Archives for category: Leadership


Any book about Elon Musk stands the chance of being wildly out of date before it hits book store shelves. 

This biography of Musk, by Ashlee Vance, originally published in 2015, already feels a little dated, but it does give a good profile of the man, his companies, and his roots. It is unfortunate then, that while acknowledging Musk’s propensity to be difficult, if not impossible, to work for it does nothing to mitigate the awe that the writer obviously feels for his subject. 

There is good reason for this. 

Musk is a larger than life character who if at a press conference announced; “l’m Ironman,” nobody would bat an eye lid. In fact it is hard to know whether the movie version of Tony Stark is based on Elon Musk or if it is the other way round. 
There is a lack of focus in this book on how appallingly Musk can treat other people. For example, he has been married 3 times, twice to the same woman, and he famously fired his long time assistant, and gate keeper, because she asked to be paid like an executive.  

What shines through, however, is vision. And that leads to an interesting question for Musk and for businesses in general: Can a dramatic and outsized vision, if you are good enough at selling it, make up for short comings in other areas such as management of people, sound business planning, and realistic expectations? 

For the moment, Musk seems to be on a roll; however, there are plenty that feel he has built a house of cards and from the stories told of the early days of Tesla are anything to go by, and the economists and manufacturers in Detroit are correct, it certainly could all come tumbling down any day. 

I also wonder how sustainable a company is when it relies on these most grandiose of goals? What happens when the company cannot achieve these goals? 

Elon Musk is undoubtably a unique individual, who has remarkable ambitions and achievements; but companies are built on a scalabile culture – not just vision. Mr. Vance’s book does a good job of profiling the vision, but not so much on the foundations and structures for sustainable businesses.   

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creativity inc

 

When I review books, I do so because they interest me, or occasionally I review books because I am following a theme.

I’ve had an interest, the way one has an interest in a train crash, with Disney for many years. This was solidified by reading James B. Steward’s excellent “Disney War” which details the infighting and board room drama of the Michael Eisner years at Disney. With Pixar’s Co-founder John Lasseter recent taking of a six-month sabbatical, from Pixar and Disney Animation, for unspecified “missteps,” reading about Pixar’s culture and management with the benefits of hindsight sounded extremely interesting.

What I did not expect was a candid and practical guide to managing creative people, and the creative process, from an obviously highly talented manager and successful business man. This is also one of the best general management books I have read in years.

Mr. Catmull, with the help of Amy Wallace, have written an extraordinary management book that is honest, practical, and one that does not gloss over mistakes while still celebrating their company’s culture. What could have been just a retelling of Pixar’s, undoubtedly interesting, and dramatic, history instead is a retelling of that history with a guide to the lessons learned and the mistakes made.

Books about the history of companies are often written by, or in conjunction with, the visionary leaders who have fantastic ideas and make great leaps of intuition. “Creativity Inc., however, is written by a working manager: Mr. Catmull. While visionary in his conception of wanting to make the first 3D computer animated movie, his role at Pixar, and later Disney Animation, has been one of the manager who makes things happen, assembles the people, and allows his people to be as creative as possible. He is not afraid to place caveats on things such as employee engagement and feedback, while at the same time obviously taking these subjects extremely seriously.

While the concepts in the book are legion, and makes the book well worth a second reading, Mr. Catmull’s belief that failure is not only to be tolerated but actively encouraged stands out. While many in management circles treat failure as a necessary evil, Mr. Catmull makes a convincing case that failure is not evil at all but an important and necessary part of the creative process. Coupled with this belief in failure, is that while “honesty” has many moral connotations, an insistence on “candor” when giving feedback, from any source, is central to preserving a creative culture.

Getting people to work together, being honest about the short comings of the processes, and considering culture as a constant and evolving thing makes “Creativity, Inc.” a different type of management book. The fact that almost everyone knows about Pixar, and hold the movies they make in high regard, makes this a very accessible book. It also manages to avoid the saccharine quality of a lot of management books that intersect with the world of Disney (Lee Cockerell’s “Creating Magic” in particular comes to mind.)

