3 Overlooked “Soft” Skills in Leaders — Steve Jobs Had None of Those

For a decade now I’ve been arguing with my father what intelligence means. He (a member of Mensa, believe it or not) argues that IQ surely determines how smart you are, and I (forever the fan of Forrest Gump) will argue that emotional intelligence is sometimes more important than IQ.

In the context of business, I’ve been proven right by surveys (“employers value emotional intelligence over IQ”) and research (employees/executives with higher EQ perform better than others), which makes total sense, especially for managers. When you have to meet and manage people on a daily basis, you need some sort of understanding of people.

The only time a leader doesn’t need to be emotionally intelligent is when he/she’s working with robots.

Then there’s the whole debate about “hard” versus “soft” skills, which is the same thing, really, and it’s completely pointless since an effective leader needs to have both. Let’s take Steve Jobs for example.

Jobs was— and forever will be — known as a great innovator. Some may even go as far as calling him a genius. However:

A genius does not a great leader make, necessarily.

Was he a good leader? A lot of people will say no, simply because:

  1. He didn’t have high emotional intelligence.
  2. He didn’t have some vital soft skills.

I mean, the guy yelled and threw tantrums at work. Around him, employees had to walk on egg-shells and every time someone took the initiative to speak, he would publicly humiliate them. No wonder most of the staff of Apple left prematurely! He was more of a dictator than a leader.

A good leader would be the opposite really, so I’ve taken the liberty to collect 3 somewhat overlooked — because they are “soft” — skills in order to get to the bottom of the question of great leadership:

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication
  3. Humility

There was a time when Psychology was a bogus science and management was straight-forward. However, as the times bring change and we find ourselves in a less straightforward world, I’ve taken to believe that some things “make sense” and other things “make progress”. Whether these soft skills make sense to you or not, they’ve certainly made progress in both scientific and business contexts. So let’s discuss them individually.

Let’s talk about Empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.

Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. It helps us connect and communicate in ways that bind us to our fellow workers. Without it, we are all islands in the same ocean.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why, says:

The lesson I’m learning is that I’m useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with — the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it’s my responsibility to see that they’re working at their best capacity.

See that? It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure the employees are working at their best capacity, meaning they are at their most productive. I don’t know about you, but the only times I’ve been productive at work were when I wasn’t being driven crazy by a passive-aggressive boss from hell.

The manager-employee relationship is so vital to both sides’ performance that it should never be overlooked. You can’t expect for employees to be engaged without actually being engaged first by their manager, and you can’t expect the manager to make progress without knowing where the team’s at.

It’s a team effort — as cheesy as it sounds — but the leader sets the pace. The manager is the one who sets the tone of his/her relationship with team members, and if a member is slacking, then just talk to them.

But make sure you’ve set the right tone first. I agree with Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, when he says:

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off — these are the businesses we admire. Empathy is the one tool that makes it all happen.

Let’s talk about Communication.

If you’re empathetic, chances are you’re a decent communicator. Notice I say decent, not great. Truth is, even an empathetic person can be bad at communicating… if they don’t listen carefully.

Communication goes both ways. Now, you may be excellent at putting your point across and even motivating your team to get the job done. But have you asked your team for feedback? Are they likely to come up and give it to you? Those are very important questions to think about.

Once you get your team talking, that’s when you get them engaged.

According to employee engagement expert David McLeod, engaged staff deliver 50% higher customer loyalty, 50% higher sales, and 27% higher profits — all figures any company owner would find attractive.

Furthermore a happy, engaged employee is more likely to stick with you when, for example, the competition offers them a job. Ka-bing!

Maybe there’s something to learn from Holacracy here that could benefit project managers.

Holacracy is a very modern idea of a business without management roles. More specifically, Holacracy distributes leadership into each role, so each employee can hold different roles at different stages of the project. Ultimately, the goal is transparency — a buzz word of late, especially in entrepreneurial circles.

