Archives for category: Career Advice

codelling
The best book I read last year, and I’ve read it three times now, was The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

All two of my repeat visitors may be wondering as why they have not seen a review of this book. The simple answer is that the themes and messages were so fundamental and altering of one’s world view that I’m still trying to get it straight in my head and I worry that by writing a half-hearted review I will not do the book justice.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt is similarly dense; however, this is a book with a belief and a wrong that it feels needs to be righted. A mission if you will. The subject is a contentious one; that making academic spaces places of intellectual and emotional safety does a disservice to the purpose of a university, to the students themselves, and to society as a whole. However, this is not a rightwing attack on the “snowflakes” of the left and the colleges of the liberal elites. The Coddling of the American Mind is a well thought out analysis on what is going wrong in our academic institutions, and therefore with our students, and how both sides of the political spectrum need to understand their part in how we ended up here. The book is also a plea for why seats of learning must change. As perhaps the most vivid analogy in the book states:

“Students are treated like candles, which can be extinguished by a puff of wind. The goal of a Socratic education should be to turn them into fires, which thrive on the wind.”

This is a book written by liberal academics who care about the academic world and the students who undertake a college education. While the authors lay blame at a number of doors, including the left AND the right, it also offers up potential solutions and gives credit where credit is due to universities who are resisting slide towards “safety-ism.”
An area where the book really breaks new ground, in my opinion, is its definition of Generation Z or as it likes to call them iGen (short for Internet Generation). This is not the first generation to have internet access; however, it was the generation that always experienced having the internet in the palm of their hand, and always has had Facebook.

“This is not a book about Millennials; indeed, Millennials are getting a bad rap these days, as many people erroneously attribute recent campus trends to them. This is a book about the very different attitudes toward speech and safety that spread across universities as the Millennials were leaving.”

I’m not a fan of the handwringing that seems to take place over millennials these days, but the tangible differences in information flow, and how iGen is exposed to the world and therefore responds to it, makes a lot on sense and of course is a significant cause for concern. The book also uses the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy to show just how out of tune the thinking of some students has become.

The Coddling of the American Mind treads some of the same ground as Anti-Social Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan (which I reviewed here) however its argument goes much further than Facebook and Social Media alone. With Universities bending to the will of students and parents, because they consider them clients, what is getting lost is critical thinking.

This is an important book for society as whole, but particularly for anyone in the academic world or who deals with the students it produces.

Which is probably everyone.

The Personality Brokers Cover

I’ve never been a particular fan of Myers-Briggs personality testing, and their ilk, that still permeate business and management culture to this day.

And if a takedown of Myers-Briggs by exposing the complete lack of any scientific basis for personality testing in general is what you are looking for there are perhaps better books. Although, it has to be said, the author does a pretty good job of debunking Myer-Briggs while telling its history anyway.

The Personality Brokers is an examination of how Myers-Briggs became the cultural phenomena that it is today. Its highly humble origins in child rearing of highly dubious quality and obsession with Carl Jung – both his work and the man himself. Through what should have been its repudiation; training spies in World War II and personality typing Nazis – badly. All the way to it being a possible solution searching for a problem and the attempt to automate the hiring process.

The Personality Brokers is a cautionary tale of how wanting something to be true because it would be so useful if it was, does not excuse ignoring the evidence. The fact the it is still a tool used by both business and government today is astounding given the history of the Myers-Briggs and, when pointed out, the obvious reasons why it cannot work as a tool in the workplace.

That it is tool that has cost people their jobs, and possibly their lives, over decades should be a scandal of the highest order. Myer-Briggs offers organizations a way of sorting the workforce without the sticky and inconvenient truth that people defy categorization. What Ms. Emre does in this illuminating volume is show that Myer-Briggs personality testing has always been a dangerous myth that people wanted to believe and therefore overlooked its flaws. That it is something that Jung would have found abhorrent, and perversion of his work.

One cannot help asking “why?” all the way through this book. Why did this idea go so far? Why has not been stopped? And why are business people so gullible when offered a solution that really is too good to be true. While there have undoubtedly been people who have found Myers-Briggs useful, both as managers and professionals, it holds little value over traditional goal setting or positive thinking.

