What say you?

I was doing what I do most weekday mornings, checking out The Daily Alert from HBR, a topical curation of research and ideas for the workplace. This particular morning I groaned: not another book about the “fill-in-the-number” (in this case, five) essential things you must do to be a leader. And, of course, it was “groundbreaking,” even though all five on the list were universal leadership must-do’s.

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Be a yogi scientist

A long time ago in a culture far, far away, a sophisticated system of knowledge — spanning the human body and mind, stars and planets, physical space, and more — was created by a people equipped with their five senses and the only computer around at the time: the human brain. “They outlined techniques that include body exercise, mind exercise, . . . and many other methods that are now proving to be some of the most integrated ways to leverage our human potential.” The Business Casual Yogi: Take Charge of Your Body, Mind, and Career (BCY), by Vish Chattergie* with Yogrishi Vishvketu, translates this Vedic system of knowledge (believed to have originated over five thousand years ago in the foothills of the Himalayas) into a “comprehensible and relevant” set of tools for modern leaders.

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Doctor’s Orders

I was causing a ruckus with a controversial proposal in a leadership team meeting a few years ago. Tensions were high. Faces were red. Veins were bulging. It was beginning to break into a full-on yelI. I caught the general counsel’s eyes — he’d been staying out of it — and said, dryly, “This is going well, don’t you think?” After an awkward pause, everyone laughed. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the meeting went my way. I will say it helped turn down the heat measurably.

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Hard Things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers. A young, first-time entrepreneur CEO recently reminded me of this gem. There isn’t a better operating manual for the rough-and-tumble of starting up a company, clawing a way to survival, and (if you’re lucky) thriving. The reminder is timely, as Ben Horowitz has a second book coming out this month.

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Watch your language

When the Whistle-Blower’s complaint erupted last month, Jane Rosenzweig, director of the Writing Center at Harvard, found something notable about the complaint itself: The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write. Three days before, Pope Francis came out against adjectives saying, “I am allergic to these words,” and “We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns.” In particular, the addition of “authentic” to “Christian” pushed him over the edge.

This was a moment. Written or spoken, communication is tricky. One word can make the difference between meaning-making and meaning-muddling.

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Back to Built to Last

WeWork’s IPO debacle and CEO ouster, Juul’s comeuppance, and many other recent fallen giants and C-suite changes spurred David Gelles’ acerbic piece in the NYT. He reminds us, among other things, that the now commonplace “utopian mission statements” from “Christ-like” founders that temporarily intoxicate the market eventually come down to the numbers when investors sober up.

Gelle’s fun-poking at these companies’ “yoga babble” made me want to revisit the seminal research that discovered the critical role of vision, mission, and values in organizations that stand the test of time.

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Of the people, by the people, for the people

Most of us don’t hate change. What we don’t like is when it comes out of the blue, makes no sense, and is done to us, not with us. Drop-kicking change into an organization from the top down can lead to ill-informed, misguided fixes, as well as resentment and victimhood.

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Composureself

It can be just a little nudge, almost imperceptible. Or it can be a full-on heart pound that makes you wonder if you’re gonna need a trip to the emergency room. You’ve been triggered. Maybe it’s a snarky comment in a meeting, a critique from your partner about how you might’ve scrambled those eggs better, the tipping point of a crushing workload, or your manager just found a mistake in your analysis. If it’s a little thing, it might distract you from what you’re doing for a bit. If it’s a big thing, it can bring an out-sized sometimes regrettable reaction, or cause you to shut down. And it doesn’t feel so good.

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Dabbler Obsessive Hacker Master

When Mastery: Taking it Home by George Leonard hit the pages of Esquire’s May 1,1987 “Ultimate Fitness” feature, along with John Poppy’s The Keys to Mastery, it went the viral equivalent of its time — lots of letters to the editor, requests for copies and reprints, and CEOs disseminating it widely within their organizations. “A navy carrier pilot . . . wrote that he had been having trouble landing the F-14 Tomcat on an aircraft carrier . . . ‘Insights from Mr. Leonard’s outline of the master’s journey gave me the extra 10 percent of mental discipline that I needed to make the trek down this portion of my path a relatively easy one.’”