While the idea itself could have some holes, when it comes to communication, it solves what the traditional corporate structure cannot — the problem of communication between the different levels. It could be quite empowering for employees to be regarded as important as the VP, for example, and encouraged — by a meeting facilitator — to voice their opinions and “tensions”. In that meeting, your main priority won’t be to speak according to your job title, but to advance the project.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be trying it out before discarding the idea. Times are moving fast and new challenges are presenting to employers that we never imagined possible. To paraphrase Darwin, adapt or die.

Let’s talk about Humility.

Probably the most overlooked quality in business, and in life.

Humility is a quality few people have. It’s in the emotional intelligence toolset, but unlike empathy, it targets the self, the ego. Most people — especially bosses — have enormous egos. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And they put people off with their arrogance and selfishness.

It takes enormous strength to put your own ego aside and admit that you make mistakes. Let someone else talk. Let others list your accomplishments and shrug compliments off. It’s not about you, after all.

For you, it’s about the common good.

A humble leader not only understands and listens. A humble leader brings out the best of other people.

It’s natural that when you put yourself aside, you’re able to really see others. To see what they’re good at, to tell them that, and to inspire them to take action. You’re naturally good at leading and people are happy to follow.

And hey, it’s not just mumbo-jumbo. A recent Catalyst study shows that humility is one of four critical qualities of a good leader. Not to mention that scholars from the University of Washington Foster School of Business discovered that humble people make the most effective leaders!

As the researchers put it:

Our study suggests that a ‘quieter’ leadership approach — listening, being transparent, aware of your limitations and appreciating co-workers strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage employees.

Not only were the employees of such people more engaged, but they were also more committed to their leader’s vision. I mean, when your boss actively listens to your ideas and encourages you to share them, wouldn’t you be more committed and receptive to their ideas?

Of course you would.

So you can try this approach or… you know, idolize Steve Jobs and be a jerk at the office, but bear in mind that the bottom lines and the attitudes of your employees will be a perfect reflection of your leadership style.

In conclusion,

We, at amazemeet, certainly hope that you can see these “soft” skills as they truly are — a competitive advantage and an enlightened way to be.

Saved By Design: How The Meeting Canvas Was Born

I work with large companies.

By large I mean huge – most companies that hire me as a consultant usually have more than 10,000 employees scattered across the globe.

And they all hate meetings.

They hate organizing them and they hate attending them.

During meetings, they hate the lack of purpose, the lack of structure, the poor or non-existent moderation.

They hate that the wrong people are in the meetings – the people who can add the most value are often not present. They hate the endless circular conversations that achieve very little.

They hate that when decisions are made on some action to be taken, there is no follow up – no closure.

Great Conversations Don’t Just Happen

As a consultant Agile and organizational process coach – my professional life is spent helping people improve what they do. I have to be able to have great conversations with individuals and groups otherwise my job becomes almost futile.

After 15 years of consulting and thousands of meetings later, I have learned 2 fundamental truths.

All meetings are conversations but not all conversations are meetings.

Great conversations don’t just happen.

Facilitation is a necessary part of my work and I love it! To be able to help create the conditions for great conversations to happen feels like such a  fantastic privilege.

But how could I apply the years of experience and the my skills and process as a facilitator into something others could use?

“Help Us Have Better Meetings”

At an engagement recently, I was asked by a large multinational networking company to prepare and deliver a workshop on facilitating effective meetings .

I had delivered similar workshops in the past and I have always  tried to design a workshop that could impart my skills and meeting design process to the participates. With limited success.

On this occasion, I didn’t have very much time to put the workshop together and I worked well into the night to get it ready for the next day’s session.

Inspired By The Business Model Generation Canvas

Discovering the awesome Business Model Generation Canvas by Alex Osterwalder was an epiphany moment for my start-up journey. To be able to iterate on my business idea through some very reasonable questions and to be able to see the whole view all of the time was transformative.

