Leading Light: Warren Bennis is Dead

9. August 2014

Date: 09-08-2014

Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

Bennis The man who invented the study of corporate leadership, Warren Bennis, died on July 31. WARREN BENNIS was the world’s most important thinker on the subject that business leaders care about more than any other: themselves. When he started writing about leadership in the 1950s the subject was a back road. When he died on July 31st it was an eight-lane highway crowded with superstar professors whizzing along in multi-million-dollar muscle cars.

Mr Bennis produced about 30 books on leadership.

Some of them are classics, such as “On Becoming a Leader” (1989). All are surprisingly readable, stuffed with anecdotes, examples and literary references. He offered advice to leaders from all walks of life. Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, regarded him as a mentor. Presidents from both sides of the aisle—John Kennedy and Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan—sought his advice. If Peter Drucker was the man who invented management (as a book about him claimed), then Warren Bennis was the man who invented leadership as a business idea. 

Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second. People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that “failing organisations are usually over-managed and under-led”. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Get a Job at Google

23. February 2014

Date: 23-02-2014
Source: Thomas L. Friedman

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.

“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock. “If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

To sum up Bock’s approach to hiring: Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one — besides brand-name colleges. Because “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”
Too many colleges, he added, “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

Businesspeople would be better off if they did less and thought more

15. August 2013

Date: 15-08-2013
Source: The Economist: Schumpeter
Subject: In praise of laziness

THERE is a never-ending supply of business gurus telling us how we can, and must, do more. Sheryl Sandberg urges women to “Lean In” if they want to get ahead. John Bernard offers breathless advice on conducting “Business at the Speed of Now”. Michael Port tells salesmen how to “Book Yourself Solid”. And in case you thought you might be able to grab a few moments to yourself, Keith Ferrazzi warns that you must “Never Eat Alone”.

Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much—too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form, and altogether too much busy-ness. The Dutch seem to believe that an excess of meetings is the biggest devourer of time: they talk of vergaderziekte, “meeting sickness”. However, a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that it is e-mails: it found that highly skilled office workers spend more than a quarter of each working day writing and responding to them.

Which of these banes of modern business life is worse remains open to debate. But what is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster. Read the rest of this entry »

Rechtfertigungen einmal anders …

10. December 2012

Alexander Schön

Serie Realitätsverweigerung #10

Alexander Schön, 10.12.2012

Im Rahmen eines groß angelegten Veränderungsprojektes beschäftigt mich gerade ein Phänomen, das ich zwar schon öfter erlebt, aber noch nie so bewusst in allen Facetten benannt gefunden habe:
Veränderung muss sich umfassend rechtfertigen und ihre Absichten und Zielsetzungen penibel begründen – das Beibehalten des Status Quo, das Festhalten am bisher Gewohnten, praktisch überhaupt nicht.

Stellen Sie sich vor: Eine neue Geschäftsführerin konfrontiert, nachdem sie sich einen ersten Überblick verschafft hat, die Abteilungsleiter im nächsten Management-Meeting: „Unsere Erträge sind rückläufig, wir stagnieren bei den Kunden und unsere Dienstleistungen werden oft bemängelt. Meine erste Diagnose: Unser Geschäftsmodell, unsere Auffassung von Leadership und unsere Organisationsform widersprechen sich.“
Viele würden jetzt fragen: „Was können wir tun?“ Manche wären schon weiter und fragten (dem First Law of Holes ausweichend: If you are in one stop digging!): „Was müssen wir anders tun?“ Unsere Geschäftsführerin fordert aber: „ … Begründen Sie mir gut, warum wir so weiter arbeiten sollen, wie wir es derzeit tun!

Es bräuchte wahrscheinlich mehrere Iterationen bis all der Argumentationsmüll rund um Besitzstandregelung (engl.: grandfathering), Machterhaltung, simple Ursache-Wirkungs-Logik, Not-invented-here-Syndrom, u.a.m. entsorgt wäre. Aber dann könnten ein paar Pretiosen zum Vorschein kommen. Etwa das gegenseitige Verständnis von Realitäten oder zumindest deren Anerkenntnis.

