Pick of the Week: IBD 10 Secrets to Success

I don't normally pay much attention to lists that claim to hold the secrets of success. They tend to make one of two basic errors:

The first error is that they tend to be faddish and heavy on wishful thinking--focused on the bright business idea of the moment or pushing the ideas of a particular leadership guru who is hyping his or her latest book.

The second error is that they are often just the personal credo of some successful person. This means that they are prone to the correlation/causation fallacy. Just because a successful person has a particular list of traits does not mean that those traits led to his or her success or that they will work for the rest of us.

The Investor's Business Daily newspaper, on the other hand, has a list of ten "secrets" that I think are worth attention (the list can be found here). What I like about this list is that they are not secrets at all, and they don't offer simple, magical solutions. They are common sense guidelines that if you follow, and if you work hard, and if you are just a little bit lucky, will increase your chances of accomplishing your goals.

IBD also publishes articles each day based on one of these secrets, and they're available free online (click here).

Pick of the Week: The Basics of Science

I've been busily preparing for the International Enneagram Association board meeting and conference next week and unable to post as much as I'd like, but I did want to get out this pick of the week before leaving for Fort Lauderdale....

My inclination in both my education and the early part of my career was more toward the humanities than anything else, so I am grossly undereducated when it comes to the sciences. Later in life, however, I came to appreciate how important the sciences are for all of us as we try to make sense of our world--whether it is trying to make better business decisions, better decisions regarding the health and well-being of our families, or better decisions about who we should vote for.

I'm often surprised at how easily people fall victim to the misinterpretations or distortions of science, whether it be the distortion of Darwin's "survival of the fittest" (a term actually coined by Spencer) by the Wall-Street types or a distortion of the observer effect in quantum physics by the New-Age crowd. As with any other tools, the sciences can be misused and abused to further our preexisting biases or agendas.

To overcome these tendencies, it is helpful to spend some time with a good primer or two on the basics of science. Understanding what Darwin really meant or what the observer effect really is, for example, can help us past our biases and illusions about the world and how it works. My two favorite such primers are: "The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science" by Natalie Angier and "Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy" by Robert Hazen and James Trefil. While Angier is a more engaging writer, her style can seem a little too cute at points and she lacks the simplicity and crispness of Hazen and Trefil's book. Either one is a very worthwhile read.

Note: Whenever I write about science, I get emails or comments stating the obvious "well, science doesn't address values..." or "you're just a scientistic reductionist" arguments in defense of less than rigorous ideas. I am not saying science addresses values, nor am I advocating logical positivism, nor am I undervaluing the importance of subjective experience. I am not saying that reading, say, Richard Feynman has any anymore inherent value than reading Virgil or the Upanishads. I am saying that an accurate understanding of science helps us see the world more clearly and can help free us from illusion.

Pick of the Week: The US Army Leadership Field Manual

I just started a book on General George C. Marshall and it made me think of this book and how important it is. I'm always a bit reluctant to recommend it, especially to my non-US friends and clients. I hate the idea of being seen as someone who in anyway glorifies war. My father grew up as a refugee in war-torn Germany and if one lesson stuck in my head from hearing his stories, it is that war is always bad, even when it is the least bad option. However, the US Army Leadership Field Manual may be the single best book on leadership I've ever read.

I am always much more interested in hearing what people with "skin in the game" have to say about almost any topic, and you can't get anymore genuinely invested in results than leaders in combat. The Field Manual has many things going for it:
  • It is battle-tested--literally. Over the years, ideas that don't work got weaned out because they could lead to people dying.
  • It is written in clear, simple, and direct language. There is no hint of a consultant or professor trying to impress you with the sophistication or originality of his or her ideas, and it is not filled with the self-glorifying tales of ex-CEOs. It is written in simple, declarative sentences that leave no room for ambiguity. Its authors' goals are to clearly and unambiguously share important knowledge.
  • It acknowledges that different skills are needed at different levels of any hierarchy and different stages of one's career. It clearly articulates those stages, making it easy to find what qualities are necessary given your leadership circumstances.
My shelves are filled with hundreds of books on leadership; this is the one I keep returning to. If you are a leader or work with leaders, add it to your shelf too.

