crisis communications. Enjoy!


1. A Leadership Paradox To Embrace

Bernie Mayer is a professor of conflict studies at Creighton University in Nebraska and a facilitator with the Queen’s University IRC. For most of his adult life, he has lived at the foot of the Rockies and led hiking, cycling and ski tours. Almost always he found the best position for him was at the rear.

“’Leading from behind’ is a natural approach in the outdoors. It is natural in organizations too,” he writes in a paper for Queen’s IRC, The Paradox of Leadership: Cooperating to Compete, Following to Lead.

“It may sound like a passive or ineffective way to approach the challenge of being an effective leader, but I found, both in the outdoors and in organizational leadership positions, that this is the most powerful way to guide a group,”

You can’t be an effective manager if you do not see clearly what is going on or lack the perspective that allows you to keep a group together and headed in the same direction.

Yes, you play a critical role in setting the strategy and goals, but you also need to empower others. And you can’t do this if you are always ahead of the pack, looking forward, with perhaps an occasional glance or report from behind.

You also must deal with conflict. Often our goal is to prevent, contain, or resolve conflict.

“Those all have their place, but the more important challenge is to create the space for conflict to occur in a constructive way, for people to raise difficult and contentious issues, and for leaders to be exposed to often uncomfortable disagreements. Otherwise, problems fester, important views are squelched, and effective communication is inhibited,” he says.

So embrace the paradox — lead from behind and create space for constructive conflict.


2. How To Make Your Boring Organization Cool

Most organizations aren’t seen as cool. So how do they attract young workers?

Bill Taylor, the cofounder of Fast Company, says the wrong way is to try to mimic the trappings of life in Silicon Valley. The right way is to give young people a taste of life in your organization, and a sense that joining will make their life more interesting and satisfying.

The insurance industry is nobody’s example of cool. But a program at Butler University allows students to run a small insurance company, insuring the school’s mascot, its collection of Steinway pianos, and the businesses of student-run organizations. They compete with commercial insurers and experience the intellectual rigors and human emotions of insurance. They find it can be cool.

“IBM is hardly a boring company, but for years it had trouble recruiting against internet upstarts. Who wants to work there as opposed to Apple or Google?” he writes in Harvard Business Review Blogs.

“So it created a wildly successful internship program… in which college-age programmers tackle high-stakes projects and work closely with IBM’s most senior technologists. Getting a taste of real life at IBM has persuaded lots of young people to open their minds about a career at this ‘conservative’ company.”

So how can you show you are challenging (and cool)?


3. What Real Value Do You Offer To Clients?

Ottawa-based sales consultant Colleen Francis says organizations often create value statements without digging into what value they actually bring the client. On her blog, she suggests these questions to challenge and improve your approach:

  • First, test it with: “Who cares?” Why should a prospect care about what you have to offer?
  • Then ask, “How?” What do clients really care about in the process of what you do?
  • Also, “Why us?” How are you different than the competition? What’s unique?
  • Next, ask again “Who cares?” This time use it to identify your market — which type of clients to zero in on.
  • Finally, “What’s my proof?” How can you prove to clients they will benefit from what you’re offering?

Those questions lead you to a value proposition you can apply in a variety of situations to better serve prospects and clients.


4. Abandon Bullet Points On Slides

Bullet points remain the unwritten rule for slides these days. But Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, doesn’t use them, and neither should you, argues presentations expert Carmine Gallo on Inc.

“Since stories are best told with pictures, bullet points and text-heavy slides are increasingly avoided at Google,” Pichai says. He uses lots of white space and few words.

Research suggests the average PowerPoint slide contains 40 words. From the beginning of a Pichai presentation that Gallo studied, it took about 12 slides to reach 40 words. When text did appear, it showed up as a few words to describe the photo or image.

If that approach can work for high-tech Google — which even developed its own presentations software — it can work for you.


