Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Jeff Bezos recent shareholder newsletter has received much praise in the tech press. Inc drew special attention to his principle of “Disagree and commit.”

When I read the article, this principle felt familiar to me, then I remembered where I had seen it before. It is the 13th Amazon Leadership Principle:

“Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”

The rest of the principles are also well worth remembering.

See also:

Communication is Failure

 

 

The Four Elements of Leadership

Michael Lombardi, former General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and current member of the coaching staff on the New England Patriots enumerated four elements of leadership:

  • Management of attention, aka plan. Systems and processes are offshoots of management of attention.
  • Management of meaning, aka communication – explain the plan.
  • Management of trust – consistency and no double standards.
  • Management of self – self-criticism and humility. Honesty. Admit mistakes and correct course.

He also quoted Bobby Kennedy – “Guide your life by principle not ambition”. Not sure if its accurate but I like the quote.

From The Knowledge Project podcast

Why Donald Trump Leads National Polls

Donald Trump

“The frontrunner’s support is built less on bigotry, than on his confident projection of executive intelligence.”

The always excellent David Frum explains where Trump is getting his political energy from.

The simple “xenophobes, bigots and old white people” trope peddled by his opponents does not explain it.

Frum argues it is a combination of his satisfying the deep hunger in the Republican base for leaders with “executive intelligence” and because “Republicans have come to fear that their leaders have turned anti-native”.

This aligns with Scott Adams’ assessment that Trump’s strategy is all about presenting himself as the only adult in the room, the only person with a plan (no matter how nutty) and the experience to deliver on it (Frum’s “Executive Intelligence”). The good news is that we can all blame George W. Bush for this.

Read it here: Why Donald Trump Leads National Polls – The Atlantic

On Bullshit

on-bullshit2

[Update: After I posted this I came across a great study –  “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” [PDF] – freshly published in November 2015. Well worth a read. I also recently came across this old but great post from Scott Berkun “How to Detect Bullshit“]

Because I see so much of this  on Facebook, I wanted to post the classic essay “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt.

http://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf

Here is Wikipedia on the essay:

“On Bullshit (2005), by Harry G. Frankfurt, is a philosophical essay that presents a theory of bullshit that defines the concept and analyzes the applications of bullshit in the contexts of communication. As such, bullshit can be neither true nor false; hence, the bullshitter is someone whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit

Here are some quotes:

Humbug is not designed primarily to give its audience a false belief about whatever state of affairs may be the topic, but that its primary intention is rather to give its audience a false impression concerning what is going on in the mind of the speaker. Insofar as it is humbug, the creation of this impression is its main purpose and its point.

Consider a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about “our great and blessed country, whose Founding-Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.” This is surely humbug. …the orator is not lying. He would be lying only if it were his intention to bring about in his audience beliefs which he himself regards as false, concerning such matters as whether our country is great, whether it is blessed, whether the Founders had divine guidance, and whether what they did was in fact to create a new beginning for mankind. But the orator does not really care what his audience thinks about the Founding Fathers, or about the role of the deity in our country’s history, or the like. At least, it is not an interest in what anyone thinks about these matters that motivates his speech. It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false. Rather…the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself. He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him.

…Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth –  this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.

…The characteristic topics of a bull session have to do with very personal and emotion-laden aspects of life for instance, religion, politics, or sex. People are generally reluctant to speak altogether openly about these topics if they expect that they might be taken too seriously. What tends to go on in a bull session is that the participants try out various thoughts and attitudes in order to see how it feels to hear themselves saying such things and in order to discover how others respond, without it being assumed that they are committed to what they say: It is understood by everyone in a bull session that the statements people make do not necessarily reveal what they really believe or how they really feel. The main point is to make possible a high level of candor and an experimental or adventuresome approach to the subjects under discussion. Therefore provision is made for enjoying a certain irresponsibility, so that people will be encouraged to convey what is on their minds without too much anxiety that they will be held to it.

…Each of the contributors to a bull session relies, in other words, upon a general recognition that what he expresses or says is not to be understood as being what he means wholeheartedly or believes unequivocally to be true. The purpose of the conversation is not to communicate beliefs. Accordingly, the usual assumptions about the connection between what people say and what they believe are suspended. The statements made in a bull session differ from bullshit in that there is no pretence that this connection is being sustained. They are like bullshit by virtue of the fact that they are in some degree unconstrained by a concern with truth.

…It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

…Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.

Why is there so much bullshit? Of course it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays than at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased. Without assuming that the incidence of bullshit is actually greater now, I will mention a few considerations that help to account for the fact that it is currently so great.