The US Army Leadership Manual is, I believe, a public-domain publication. The version I have was edited and produced by McGraw Hill in 2004.

Pick of the Week: "On Writing Well" and Polish Poets

I have two recommendations this week.

First, I recommend anyone who hasn't read it to pick up a copy of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well." When I work with leaders, we almost always end up talking about their ability to communicate. Leaders need to communicate clearly so people understand what is expected of them and how to deliver on those expectations. Nothing is more dispiriting to an organization than having people waste time going the wrong direction because the leader was not clear. In fact, clear communication affects every part of our lives and all of our relationships. Effective communication is direct, concise-but-sufficient (it says enough without droning on), coherent, and consistent. Zinsser's book teaches writers (anyone who writes) how to do this better than any book I've ever read (I'll take it over Strunk and White any day.) Good writing requires good thinking--coherence, logic, accuracy, etc.--so writing well will make you a better thinker. Writing also carries over into good speaking because it forces one to become disciplined in crafting and delivering a message. One's sentences follow in a logical order that keeps the listener engaged rather than inviting them to tune out. Good communication skills are the secret weapon of effective leaders in all areas of life. Arm yourself well; read this book and learn its lessons.

My second pick is more broad: "Polish poets." Perhaps it's mid-life re-appreciation of my Polish heritage, but I've been immersed in modern Polish poets lately. I've always tried to stay away from sentimentality and exuberance in poetry, and there is no fear of stumbling across them with these writers. Rather, these poets tend to exemplify the Poles' ability to wistfully endure hardship and oppression, to stare life in the face without blinking or backing down, and to be dignified without taking themselves or anyone else too seriously.

Milosz would be a little too obvious I think, so his volumes sit largely as-yet-unexplored on the shelves. It started by chance with Zbigniew Herbert (I was captivated by the photo on the cover of his "Collected Works"), and quickly spread to Adam Zagajewski and Janusz Szuber. Reading Tadeusz Rozewicz, my newest discovery, is like receiving a light slap in the face by a slightly stern uncle urging you to wake up and see--really see--the world around you. (His picture reminds me of my grandfather, a quietly urgent man who took a bullet trying to stop Hitler.) But most of all, I've fallen in love with Nobel-laureate Wislawa Szymborska, the kindly, gentle, and ferociously intelligent aunt to Rozewicz's intimidating uncle. If you like poetry, or simply appreciate good writing that captures the essence of people with hard-won soul, give them a try.

Look Outside Before You Look Inside

"One of the basic assumptions of the field [of social psychology] is that it's not the objective environment that influences people, but their constructs of the world. You have to get inside people's heads and see the world the way they do. You have to look at the kinds of narratives and stories people tell themselves as to why they're doing what they're doing. What can get people into trouble sometimes in their personal lives, or for more societal problems, is that these stories go wrong. People end up with narratives that are dysfunctional in some way." Timothy Wilson (http://edge.org/conversation/social_psychological_narrative)

I'm a big fan of Wilson and his book "Strangers to Ourselves." Wilson makes a compelling case that there is a downside to too much self-reflection because it is literally impossible for us to see all of the workings of our own mind. We think we know ourselves but we don't, and the best way to learn about ourselves is not necessarily to go inside but to go outside and get feedback from objective parties. Going inside to explore our narratives often just makes our existing narratives stronger and more difficult to change.

One of the beauties of the Enneagram is that it provides an objective listing of our tendencies. Whenever I am accused of "Eight-ish" behaviors, my first reaction is to rationalize and justify my behavior. In time, however, I often see how I behaved in one of the habitual Eight-ish patterns that I wrote about in my own book. It is this combination of feedback and objective perspective that get me past the land mines of looking inside for the explanations of my behavior.