Late on the Thursday night, fueled by what was left of a nice single malt, I mentally ‘walked’ through my design process for meetings that I facilitate. I extracted the key steps and identified how the entire process consisted of multiple sub-iterative activities. Then I reverse engineered my last meeting and checked why it was so successful.

At about 4:00am on Friday morning,  the Meeting Facilitator Canvas was born.

Workshop Tested By Frustrated Meeting Goers

As I put the final touches to the canvas and included the usage notes into my workshop slide deck I was a little nervous that my workshop participants – all battle hardened meeting goers – would simply tear this offering to shreds.  I was worried that they would see it as yet another overhead that they have to bear.

To my delight, the participants reworked some of their worst meeting experiences through the Canvas and found that most of them could have been vastly improved. Some of the meetings were even found to be unnecessary – by simply using the design process contained in the Canvas, a few of the meetings would never have actually needed to happen.

What I found really surprising was the willingness of the participants to accept that great conversations don’t just happen – that some time and effort has to go into facilitating them.

The participants were also full of feedback for things I might improve in the canvas – most of which went back into the design.

“Saved By Design”

A few weeks later, I shared the canvas privately with Simon – friend who works as an executive in a major financial institution and he really took to it.  He promised to use it at his next team meeting so I gave him the single usage sheet I was preparing and off he went.

A few days after his meeting we chatted again and he said their ‘meeting culture has been saved by design’ – that the canvas was a beautiful little design thinking tool that had given them a way to focus their conversation and they had one of the best meetings they had ever had.

I’m really pleased I created the Meeting Facilitator Canvas – if it helps only 1% of the people whose time is wasted by unnecessary and unproductive meetings, I would feel deeply satisfied.

Can It Save Your Meetings?

You have a choice right now.

You can choose to continue to complain about how meetings suck in your company or you can download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas and use it to cut down on unnecessary meetings and improve your the ones you need to have. If you don’t organize meetings, share it with those who do.

I’d love to hear from you when you start to use the Meeting Facilitator Canvas. It is free and open source – so adapt it, copy it and share it as much as you like.


Featured image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video .

The Benefits of Boredom in Meetings — Daydreaming Vs. Doodling

So you’ve been working hard to organize a meeting. Finally, a dozen people show up and half of them don’t pay attention to a word you say.

OR you’re an employee, stuck in yet another understimulating meeting, thinking about all the things you’d rather do.

We’ve all been there.

Today I’d like to set some things straight. First of all, let’s talk about boredom: boredom can be beneficial. You can tweet this.

To quote Dr. Sandi Mann:

Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.

But how can boredom enhance our creativity? Well, let’s take a closer look at the people in the meeting. There are the usual types: the sleeper, the networker, the doodler, the daydreamer, the know-it-all, etc.

Let’s talk about two of them: the daydreamer and the doodler.

You might think that the daydreamer is just ‘out of it’ and the doodler is being outright ‘unprofessional’. According to science, you are wrong. Below I’ve listed Top 3 Reasons to Daydream and Doodle so we can bust the pesky myths and you can decide whether either one deserves encouragement.

Top 3 Reasons to Daydream:

  1. Daydreaming improves your working memory.
  2. Daydreaming at work (or anywhere) boosts your creativity.
  3. Great ideas come after some ‘down time’.

Working memory is the part which is responsible for retaining memories in the face of distractions. So when you’re distracted at work — all those emails, clients, bosses, meetings — you still manage to bounce back to your to-do list, no problem! This indicates that you have good working memory, which was found to be correlated with a wandering mind.

Other research (UK) suggests that daydreaming could be beneficial in the workplace because it enhances problem-solving and boosts creativity.

All those boring meetings might serve a useful purpose after all, they say, because they give the mind a chance to wander.

Furthermore, it might be the case that an overly-stimulating job with no down time could be counter-productive! Can you believe it? All this time we have been complaining about meetings, they were our friends!

Finally, did you know that some of history’s biggest scientific breakthroughs were discovered while daydreaming? Here are but a few:

Albert Einstein invented the theory of relativity whilst daydreaming about running to the edge of the Universe.