This is a great book for arguing with your boss about.

feminist Fight club

Its not often that someone recommends a book for me to read and that they then warn me about the same book. Feminist Fight Club came with the warning: it is not for the “faint of heart” supporter of feminism.

Feminist Fight Club is not for everyone. In fact, I’m sure it will annoy a number of people. Not so much for its content, but for its tone. It sometimes feels like one is reading the Communist Manifesto. Make no mistake, this is a revolutionary guide for the repressed in both tone and content. As with my caveated recommendation; I agree that not everyone is going to agree with Feminist Flight Club’s view of the world.

I am not one of those people.

This is a handbook for women who find themselves sidelined, un-listened to, and the victims of idea theft, by oblivious and clueless male managers and colleagues. The book makes the assumption that the workplace has evolved beyond the blatant sexual harassment of the “Mad Men” era; but that there is still a long way to go. It is a book to dip in an out of rather than read in one sitting; which is where its tone may become wearing over an extended period of time.

However, there is some superb advice, and insight, dressed up as rhetoric in the book. While the section on meetings can be found from many other sources on meeting etiquette; the book has one of the best chapters I have ever read on holding salary negotiations with a manager – regardless of the sex of either party.

If there is a fundamental problem with the book; it is that in its zeal to evangelize one audience it risks alienating another. What is potentially lost due to this zeal is actually some excellent advice on office politics and the way interactions between colleagues should actually take place. That being said there are not a lot of books that are as “in your face” and confrontational as this one is and that makes it all the more interesting.

From this male view point, Feminist Fight Club did make me re-examine how I have interacted in particular circumstances, and made me more aware of subtle and institutional sexism on television, and one assumes in real life.

This is not a book to convert anyone, it is a book to hone one’s skills, to become a better feminist, a call to arms, or to just become a better person.

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The Courage to be Disliked is an odd book.

It uses the literary device of a conversation between two people, which I have used myself and for which I now apologize. I can now see how annoying it can be. The conversation between a philosopher and a young man can at times feel patronizing and is not helped by the ham-fisted characterizations on the audio edition (which was what I was listened to.)

The title is a little misleading, but is really a reference to being comfortable in your own skin and not let what you perceive as the opinions of others dictate your happiness.
The Courage to be Disliked does bring up a number of interesting, and potentially controversial, ideas. The idea of compliments and praise being a form of manipulation, for example, while very interesting is also ripe for abuse.

What the book also does is to introduce the reader to the ideas of Alfred Adler and Alderian psychology. Alder, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, was arguably so far ahead of its time that it is only now that we are really realizing just how important his ideas are.

This is a book about personal development, how we perceive the world and how we feel about how the world perceives us. It has some significant short comings in execution; however, its mission is to bring complex psychological concepts to a wider audience is admirable and it certainly achieves its goals.

The Courage to be Disliked is perhaps hamstrung by the readers preconceptions, given its title and blurb. It does not live up to its press, but that does not mean that there are not valuable lessons to learn from Kishimi, Koga, and Adler.

The following is a short talk I delivered at the Uncharted Veterinary Conference in April 2018 as part of their Mic Drop Series.

How valuable is experience when it comes to leadership?

Should we value experience?

Is it a benefit or a hindrance?

So let’s define some terminology…

A leader is someone who is followed.

A visionary is someone with an idea or ideas.

And a manager is someone who makes things happen.

All of these can be combined, or not, depending on a persons personality, experience, or skill set.

Some examples of Visionary leaders…

Steve Job of Apple,

Elon Musk of Tesla and Space X,

Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Visionaries who have, literally, changed the world.

they are all looked up to and considered gods of technology. People regularly compete to work for these people and to work on those products.

They also all have the reputation for being awful managers of people to the point of cruelty.

If Visionary leaders are horrible managers then what about managers who have vision?

Tony Blair – former British Prime Minister,

Michael Eisner – Former CEO and President of the Walt Disney “Company,

George Lucas – Film Director and former owner of Lucasfilm.