At the same time, the Enneagram can point us to the central theme of many of the narratives that Wilson talks about in the quote above. At the heart of our stories is, often, our preferred strategy, and learning to rewrite the definition of our preferred strategy can help us to change our story and, ultimately, our behaviors. For me, the preferred strategy is "striving to be powerful," and I get into trouble most often because my narratives are rooted in an immature or outdated of what it means to be powerful; I may, for example, be acting on the assumption that being powerful means being forceful rather than being kind. I can't change the behavior if any new behaviors run counter to my non-conscious narratives.

So the pattern for creating change is to go outside first and then go inside:

  • Seek feedback on what needs to change (and to be open to ongoing feedback) either from others or from tools such as the Enneagram;
  • Decide what changes need to be made;
  • Reflect on your existing narratives and how they make you resist the changes you need to make;
  • Explore how your definition of your preferred strategy holds that narrative in place;
  • Redefine your existing strategy so you can change your narrative;
  • Practice the new behaviors until they become the norm.

(For more on rewriting the story, see the book "Awareness to Action" or these videos on youtube.

Pick of the Week: Good People Doing Bad Things, and Vice Versa

I'll admit it--I love TV. Not reality TV, or any show that involves a judge of any kind, and don't get me started on the inanity of most newscasts. But we live in an area of exceptional scripted drama if you know where to look. Three shows in particular, I believe, rise to the level of great art and great art tells us as much about the human condition as the insights of the best psychologists and philosophers.

The first show is "The Wire," a sprawling look at the cops, criminals, and politicians populating Baltimore's underbelly that aired for five seasons on HBO and is available on DVD or through HBO's HBOGo service. The dialog is pitch perfect and subtle wit pervades the writing. What makes "The Wire" so special, however, is its "there but for the grace of God" quality; watching it you realize how much environment, circumstance, and family and friends shape the person we become and the choices we make. The show avoids drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold cliches while still making people that we should find despicable compelling, interesting, sympathetic. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to call "The Wire" a masterpiece of storytelling, Tolstoy-esque in scope, about flawed (and thus real) humans trying to make the best of the cards they were dealt.

If "The Wire" evokes Tolstoy, then "The Sons of Anarchy" evokes Shakespeare. I did not have high hopes for this show about the trials and tribulations of a
northern California motorcycle club, and of course comparing anything to Shakespeare goes too far, but the show has a cast of characters as compelling as any I've ever seen. Matriarch Gemma evokes Lady Macbeth in her deviousness and ability to manipulate and her drive to be a source of strength to the men around her who she sees as sometimes too weak to save themselves and "the family." Gemma's son and club vice-president, Jax Teller, evokes Hamlet, searching for guidance on how to be a man and future king from a murdered father. Club president Clay Morrow, Gemma's husband, evokes Lear as he wrestles with the trials of being an aging ruler with an no obvious successor to carry out his vision for his kingdom. The beauty of "SoA" is that it makes us care deeply for people who under any normal circumstances we might fear and loathe; criminals and outlaws who can display profound humanity moments before they commit inhuman acts.

I have no literary analogy for "Breaking Bad," but it is an arresting drama about what happens to an everyman faced with circumstances that are extraordinary, but still circumstances we can easily see ourselves facing some day. High school chemistry teacher Walter White finds out that he has cancer and decides to manufacture methamphetamine as a way to get enough money for his family to live on after he is gone. Walt is a brilliant person who carries the weight of his own and his wife's diminished expectations, but he comes alive once that he has a mission and a way to apply his knowledge and training in a practical (if illegal and anti-social) activity. The care and craftsmanship that he applies to producing meth almost makes you forget that he is engaging in the production of something that may benefit his family but will bring calamity on those who use it. More so than the other two shows, "Breaking Bad" asks what happens when a fundamentally decent person does something bad for ostensibly good reasons, and how far will he go once he has crossed the lines of where he thought his boundaries were?

All three shows demonstrate the importance of place--inner-city
Baltimore, rural California, the Arizona suburbs--as a contributor to who we are, and they show that being human means making choices in difficult circumstances and then having to live with the consequences of those choices and an altered sense of who we are.

