Sunday Oct 25, 2009

Conducting Leadership

Here`s a interesting way to spend 20 minutes -- TED Talk: Itay Talgam: Lead like the great conductors. Great presentation. Lots of fun. There are so many ways to lead. And you can see both obvious and subtle differences expressed in some of the great conductors Talgam profiles. Some control forcefully and dramatically. Others relax and have fun and enthusiastically guide people along effortlessly. While others are more quiet and gently create an environment where musicians can express their talent so it`s difficult to tell who leads who. Fascinating stuff because you see it all unfold as a performance. Personally, I think the best conductors (or the best anything) just blend into the music so the focus is on the music and not on them.

That last bit is important. Many leaders miss it entirely and it undermines them completely. For me, the word "leadership" has very little meaning now. Actually, I view the word largely in the pejorative. The very concept has been so thoroughly abused these days (read a newspaper lately?) I am hard pressed to find leaders I can look up to and learn from. In fact, I have pretty much given up on the exercise as a waste of time. Don`t lead. Instead, do. Just do. And if you must lead or, gasp, call yourself a leader, then lead with doing in mind. That is the only way you will ever earn any credibility among those you think you lead. It`s also the only way you will ever attract naturally those like-minded individuals who want to grow with you -- not as a result of you.

Wednesday Aug 26, 2009

Emanuel as a Project Manager

Interesting article in the NYT about Rahm Emanuel and his management style -- Emanuel Wields Power Freely, and Faces the Risks. I`m not interested in any of the political propaganda and myth making in the article (although I do find that stuff entertaining at times), but instead I`m much more drawn to how Emanuel manages a president. That`s a difficult task in general and especially these days, but that`s what Chiefs of Staff do for the most part. And there are some simple project management lessons here that are obvious because the position is so high profile and this Chief of Staff plays that card to the max. The constant emailing and phone calling to extend presence. The requiring of and then responding to weekly written reports from staff members to keep people focused. The carrying around of note cards and to-do lists to not forget anything. The maintenance of a personal database of contacts running into the thousands of names to demonstrate influence. The mandating of deliverables so achievements can be measured and quantified. And the assertion of power as pervasively as possible in an effort to leverage and create even more power (or in Rahm`s case, intimidation). All of that is basic stuff to a good project manager. The difference is only scale.

So, I wonder how Emanuel would deal with some of the projects I am working on?

Monday Aug 03, 2009

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Here`s an excellent article from Paul Graham exploring the very real distinction between how managers view meetings and how makers view meetings -- Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule. Makers, in this case, can be writers, programmers, or anyone making things for a living. Basically, managers meet so often that they split up their days into 1 hour chunks back-to-back because that fits how they think and work. But makers simply can`t function that way. Makers need more time to do their thing. They think very differently than managers, and one hour just doesn`t cut it. In fact, two or so manager-oriented meetings can destroy a maker`s entire day. And big problems come in when you mix these two styles of work. I totally agree with the article. But I would go a bit further and suggest that the best project managers are actually makers who work on a makers schedule. They still do project management, but they work their tasks with a makers mind, not a manager`s mind.

Thursday Mar 05, 2009

The Chief of Staff

I have always been interested in the role of Chief of Staff. Presidents have these guys around, and so does the military. And now a lot of companies have them as well. It seems like an odd role at times, though. Good chiefs have massive power in their own right, but they also have to reflect the boss almost perfectly so their own opinions vaporize. Seems like an interesting dance. Here is a very interesting and long piece on Obama`s chief of staff -- Rahm Emanuel: The Gatekeeper.

Monday Mar 02, 2009

The "New" Organizers

People have been organizing and building communities forever. But every once and a while a team does it particularly well. The Obama campaign's community effort was an example of that and it's well outline here -- The New Organizers, What's really behind Obama's ground game. What I like about their strategy was that they combined the best of multiple worlds to create something new.

From Zack Exley's post: "The 'New Organizers' have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so 'top-down' and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or 'bottom-up' organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization."

That's interesting. You don't often hear community building described that with organizers using the best of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. So, in that sense I agree with the "new" bit, and it's a welcome lesson for all of us work in community-building positions -- any community.

