Tag Archive for 'leadership'

Why good leaders make you feel safe — Simon Sinek’s TED Talk

I always love a good TED Talk, and although this one is a little short on enthusiasm and flare, the message here is worth hearing, especially if you work in a group environment or organization of any size. What makes a good leader is something that has interested me ever since I reported to leaders. One thing that is well pointed out in this speech is that leadership is not the same thing as authority. Simon Sinek states in this presentation that is is possible to be the highest rank of authority and not be a leader at all, and it’s also possible to be in the lowest ranks with no authority and be the true leader of the group.

A good leader makes you feel safe, and that doesn’t only make good logical sense, it is biological. It is in our cells.

The leader is key to a group because “the leader sets the tone.” Good leaders grow the group. They nurture, educate, encourage, and build confidence within the group’s individuals. I don’t know if I agree with the one organization that Simon Sinek uses as an example where the never fire anyone for performance because I’ve worked for an organization like that, but I guess this organization only hires people who are really passionate about the field. This was an enlightening presentation.

Life is Messy and the Timing of It

When I first heard the phrase “life is messy,” it didn’t sit well with me. Being a planner who tries to keep things structured and organized, the entire point of creating structure is to mitigate the mess, but I later learned that’s not the point of this phrase. As a leader, it’s also about how well and how quickly one can adjust course to the make the most of any given situation. A monkey can learn routine, but it takes higher intelligence to re-prioritize on the fly. It’s a real art of when to dive head down to execute a task list or when to come up to adjust a plan, and it takes real strength when the entire plan needs to be scrapped and a new one must be created just in time for the next transaction. Should a new plan be needed, keep in mind that no one else really knows how incomplete your plan may be, so your next transaction may look flawless while you can continue building your plan in preparation for the following step.

This perspective surrounds the ability of seizing windows of opportunity. Any good analyst can eventually finish his or her complete investigation of all of the variables and with some experience and a good imagination even make a tree of all possible outcomes, and that is probably the best way to do it. The problem is that takes time. Meanwhile the environment changes, and the windows of opportunity close or change to where a new analysis would have to be started.

So my point is that to make changes of this kind—the kind where you make things happen instead of letting things happen to you—you’ll never feel ready because it’s impossible to feel ready. Although luck favors the prepared, it usually requires a scramble to take off, and you will probably be landing in a storm, not even on an airstrip but somewhere in a cornfield or atop a mesa. You may break a few things, but you probably won’t die. Nevertheless, it’s anything but comfortable. Sure, you can mitigate risk like a novice scuba diver first trains in a tank before diving in the sea, but there’s still a first time for everything. Sometimes, for windows of opportunity as mentioned here, it will also the last time.

When you do that, there will be many naysayers, mostly because they don’t understand your priorities (which who cares because you should only share your priorities with the people you trust) but also because they’re jealous of the strength you exhume during those events, or that they have missed the window for themselves. On the other hand, mass in motion acquires more mass as it travels, so it gains gravity. When you move forward like that, you will attract. These particles may be part of other humans in your life. It’s ok if you kill a few of these particles because you’re not killing the whole human, and it’s ok as long as you don’t enjoy the killing.

The point is to know what you want, and when the opportunity presents itself as a window to pass through towards the goal, not necessarily access to the goal in a single step, then take the window because those windows don’t come around very often. A good planner isn’t someone who can plan every step but is someone who knows how to adapt his or her plan based on the stability of the previous step. Imagine stepping on some stepping stones over a brook. The rocks look sturdy but still require focus and balance; however, one of the stones may wobble and may require a quick change of course to ultimately reach the other side without falling into the water. Think of ninjas or the main character in the video game Prince of Persia and how these characters interact with the environments, and it’s that quick skill to adapt that is their strength that is valid of envy.

This concept of timing I first learned from a leader in the workplace with whom I no longer work. His goal was essentially to talk me out of thinking that skill in details leads to overall success, which I naturally thought that probably due to my Polish upbringing. He described how imperfect his attempt appeared, but I observed the outcome of his stories and the massive cultural changes in the workplace that were created as a result of such forceful and critical starts. Being able to alter culture in a group has always intrigued me ever since I would try to reconcile why a body of people may not follow a process when the details clearly exemplify that following that process was to their benefit. I realized this leader was correct because the results in the end spoke for themselves. That is how “life is messy” ties into “timing.”

