Which of these six leadership hacks are you using?

One day I will get around to creating a Hype Cycle (à la Gartner) for management and leadership buzzwords. Somewhere in between blockchain and tiger team you will find leadership hacking.

I don't always use jargon, but when I do it is crisp and disruptiveLeadership Hacks are Cliché but Effective

No, I’m not talking about the guy that learned all the languages while blowing hard boiled eggs out of their shells (no hyperlinks: if you don’t get that reference already, I’m not going to torture you with finding out). Leadership hacks are those subtle yet amazing techniques that aren’t written down in Drucker, or HBR, or Military Doctrine. These are the six techniques that I’ve observed in the real world over my first couple decades of professional experience:

  1. The Compelling Event: to prompt action (or a decision) by a certain date. Also known as “pencils down.” Why it works? In a multi-tasking, oversubscribed world, this technique prevents the modern version of Parkinson’s Law from taking hold: that every task expands to fill the time allotted.
  2. The Three Legged Race: to get two team members to confront their differences and appreciate their complementary strengths. Long-term version also called “two in a box.” Why it works? Often we fall into the trap of confirmation bias when we can keep people, or issues, at arm’s length. By forcing close collaboration, this can be overcome.
  3. The Yes, And …: Remove the word no from your vocabulary. Just like in improv comedy, to succeed you need to encourage participation and contributions, and work on redirecting creative energy towards the goal. You might be pleasantly surprised by new thinking that arises. Why it works? Gives your team the chance to provide the solutions (and receive the praise) while you constantly reframe and reframe.
  4. The Pre-Project Press Release: Begin with the end in mind. At the start of a project (or software development cycle), write the press release that you want to cross the wire when the project ends. Why it works? Visualization is a time-honored technique in athletics, performing arts, and business. Resist the urge to run off quickly to take action without planning the critical steps by working backwards from the goal.
  5. The On-site Off-site: Take a team into a conference room full-time for a full day (or week) to reach the depth of focus required for a true breakthrough in thinking. Oh, and also actually finish a task that they start. Why it works? Our work days have been fractured into thinner and thinner slices of focus by technology and projects running concurrently.
  6. The Weekly Digest: Send your manager, your team, or your customers a digest of important and interesting highlights from your work week. Include graphics and short summaries linked to longer items or attachments for easy digestion. The best Weekly Digests are a mixture of what matters to the reader with the topics that the author wants them to keep front-of-mind, written in a style that is lighthearted and enjoyable to read. Why it works? We can’t rely on others to communicate the ideas that are most important to our own success. In the hundreds (thousands?) of emails that people receive weekly, it’s easy to miss something important. Sending a digest email at the same time each week makes it a predictable, and in the best cases eagerly anticipated, summary. Take the time to advocate on your own behalf. Or, in a more Orwellian sense, ensure that you are the one to document history on your own terms.

Which of these have you used successfully? What would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us all know!

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Podium Finish: Top Three Questions to Get Meaningful Feedback

Love it or hate it, getting feedback from our teams help us become better leaders and builds trust. Below are the top three questions I’ve come across to solicit meaningful feedback. Perhaps this goes without saying, but how you react to their comments will determine whether your team members take a risk to help you again in the future! Thank them sincerely, don’t be defensive or dispute their point of view. And most importantly, if you intend to change your behavior as a result, follow through!

  1. “What do you think I should know but might not want to hear?”
  2. “What do you wish I would stop doing?” – Vineet Nayar
  3. “If this were your exit interview, what would you say?”
“Feedback” is a surprisingly popular music title for bands I don’t like.

Feedback (Jurassic 5 album)

Feedback (Rush album)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9 Critical Questions to Clarify Strategy: from Start-Up to Maturity

Whether your business is just an idea to talk about with friends or a mature, publicly traded icon of industry, having a clear strategy is essential to survive in a competitive market. To adapt one of my favorite quotes from Ping Fu, it is more important to be clear than to be right.

Collis & Rukstad's Strategic Sweet Spot
Collis & Rukstad’s Strategic Sweet Spot

I’ve compiled the core ideas from my favorite HBR articles on strategy, listed at the bottom of this post (plus an idea that I think is from Jack Welch but I can’t attribute) into the 9 critical questions:

  1. WHY does the business make money? i.e., what gap in the market does it fill?
  2. HOW does the business make money? i.e., what are the transactions that generate cash flow and margin for the business?
  3. What is our specific objective?
  4. What is our scope?
  5. What is our competitive advantage? i.e., how are we better, cheaper, or different than the alternatives?
  6. What is our strategic sweet spot? (see diagram)
  7. What are the relevant products in the market and their geographic coverage?
  8. Who are the buyers, suppliers, competitors, substitutes, and potential entrants?
  9. What forces control profitability? (see diagram)

    Michael Porter's Five Forces
    Michael Porter’s Five Forces

If the answers to these questions aren’t clear for your current business–no matter how big or small–think about it and spark some conversation. The answers will help you focus and might surprise you.

If you have questions, feedback, or know where #1 & #2 come from, leave a comment!

References

Collis, D. and Rukstad, M. “Can you say what your strategy is?” Harvard Business Review, April 2008, Reprint R0804E.

 

Kaplan, R. and Norton, D. “Having trouble with your strategy? Then map it.” Harvard Business Review, September 2000, Reprint 000509.

Porter, M. “The Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy.” Harvard Business Review, January 2008, Reprint 0801E.