Great art teaches us about our world, and about ourselves; you can learn a lot from watching these shows.

So You Want to be a Coach...

Many of the people who contact me for advice on how to use the Enneagram in their coaching practice are therapists or psychologists who have little understanding of the workings of business. They assume that the tools and tactics that work in one environment--the therapeutic engagement--will simply transfer to another. This, unfortunately, is not the case.

There's nothing more disheartening than to see people leap into consulting or coaching ill-equipped--it leads to failure and does damage along the way--so I'd like to offer a few thoughts and resources that might be useful to people making the transition into the coaching/consulting world.

A caveat is needed: my focus is on corporate executive coaching and consulting, not "life coaching." They are different fields and, since I am not a "life" coach I have no idea what it takes to succeed in that arena.

The coach should be focused on one thing: helping the client meet the client's goals. You are not there to heal the client, to make the client a better person, or to help the client identify the "right" goals as you see them. You should not be trying to change their metaphysical, political, or social points of view. If you do not like the client's goals, you should not take them as a client.

Succeeding as a coach depends on understanding and empathizing with the client. I have been asked what I do when I have to work with someone I don't personally like. The truth is, I have never had this happen--I've always been able to find something I like about my clients. I believe this is because I am innately curious about people, I find people very interesting, and I'm relatively non-judgmental about how people live their lives but challenging of people's ways of thinking. I think these are good qualities for a coach to have.

It helps to understand how people's minds work. Obviously, psychological training helps here, but it is not necessary. Remember: a coach is not doing therapy and they shouldn't try. I find that the Enneagram is a great tool for coaches because it helps to identify the obstacles to growth and can be useful for charting a path to improvement.

The most critical thing that someone going into corporate coaching or consulting must have is an appreciation for the mindset of business people and a basic knowledge of how business works. This might seem self-evident, but I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who think that they can become coaches or consultants without having any experience in the corporate world or, even worse, a disdain for it. I've seen this disdain from some who come from a humanities-type background; they think the business world is crass, dirty, or in some way craven, but they also want to make money off it. Your clients will see through this hypocrisy.

It is also important to have a basic understanding of the business environment your client faces. For example, if you work with small, entrepreneurial companies you should understand small, entrepreneurial companies, the kind of people that work in them, the specific business challenges those companies face (liquidity almost always being the most pressing). You should understand how these companies are different from large, multinational corporations.

I work primarily with large multinationals, so I'll focus on them. As coach going into that arena you should have a very basic understanding of finance and know: what margins are and why they are important; the difference between revenue and profits; why cost of capital is important; etc. You should know the difference between marketing and sales departments and why they often have tension; why there is often tension between engineering and marketing departments; the distinction between supply chain and procurement and how they are related. You should have a fairly thorough understanding of human resource and organizational development principles. You should have an appreciation for and facility in navigating highly complex organizational politics. You should also understand that you will be working with very intelligent, aggressive people who will see right through you if you pretend to have expertise you do not.

Many of these things can be learned from reading, and I'll list some resources at the end of this post. Many of them can only be learned through experience, however, and much of that experience can only be gained by diving in and doing the work. If you do not have a corporate background but want to become an executive coach, I encourage you to start small and start humble. Get some experience however you can, and see each engagement as a learning experience as much as a teaching experience. Remember that while your clients know far more about their environment than you ever will, you are an expert at doing what you do. In the same way that you might be smarter and more successful than the plumber who comes to fix your sink, they have expertise you don't and you count on them to be better than you at what they do.