Tony Blair was elected in 1997 on a wave of hope and goodwill, he transformed his labor party in “New Labor” which had been out of power for 18 years. Despite some major successes, Blair resigned in 2007 and labor lost the next election and has not been in power since. New Labor is in ashes and Blair is widely reviled in the UK, and even by those in his own party, for his tone deaf approach to the Iraq war and for his corporate connections.

Michael Eisner led the Walt Disney Company from 1984 and 2005. He revitalized the company in the eighties and nineties with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Little Mermaid, “The Lion King,” the expansion of the theme park business, cruise ships, and the creation of stage shows. He ultimately split with his long time collaborator Jeffery Katzenberg and Roy Disney and saw an unprecedented shareholder revolt in 2004 that lead to his resignation in 2005.

George Lucas – transformed the movie industry with the original Star Wars trilogy. Arguably then did more than anyone else to sink it with his widely panned prequel trilogy. He is criticized for having a singular vision and for not listening to the feedback of others.

If visionary leaders are horrible managers and managers with vision ultimately self destruct,what about managers who just manage?

Bob Iger – Current President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company,

Bill Gates – Former CEO and President of Microsoft,

Tim Cook – Current CEO of Apple.

When was the last great breakout product from any of these companies, who are led by these managers, that was not bought it?

These companies are profitable, they make good products, just not great ones.

Why do some mangers, particularly those with vision fail, when managers without vision can succeed?

How come some visionary leaders can break all the rules and still win?

This is my story.

The period of time I’m taking about I’d been in my job for about 4 years.

I knew the answers to all the questions I was asked.

I’d tried most of what is suggested by others and had strong opinions about those suggestions.

The ghosts of what had happened in the past in the workplace haunted my current interactions.

I anticipated the responses of others and therefore do not even try to have new interactions.

I overvalued my own experience.

I believed my own story, my own press.

The things that made me a good manager – a manger with vision, a leader, I now actively rejected since I had the experience to no longer need them.

And the staff, and the people I worked with, pushed back.

I became the bad guy.
I became the roadblock.
I became the one who would not listen.
I became less and less effective.
I became the manger who kept his own counsel on everything.
I was the most capable – but I was he least able.

Some call this burnout.

I call it not learning from the experience of others.

The first step in recovery is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Interestingly during this time I, the experienced world traveler, for the first time in my life, missed four flights because I knew, knew, when my flights were and that I didn’t need to double check.

Solving this problem is not hard, you’ve, I’ve already been that person. You just need to find them again and be aware of the trap that you are currently trying to climbing out of.

The tools that made you a good manager, a great leader, when you started are the same tools that allow you to continue being so. You just have to remember that the process can be as important as result.

Capability only has value if you have the ability to use it.

Capability only has value if you have the ability to use it.

And it is those around you, those that you lead, that give you that ability. You undervalue it at your peril.

Thank you.

 

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(image courtesy of https://pixabay.com )

I’ve written a lot about Yelp.

Why I think Yelp’s business model is flawed, how I’ve pretty much come to terms with Yelp on a daily basis, and how to defend yourself from Yelp Bombing when things really go wrong. However, there is a new review demon out there, and they are making all the same mistakes as Yelp and the other review sites, but unfortunately, they also are adding a raft of new ones. This is the rise of the job boards allowing for reviews of employers from “in theory” former employees.

Indeed.com, and Glassdoor.com, are the two that have recently come to my attention, but I am sure there are other sites going down this road and it is such a flawed idea that it is actually quite amazing that it got past the development stage.

Glassdoor, is a site whose purpose is attract reviews of employers by former or current employees. They actually do a reasonable job of allowing a platform for employers to promote what they do, the benefits they offer, and the company culture. Glassdoor also state that they perform checks to ensure that reviews are genuinely from employees, have a flagging system for reviews with issues, and also have a platform for companies to respond. Glassdoor also offers companies the opportunity to place job ads through their system as a source of revenue – if not the only the only one.

Indeed.com has followed a slightly different path. They have an extremely successful job posting board, with fantastic SEO properties at a reasonable cost. I’ve used Indeed.com for years. However, Indeed.com now offers users of their site to review employers.
So, what is the problem with job sites allowing for the reviewing of employers?