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How am I doing?

“I don’t really know how I’m doing” is a familiar refrain. Even when an organization has a 360-feedback process and regular performance check-ins, people are still not sure how they’re doing or why they may not be progressing as quickly as they’d like. As a bookend to this, managers struggle with how to put words to the feedback they’re trying to give. They want it to be clear and actionable, yet they find their conversations often don’t deliver.

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What really matters, part two

We’re drowning in this stuff. Ten steps to this, four ways to that. I like that Gallup has for decades teamed up with other organizations, economists, psychologists, and scientists, to understand the elements of a life well-lived — how we experience our lives and the things that are important to us — and they’ve kept it data-based and fad-free. While global well-being research informs broader societal decisions for employees, communities, and countries, it’s helpful for us to be reminded of what really matters, as we often operate on autopilot in our busy and distracted lives.

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What really matters, part one

Culture is the “it” of our current work moment. And for good reason, as Peter Drucker coined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The way things get done in an organization — the systems, behaviors, and practices — guided by a set of values, define its culture. (And sometimes the values that are actually lived are not the ones on the website.) How we work together drives our personal engagement and performance, which in turn determines how well the organization does.

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Where have I been?

It has happened several times in the last few months — young leaders I’ve encountered calling out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as inspiring, guiding, and causing them to change how they are navigating the world. The book even served as the basis for one company’s core values. Of course I’d known about it for decades, though I’d not read it — it seemed dated and sales-y — a sort of “to seem rather than to be” thing.

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Once upon a time… in your mind

The only thing we know for sure about the stories we tell is that they’re not true. Not completely, anyway. Our make-believe can range from getting the details surrounding an emotional event wrong to being unshakably sure of the stories we tell about ourselves that are often turn out to be mind-made.

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Clean up that mess

Integrity is such a big word. It’s the most common value people and organizations cite as “table stakes,” a have-to-have. We want to have it, we want those around to have it, we want our organizations to have it. It’s hard to live up to, especially when we’re challenged and our emotions get the better of us, and our blind spots can get in the way.

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Roseto, bunnies, and Google

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers begins with Roseto, a small town in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania, named for the place in Italy where its residents immigrated from. In the late 1950s, when heart disease was ravaging the nation — the #1 cause of death in men over 65 — men in Rosetta showed no sign of heart disease at 55, and were experiencing it at half the rate of the US at 65. A local physician, Stewart Wolf, discovered this, got to work conducting careful research, and brought in friend and colleague John Bruhn, a sociologist. Bruhn recalled, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were basically dying of old age. That’s it.”

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A river runs through it

A river is a wonderful metaphor for life — melting snow from a mountain, just a drop at a time, grows to a trickle that develops into a stream and before you know it, it’s a river full of life with blind spots, hairpin turns, exhilarating and sometimes treacherous rapids and waterfalls that instantly transform into brilliant still pools of water full of fish and teaming with birds and wildlife, all surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

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Not yet

The first thing I’ll say about Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is this is a must read if you’re raising kids. I read it after raising my kids. I offer a blanket apology. 

In the decade plus since this research was published, what Dweck calls a “growth-mindset” vs. a “fixed-mindset” has influenced school curriculums, organizational thinking and practices, parenting, sports, and relationships.

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The Spyce Boys

Four MIT robotics-obsessed engineering students had a complaint. Then they got to work. The water polo teammates were united by a love and appreciation of delicious and healthy food, and a frustration that it cost $10 to $14, out of reach of their student budgets. They called on their combined smarts, curiosity, swagger tempered by humility, and, not knowing any better, built proof-of-concept robotic woks in their fraternity basement.

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The Coach’s Playbook

At its core, coaching is a fusion of questions that open doors, deep listening, and keen observation used to help people find their own answers. It’s based on the belief that the best way forward lies within us, and that learning is more powerful and sticky when we figure things out for ourselves. And, we really don’t like to be told what to do… even when we ask to be told what to do. Just hang out with any two-year-old.

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