How to Avoid a Leadership Stall, The Economist Cites a Made Up Study, and More
Bring Ambition Newsletter - June 30, 2022
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The Bring Ambition Newsletter is like having a personal executive coach in your inbox every 2 weeks. You’ll receive 3-5 quick bulletpoints (~3 min. read) related to professional development, peak performance psychology, leadership, productivity, and much more.
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1.) Recent Reads: What Happens Now? by Mark Nevins and John Hillen
As you can see from my copious post-it flags, I found What Happens Now? by Mark Nevins and John Hillen packed with valuable insight.
According to the authors, as a leader's scope of engagement expands and their environment grows more complex, it demands a more sophisticated approach to leadership and sustaining performance. In this book they explore what exactly this means and how to do it.
Even experienced leaders are vulnerable to a variety of often covert roadblocks. They may struggle to:
Convey a compelling vision and purpose
Build proper alignment among their team
Engage a vast and varied group of stakeholders
Lead through change and (over)communicate an associated narrative
Continuously develop their own leadership capabilities and range
Judiciously allocate their time and attention, and
Coach and cultivate leaders around them.
To navigate these challenges, the authors do not demand that leaders sacrifice the technical skills, tenacity, and core values that fueled their ascension and early leadership success. Instead they posit that the advanced stages of leadership require the development of a broader toolbox - new tools, routines, capabilities, and mindsets which balance EQ and IQ, soft and hard skills - to effectively navigate and thrive in the face of new and unexpected challenges. Ultimately, more dynamism in their approach and more discernment around how they invest their time, energy, and influence.
Without giving too much away, here are 3 reasons why this book resonated with me:
It is equal parts practical and credible. Hillen and Nevins saturate the chapters with clues that a leader may at present or in the future experience a “stall,” and what specific, practical actions can help right the course. These insights are based on their own leadership and consulting experience, case studies and interviews featuring other experienced leaders, and mounds of research and references.
It recognizes that a leader's environment changes and grows in complexity all the time, and they can either change with it or risk their business outrunning them. Organizations expand and contract, stakeholders come and go, strategic priorities morph and mutate. Where many leaders default to doing more, often the more sustainable and effective response is to do things differently.
It frames leadership as a vehicle for the development of the self. My takeaway is that, almost in a Jungian sense, the tribulations of leadership beckon all a person could be, and they can rise to the occasion and grow with their organization, or wither on the vine and leave much of their potential unrealized. According to the authors, leaders in such a position must capitalize not only on the best ideas around management and leadership, but the wisdom of the humanities - that centuries-long study of the human condition.
Highly recommend What Happens Now? to all experienced leaders, up-and-coming executives, coaches, and leadership development professionals.
2.) The Economist cites a made up study?
“Work, the wasted years” is an article recently published in The Economist focusing on the cumulative impact of time-wasting activities in the workplace. It cites shocking, but arguably unsurprising, statistics around the inordinate time employees spend on low value-add activities:
“Correcting typos takes up an average of 20 minutes in every white-collar worker’s day, the equivalent of 180 days, or half a year, over a 45-year career.”
“Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in the time an average office worker spends changing font sizes during their career.”
“The gestation period of a goat is around 145 days. Which is also how long the average worker spends logging into things during his or her working life.”
But here’s the hitch: the article is complete B.S.
The author references a study with no citation or link, by “academics from the Maryland and Delaware Enterprise University Partnership (MADEUP).” The key data point in the supposed research is a figure called “weighted total futility (WTF).” The article claims that the findings are based on a survey of 5,000 American and British office workers. Even if it were real, it would be incredibly hard to trust its validity because it asks employees to report time spent completing minute tasks that are impossible to track (e.g. changing font sizes).
What is the point of this bizarre article? When did The Economist become The Onion?
It may be satire, but after skimming through Twitter, LinkedIn, and other forums, countless people are taking this at face value. My prediction: you will soon see these statistics cited as legitimate data points in other articles, books, e-courses, etc.
Sure, on one hand readers are to blame for their lack of information literacy. People must think critically and evaluate the credibility of the content they consume. Especially before they promote or amplify it further. Unfortunately, without sharing names, I’ve already seen this article shared/publicly discussed by people that have PhDs/doctorates as if the content was entirely reliable.
On the other hand, it’s irresponsible for The Economist to publish the article. They know how quickly misinformation spreads in this day and age, that many readers only skim articles or read headlines, and that the average reader wouldn’t expect satirical articles from their publication, especially not alongside other more legitimate writing. Nonetheless, they are cluttering public discourse by intentionally throwing more “fake news” and MADEUP statistics into the ring. Even people who you would expect to have excellent information literacy - like PhDs - can stumble in such a case.
Unfortunately, management / professional development writers (lazy ones, at least) often fall prey to unscientific studies and “too good to be true” factoids. I am hoping the publication either follows up to acknowledge that the article was satire, or cite the actual study if it unbelievably exists. Until then we have have no choice but to read other articles from the publication with a grain - or handful - of salt, continue practicing good information literacy, and be discerning about the workplace-related data to which we refer.
3.) Quote of the week
"Just like a low resting heart rate is the byproduct of intense exercise, low anxiety is the byproduct of intense self-examination." - Naval Ravikant
4.) In case you missed it
We recently published “How to Write a Win Sheet” on our blog, detailing a simple but effective routine that can help you track and celebrate your “wins,” more readily promote your outstanding work product to the right people, and prepare for important performance discussions. Check out the article if you haven’t already!
Thanks for reading this week’s newsletter! Hope you enjoyed and I’d love to hear your feedback — reply here or reach me via the links below.
Have a great weekend!
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