There are a million business, leadership, and coaching books and training programs on the market. Most of them are almost worthless. You can always tell the ones that were written by people who haven't actually done the work but think they have a great theory. They remind me of a book on swimming by someone who has never gotten their hair wet. One should be critical and skeptical in this arena. Here are a few resources I have found to be valuable.
  • I always recommend Ram Charan's "What the CEO Wants You To Know" to people going into the coaching/consulting world. It is a short little primer on the fundamentals of business and bears reading and rereading. Most of Charan's books are worth reading.
  • One should be steeped in Peter Drucker. The dean of management thinkers is as fresh today as he was 50 years ago. "The Essential Drucker" is a good start; "The Effective Executive" is indispensable.
  • There are many specialties and approaches that executive coaches can take, and one must identify one's own expertise and style. Someone who has influenced mine is Marshall Goldsmith, and I recommend his "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." (I still remember walking into a bookstore and seeing it for the first time--the perfection of the title literally stopped me in my tracks and I groaned, "Why didn't I think of that?"
  • Read the newspaper and business journals. I read the "Financial Times" and "Wall Street Journal" every day and the "Investor's Business Daily" on occasion. All three have excellent websites. I also highly recommend "The Economist," though it is so content-rich that I find its weekly schedule very difficult to keep up with. For those who do international work, I recommend "Monocle" magazine as well.
  • Whether you do international work or not, chances are that your client's face the challenges of an international workforce. I recommend "Cultures and Organizations" by Hofstede and Hofstede and "Riding the Waves of Culture" by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner.
  • Spend a little time each day watching the Bloomberg network; I find some of the other business channels a bit grating, but Bloomberg feels like it's for grown ups.
  • Beyond the International Enneagram Association, I don't belong to any organizations, though I probably should. When I started consulting I joined the Chamber of Commerce and groups like SHRM and ASTD, but found little value in them as they tended to be made up of a lot of people looking for work. It is important to have some sort of social connection if you are self-employed, however, so I recommend finding something to belong to.

Pick of the Week

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool."--physicist Richard Feynman

It may be a bit premature to recommend this book yet since I just started reading it, but I'm loving Michael Shermer's "The Believing Brain." Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, has spent decades studying and writing about how we form beliefs, how we hold onto those beliefs whether they are accurate or not, and how those beliefs can lead us astray. He considers this book to be his magnum opus, the culmination of all the work he has done to date.

Shermer starts with a discussion of two innate human tendencies that he has coined "patternicity," the bias toward seeing patterns whether they exist or not, and "agenticity," the tendency to assign the intention of an active agent to phenomena whether it exists or not. He then explores a number of other biases of the brain, such as an anchoring bias, a confirmation bias, and an authority bias and shows how they can cause us to misperceive the world.

Wisdom traditions from time immemorial have told us that we tend to be deluded in our perception of the world, but that there are practices available to help us see through those illusions. Shermer does a nice job at providing modern (and more-rigorous) explanations for the obstacles to our ability to see clearly and provides excellent tools for breaking through those obstacles.

For a taste of "The Believing Brain," go to: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-believing-brain.

One Size Fits All?

"Like it or not, we're dominated by American management processes. It's a reality, but it's not necessarily good."

The comment came over dinner with four senior managers from four different countries last night, one from the US, one from Asia, and two from Europe.

There was some resignation in the speaker's voice, but also a frustration at the lack of cultural awareness that can be seen in multinational organizations.

It seems that the Financial Times (or at least one columnist writing in its pages) would agree. This quote appeared in Monday's edition: "Many models of western business schools do not suit other cultures. Go a few hundred kilometres from the main urban centres in Europe and you enter a different reality." ("One Leadership Model Cannot Fit All Cultures").

Both the rueful executive at my dinner table and the Financial Times writer are correct--one size does not fit all when it comes to leadership. Good leaders seek to understand the circumstances and then adapt their style to those circumstances in order to reach the goal. It is a big mistake to stick to any model when circumstances call for something different. Models can end up being handcuffs, so good leaders learn many approaches--they have a full toolkit that they can reach into and find just the right solution.

Interestingly enough, a model that does seem to be universal is the Enneagram. My four companions and I had spent the previous few hours talking about their personality styles; the two Europeans were both Threes, the Asian and the person from the US were both Nines. They were different of course, everyone is unique while also sharing characteristics with others of their same Ennea-type. There were also noticeable cultural differences among the four. However, both the Nines were hampered from being more effective in their roles by their tendency to overdo their striving to be peaceful; both Threes were hindered by their striving to be outstanding. Those tendencies manifested in slightly different ways, but the patterns were clear.