Let’s, for a moment, think about those who go to job board sites on their free time. By definition, those people are either out of work or looking for work so they can leave their existing job. There is absolutely no reason for a happy and content employee to visit one of these sites. This is in stark contrast to Yelp and other consumer view sites. People tend to have just one job, but everyone uses multiple businesses every day. Therefore, the majority of people in a position to review on a jobs site are those who have either chosen to leave, or who have been terminated from a job. The number of terminated employees who have warm feelings towards their former employer, regardless of the right or wrong of their termination, are pretty minimal. There is a reason that it is against Yelp’s terms of service for former employees to review a business they used to be employed by.
Reviews are anonymous. It’s hard to respond to a review that states “I was wrongly terminated” other than with the most generic of responses when you have no idea who the employee might be.

In addition, most HR departments and employers decline to give any kind of review about an employee’s employment due to the legal consequences of doing so. It’s hard to see these kind of reviews as anything other than an attempt to entrap an employer. Much like Yelp and the other online review sites, the sample volume is pitiful – only more so. If an employer has 200 employees, but only three reviews, how is that in anyway a representative sampling.

Finally, employers are the ones being asked to pay for this system. What is in it for employers? Sure, great reviews might help attract new talent, but not in a system that seems geared towards creating bad reviews. Indeed.com, for example, at the time of this writing has no flagging system for bad reviews and no way of communicating about a review other than sending an email to Indeed.com’s main customer service department. Indeed.com’s reps, much like Yelp.com’s reps, state there is nothing they can do about a product they are asking employers to pay for.

Now gaming this system would be a pretty straight forward process. These sites are actually asking for employees (current and past) to review their employer and unscrupulous employers can bring pressure to bear on employees, whether perceived or actual. But then what is the point? If the sites want genuine reviews, this is not how you go about getting them – it might not even be possible. There is a reason why LinkedIn, for all its faults, has never gone down this road other than with personal endorsements. You can read a lot into a lack of endorsements on LinkedIn.

Because of the legal climate, former employees get little in the way of references from the majority of employers. It could be that if both employers and employees genuinely want an open review ecosystem then that could be possible. But that would mean that employers would have to be free to review former employees. That is not going to happen any time soon and I’m not sure anyone wants to see what kind of bloodbath that would cause.

Company reviews from jobsites, as they currently stand, are untrustworthy at best, and perhaps a platform for dishonesty and disingenuous communication. They should be treated with scorn by both employers, who are being asked to pay for them, and jobseekers to whom they do a disservice.

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One of the things that is interesting about the veterinary profession is how wrong a lot of the “experts” can often be. The people who were bemoaning that there were ‘too many vet schools pushing out too many graduates for too few jobs’ a few years back are the same people who are now complaining of how hard it is to hire an associate veterinarian! Dr. Dave Nicol does not belong in this camp at all. Not only is he willing to talk the talk, but he is also willing to walk the walk, with a career that includes managing and owning large and small practices on multiple continents.

Dr. Nicol’s latest book, you can read my review of his first book “The Yellow Pages are Dead” here, is timely and astute. While the need, and competition, for new graduates has never been greater, it seems that as a profession we seem to be failing them in multiple ways. “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” aims to fill the gap that is not being filled by most employers and is certainly not being filled by the veterinary schools. Chapters range from how to not get sued to “your health and wellness,” handling the emotional toll of euthanasia, and how a new graduate should choose a first job.

As well as focusing on the major issues facing new graduates, “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” also tackles the more complicated subject of company culture and the new graduates place in fostering great leadership, in themselves and others. The book aims not only to foster great new graduates, but help turn them in to excellent veterinarians that clients will want to see, employers will want to employ, and staff will want to work with.

Dr. Nicol’s friendly, and conversational tone makes “So You’re A Vet…Now What?” an easy and short read, I finished the book in a single sitting that lasted a little over three hours; however, it is also a book that new graduates will want to refer back to. With some great stories, I want to know what happened to the vet through the glass – see chapter five, and real-world examples, this book is literally the new vet’s handbook.

For employers, there are some controversial topics, and I find a couple of the ‘lines in the sand’ a little too ridged. Additionally, since Dr. Nicol hails from the UK and currently practices there, it is little U.K. centric which American readers may find a little jarring; however, these are all very minor quibbles / observations on an excellent and important book not just for new graduates but for employers of new graduates and the larger profession beyond.