For those who have become a bit jaded by management books, “Creativity, Inc.” is for you. This is an honest, dare I say candid, tale that teaches us that all businesses should be creative and that unleashing the creative power of our employees, or at least to stop stifling it, is probably one of the best things we can do as managers for our business and our employees.

One of my most popular blog posts is “The Cost of Servant Leadership” which I published in 2012. Due to some renewed interested, I thought it would make a nice first choice as the core content for my first experiment into animation. I hope you enjoy!

If you would like to read the original post, The Cost of Servant Leadership, you can find it here.

homo deus

“Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” is the follow up to the internationally acclaimed bestseller “Sapiens.” Both books are remarkable and well worth reading if you want to have a better understanding of our species: where it came from and, perhaps, where it is going.

However, it is Homo Deus, which I think is particularly useful from a management and leadership perspective for its insights into how people made decisions and why. It is also interesting to have a book focus on why small groups of people (under 150 is the magic number) behave so differently from larger groups – even when it is against their own interest. The section that covers the Ultimatum Game, and how this changed the world of behavioral economics is particularly illuminating.

Where the book really comes into its own is when it comes to discussing the myths and fictions that define out world. The stories we tell each other in other words.
“As long as all Sapiens living in a particular locality believe in the same stories, they all follow the same rules, making it easy to predict the behavior of strangers and to organize mass-cooperation networks.”

The fictions we tell each other (laws, money, countries, economic theories, sports, companies, brands, etc.) allow our world of free thinking humans to work and communicate even when we have no personal relationship. We have a relationship with the company or brand because of the story we have been told and we believe. This also holds true for those who work inside the company.

“Fictions enable up to cooperate better. The price we pay is that these same fictions also determine the goals of our cooperation.” In other words, a company’s mission statement may be about how it’s first priorities are customers service and low prices, and it may have data to back that up, but is that really the yardstick it should be measured? What about the people who believe in the fiction?

By exposing the way humans work together, Harari builds a case for what is to come for Homo Sapiens. To us, now, it seems frightening and dystopian and as the author freely admits, will probably be nothing like he has described. But by giving us a glimpse into why our world of communication works the way it does, he gives us pointers to why might influence us in the future where the network becomes all important.

This is an extraordinary book about people. It is long, but it has a friendly conversational tone for a book that is essentially about scientific theory. While the book deals extensively with religions, and religious though, it might make difficult reading for those who are not used to looking at these matters from a scientific point of view. However, it does make a strong case for how religion and science need each other.

Homo Deus should, along with its predecessor “Sapiens,” be required reading for anyone who works with groups of people, but it should probably just be required reading for everyone.

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part two, we look at how to hopefully prevent, and then handle a weaponized review campaign going viral. You can find part one, on prevention and initial responses, here.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Whack-A Mole

After you have responded to the initial review, you now have several reviews all referencing the same issue / incident. The good news is that most review platforms care about their review eco-space and you can report these reviews as violations of their Terms of Service. Brevity is the key. Don’t explain why the reviewer is wrong just explain that the review is essentially a duplicate and part of a campaign or a review by someone who is not a customer.

Make sure to start checking your other platforms for reviews, respond to the first one with your measured response, and then report any duplicates. Don’t forget about other opportunities to post on your social media pages and channels. Yelp Tips, which can only be viewed on mobile devices, are often forgotten. Posts to your Facebook page, or check-ins on Facebook and other location based services, are also areas that need to be monitored. Other than the initial measured response, do not engage on that platform any further. If a customer has a genuine question then of course you should answer, but it ideally should just be a version of your measured response.

Going Viral

Making something go viral, for any reason, is hard. You should take solace in this. As a marketing professional, I have only had one thing go truly viral, and that is not so unusual. An amateur trying to make something go viral will have to be very lucky indeed. However, we do live in an age of ordinary people with extraordinary social reach. If review / story has legs and starts to go viral, you need to be prepared.

Banning people from your Facebook page, and other social media channels, can be counterproductive. In the minds of those posting, it just proves that you have something to hide. Take the moral high ground and post your measured response on your social media channels and your website. This can be a little risky as you are letting your clients and followers know about something you have been trying make go away. It can also be a hard sell to those you report to. It does, however, have the advantage of letting you shape the story rather than letting others shape it and just leaving you to respond.

A great example of this working is how FedEx responded to one of their drivers caught on camera throwing a computer monitor over a fence. By responding publicly, with an apology, and what and how they were going to change, the story went from a FedEx driver throwing a package over a fence as an example of how packages are delivered, to how FedEx’s quick response was indicative of their customer service and culture. I believe one of the genius elements of FedEx’s response was to make a video statement so that their own video could be played alongside the video of their employee throwing the package. This looked a lot better than an uncomfortable interview, or a written statement.

By taking the moral high ground and being open, you may not convince your initial detractors that you are sorry / wanting the resolve the issue, but you may well persuade some that are on the fence about the issue. You will also give ammunition to those in your network, that support you, to help defend you. Your existing loyal customers will often be your biggest defenders and cheerleaders, but they need guidance. For this reason, I am not a big fan of disabling reviews on Facebook pages and the ability of users to post – but that is decision that needs to be based on the individual situation.

The Press

News organizations, and particularly local TV news, get pitched multiple times every day by people angry by how they feel they have been treated by a business. The good news for businesses is that it takes a lot for a story to be picked up, and anyone who is waging a campaign against you is unlikely to get past their screening process. The bad news is that news organizations need human interest stories, and if the customer is credible, and has a story with legs, then the media may get involved.

It is important that whomever answers the phones in your company, and your entire frontline staff for that matter, understand how to deal with the press when they come calling. “I know that the management will want to talk with you and address the situation. I am not the right person for you to talk with, but let me get you someone who is.” is an example of how to correctly respond to an enquiry. “No comment” is about the worst thing that anyone can say to press. The lack of a comment becomes the story. It makes it look like whomever has said it has something to hide because they don’t want to speak.

When talking to the press be very brief. The longer the answer you give, the more chance there is for something to be taken out of context. If you do not speak to the press; however, you will not make the story go away. Reporters have deadlines, so be cognizant and respectful of that. For the most part reporters are not looking to burn anyone, but they do want a story – try to make it yours, and not defined by someone else.

Unfortunately, once the media gets involved with viral story, it can self-perpetuate a Yelp bombing campaign with others who have read about / or seen the story leaving reviews. Again, Yelp itself is pretty good about dealing with this. If you send a link to the story in the media story when flagging the review Yelp can suspend all reviews to your account until interest burns out.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp Bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

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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.

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part one, we look at how to prevent, and initially respond, to weaponized reviews.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Nobody in business likes getting bad reviews. Anyone who pours their heart and soul into an enterprise can feel dispirited, and treated unfairly, when receiving criticism; particularly when you have not been given the chance to try and resolve the issue.

Like it or not, reviews are here to stay. They are a fact of doing business today. To deal with everyday review issues, I highly recommend Jay Baer’s excellent “Hug Your Haters,” which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who try to turn reviews into a weapon. This is usually achieved by posting multiple reviews, sometimes across multiple platforms, using multiple different accounts, giving the impression of a serious issue or to destroy the businesses review platform rating. This can be to extort money and / or services, or as an act of revenge. This kind of review warfare is also sometimes known by the term “Yelp bombing.” This series, hopefully, will give you some grounding, and tools, to help protect yourself, and your business, from weaponized reviews.