It was a fascinating conversation to hear of the complexity of working with peers from other cultures and dealing with bosses and subordinates in an even wider range of cultures, struggling with an organization attempting to force a homogenous leadership style onto them. Coming up with a single solution to such a high-level of complexity is a fool's errand. But it was great to see how the Enneagram could serve as an anchor, something that truly was universal that could be used as a compass to help each leader pick out the right path.

What's It All About?

I was at a graduation celebration the other night and mentioned to a friend that I had started a blog.
"What's on it--the usual BS that people put on blogs?" he asked.
"Well, actually, I like to think that it's a bit more substantive than that," I said.
"Yeah, well, everyone thinks their blog is more substantive than that," he replied. "But they're usually just BS."

The exchange made me start thinking about the scope of this blog, something I've been wrestling with. Some people have encouraged me to blog about my work with the Enneagram; others have encouraged me to focus on my work with leaders in a broader sense. The truth is, I want to write about both; and sometimes other things that just happen to be on my mind.

In 2005, as a bit of a thought experiment, I started mapping leadership attributes to the Enneagram diagram. I'm always leery of leadership models--leadership is an extremely complex topic and I always smirk at any list of leadership qualities or attributes that claim to be complete or ultimate; to be necessary and sufficient. One simply cannot create such a list because each situation requires a different set of leadership skills; what works in one environment often fails miserably in another.

That said, there is value in heuristics--mental models or "rules of thumb" that serve as useful guides when applied properly. I used the components of the Enneagram to create three leadership heuristics: one related to self-management, one to relationships, and one related to the way a leader should think. (Click here for an article that describes the model.)

As I began thinking about this blog, it occurred to me that the topics I would be writing about here could also map to this set of models, particularly the model for leadership thinking.

As we see from the diagram above, one can track three attributes of the way a leader should think, and these attributes map to points 1, 7, and 4 of the Enneagram.

At the top of the diagram, corresponding to Point 1, we find rigor. Rigor has some interesting definitions, including "harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment," but here we refer to "strict precision." Clear, precise, and critical thinking is absolutely fundamental to the way a leader should face the world. Because they have to make decisions that affect the lives of many people, leaders do not have the luxury of fantastical or wishful thinking; they must face facts, choose a path based on those facts, and live with the consequences. Leaders without good critical-thinking skills are rarely successful.

However, an over-emphasis on rigor can have a deadening effect (hence the term rigor mortis), and leaders must leaven rigor with the attributes found at Point 7 (curiosity) and Point 4 (creativity).

Curiosity, in this case, refers to a wide-ranging interest in the world. Good leaders are curious people; they want to know about the world beyond the scope of their work, and enjoy learning for its own sake. Curiosity can often seem like a diversion, and often leads to dead-ends, but it is also the source of most new discoveries.

Creativity refers to the desire to bring something into existence. It is the force that drives a leader; the desire to build, to make something happen. It is the impulse that says, OK, enough talk, let's do it. It is the need to be able to sit back after the fact and say, Look what we did. Look what we brought about.

The three points of the diagram are interrelated and interactive. Rigor is the force that controls and sets boundaries, that challenges ideas and maps a path forward. Curiosity is the urge to look at things anew, to learn something today that we didn't know yesterday, and to store away what we find because it may be useful tomorrow. Creativity is the desire to turn ideas and plans into reality. All three qualities must live in a dynamic tension with each other, setting boundaries while maintaining flexibility.

So, it may be the "usual BS" that people put on their blogs, but at least I know what the theme is: what I will be writing about tracks to the nine points of the attribute model, and these three attributes in particular. I will be writing about the Enneagram for sure, but I will also be focused on critical thinking, about the act of leadership, and, sometimes, things that simply strike my fancy.