The book is available as a digital download from http://www.drdavenicol.com and a printed version is forthcoming.

power

The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Loose Influence, is a slim but insightful book on the relationship between power, the powerful, powerlessness and the powerless. “The seductions of power induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place”, which is from the introduction, nicely sums up the premise.

The author, who uses his own experimental data and a number of graphics, makes a solid case for the phenomenon that others have labeled, incorrectly, as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Separating the Power Paradox into 20 ‘Power Principles, which are too extensive to list here, Dr. Keltner neatly lays out why leaders become leaders, and why they can go off the rails.
What is missing from the book, is historical perspective. It is filled with experimental data, but real world examples from business, or politics, would make for a more compelling case. One of the reasons that I appreciate the argument made in the book so much is due to the insights of Nassir Ghaemi in his excellent: A First Rate Madness which I reviewed here and is full (in retrospect) of historical examples of the Power Paradox in action.

From my own experience, I have seen the Power Paradox at work in supervisors and in myself. Terminology is, of course, a problem. I have always accepted that “power” means the control that your job, or position, grants you; whereas the ability to lead is granted through “authority.” Authority is given by a group. The Power Paradox lumps these both together, though it does make use of “empowered” but because of the larger framework of the “principles” this actually works. The definition of power and authority, may be too simple for such a complex subject, particularly when dealt with in such detail as here with “The Power Principle,”

The book becomes particularly interesting, and potentially controversial, when Dr. Keltner deals with gossip. Long considered a symptom of a potentially hostile work environment, Dr. Keltner makes the argument that gossip is how strong groups self-regulate and expose the “reputations of the selfish and the Machiavellian.” The author does recognize that gossip can be extremely harmful, particularly when it is abused by the powerful; however, the case for it not being the cardinal sin that we have long believed it to be – particularly if your goal is to have high functioning groups – is pretty solid.

Annoyingly for a book written by an academic, but probably a sop to writing a pop-science book, the footnotes are exiled to the end of the book, making following a path of enquiry more complex than it really needs to be, but this is a small criticism of a great leadership book. It is particularly useful for those who have been in leadership positions for a while. There are lots of books out there on how to become a leader, create functional teams, and even dealing with powerlessness; however, it is rare to find a book that addresses the dysfunction of leaders who get used to their positions, and why things can go awry.
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For leaders, you need the book before you really need it, otherwise you will not stay a leader for long.

make your bed

A slim volume, Make Your Bed – Little Things That Can Change Your Life …And Maybe The World, is and expanded version of a commencement address that the author gave to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.

A retired Admiral, who had been a Navy Seal, and ultimately severed as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command, Admiral McRaven is an interesting person who’s life story is one worthy of biography. Unfortunately, although this book does contain a number of anecdotes about his experiences in SEAL training and his life in general, it does not really meet the definition of a work of biography. It therefore needs to stand on the advice that it imparts and there is little here that is new or refreshing. In fact, there is a lot that is hokey or debunked.

The first lesson in the book is actually the one that works the best: to make your bed very morning. The idea being that it meant you started your day with a job well done, something you can could be proud of, whatever came next you will be better prepared for it. There is some merit to this idea, not necessarily making your bed, but starting your day with a task that can be completed successfully and that you can be proud of for the rest of the day. However, the author pushes the example too far, even noting when visiting Sadam Hussain in prison that his bed was not made and so therefore he must be a bad guy. Ignoring Sadam’s appalling crimes for a moment, I’m not sure that there are many leaders of countries, prisoners facing the death penalty, or politicians of any persuasion who make their beds.

Don’t give up, take risks, don’t complain, etc. the lessons are pretty much what you would expect from a career military officer. As mentioned before, there is a story to be told here. Just not with the structure and marketing of a leadership / self-help book. Perhaps the most frustrating element of the book is that the examples can be interpreted in such a way that they can contradict each other. For example, the author tells the story of being injured during a parachute jump and how his boss pulled strings to allow him to stay in the SEALs, thereby preserving his career. The author uses this as an example of why you need to be able to rely on your team. However, later on the book talks about accepting misfortunes that happen to you and that life is not fair so get used to it.