5. Zingers

  • Hitting Reset:  Entrepreneur Mitch Grasso says it’s easy to fall in love with the first draft of a project so he repeatedly asks, “What if I started over?” It forces him to re-think all of his assumptions and consider all of the choices made up to that point. (Source: ThriveGlobal)
  • Don’t Rush Assessments: Consultant Kevin Eikenberry says a 360-degree assessment of someone should be done no more frequently than every two or three years. (Source: blog.kevineikenberry. com)
  • Late No More:  Entrepreneur Brent Beshore says that to be happier, healthier, and wealthier, you should adopt a “Late No More” philosophy: Five minutes early is on time; on time is late; late is unacceptable. (Source: Forbes.com)
  • Reciprocal Commitments:  If you have a “user” co-worker who turns on the charm to get things from you, consultant Shaun Belding suggests that you insist every time on a quid pro quo:  Have him firmly commit, in advance, to giving or doing something in return. (Source: WinningAtWork)
  • Don’t Write Off Overqualified Don’t turn down overqualified applicants for a job. If the degree of overqualification is modest, research shows they tend to craft their jobs actively in ways that benefit the organization, notably in creativity. The research says the underemployed have a special ability to do — they have underused capabilities and more time to engage in extra activities at work because they can complete their assigned tasks more quickly than those who are not underemployed. (Source: Academy of Management)


6. Q&A With 8020Info:
    Making vs. Managing

Question:  By the end of the day, I never seem to accomplish anything — or anything I set out to accomplish. What can I do?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

This might well be the universal complaint in organizations today. A typical solution is to come in early or stay late. Common thinking is that people and meetings are not as likely to disrupt you during those hours.

That’s a sad commentary reflecting a view that, in bringing people together, we get in each other’s way and stop each other from accomplishing anything.

Of course, that’s a cynical exaggeration. We accomplish a lot working together. Collaboration is essential in a complex world. Buy-in from colleagues is crucial for accomplishing goals. But it’s a yin-yang tangle, good and bad, and often hinders us from what we feel is important.

One idea these days is to distinguish knowledge workers as either makers or managers. The makers are the ones who accomplish great things — the creators and implementers. The managers smooth the way, and personally don’t accomplish much themselves; they succeed by helping others to get things done.

The problem is that offices are organized around managers’ needs, as a reflection of their authority. So first, determine whether you are a maker or a manager:

  • If a manager, live with it. You are accomplishing a lot, but through others.
  • If a maker, figure out ways to get off the daily hamster wheel.

Talk to your boss about this concept and your needs. Can you respond later to emails, including her missives? Can there be no meetings in the afternoon? Can you work at home on Fridays (or Wednesdays and Fridays)?

If you already work at home, how can you protect your “deep work,” to use computer scientist and productivity guru Cal Newport’s term? (Reading his book of that name and blog would be a good start.)

In some cases, like a player-coach in sports, we are both manager and maker. I remember meeting John Meyer, managing editor of the Montreal Gazette in the 1970s and its lead business columnist. He would close his door and write his column in the morning, then emerge at noon to put the paper out. Yes, that was coming in early and working long days — but with a plan and a recognition of his different maker-manager roles.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
Communicating in a Crisis

We recently had the pleasure of joining the Association of Fundraising Professionals to share some tips on managing your organization and reputation through a crisis.

You may not face a crisis now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for one.

To start your crisis communications planning, identify all types of significant risks you may face — not just operational breakdowns or financial losses. Consider potential impacts on your brand/reputation or partnerships, legal threats, or crises that could emerge via IT/security or human resources (e.g. #MeToo).

Building on your contingency plans for management’s response and actions you will take during a crisis, consider how you will need to communicate. Some tips:

  • Prepare the ground in advance — build relationships and establish credibility before any crisis hits.
  • Use a single spokesperson, get on social media, and work with the media. Communicate early, often and regularly.
  • Be sure you know the basic facts:  what, who, when, how, and (maybe) why.
  • Know which audiences are the priority.
  • Anticipate all the bad news and get it all out early, and at once. Get out ahead of the story.
  • Take responsibility and stay credible:  Be honest, open and authentic.
  • It’s okay to display emotions:  Be quick to demonstrate empathy in both words and action.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Nothing beats having a crisis plan in place — and practising it — before a crisis strikes.

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8020Info helps senior teams develop, clarify and build consensus behind their strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson