Archive for April, 2007

Great Multi-Taskers Make Poor Leaders

Posted on April 30, 2007. Filed under: Interesting Links, Leadership, Quotes |

Recently, a NY times article came out extolling the virtues of “mono-tasking”. Much of the research available touts multi-tasking as an endeavor of diminishing returns. So called multi-tasking is actually a misnomer as far as brain function is concerned. The human brain is designed to only process so much information at a time. Essentially, the more tasks you perform concurrently, the more your focus is divided. It is that lack of focus that actually hampers productivity and can produce an inferior quality of work.

How does this relate to leadership? That’s an excellent question, and I’m glad I asked it. How can a leader ask his staff to ramp up productivity when he himself is mired down in the minutiae of every day tasks? A leader’s job is to keep his mind on the big picture, and attend to the details that will paint that picture. If he is too busy answering emails while talking on the phone and IM’ing, he can’t focus on that major project or improving the output of his staff. He can’t focus period. Technology is great and has increased productivity exponentially. But what if that technology becomes a constant distraction to your task at hand? The expression “drinking from a fire hose” springs to mind.

As a country, we are facing information overload. As an engineer, it gets tough to work on a particular design or a lengthy calculation when my phone won’t stop ringing, my email program won’t stop alerting me, and my coworkers won’t stop dropping by to “shoot the bull”. Worse yet, it takes time to get refocused on a complex problem after each distraction. The result–productivity plummets.

A recent Microsoft study of their own employees found that it took the average employee 15 minutes to get refocused on serious mental tasks after a distraction (i.e. report writing, computer programming). That’s right. 15 minutes! You get distracted 4 times while working on a focus intensive task and you just lost over an hour of time in your day. Now who wants to stay late because your buddy at work wants to talk about the NFL draft for 10 minutes? Sure it’s interesting, but wouldn’t you rather talk about it over a beer after work?

Given what I have learned, I’m going to do some self evaluation and re-prioritizing. It’s time to take some steps to reduce the distraction.

Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

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Leadership Tip I Recently Learned (1)

Posted on April 27, 2007. Filed under: Leadership Tips, Shared Experience |

I was thinking how much I hated meetings while walking to one of my regularly scheduled pow-wows. And then a ray of sunshine shone through the fluorescent lighting (I know this is dramatic, but work with me). My boss canceled this week’s meeting and the subsequent week’s meeting because he thought we were “well on track” and he didn’t think it was necessary. This not only boosted our pride because we got the pat on the back, but it brought instant relief because we were spared the drudgery of another round of “beat the dead horse”.

You want to boost morale a little? Cancel unnecessary meetings once in awhile when you know your people’s work merits recognition. And don’t forget to tell them why. That was a nice touch.

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Manager or Leader?

Posted on April 27, 2007. Filed under: Interesting Links, Quotes, Uncategorized |

Ideally, it’s both. Reality proves this is not often the case. Leadership development has been all the rage since the first alpha Neanderthal got eaten and the rest of the clan had no one to turn to. People need leadership. They want to believe. But they can produce without good leadership if they respect their management. The bottom line is garnering the respect of your subordinates. Without it, your effectiveness is seriously undermined. But here’s where the difference between a manager and a leader resides. A leader recognizes that once they have your respect they’re just starting.

Earning respect will increase output, but how can we get higher output while maintaining or boosting morale? The answer is leadership. A leader demonstrates a willingness to hear ideas, to roll up his sleeves when necessary, and the fortitude to make correction when required. However, when leadership is in short supply, management can still get the job done.

In recent decades manager has evolved into the homely stepsister of leader. I personally don’t understand this phenomenon. People will still come to work every day even if they don’t have Vince Lombardi firing them up with the pre-game speech. Obligation and money are powerful motivators. The kids will still need braces and the house will still need a new roof long after Vince retires.

So why is leader the exalted one, when manager tends the shop? The truth is leadership is revered because it is an idea. Leadership can work in the abstract while management has to produce day in and day out. Leadership with no managerial skills can still steer the ship into the rocks. He’ll just look darn good doing it.

The gold standard is when both manager and leader coincide. That’s the guy we all clamor to work for. Who doesn’t want to work for a charismatic motivator that makes you feel like the company will collapse without your contribution?

