Rethinking Leadership: Death to Taylorism!

Magnifying glass on the word Redefine

I’ve been thinking and writing about leadership for a long time. Here’s why we should be having a national conversation about the need to redefine what kind of leadership we want and need – whether it’s in the White House, the corporate corner office, or the conference rooms where so many of us spend so much of our time at work.

For more than 150 years (and actually much longer than that) leadership has meant being in charge. Leaders took command and exercised control because they knew more than their subordinates, or they had more power. Originally, of course, power meant physical strength, or control over powerful resources, like armies or ships, and weapons. Or financial capital, or technical know-how.

Here is a brief (6 -minute) video summary of the ideas contained here. I recorded it this morning for a live Periscope broadcast. Note that the video is essentially a brief restatement of this post:

For over a century most organizational leaders embraced the concept of “Scientific Management” generally credited to Frederick Taylor. Taylor argued that the job of managers was to think, and the job of workers was to do. And anyone who challenged a manager’s directions was viewed as insubordinate. Read more

Periscope: Why are there so many bad meetings?

Earlier today I did my first live Periscope video broadcast. It was a reprise of a newsletter/blog post I wrote in early August (“Why are There So Many Bad Meetings?“).

Here is an unedited replay of the 10-minute Scope video:

I intend to produce simple, short video messages like this on a regular basis. In fact, right now my next Scope is scheduled for Tuesday, September 15, at 8:30 AM Pacific time. [continue reading...]

Honor Labor Day by Redefining Work and Leadership

Labor Day signLabor Day in the United States honors the American labor movement and the contributions to our economic and social well-being made by millions of American workers. It has also become a marker of the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Most of us are now moving past vacations and casual work hours to a more serious and focused time at work. [continue reading...]

Don’t Stop Talking About Tomorrow: A Guide to Surviving the Future

conversations1How often do you talk with your colleagues about the future and how it will affect your organization?

As I have mentioned many, many times here and elsewhere, most leadership teams spend less than 3% of their collective time talking with each other about the future – of their company, their industry, and the world in general.

In my experience, most of us live day to day assuming that the future will be just like the recent past. We realize that there are some predictable trends, and that some things (like the weather) go through regular cycles, but for the most part we expect tomorrow to be similar to today.

Well, to be more accurate, we either expect sameness, or we are so overwhelmed by change, uncertainty, and innovation that we hunker down and live in fear that our lives are out of control. We worry – often rightfully so – about being blindsided by new products, new competitors, or new rules and regulations that put control of our businesses in someone else’s hands. And that kind of worry actually leads to believing, or at least hoping, that tomorrow will be just like today. Read more

Just Do It – Right Now!


Recently Kent Reyling,  Director of Market Education at Kimball Office, forwarded me a thought piece that re-awakened a life lesson I seem to forget all too often. It comes back to me over and over again, in different forms but always with the same core message:

Today is all there is.

Here’s the message that Kent actually forwarded to me:

Be what it is you want everyone else to be; do what it is you want everyone else to do.

(That advice comes from Sam Parker, the author of 212: The Extra Degree and dozens of other motivational and inspirational books).

That thought reminded me of something I struggle with all the time: the importance of moving from ideas to action. Read more

A Cool Tool for Making Your Meetings Matter

Agenda!It may not feel cool, but…

Do you realize what a cool tool a meeting agenda is? An agenda is not just a wish list or a way to tell people what the meeting is intended to be about. When used right, your agenda is the most critical tool you have to ensure that your meeting is worthwhile, covers the right topics, and accomplishes its stated purpose.

An agenda is powerful way to avoid bad meetings (see “Why Are There So Many Bad Meetings?” for more on that painful topic). And in combination with the right meeting mindset (“Building a Meeting Mindset“) an agenda can be a multi-purpose tool for creating memorable meeting experiences.

I recently spoke with Bill T., a senior program manager at a well-known high-tech company, about his meeting management techniques. He uses the agenda for his weekly one-hour design review meetings as a primary planning tool as well as a way to enable 20+ software engineers to make quick decisions on a number of critical design issues. Read more

Data Builds Understanding; Stories Build Commitment

Once Upon A Time

Last week I raised the question (and answered it) “Why are there so many bad meetings?” This week I focus more on the positive:  what good meetings feel like, and how some organizations are working to not only enhance meeting experiences but also to make meetings more effective and meaningful.

Recently a friend told me about how one clothing company has developed a culture of storytelling that dramatically affects the way its meetings work.

According to Mary, a director of workplace strategy at that company, its meetings are filled with storytelling, and the presentations are heavily image-based, with a minimum of words on the individual slides. So instead of boring bullet points and slides filled to overflowing with data, the presentations feel more like personal stories, with heroes and villains, crises and victories, and lots of emotional content. Presenters seek to influence and inspire through images, stories, and feelings rather than through “hard data.” Read more

Why are there so many bad meetings?

Update on September 10, 2015: I just produced my first live broadcast on Periscope, summarizing the ideas in this post. Here’s the 10-minute video recording of that broadcast, which includes a brief overview of the five reasons I believe we experience so many bad meetings:

There are over 11 million corporate meetings a day in the United States alone. 11 million! Yet, as I am fond of saying, I have yet to meet anyone who is dying for their next meeting to start.

When was the last timBoring meeting!e you sat through a meeting that you found boring, a waste of time, and unproductive? Everyone I talk to can tell me about a recent meeting they attended but hated.

Yet most people who work in offices today spend most of their time in meetings of one kind or another. Maybe it’s a two-person conversation, and maybe it’s a group meeting with six or more participants. As Alan Webber pointed out over 20 years ago (“What’s So New About the New Economy?Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb 1993), conversation is at the heart of knowledge-based work. It’s how we learn, exchange information, solve problems, test our ideas, create new knowledge, and connect with our colleagues and customers.

So why do so many meetings turn out so badly? I believe there are at least five factors affecting the quality of our meeting experiences: Read more

Leadership: What’s New?


It’s been said that leadership is the most studied and least understood of all subjects in the business world. There are thousands of books about leadership, and just about as many keynote speakers, workshop facilitators, and pundits who claim to have “the” formula for leadership success.

But in spite of all that there is absolutely no easy pathway to being an effective leader. Part of the trouble is that leadership is an all-encompassing activity, required in so many different situations, that there is no single “right way.”

It may be true for all time that one plus one equals two, and that iron is heavier than water, but if you are seeking that kind of certainty about how to lead, I guarantee your search will never end. Read more

Building a Meeting Mindset

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People in a MeetingIn case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed just a bit over the last twenty years. The nature of work itself has changed too. Yet too many managers still believe their employees just came from the farm to the city and need to be told what to do as they take their place on the assembly line.

We’re using 19th century industrial-age management practices in a 21st-century age of networked knowledge.

As a result, millions of people are unhappy at work, organizations are operating well below their potential, leaders are frustrated, and almost everyone feels stressed out. In spite of the moderate uptick in the economy no one I know believes things are working they way they should be.

At one level the problem is simple: the world has changed in several fundamental ways, but the way most organizations operate has not. There is a terrible misalignment between the work and the workforce, on the one hand, and our leadership principles and practices, on the other.

As a case in point, in North America alone there are over 11 million corporate meetings held every day – every day! – but I have yet to find anyone who is just dying for their next meeting to start. Read more