I found that post on the Obama's guys from Barton George -- It takes a Community (and they could use a Marketing Guide) — Mozilla Debut’s theirs -- as he was talking about community development efforts at Mozilla, Ubuntu, Debian, and OpenSUSE, and he points to the new Mozilla community marketing guide (see Patrick Finch). I sent these links to advocacy-discuss on OpenSolaris so we can talk about these issues, too. Teresa started the thread recently in an effort to get some ideas going for how we can do more as a community to organize ourselves. We've had this discussion before on OpenSolaris (many times, actually), but we still have some work to do to really document a substantial guide that we can all get around and drive together. We have some very good bits and pieces spread across the community, but perhaps its time to bring it all together into one document and label it as such?

Saturday Feb 28, 2009

Never Waste a Really Good Crisis

Huge article in the NY Times about the financial crisis. It's called The Big Fix, by David Leonhardt. Really nice bit of perspective and history and a great read. But what keeps jumping out at me is one quote that puts things into an interesting context:

"TWO WEEKS AFTER THE ELECTION, Rahm Emanuel, Obama`s chief of staff, appeared before an audience of business executives and laid out an idea that Lawrence H. Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, later described to me as Rahm’s Doctrine. 'You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,' Emanuel said. `What I mean by that is that it's an opportunity to do things you could not do before.'"

That's absolutely true. Even a quick flip through history demonstrates this concept quite clearly and it cuts right across a variety of societies. The leaders of countries (the smart leaders, anyway) tend to use a serious crises to change policy significantly and usually in ways that, in retrospect, represent an obvious paradigm change. In other words, big changes that are only realized later. I'd feel better about it if the power elite suffered the same consequences of these paradigm shifts as the rest of us, but that's not how the world works. I get that. Also eerie about Emanuel's comment is just how much it reminds me of Naomi Klein's latest book, Shock: Disaster Capitalism, in which she documents leaders manipulating events, shocking their populations, and changing policies radically (and generally to the detriment of the people). This phenomenon is not new, and it's not used exclusively by leaders of so-called capitalistic societies. Noam Chomsky has talked about the concept for years, especially and most recently with respect to how governments around the world used 911 to clamp down and reduce freedoms if those tendencies were present in the first place. The crisis was their opportunity. And they didn't waste it. Now, in the quote above, Rahm is obviously talking about fixing things, but the process is the same as wrecking things: you do it using a crisis.

So, if the power dudes view a good crisis as an opportunity never to be wasted, why don't we feel the same way and do the same thing? It's certainly a different way of thinking, but it can be liberating if you look ahead and actively jump paradigms on your own terms instead of holding on to the past as it crumples under your feet because others are acting in their own interests. This is a good lesson for project management as well. The life cycle of any great project snakes around like a river running wild, so it pays to step back occasionally and plan for those times when things break badly. They are opportunities "to do things you could not do before." Take advantage of them.

And finally, here's Rahm's crisis video at the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday Feb 15, 2009

Transparent Leadership Obvious to Everyone

Japan Airline Boss Sets Exec Example (CBS Evening News). Here`s another great report about Haruka Nishimatsu`s leadership at Japan Airlines. There`s nothing complicated here. This should be recognizable to everyone who works for a living -- those who earn their way every day. It`s leadership. Many leaders brand themselves special and leadership itself as some special art that only a few can master. I think that`s propaganda. The best leaders grow from the bottom up, they continually earn their support serving the community from which they came, and they don`t distance themselves from everyone once they attain their status. Simple. Nishimatsu is rare. So is leadership.

JAL tag here on this blog. JAL tag on delicious.

Saturday Jan 24, 2009


2009: Don't Just Do Something: "I had been looking at the problem in the wrong way. As is natural and intuitive, I had been looking at what to do, rather than what to not do." -- Matt May

Great quote. If I could only do more of this not doing I'd be much better off. I think too much. I do too much. And that's not an effective long term strategy.

Monday Apr 14, 2008

Starting Fires

Scott Berkun is back and Making Things Happen in project management. I have to pick up a copy of this book when I'm in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. I participate in Scott's project management community, and I learn a great deal as a result. Looking forward to the updated read.


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