Archive for September, 2010

4 Skills CEOs Have That You Might Lack

From Business Insider

1. Superior issue discernment and listening capability.

In law school, students spend a lot of time on “issue spotting”. The skill set they are learning is to determine what comprises the critical issue of a conflict. In business, your ability to listen carefully will drive your ability to spot the real issue in any given situation. Identification of the right “issues” and leadership of their resolution will consistently put you ahead of the pack.

For senior management, identifying critical underlying issues and framing them well for others is a requisite skill. You need to cut through the spin, personal agendas and noise. To do this, you need to hear people out and listen carefully. Ask the right questions, because you need to understand what is important to them, what motivates them and what is driving them .

People will try and spin you or convince you of a specific point of view. Beyond recognizing that truth, you need to understand why they want to spin you and what is in it for them if they succeed in getting you to view the issue from their perspective. Senior management determines the underlying issue as well as the motivation of the person discussing the issue. You should always ask yourself where they are “really” coming from. Try to see through what they’re saying from a personal point of view to the broader organizational issues.

Colleagues will complain about co-workers and customers when they are really talking about the roles the people are playing. Flaws in process and communication are usually surfaced as complaints about individuals fulfilling their described duties. Don’t fall for “Sam is a knucklehead” as the complete issue (which while likely true, it isn’t the issue at hand). The issue at hand may actually be Sam’s position is in procedural or organizational conflict with the complainer’s position.

2. The capability to lead change without creating enemies

You will get noticed quickly if you are a source of change and progress. But it may not be the notice you necessarily want if the buzz is negative. Causing others to comfortably leave the status quo isn’t an easy aspect of leadership but is a very powerful one. Organizations lionize their positive change leaders. In fact, organizations tend to promote their positive change leaders ahead of all others. The change leaders who create enemies along the way will usually reap what they sow and will be done in by their adversaries.

In order to affect change, yet not create rumpled feathers along the way requires careful management. To accomplish this, you must consistently communicate to others how they can be part of making things function better. You must show them how to make things function better for the whole organization as well as function better for themselves. Yes, this involves some convincing and may even require compromise. And remember people will not be courageous.

If you’re leading the change, don’t expect people to jump on the bandwagon until it is clear that the bandwagon is rolling. They will jump on when it looks like you may have a winner. That’s ok. Just get them ready to join you once some momentum is clearly evident. Don’t expect colleagues to think of the changes required, or even help you lead it, but they can help you refine it. And they can help swing public support for the change you’re leading at a critical moment.

When it bubbles up to top management, the first questions will be “What is the change and who is bought in?” followed quickly by “Who is leading this?”

3. The judgment to choose your battles wisely and the courage to fight them

The ideal battle is one without opposition. If you dedicate time and effort to fight breast cancer or child pornography, you can do so knowing that there will be no named, organized or coherent opposition. No one will come out in favor of cancer or deviant behavior. That lack of opposition is a key component of a wisely chosen battle. For example, choose to lead a “quality improvement” initiative, over a cost cutting witch hunt. Avoid direct confrontation with organized opposition at all costs.

One might argue that the lack of opposition makes it less of a “battle”. Well, the effort against inertia will usually make it feel enough like a battle in most organizations. And in many organizations the opposition will often not identify itself explicitly. Either way, it pays to declare victory early and often to discourage opposition.

The best battles are ones against items that broadly cause headaches to multiple departments. Think of the customer renewal process that involves five groups that could be done entirely on line. Or the outsized customer inquiries into shipment date that could be fixed with more communication. Seek issues that annoy multiple departments. Recruit the affected departments to join the fight.

4. The ability to produce extraordinary results from ordinary people

So you’re assigned to manage a group of relatively ordinary performers and tasked with formidable challenges? Welcome to the world. There are a lot of ordinary performers. Getting them to produce extraordinary results will get you noticed while it propels you up the corporate ladder. So, do you crack the proverbial whip? You could…but that will likely only produce marginal improvement. It will probably produce simply more from ordinary people rather than extraordinary results.

It is fairly possible to get ordinary people to exceed their historical performance and perform impressively, while not easy to do on the face of it. The key isn’t getting folks to work harder, though this is helpful, the key is getting them to work smarter. For example, if you can get a group to go from making average decisions to superior ones you get a step change in overall performance. If you combine better decisions with incremental effort, you will see extraordinary results. To get colleagues to work smarter, you must create a culture within your group that instructs and enlightens individuals to consistently make better decisions. The essence of superior results is cumulative effort of better decisions and improved execution.

Peter Schultz, the CEO of Porsche, who turned around the company in the early 80’s wrote a book about this very subject. He felt that extraordinary people are by definition rare. And to get ordinary folks to produce extraordinary results one had to establish a leadership culture caused buy in to the bigger mission and better decisions. He also famous for saying that one should “plan democratically and implement like a dictator”.


A Sunday to catch up with China

This is probably the first Sunday for a long time that I spent the whole day inside, watching episode after episode of a Chinese talk show – A Meeting With Lu Yu (鲁豫有约), in which the show hostess interviews people from all lines of work. Many are public figures – movie stars, successful business people. There are also a fair amount of ordinary people. By listening to their stories, I suddenly felt how wide my 10-year knowledge gap is. Here are a few stories.