Isaac Newton stumbled upon the concept of gravity as he saw a falling apple in his mother’s garden.

And what is more iconic than Edison and his ‘light bulb’ breakthrough?

Top 3 Reasons to Doodle:

  1. Doodling improves memory recall.
  2. Doodling can make you more successful.
  3. Doodling is fun!

In 2009, everyone exploded with the news of Jackie Andrade’s study, which confirmed that people who doodle are actually paying attention while doing so and better at recalling the task at a later time! So not only is the doodler next to you paying attention, but he’s also storing information.

To quote Andrade:

Unlike many dual task situations, doodling while working can be beneficial.

Furthermore, doodling helps you find new solutions:

Some of history’s greatest thinkers — from Steve Jobs to John F. Kennedy and Henry Ford — have engaged in doodling as a pathway for unlocking creativity

You can read an interview with Sunni Brown — doodle expert — to learn more about how doodling unlocks creativity. When CNN asks whether the business world will start to be open to it, Brown says:

That is my fervent prayer, but leadership and management need to drive it and they need to cultivate organizational cultures that recognize its value and apply it in a way that makes sense for that business context.

Finally, let’s face it. People upload photos of doodles on Instagram and twitter hourly. There’s a “worldwide community of sketchnoters”. People in meetings everywhere have white boards filled with mind-maps and doodles. Look at your papers and tell me you haven’t doodled. I dare you.

And here are some famous doodlers for good measure:

That’s Bill Clinton’s doodle, revealed by a hacker.

I especially like this doodle by David Cameron.

And finally, Ellen DeGeneres gave hers to charity.

Other known doodlers: President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mark Twain, Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, Bill Gates, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan.

There are probably many, many more.

In conclusion:

Both daydreaming and doodling seem to be connected to creativity. Both have been attributed to great thinkers. Then doesn’t it stand to reason that you have both of those “types” in your meeting? Hell it does!

As a Manager, you might be PRO doodles by now. So what if it seems a few people are not paying attention? Ask them some questions at the end — I bet you anything they were more attentive than you thought.

As an employee, you have a choice — you can stare out of the window and list all the things you have to buy after work OR you can engage in more productive activities, such as doodling or mind wandering.

P.S. Why not download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas! It has enough space for doodles.

An Open Letter to All Fortune 500 CFOs

Dear Jim,

I have to say, I’m quite impressed with the growth you guys have reached lately. And congratulations on your big promotion, much deserved!

Jim, I’m writing because of an issue that cannot wait. I’m concerned about how much ACME Corp may be losing in  money, productivity  and human potential as a result of wasteful meetings.

Did you know there are 11 million formal meetings in the U.S. daily, half of which are deemed to be unproductive, not to mention 9 out of 10 people attending meetings report that they daydream during them!

All this costs U.S. businesses a total of 37 billion dollars every year.

I imagine the story is similar for  ACME Corp. If you have 10 people sitting in a room for 4 hours, that’s $50,000 for a single meeting and worse, if even half of that meeting is unproductive, you’ve wasted $25,000!

Now, imagine each person has between 50 and 70 meetings per month!
Mind blowing, isn’t it?  That’s a lot of waste. If you don’t believe me, check out CEO.com doing the math.

Sure you guys had a great year, but how much better and easier could it have been without so much waste?

It’s not all bad news though Jim – I may have a way that you can help ACME Corp avoid the ‘crappy meetings’ epidemic.

It’s called The Meeting Facilitator Canvas and it’s designed to simultaneously cut down on unnecessary meetings  and make the necessary ones much more productive and collaborative.

Lets get on a call and talk about how meetings are working in ACME, how much they are really costing and what you can do about it.

In the meantime, why not download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas from https://amazemeet.com.

Thanks,

Mike & Violeta
Co-founders – Amazemeet.com


All characters – except Mike and Violeta (we are real) – appearing in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Featured image by purpleslog (Attribution)