Vielfach ist zu beobachten, dass Unternehmen noch immer so agieren, als ob Zukunft vorhersagbar wäre. Zumindest deuten die angewandten Handlungsstrategien darauf hin. Die klassischen Managementmethoden in dieser Annahme heißen Read the rest of this entry »

Stimmt denn eigentlich Ihr Business Modell noch?

5. November 2012

Serie Realitätsverweigerung #4

Helmut F. Karner, 5/11

Zeitgemässes Innovationsmanagement ist seit 5 Jahren um eine Dimension erweitert:

  • Produktinnovation: eh klar, wer da nicht dabei ist, gibt seine Gegenwart auf
  • Verfahrensinnovation: eh klar, weil sonst stimmen die Kosten, die Zeiten, die Servicequalität nicht
  • aber: Business Model Innovation ist die neue Dimension, bei den Avantgarden unter den Unternehmen seit 5 Jahren auf dem Radarschirm. Wer da nicht dabei ist, gibt seine Zukunft auf.
    John Kotter nennt es in seinem Artiekle “Accelerate!” in der HBR vom November 2012 auch “Context Change”. “Today any company that isn’t rethinking its direction at least every few years—as well as constantly adjusting to changing contexts—and then quickly making significant operational changes is putting itself at risk. But, as any number of business leaders can attest, the tension between needing to stay ahead of increasingly fierce competition and needing to deliver this year’s results can be overwhelming”.

Was sind die Fragestellungen bei der Business Model Innovation? Read the rest of this entry »

Organisations perform better when leaders have done the same job as followers

23. September 2012

Amanda Goodall, Ganna Pogrebna,23 September 2012, voxeu

Senior Research Associate at IZA Institute for the Study of Labor

Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of Economics, University of Sheffield

In recent years major firms have moved away from hiring CEOs with technical expertise towards instead hiring leaders who are managers with generalist skills. This is wrong, according to the evidence presented in this column. In the highly-skilled setting of Formula One racing, the authors show that it is the experts who excel as leaders not managers.

Should a boss have worked on the shop floor? This gets to the question of how much business knowledge leaders should have about the organisations they are to lead. There has been a trend in recent years to promote into leadership positions individuals who are skilled managers, but who do not necessarily have either a background in the sector concerned, or hands-on experience of the core business activity. Similarly, there is recent evidence that major firms have moved away from hiring CEOs with technical expertise, towards instead the selection of leaders who are generalists (Frydman 2007; Bertrand 2009).

Several studies argue that as well as managerial skills (such as the ability to set standards, distribute tasks, and initiate performance discussions), it is technical competence (such as knowledge and skills specifically related to the industry of leader’s employment) that increases organisational performance (e.g. Andrews and Farris 1967; Barnowe 1975; Goodall 2006, 2009, 2012).

Expert leaders vs. managers Read the rest of this entry »

How strategists lead

30. July 2012

Unfortunately, she refers still to the outdated Harvard concept of strategy (Michael Porter & Co. 30 years ago!) hfk


A Harvard Business School professor reflects on what she has learned from senior executives about the unique value that strategic leaders can bring to their companies.

July 2012 • Cynthia A. Montgomery

Seven years ago, I changed the focus of my strategy teaching at the Harvard Business School. After instructing MBAs for most of the previous quarter-century, I began teaching the accomplished executives and entrepreneurs who participate in Harvard’s flagship programs for business owners and leaders.

Shifting the center of my teaching to executive education changed the way I teach and write about strategy. I’ve been struck by how often executives, even experienced ones, get tripped up: they become so interested in the potential of new ventures, for example, that they underestimate harsh competitive realities or overlook how interrelated strategy and execution are. I’ve also learned, in conversations between class sessions (as well as in my work as a board director and corporate adviser) about the limits of analysis, the importance of being ready to reinvent a business, and the ongoing responsibility of leading strategy.

All of this learning speaks to the role of the strategist—as a meaning maker for companies, as a voice of reason, and as an operator. The richness of these roles, and their deep interconnections, underscore the fact that strategy is much more than a detached analytical exercise. Analysis has merit, to be sure, but it will never make strategy the vibrant core that animates everything a company is and does. Read the rest of this entry »