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What I learnt about leadership (this week) “Just fire someone and give us some damn spoons.”

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I attended a fabulous leadership workshop this week, arranged by YLD and Professor Frank Flynn from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. The session uncovered lots of great tips on how to achieve four key #business and/ or #leadership team improvements; making effective decisions on a regular basis, harnessing the collective wisdom of your team through better meetings, fostering collaboration within your organisation and motivating your teams and people.

These are all useful tips for leaders from all kinds of backgrounds, from corporate to public sector, startups to established businesses. Here are some of the top takeaways I’ve collated from the day.

Firstly, thanks to Frank Flynn for his marvelous insights, and to Greta Strolyte and YLD for having me along.

YLD kindly gave some of our 10 Digital Ladies members a discount to this brilliant and thought-provoking event (arranged by my lovely co-founder Lucia Adams). 10 Digital Ladies is the Women In Digital network that I run alongside my main entrepreneurial leadership development and mentoring startup, Kandu.

Good decision-making in leadership teams relies on good data – “Even a genius fails when that genius is relying on bad data or a bad frame in which to view it all,” explained Frank after taking us through a great workshop illustrating exactly that. Particularly, the session made clear that too often we sample on the dependent variable only e.g. business success books only ever research successful business leaders, they never ask ‘unsuccessful’ leaders what they do to actually see whether it’s the ‘how’ or the ‘what’ they do that’s actually relevant.

Bias can cloud and affect decision making, and there are many, many different types of bias – Confirmation bias, default bias, overconfidence, loss aversion and risk aversion, all of which are fully Google-able for more detail. For me personally, default bias was of particular interest. For example, once a person has made a decision, it can be psychologically hard for them to retreat from it, even if new data comes to light that suggests that decision is now out of date.

There are some great hacks you can use to improve decision-making – The first is to drill into that data. Frank said that, “People that are strong decision-makers have a propensity to ask probing questions about data to check its utility,” they automatically engage with critical thinking. Also, use checklists – Frank referenced a McKinsey report that shows that if organisations work at reducing the effects of bias in their decision-making process they can achieve 7% higher returns.

Harnessing collective wisdom is very valuable – it can surface better decisions through the collection of diverse views. But groups will naturally work toward convergence and not surfacing divergence of opinion; “When groups get together, they talk about the stuff everybody knows – not the stuff that just one person knows,” said Frank. In fact, the latter may not even be surfaced if a person doesn’t offer that information up at the right time. As a result, the benefits of collective wisdom can be limited without due regard.

A useful hack to get around this is to agree that one person will be responsible for collating all the relevant information needed for a collective decision ahead of a meeting and for sharing the composite with everyone. “When using this approach, groups are more accurate, more efficient and generally like each other more at the end of the process (of making a decision),” described Frank. This does mean the person leading/ collating information should be open-minded to really include everything that is relevant (bearing in mind that everyone thinks they are open-minded… ).

As a leader, you should instigate collaboration between your people to kick off more innovation or activate opportunities. “It’s not your job to facilitate or maintain collaboration, but you do need to get the ball rolling,” said Frank. He encouraged leaders to get their people to ask for help/ offer help or facilitate introductions to valuable secondary connections. “Technology can help with linking people together, as can well-designed physical spaces”, he added.

“Any intervention to encourage the instigation of collaboration needs to be designed to success” warned Frank. Networking events or mixers may not work, for example, as often people leave without having spoken to anyone new.

You need to motivate your people through extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – and one is not a replacement for another. Your best chance of motivating your people is to ensure you’re mainly using intrinsic #motivation, e.g. giving them #autonomy, mastery (allowing them to learn and get better), relatedness (fostering a feeling of connection between colleagues) and finally #purpose. There was a lot more discussion about all of these, but far too much for one blog!

Rewards and incentives can help with motivation – Receiving an unexpected reward can particularly activate dopamine production (unlike expected ones), said Frank. But by offering perks you can open up the risk of loss aversion if times change; people are more likely to remember what you took away rather than what you gave. An example was given of a major firm who took away free plastic cutlery from staff. A choice piece of staff feedback was, “Just fire someone and give us some damn spoons.”
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Do not guess what motivates others, just ask. You may be surprised, but it can help to better understand how to get the best from them. However, many leaders feel uncomfortable asking what their people want to achieve or do, feeling like perhaps they shouldn’t have to ask, they should just know it – despite not being mind-readers!

A few sign-off notes from me: I will discuss this with my co-founders but I reflected that with 10 Digital Ladies we have seen collaboration happen because we run small, intimate events, where we actively encourage our members to share learnings and any possible challenges in a safe environment. By giving this strong steer about the purpose of our events and our overall mission, we effectively encourage our members to ask for help or at least solidarity which sparks conversations, new relationships and ideas.

Nina LovelaceWhat I learnt about leadership (this week) “Just fire someone and give us some damn spoons.”