Woke up and read this article on Fast Company as I made coffee and unloaded the dishwasher. The article infuriated me — more in a second — so I left a comment. Went and did some other work, came back, and the comment seems to have been deleted. Time for a post about it.
This article is about “What Separates Leaders From Managers.” The title is already a farce; it implies that formal status matters a great deal, which it probably does — but it shouldn’t, per se. That’s what the whole concept of “managing up” is about. (Although admittedly very few people have the ability to do that.)
The article is good at a recommendation level, yes, but it has the same problems of most business journalism — it operates a high-umbrella level that most managers/leaders will never be able to actually embrace.
Here are the basic tenets of Barry Saltzman’s logic:
- Identify your company’s mission statement and values: Ideally a good place to begin any process, yes. A problem: for most people, this is “make money” or “please my boss.” Those aren’t really values, per se. True story: I once worked with a guy who had been at the company for 10 years. At the time of this anecdote, I had been there 2 months. He told me once it took him 1 hour and 50 minutes to figure out what the mission statement was. “I looked on the website, I walked around the office, I looked in e-mail folders.” He had no idea how to actually find it. That guy is about 37x more successful financially than I was/will ever be. It doesn’t matter if you know the mission statement so long as you can make money. Honestly.
- Stratify leadership levels: Again, ideally… yes. Problem: most senior leaders ultimately fear incompetence. As such, they politically surround themselves with people who will make them look better and who fit into their political rubric. A job is 90 percent politics and 10 percent actual deliverables, even though everyone would claim the opposite if asked by a researcher. You can always find “the people who do nothing but get the plum promotions” in any org. There are more of those people than “the people that work hard and develop relationships and get advanced.” There’s also some BS quote in this article about “… finding smart creatives and letting them ping ideas off senior leadership…” WTF? Half of the role of senior leadership at most companies is to stay in their roles and make more money for themselves; who wants to be “pinged” by a smart creative? Not a lot of senior leaders I’ve worked with.
- Hire with intention: When I got to this part, I almost smashed my laptop on the ground. No one hires with intention, even if they say they do. The hiring process is a sale. I’ve lived it; I know this for a fact. Most companies get open headcount, they view that chair as “money being lost,” and they rush to fill it. No strategy, no stop-and-think on what they need, etc. I think I’ve worked 8–10 places for some period of time, and every place I’ve worked has been like this to a large extent. That can’t be a small sample size issue.
- Hire for EQ: Again, the hiring process isn’t about getting at the emotional intelligence of a candidate, per se. It should be, yes, but it’s often not. Also, I’d argue that the whole idea of “EQ” is a soft skill — to a hard-charging business type, they might think that means “a guy who might cry at work.” No one wants that. I actually feel like the real future should be in “CQ” — how curious a person is — because that has ties to the idea of “This person will go above and beyond to learn about your processes and other divisions, even if no one is explicitly telling him/her those things.” That has real value, honestly.
- Transparency, Transparency, Transparency: Yep. I love transparency. Thing is, no one in most workplaces gives a flying fuck about it. Workplaces are typically designed around deliverables and processes; the goal is to hit those. If you spend too much time thinking about “how people feel,” that makes people nervous and it gets muddled, etc. People think the millennial generation will change this, but … that’s not necessarily true.
Honestly, the part that really killed me was “hire with intention.” It just doesn’t happen at most places. I worked at McKesson — which is a Fortune 15 company, FYI — and I had to update job descriptions as one function. Often the description I was working off would be from the person they hired 3–4 cycles ago, meaning the description hadn’t changed to reflect any of the strengths/weaknesses of people who held the job since. That’s “hiring with intention?” WTF?
If you have thoughts on this, feel free to leave ‘em.