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled –  whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others – to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s  affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of scepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit  of an alternative ideal, sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

…Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial – notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.

See also

Wikipedia’s great article on Lies that described the many types of lies.

The BBC Ethic page on Lying

St Augustine on the 8 types of lie

 

Approximately correct strategy

Jason Bates (@JasonBates) tipped me off about the concept of “Approximately correct strategy”, from an interview with by Dick Harrington (former CEO of Thomson Reuters) by HBR columnist Anthony Tjan:

Recently, I had dinner with Dick Harrington, former CEO of Thomson Reuters

We talked about his three most significant lessons learned over his very successful 25+ year career as a Fortune 250 executive.

Dick Harrington (DH): First, you have to have an “approximately correct” strategy — you have to know where you are going, but directionally correct is the key. Two, you have to be highly focused and intensely execute that strategy by motivating and aligning the troops you have. And three, it always comes back to the customers and the fact that you have to manically know your customers and drive everything from that.

TT: Nicely done. So let’s start with the first point. People often worry about architecting a perfect business plan or strategy and then get lost in the minutia. How do you know when you are “approximately correct,” as you say?

DH: You want to be approximately correct instead of precisely incorrect. There is a point at which additional information or research will not change the basics of your strategy. When you get your strategy there, you have to “Nike it” – you just do it. If you continue to refine and refine, you’ll never get into action, and the incremental value of research just won’t be worth the time and money. Schedule time frames and be religious about them to launch, get feedback, and see if the strategy is acceptable to the customer or if you need to adjust.  

From: http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2009/08/lessons-learned-from-30-years.html

Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

Jerry Weinberg is a legend in Project Management and Consulting circles. Here are his 10 Laws of Trust:

1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
3. People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
5. People are never liars—in their own eyes.
6. Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
8. Never promise anything.
9. Always keep your promise.
10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Conferences That Work | Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

Mental Tougness for Managers

I am enjoying the podcasts from the American Management Associations (AMA) podcast series Edgwise.

Today I listed to an interesting interview with  Dr. Graham Jones, an world expert on Mental Toughness. Well worth a listen.

What does Lebron James have in common with Warren Buffet? Whether we’re getting ready for the big game or the big meeting, we all deal with high pressure situations; it’s natural to everyone on the job and a reality of the workforce. In his new book Thriving on Pressure: Mental Toughness for Real Leaders, Dr. Graham Jones encourages us to channel that pressure and make the hard decisions.

Dr. Jones is formerly professor of Elite Performance Psychology at the University of Wales in Bangor. An author of 150 White Papers in publications on the subject of high level performance. He is the Founding Director of Lane4 Management Group Limited, which is a leading performance in consultancy that has offices in the U.S. and around the world.

Dr.
Graham Jones on Mental Toughness » AMA Edgewise

Elliot Jaques and Requisite Organisation

From the Economist’s Guru section article on Elliott Jaques:

Jaques (1917-2003) decided that jobs could be defined in terms of their time horizon. For example, a director of marketing might be worried about marketing campaigns for next year, while a salesman on the road is worried about reaching his targets for the week. Jaques also believed that people had a “boss” and a “real boss”. The boss was the person to whom they were nominally responsible, while the real boss was the person to whom they turned to get decisions crucial to the continuation of their work.

The sales manager in charge of a salesforce would not have a longer time horizon than the people in his salesforce. So when a salesman wanted a decision on something affecting his ability to deliver to his clients, he would go over the head of the sales manager for that decision. Jaques called this “level skipping”, and identified it as a dangerous pathology in any hierarchy.

He then looked at the time horizons of people, their bosses and their real bosses, and he found that people with a time horizon of less than three months treated those with a horizon of 3–12 months as their real bosses, and so on up the scale. He identified seven different time horizons, from three months to 20 years, and argued that organisations, no matter how complex, should have seven levels of hierarchy, each corresponding to a different managerial time horizon. Jaques’s theory has come to be known as RO (requisite organisation).

This reminds me of the Tolstoy quotation from C.S. Lewis’s “The Inner Ring”:

“When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent, which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood-what he had already guessed-that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system-the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris, Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.”

Rules of Thumb

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, one of the most dependable book recommenders I know of, gives “Rules of Thumb” a rave review in a recent post on his blog.

The subtitle lives up to its words: “52 Truths For Winning At Business Without Losing Your Self”.

You
don’t see many book reviews here even though we receive many
promotional copies. I do look hard at each one but, given my own
business and personal priorities, I only write a review when it’s a
raving recommendation, like: Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self

Get it over at: Amazon.com