Happy Birthday, David Hume

It's a month past the actual May 7th date, but here's wishing David Hume a happy 300th birthday.

Hume was the Scottish philosopher known for, among other things, the dictum that the wise person apportions his or her belief to the evidence. Carl Sagan later popularize the variation "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This does not mean that something that is far-fetched and unlikely is impossible, it means that the more unlikely or far-fetched it is the more reluctant we should be to invest our belief in it and the lighter we should hold that belief.

Hume's dictum is made necessary by another of Hume's famous premises--that our emotions make our decisions and our reason supplies the rationale for those decisions. Unfortunately, we tend to believe that we are rational beings. We often overlook the flaws in our reasoning because we think we are rational and we fail to see that our emotions are guiding our decisions or beliefs. Therefore, we can be fooled easily and if we are not careful we end up making poor decisions that are well-protected with a thick layer of flawed logic. Hume asserted this in the 18th century; modern neuroscience confirms it today (see, for example, David Eagleman's book "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain").

Remembering to apportion our belief to the evidence can help protect us from poor decisions in all aspects of our lives. It can help us make better business decisions by using careful analysis to confirm or disconfirm our intuitions. It can help us make better health decisions by look for the evidence of the efficacy of treatments beyond the anecdotes of celebrities or neighbors. The list could go on....

Hume was not dismissive of our intuitions or our emotions, but he understood the need to put them into context and use reason to challenge our assumptions rather than confirm them. He is a philosopher well-worth a little more exploration.

Does "Smart" Matter?

I often hear people (usually, people who are not leaders) say that leaders don't have to be smart, they just need to surround themselves with smart people. This, of course, overlooks the fact that you need to be smart to tell which of the smart people in the room is giving you the best advice.

Or people say "emotional intelligence (EI) is more important than intelligence," overlooking the qualifications in the EI literature that say that a baseline of intellectual competence must be met before EI can be a discriminating edge for leaders.

While EI and surrounding oneself with the smartest, most-competent people one can find are important--in fact, crucial--there is no getting around the fact that good leaders at high levels are typically very, very smart. The best leaders are not only smart, but they are intellectually curious and tenacious critical-thinkers

Elliott Jaques, one of my favorite management thinkers, wrote a lot about the requisite qualities of leadership. Jaques pointed out (rightly, I believe), that personality doesn't matter as long as the leader doesn't have significant behavioral shortcomings. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments. I've worked with great leaders who were introverts and great leaders who were extroverts; I've worked with effective and ineffective leaders of all Enneagram types. But, argued Jaques, one of the qualities that a leader must have is cognitive power, or the innate mental ability to organize information, matched to the level of complexity of the entity he or she manages and ability to think in terms of the time horizon relevant to the role.

The CEO of a multibillion dollar global company with 100,000 employees must have greater cognitive power than the supervisor of six workers on the shop floor. The CEO has to manage tremendous complexity and think well into the future; the supervisor faces less complexity and needs to think through to the end of the day or the week.

If a manager is not intellectually matched to the complexity and time horizon of their role they will become bored (if they have too much cognitive power) or overwhelmed (if they don't have enough).

Yes, other factors matter. The leader must have emotional intelligence, appropriate values, a good work ethic, etc., but leaders who do not have the cognitive power to handle the complexity of their role will fail. Leaders with the cognitive power but who are not good critical thinkers will also fail, even if it takes them a little longer to do so. The worst leaders are the incurious and intellectually lazy, or even worse--dismissive of intelligence and learning. They will not only fail but do a lot of damage along the way.

Don't let anyone tell you that, for leaders, smart doesn't matter.

See "Executive Leadership: A Practical Guide to Managing Complexity" by Elliott Jaques and Stephen D. Clement.

New Beginnings

A little over two years ago I discovered what the time-for-blogging threshold was: your fourth son. I had been keeping a blog somewhat consistently until Andriko came into the world in April 2009, joining his three older brothers (Adrian, Alec, and Alexei) in our chaotic lives. A4 is two now, and we'll give this blogging thing another crack....