Highlights for Nine Lies About Work

And from that point on she micromanaged me, and I realized that she was fear-based, both in how she thought of her bosses and in terms of how she ran her team.
The good news in all this for you, the team leader, is that what people care most about at work is within your control.
The big thing is that only on a team can we express our individuality at work and put it to highest use.
performance: 1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company. 2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me. 3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values. 4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work. 5. My teammates have my back. 6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work. 7. I have great confidence in my company’s future. 8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.
The amounts of time and energy it takes to make a plan this thorough and detailed are the very things that doom it to obsolescence. The thing we call planning doesn’t tell you where to go; it just helps you understand where you are. Or rather, were. Recently. We aren’t planning for the future, we’re planning for the near-term past.
Their underlying assumption is that people are wise, and that if you can present them with accurate, real-time, reliable data about the real world in front of them, they’ll invariably make smart decisions.
Planning systems take the interpretation of the data away from those on the front lines, and hand it off to a select few, who analyze it and decipher its patterns, and then construct and communicate the plan. Intelligence systems do precisely the opposite—because the “intelligence” in an intelligence system lies not in the select few, but instead in the emergent interpretive powers of all front-line team members.
Each check-in, then, is a chance to offer a tip, or an idea that can help the team member overcome a real-world obstacle, or a suggestion for how to refine a particular skill.
And their shared insight, across the span of sixty years, is that it is far more powerful for a leader to free the most information and the most decision-making power than it is for that leader to craft the perfect plan.
Self-evaluation of goals isn’t really about evaluating your work, in other words: it’s a careful exercise in self-promotion and political positioning, in figuring out how much to reveal honestly and how much to couch carefully.
The company has asked you to evaluate yourself against a list of abstract goals that were irrelevant a couple of weeks after you wrote them down.
These leaders strive instead to bring to life for their people the meaning and purpose of their work, the missions and contributions and methods that truly matter. These leaders know that in a team infused with such meaning, each person will be smart enough and driven enough to set goals voluntarily that manifest that meaning.
A strength, on the other hand, is an “activity that makes you feel strong.”
The simplest answer is that, though we are deeply aware that each of us is unique, and that no amount of training or badgering will remove that uniqueness, it is still quite overwhelming for a busy team leader to allow himself to come face-to-face with the fact that each of his team members thinks differently, is motivated by different things, responds to relationship cues differently, and gets a kick out of different sorts of praise.
that leaders can’t be in the control business and must be in the intelligence, meaning, and empowerment business—the outcomes business.
As the author and speaker Simon Sinek said recently in his spot as guest editor for Virgin’s workplace blog, “So here’s a way you can fulfill your potential in the workplace: negative feedback . . . Negative feedback is where it’s at . . . After every project or anything that I do, I always ask somebody, ‘What sucks? What can I do better? Where is there room for improvement?’ I’m now to the point where I crave it. That’s what you want. You want to get to the point where you crave negative feedback.”
The truth, then, is that people need attention—and when you give it to us in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, we will come and stay and play and work.
People don’t need feedback. They need attention, and moreover, attention to what they do the best. And they become more engaged and therefore more productive when we give it to them.
For a team member, nothing is more believable, and thus more powerful, than your sharing what you saw from her and how it made you feel. Or what it made you think. Or what it caused you to realize. Or how and where you will now rely on her. These are your reactions, and when you share them with specificity and with detail, you aren’t judging her or rating her or fixing her. You are simply reflecting to her the unique “dent” she just made in the world, as seen through one person’s eyes—yours. And precisely because it isn’t a judgment or a rating, but is instead a simple reaction, it is authoritative and beyond question.
If you see somebody doing something that really works, stopping them and replaying it to them isn’t only a high-priority interrupt, it is arguably your highest-priority interrupt. Get into this habit and you’ll be far more likely to lead a high-performing team.
We tend to think that subjectivity in data is a bug, and that the feature we’re after is objectivity. Actually, however, when it comes to measurement, the pursuit of objectivity is the bug, and reliable subjectivity the feature.
Only certain people have “potential”; everyone has momentum. One team member’s might be more powerful than another’s, or speedier than another’s, or pointed in a different direction, but everyone has some. The question isn’t whether you inherently possess a lot of it or not. Instead, when it comes to momentum, the question is how much of it you have at this very moment, right now.
namely, that the speed and trajectory of her momentum at this very moment are a) knowable, b) changeable, and c) within her control.
And if we then institutionalize this thinking through our people-management processes and systems in the name of bringing predictability and control to our organization, we find that we have sacrificed common sense and humanity at the altar of corporate uniformity, and we shouldn’t be very surprised if our people chafe at the result.
Obviously, triage can be necessary in life, but it surely is not enough—it keeps things at bay, but it takes us away from ourselves. And in the end, balance is an unachievable goal anyway, because it asks us to aim for momentary stasis in a world that is ever changing. Supposing we ever get things just exactly in balance, we know for sure that something will come along and unbalance them and that we’ll be back to pushing our balance rock up the hill again.