Compete for People

Over the past year, I’ve been working with Frank Wantland and his website Compete for People, www.competeforpeople.com. The website educates the public about how organizations can keep top talent and how individuals can find a good career fit.

I really just helped get the site up and running for him, and Wantland does all of the blogging. I think it’s a very good site, and I’d recommend his services to anyone, especially those looking for work. I certainly believe that plenty of organizations could benefit from his knowledge to close the chasm between top management and top talent that is sometimes in the trenches of an organization.

Benefits of being an outsider

There was a very interesting articled in Wired Magazine a few years ago Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, and it helped me understand why some of my points of view were different from my peers. I used to think that just because I had a different cultural background was the cause of my difference, but apparently there is a whole reason why I grew apart from the rest and continue on that vector.

This article brings up the concept of curiosity in a new light for me in the method that asks whether one is interested in a new result that is discovered while searching for a different set of results. Because we are wired not only to ignore results for which we were not looking, but our memory is capable of deleting them immediately if we don’t have a mental cubby hole in which to store the new information.

The article continues that outsiders are very good at discovering the new because outsiders question the status quo, which sometimes is misinformation that hides the truth and even causes our minds to “delete” observations. One doesn’t have to be a social reject to become an outsider; one just needs to be from another group of specialists who speak different jargon. Then, as the various groups attempt to translate their own jargon to one another, status quo is put under a microscope, which gives way to questioning it.

I once brought this up to a friend of mine who is a CFO of a hospital, and asked me, “Why aren’t you a CEO already?” which made me feel special and that maybe I have something in me to be a great transcendental leader

Why I started looking for a new job while working at SJ

Up until this time, I have been working at St. John Medical Center for over four years. I was ready for change. I felt I have outgrown my position of Project Specialist, which I sort of considered to be ‘wanna-be project manager’. There certainly was enough work for me to do, but I starting taking on responsibilities for which I either lacked equivalent authority or was untrained in how to leverage my chain of command. Or perhaps if it was the latter, then maybe my chain of command was vague enough to where it was not evident how to escalate issues. Escalating issues is what I would really learn at my next job.

I like to do things right, so obviously that takes on more work, and that was generally the problem there: Like camels, we took on more and more work, “absorb by existing resources”, yet no significant recognition was portrayed. I had the unfortunate luck of having over six bosses in those several years, which made matters worse when the response for my request for a raise was something to the effect “log some goals in the performance measuring tool, and we’ll track against them.” To that I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I was basically getting compensated the same way I was when I first started, yet I’ve grown a lot (certainly as much as anyone could reasonably expected to have grown in my position). So, what about all of that progress?

Once I got my last boss, with whom I looked forward to working more than anyone else on my team, I was quickly disappointed by his arrogance and personal agendas. I never really thought St. John’s had stellar management because of “old blood”, slow turnover, but later I would learn to appreciate how kind the employees there were in general, which was something I took somewhat for granted at the time because I thought people were kind like that everywhere.

Aside: Later I learned what managers in large organizations work like, which raised the proverbial bar for my expectation of managers to such heights that now I actually feel a bit sorry for St. John’s and Tulsans who in general follow Tulsa’s leaders. I guess that is the basis of my hypothesis why some communities flourish more than others do.

After a steady stream of disrespectful events, or maybe it was simply my observational selection bias due to my pessimism to where I noticed more unfavorable events, I set out to seek a new career opportunity. I knew I was worth more, but most importantly, I felt I was ready for much more. We also wanted to move out of Tulsa, and Dallas was a feasible and desirable option. I started applying to many jobs. I answered one post on a job board and, to my surprise, later I learned that this post was actually a recruiter, even though the post read more like it was written by the hiring company itself. In short, that started my relationship with TEKsystems.

Little did I know just how much those recruiters want to make their money, so even though I temporarily let go of searching for a new job opportunity shortly after that, the recruiter kept working for me. He found me a string of BMDI technical project management positions; I even had a phone interview on January 26th for which I drove home from work during lunch.

Then, a few weeks later, I got a phone call from my recruiter about a high-level project management position within a Project Management Office at Tenet. The position sounded like more than I could chew at the time, but I thought, “What the hell! It may be good interviewing practice for me. If I can’t handle, surely they wouldn’t hire me.” They did not do phone interviews, so I had to take a day off and drive into Dallas. The rest is history.