Two college graduates quit their office job and started a business – making and selling tofu.

A farmer adopted a abandoned baby who he picked up on the train. The boy was born to a Chinese mother and a foreign father, and was deaf. Over 17 years, the farmer and his family sacrificed almost everything – their own comfortable life, he and his wives’ health, and worst of all his three daughters’ education – to bring up this baby.

A young woman in her 20s opened a primary school to teach and take care of the “left-home kids”. In this nation-wide economic evolution, many parents left their youngsters back at home while they went to bigger cities looking for higher-paid jobs. From 30 students at the beginning, she now has over 300. Her mom cooks for the kids. Her grandma grows vegetables for the school. She was deeply in debt and once thought about closing down. In the morning she sent all the kids home. After lunch she came back to the school, all the students were sitting in the classroom waiting for their teachers.

An interview with Li Ao, a Taiwanese writer and thinker.

An editor turned into a collector, who opened and managed the first profitable private museum in China.

After listening their stories and many others, I thought:
a) The best usage of money is not judged by how happy it makes you feel, it is judged by how much people benefit from the spend of it.
b) The only way to success is to do what you feel passionate about. And no matter what that passion is, you will succeed in it and enjoy every minute doing it.

The world is full of wonderful stories and amazing people like these. Why should our main media be obsessed with a few stars, and especially their peculiar and sometimes bad behaviors?

the power of grassroot media

there are a few videos I found on Chinese video sharing site – tudou (potato)

a story of a 10-year kid in a remote village, abandoned by his parents, walked five hours every day to and from school, took care of his 70-year-old grandpa, and could eat two meals a day. His story was first discovered by a volunteer network.

demonstration of Japanese teamwork!

AppNation – Day 1

Gavin Newsom (SF Mayor) – developers making apps based on the government data are doing government work without government money, thus helping to solve the budget deficit. SF has an initiative of making more such data available online. He also solicited the development of a campaign app for the run of Lieutenant Governor.

a short visit to de young

“Founded in 1895 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the city and a cherished destination for millions of residents and visitors to the region for over 100 years.

On October 15, 2005, the de Young Museum re-opened in a state-of-the-art new facility that integrates art, architecture and the natural landscape in one multi-faceted destination that will inspire audiences from around the world. Designed by the renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco, the new de Young provided San Francisco with a landmark art museum to showcase the museum’s priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and art of the native Americas, Africa, and the Pacific.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

the blank space is – an art

In Chinese paintings, blankness is called the “breathing space”, left for imagination. Chinese values what is not said more than what is clearly stated. Thousands years ago, in a competition painters were asked to paint the scene in a poem. The poem described the spring time when flowers were flourishing. The road was covered with fragrant petals. A horse galloped by. Petals were stirred up and left floating in the air. Many painters painted the scene word by word. The winner painted a horse racing by, with its horseshoes surrounded by butterflies.

One modern art painting I’ve seen is just a white canvas. That’s the extreme case of blankness.

In music, a sudden pause unleashes the power.

In movies, what is not in picture forces the viewers to complete the story. The viewers’ curiosity is heightened and attention drawn. The movie 菊次郎の夏 made many of such pauses. It gave the movie a sense of real life’s pace, not rushed by the limit of the two hour cinema time. This movie is about how a nine-year old Japanese boy spent his summer with a almost stranger man. The boy lost his father when he was a baby. His mother moved far away. He lived with the grandma who had to work everyday. When the summer vocation came, all the normal activities such as after school soccer practice stopped. His friends went on vocation with their families. The boy suddenly felt the lack of his own. One day, after receiving a parcel from his mom, he packed up his summer homework, family photo, took his mom’s address off the parcel, and went off to see his mom – just to be stopped down the street by a group of teenagers trying to knock the little money off him. A neighborhood couple intervened. The wife sympathized and asked her clueless gangster-ish husband to take the kid to see his mom. Their journey started with the man spending a couple of days and all the travel money on betting bicycle race. (Doesn’t Japan have horses, greyhounds, rabbits?) His lack of responsibilities put himself and the kid in various unfavorable situations. When they finally reached the destination, they realized the mom was remarried and had a complete new family. At this time, the movie was only 2/3 done. It could go many different directions including your typical American ending ;-). However, it continued with the life pace without a hint of rush. The man and the boy ended up camping out with three guys they met on the road. An inspired poet who was traveling the country in a van. Two motor bikers who wear serious black but have heart as soft as mochi. The summer ended when everyone departed. At the end of scene, the boy and the man said goodbye on the bridge the first met. The boy asked, “Uncle, what’s your name?” After got his answer, he ran toward home and disappeared from the view. End. I almost did not want it to end here. I would like to know what would happen when they met again. The director must have resisted the tempt to add any more touch to his canvas.

In the documentary “Objectified”. It was said the best design is to take elements off the design, until every feature left is absolutely necessary. Editing the movie can be the similar process.

I wonder, what is the blank space in our lives? On Monday when we are asked by our colleagues how our weekend was. We were almost embarrassed to say it was just normal two days. Nothing exciting happened. Internet filled all the large chunks of our “inactive” time. And smart phone patched up the remaining small gaps. While these devices become more powerful, and the content distributed through them is forever growing, is it even possible to taking their influences off our minds, so we can have some blank space to develop the thought of our own?