You—and your organization—get them only if you create them, and you create them only through love.
Organizations are not powerless, but their power (and their name) comes from their ability to organize what is already there in plain view. Your organization, if it is careless, can crush your spirit, can diminish or ignore your daimon. But only you can animate it. Only you can bring love into your world at work.
This person didn’t find this work—she didn’t happen upon it, fully-formed and waiting for her. Instead, she made it. She took a generic job, with a generic job description, and then, within that job, she took her loves seriously, and gradually, little by little and a lot over time, she turned the best of her job into most of her job. Not the entirety of it, maybe, but certainly an awful lot of it, until it became a manifestation of who she is. She tweaked and tweaked the role until, in all the most important ways, it came to resemble her—it became an expression of her.
The same is true for you, of course. You have a unique relationship with the world, a relationship that reveals to you things that only you can see. It offers thread-weaving opportunities all the time, but the only person who knows if those threads are red is you. The world won’t do your weaving for you—it doesn’t care about your red threads. The only person who can stop and be attentive enough to identify these threads, and weave them intelligently into the fabric of your work, is you.
Ballet, as you know, is an unremittingly technical and demanding craft, but if you build technical craft on a loveless foundation, you net only burnout, because technical mastery absent love always equals burnout. Burnout isn’t the absence of balance but the absence of love.
If the people coming to work on your team could feel more like this, if you could help them take their red threads this seriously—not to make your people feel good about themselves, although that helps, but so they could share more with the world—what a beautiful and lasting contribution you and your team would make.
And yet these characteristics are curiously circumscribed: authenticity is important, right up until the point when the leader, authentically, says that he has no idea what to do, which then fractures his vision. Likewise, vulnerability is important until the moment when the leader’s comfort with her own flaws causes us to doubt her, and to question whether she is sufficiently inspirational. Apparently, we require authentic sureness and reassuring vulnerability, however contradictory those things may be.
If leading were easy, there would be more good leaders. If there were more good leaders, we might be just a little less focused on it.
The only determinant of whether anyone is leading is whether anyone else is following.
More specifically, we follow leaders who connect us to a mission we believe in, who clarify what’s expected of us, who surround us with people who define excellence the same way we do, who value us for our strengths, who show us that our teammates will always be there for us, who diligently replay our winning plays, who challenge us to keep getting better, and who give us confidence in the future.
Your ability to create the outcomes you want in your followers is tied directly to how seriously and intelligently you cultivate your own idiosyncrasy, and to what end. The deeper and more extreme your idiosyncrasy becomes, the more passionately your followers follow—and while this is frustrating to us when we happen to disagree with the ends of a particular leader, it is so nonetheless.
As a leader, you can’t be dismissive of this fear. You can’t tell your people to “embrace change” and to “get comfortable with ambiguity.”
We follow people who are really good at something that matters to us. We follow the spikes.
The truth that no two leaders do the same job in the same way. The truth that as much as we follow the spikes, they can also antagonize us. The truth that no leader is perfect—and that the best of them have learned how to work around their imperfections. The truth that leaders are frustrating—they don’t have all the abilities we’d like them to have. The truth that following is in part an act of forgiveness—it is to give our attention and efforts to someone despite what we can see of their flaws. The truth that not everyone should be, or wants to be, a leader—the world needs followers, and great followers at that. The truth that a person who might be a great leader for me might not be a great leader for you. The truth that a person who might be a great leader for one team, or team of teams, or company, might not be a great leader for another. The truth that leaders are not necessarily a force for good in the world—they are simply people with followers. They aren’t saints, and sometimes their having followers leads to hubris and arrogance, or worse. The truth that leaders are not good or bad—they are just people who have figured out how to be their most defined selves in the world, and who do so in such a way that they inspire genuine confidence in their followers. This isn’t necessarily good or bad. It just is. The truth that leading isn’t a set of characteristics but a series of experiences seen through the eyes of the followers. The truth that, despite all this, we reserve a special place in our world for those who make our experience of it better and more hopeful. And the truth that, through it all, we follow your spikes.
When we feel a fresh rush of energy after talking with someone, we need to stop and ask why. When we feel, in response to another human being, that mysterious attraction tugging on us—like a fish on a line, or like a needle twitching in a compass, an attraction that says Here, something is happening, something true and visceral and substantial, something that will change, however slightly, the arc of our future—we need to stop and ask why.
Rather, there was a clarion vision—“let freedom ring”—and then an unswerving commitment to intervene whenever and wherever progress toward that vision could be made, and to do so regardless of the personal or physical risks that any such action entailed. His approach was contingent, opportunistic, and incremental. It focused on imagined change, not on predictable execution.
Leading and following are not abstractions. They are human interactions; human relationships. And their currency is the currency of all human relationships—the currency of emotional bonds, of trust, and of love. If you, as a leader, forget these things, and yet master everything that theory world tells you matters, you will find yourself alone. But if you understand who you are, at your core, and hone that understanding into a few special abilities, each of which refracts and magnifies your intent, your essence, and your humanity, then, in the real world, we will see you. And we will follow.

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