 I’ll buy an auto-biography or biography of Admiral McRaven. He has led an interesting life filled with interesting people and experiences. I’m just not sure I’m ready to take distilled life lessons from him at this time.

As a manager, you are never going to please everyone.

Some might even argue that if you do, you are not doing your job correctly. You will be called upon to discipline and even terminate employees, some of whom you might consider friends if you no longer had to manage them, and who may already consider you a friend. That is until you fire them – no friendship survives that.  Moreover, a portion of your job is to stick your head above the parapet wall and take the pot shots that people send your way: customers and employees alike. You may well take the wrap for decisions that other stakeholders, and even the courts, have made and the people you work with will almost certainly never know about the arguments that you have won to protect their interests.

If you are someone who values internal culture, like I am, then you have the added concern of trying to make any piece of feedback positive. Gone are the days, for the most part, of managers losing their tempers and yelling at the people the work with. I won’t say that I have never lost my temper at a member of staff but I have made sure to apologize afterwards and I have always felt that loosing one’s temper is counterproductive: If it actually hurts what I’ve trying to achieve then what is the point? Management is hard, we are all over worked, underappreciated, our hands are often tied, and the goal posts are always shifting. However, the rewards make it worth it: financial, recognition of your peers, and the sense of achievement when you see both people and businesses grow.

And then there are things like this:

“I loved the actual job here. Worked here for almost a year. If you could rise above petty back-stabbing and the fact people would be super nice to your face, and cut you down in a heartbeat behind your back, then it was a great job. Hospital chief administrator suffered from Little Big Man syndrome and needed to be avoided at all costs – unless you wanted your day ruined, as he was always incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate – even if praise was his intention! Some of the doctors were difficult, but most were really great to work with. Overall, if you have thick skin, this was a good place to work – but no benefits other than an employee discount for vet services.

Ouch.

Other than the obvious of “what else would you expect a terminated employee to say?” What else can be learned from this from a management perspective? What can I learn from this since I feature so prominently?

Well yes, I am short – well spotted. Not much I can do about that. I guess you could argue that as someone of limited stature I have to be additionally careful to not appear angry so as to not play into the stereotype. As noted above, this is actually in my own interests anyway but a helpful reminder that I need to live up to my own standards.

If I am to be avoided, then that is actually pretty difficult. I try very hard to check in with every employee on both shifts every day and I am obviously sorry they felt this way. I think the comment of being “incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate” is a little harsh. We, as an employer and I personally, have put a number of programs in place to improve and celebrate employee recognition. However, I will admit, that I do need to praise more in person than I currently do. Most managers do suffer from this and it is probably one of the more difficult aspects of the job. It is particularly hard when you have an employee who is not doing anything particularly wrong, but also not doing anything particularly exceptional. Since the above quote is from an anonymous post it is difficult to know for sure anything about this former employee, but as a general takeaway I think this rings true.

A “reading between the lines” insight, and backed up by some feedback from former employees who are now friends (see I’m not all bad) is that there is perhaps a lack of trust at times. A feeling that I did not have the employee’s “back.” This is probably a feature of trying to make customer service central to what we do. If a customer complains about an employee or the service they delivered, unless the claim is outrageous, I will probably try to make to client happy. This can certainly be interpreted as taking the side of the customer instead of the employee. It shouldn’t – I’m trying to protect the business and therefore indirectly the employee. If I feel there is an issue to be addressed with the employee, I will address it separately; however, it is easy to see how this issue arises and perhaps I need to do a better job of dealing with this unintended tension.    

As a final note, it is interesting that this former employee felt that discounted vet services was all the benefits that were on offer. I would take away from this that I needed to do a better job of explaining the other things that formed our benefits package.   

I don’t want a lot of reviews like this – nobody does. But the same rules apply to bad reviews about yourself as to bad reviews about your business. They are an opportunity to get feedback that you would not otherwise be able to receive. And while anonymous former employee reviews are even more unfair than anonymous customer reviews, due to the legal issues involved, a little self-examination is not a bad thing. If nothing else, it hopefully made for an interesting blog post.

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