It is important to recognize the difference between a Yelp bombing campaign and a review going viral. If something is going viral, it is because strangers like, or are outraged by, what they see or read. When it comes to a concerted attack, there may be a hope that the attack will become viral, but it is originally perpetrated one person, or a small group, trying to exert influence. This could be a customer, a former employee, a competitor, or just a bully trying to change something about you or your business.

Prevention

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have a complaints procedure for your clients. Empower your staff to solve small issues before they turn into big issues. Listen, learn, and respond to your reviews. Try to divorce yourself from the idea that you are right and they are wrong. It does not matter if you win the argument in your place of business. If you turn your customer into an enemy, and they then bash you online, you have lost.

Usually, apologies cost nothing. Make them sincere and swallow your pride. If the dispute cannot be resolved with an apology ask a simple question: “how much am I willing to pay to not have this appear on Yelp or other review sites?” Whatever the answer is, there is your budget for resolving this complaint.

Obviously, you have to have claimed your business on all the major review platforms. Going through this in detail is really outside the realm of this article; however, you should receive an email, or alert, anytime someone posts a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook. I would also strongly suggest that you have a Google Alert running for mentions of your business name, names of key personal, or anything else that someone may use to identify or describe your business. You can setup alerts here: https://www.google.com/alerts

Stay away from controversial subjects with your online presence. Businesses should standup and be counted for causes and ideas they support, but go into it with your eyes open. With any controversial subject, there is the potential for someone to become upset and try to change your stance by methods other than debate or no longer giving you their custom.

Assessment

Despite your best efforts; however, you find yourself a target of a Yelp bombing campaign. It is important to note, that while the term “Yelp bombing” has become a generic term for an online review attack, Yelp is actually the platform you want this kind of attack to take place on. Yelp tends to have the best tools and resources for a business to protect itself. I am not a big fan of Yelp, you can read my feelings about Yelp and why I dislike their business model here, but when it comes to Yelp bombing they really do have their act together.

The first signs of a campaign against your business will usually be you being alerted to, or reading, a 1-star review. Speed is of the essence. If the review is seemingly out of nowhere, then reach out to the reviewer apologizing for their experience and asking if you can help to resolve the situation. If the platform allows it, message the reviewer privately. Don’t be afraid to ask them for their name so you can look into the matter.
If, despite your speedy response, more reviews are posted, then you have genuine situation on your hands.

First, breathe.

It is easy to feel panicked and that events are completely out of your control. You need to be the one with the cool head. People undertaking a Yelp bombing campaign are not doing so from a particularly rational place. This usually shows up in the writing and the nature of the complaint.

Read the review(s). Does the client have a point from reading the review? Is it a good story? If you were not connected to the business would you want to learn more? Remember right and wrong does not enter into your assessment of the campaign. What you need to assess is whether the story has “legs.” Is what has been written true? If someone reads this who knows nothing about your business will they believe it? Get other people’s opinions – this will help bring some perspective. If you make the assessment that the reviewer has a point and that the story has legs then there is the potential for it go viral, which is what you are trying to stop.

First Responses

Do not, I repeat, do not be in too much of a hurry to tell your side of the story. However, while it is important to not to lash out immediately with why your customer is “wrong, crazy, or clueless,” it is also important that your response is prompt and the correct response.

If the reviewer is not communicating, then start to craft a public response that addresses your position in very general terms and that you are happy to engage further via a different channel. I am a big proponent for email as this new channel. Email keeps the communication out of the public eye, unless someone posts it, it takes the heat out of conversations, and it gives you a written record. I know others feel that responding by a phone call, or even meeting in person, are better solutions. I would suggest that you choose whatever you are the most comfortable with.

Your response should be read by multiple other people and you should all agree that it is reasonable, conciliatory, and addresses the reviewer’s primary complaint. If the campaign against you has legs, and starts to go viral, your response will also be featured so it is important that the response is the right one.

It should also go without saying, that you should never retaliate. You need to be the adult, and it needs to be clearly seen by any 3rd party that you are conciliatory, level headed, and just trying to resolve the issue.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

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.

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