So if the question is leader or manager? The answer is and always will be both through constant personal development. Washington and Lincoln didn’t reach greatness by being born. They learned it through constant and rigorous self improvement. Anything less and you’re not only shortchanging yourself, but those you manage, and the company that gave you the responsibility.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”
Stephen R. Covey

Edit: I posted this article here on, and it is currently ranked #2! Ok, it’s only out of 12, but everybody loves a good ego boost, right?

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Learning from others’ achievement

Posted on April 26, 2007. Filed under: Interesting Links, Uncategorized |

I found this site on yet another search for informationleadership in Google. The site is geared towards learning about people of noted achievement. There’s a little something for everyone. Interviewees come from several different professions and backgrounds. While it doesn’t give specific insight into people’s leadership styles, there is good content about what makes these particular achievers tick. Take a look, and let me know what you think.

Academy of Achievement

I read a few interviews and gleaned a little knowledge on leadership from Rudy Giuliani. I am also currently reading his book Leadership which I will be reviewing on this blog at a later date.

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Socratic Leadership?

Posted on April 25, 2007. Filed under: Interesting Links |

Below is a link to article from an Air Force officer on using the Socratic Method to lead your subordinates. I had not read anything on this take before and thought it was interesting.

The Socratic Method: Leveraging Questions to Increase Performance

It would take quite a bit of practice to incorporate this into your leadership repertoire, but could be an extremely valuable tool to have in the toolbox.

This link was found by running a query for Socratic Method in the Google US Government portion of their browser.

My apologies. For some reason, posting a link that navigates to a *.pdf file does not want to seem to work in wordpress. Below is the link. If you’re interested, copy and paste the link into your browser, and take a look. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile read.

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Integrity: part 1

Posted on April 25, 2007. Filed under: Interesting Links, Quotes, Shared Experience, Uncategorized |

Integrity was described to me once as “always doing the right thing. Even when nobody’s watching.” My first experience with the word integrity came from reading the Charles Dickens classic “Great Expectations” in middle school. The protagonist (Pip) is characterized as having integrity. I had no idea what this word meant at the time. So, I looked it up, thought what a great concept it was and then never thought about it in depth until college.

Many would argue that it is still a simple concept, and it can be with much practice. Still, it is curious that so many people would devote so much time to studying this particular human trait if it were so simple. I believe that integrity is in such short supply that many in our society seek a way to cultivate it in themselves and others. Many think that they have or exhibit integrity, when they actually don’t. Not completely. They don’t commit heinous crimes or cheat or steel. But do they really have integrity? For some it’s a matter of ignorance, and for others a matter of self deception. For me it was a little of both until I reached my early 20’s. I realized that I wasn’t putting my best foot forward in every situation, and sought to change that.

This is where opportunity emerges in the debate. Opportunity comes in many forms. But for our purposes, let us suppose it is an easy way out. This could be anything: breaking promises, not returning money when you were given too much change, or knocking over a grocery display and quietly walking away. Obviously these could be considered small infractions, but do we really keep a running total? And if we did, how high would that tab be? Those are the questions I posed to myself a few years back and I decided my personal total was too high.

“A man should be upright, not be kept upright. ”
Marcus Aurelius

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Posted on April 16, 2007. Filed under: Quotes, Uncategorized |

First, a little background info:

I graduated from college 2.5 years ago with a Mechanical Engineering degree. After a lengthy job search, I was hired as a project engineer. I was excited to get the job, but had a glaring problem. I had little managerial, and what I perceived to be NO true leadership experience. So it was back to school, so to speak.

In college, I started reading about leaders I admired as a hobby. After making the leap into a career with so much responsibility, I decided that this hobby would have to evolve into a bona fide study of leadership and its applicable techniques and theories.

My goals for this blog are simple. I intend to share with other developing leaders what I have learned in my short career, as well as learn from other budding and experienced leaders alike who might offer their own experiences up for public consumption.

In the spirit of community, I aim to make this blog as interactive as is possible. It is my hope that we can all gain some insight into what it means to be a leader and how we might each better achieve the level of leadership we seek.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny.”
-George Dana Boardman

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