This quarter, I haven't kept up with posting about lessons learned in each of my classes weekly, so I'll try to do one overarching recap post for each class over the next few days. This is my first post in the series.
The bullshit class I'm referring to is officially called Leadership, Motivation, and Power. In the class, we read books written by our professor, one of which provides the namesake for the class: Beyond Bullshit.
In the class, we debunk a lot of myths about people in organizations and expose the daily lies and bullshit that gets floated around boardrooms and teams all the time. We use case studies and stories from the professor's personal consulting experience to consider various topics, such as psychology and motivation, corporate politics, power dynamics, and communication.
The following are my major takeaways from the class.
- Trusting Relationships: According to the professor, this is the most important factor for success in any team. Every goal or other consideration should be subordinated to the relationships and trust between team members (and between boss and employee). Accomplishing anything of significance requires working closely with others, and this work is most effective (and sometimes only effective) with maximal trust.
The professor taught that you should love your teammates and employees and trust them until the day you let them go. If you have to do that, you need to be upfront, honest, and say something like, "I'm not getting from you what I need. I know you tried, and there's a better place for you elsewhere." In this way, you can maintain respect and trust even after a separation. But until that point, you should do everything possible to create and maintain trust, and if there are difficulties, to deal with them as they come up, always operating from a trusting perspective. Similarly, when hiring, you should welcome a person into a company and completely separate the discussion of pay from the merits of the person. If you want to hire them, you can applaud their merits, but avoid conversations that seek to quantify a person's skills or equate pay to merits; pay is driven by market forces and budget, and any other discussion quickly becomes bullshit.
- Alignments and Mindsets: Every single person has a unique experience and perspective. 10 people can see the same exact event and all claim that something different happened. This is because each person lives life in their own brain and has a unique mindset. By conducting a special type of interview as we did in class, one can learn a lot about a person's mindset and personal alignments (thoughts, goals, life wishes, ways of operating, childhood history, etc.). Understanding these things (which people often skip over) is critical to getting as much information as possible about someone to improve communication. The only to know what got communicated to another person is to ask them what they heard, which is often quite different from what you said.
People live their lives to fulfill their life goals. People want to succeed at life, not at work or a job. Jobs for people are vehicles to succeeding towards some larger goals or needs, and people's family situations and desires outside of work are almost always more important to them than work. Therefore, thinking that "you leave your problems at the door" when you go to work or come back home from work is completely impossible. At work, people are choosing projects, team partners, and customers based on who will get them closer to their goals. This is corporate politics, and this is totally natural. It's a result of every person having their own alignments and operating in the way they think is right. Every person thinks that the way they work is the best they could possibly be working. Telling someone to work harder or promising a huge bonus is going to have little effect on the real way that they will work because this is determined much more by their own goals and desires than the work needs.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Mind-set Management.
- Empowerment and Leadership: Leadership is about doing everything in your power to allow your employees to succeed. There's no such thing as "empowering" people. People empower themselves if they want to (if it fits their alignments). As a leader, you can choose people who motivate themselves and provide them the resources, support, and advice to help them succeed how they want to.
- Bullshit and Straight Talk: In class, we covered about 50 definitions of bullshit. We all know what it is when we see it, and as businesspeople, we are all trained to be able to produce it quite successfully and quickly. In fact, the professor argues that bullshit is the corporate etiquette of choice in America. In some situations, this is required and useful, such as to alleviate certain social tensions or avoid subjects that can get people in trouble in certain rigid organizations. However, it's not ideal.
What we don't know that well is straight talk, which is the alternative. Straight talk is about being honest and upfront about one's underlying goals and preferences (using "I-speak," or talking about yourself rather than using loftier phrases like "what the company needs"). It's also about being transparent with others about how you take in their feedback and suggestions and make decisions. Often, superiors will pretend to solicit feedback but not give it weight. The professor says that hierarchy in decision making is required, but it's all about how the boss explains his viewpoints and takes into consideration others' opinions that matters.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Beyond Bullshit.
- Two-sided Accountability: The norm in organizations is "one-sided accountability," or boss-dominated relationships. Employees are accountable to superiors, and if they fail, the boss will punish them. The professor argues for an alternative: two-sided accountability where both parties are accountable to each other for following through on promises and helping each achieve the goals that they and the company need.
Hierarchy in decision making is often required for organizations to function; hierarchy in relationships is not. In class, we learned a different paradigm: where decisions are made hierarchically but relationships are not hierarchical. This is not easy to achieve in real life and requires trusting relationships, straight talk, and understanding each person's alignments.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Don't Kill the Bosses.
- Performance Reviews: The professor is a very outspoken critic of performance reviews and has helped many prominent groups get rid of them in favor of a better approach (performance "previews"). There are so many problems with performance reviews, especially 360 degree reviews, that we studied in class. A brief list includes the fact that once or twice yearly is not sufficient, the two-sided bullshit that results where both boss and employee feel compelled to participate in the awkward conversation, the fact that pay and performance are said to be linked but in most cases cannot be, and the general dislike of the process that's shared among most professionals. Performance reviews destroy trust, create fake/bullshit conversations, and are an example of one-sided accountability (boss reviewing employee). 360 degree reviews, when anonymous, can often be even worse, as anonymous feedback also destroys trust and removes the human element of giving feedback directly.
Performance previews are about discussing what's working and not working throughout the year, project by project, as issues or questions come up. It's about using straight talk where boss and subordinate tell each other what they each need, how each one is feeling and moving towards his or her goals, and what can be improved from each one for future projects.
The professor's book that goes into this in detail is Get Rid of the Performance Review.
- Win-win-win Politics: When two people in an organization are trying to make a decision, there are often three circles of interest: my needs, your needs, and the company's needs. When my and the company's needs overlap, that's a "win-win" solution. That's how individuals operate within a corporate context. But when multiple people need to work together and there is no triple overlap in needs (no "win-win-win"), it creates very difficult and often bullshit-ridden conversations where people try to exert power to get their way. The goal should be win-win-win outcomes that are good for team members individually and for the company overall.
- Power Dynamics: We studied several modes of operating power, such as power giving, power taking, power withholding, and power sharing. People operate in different modes at different times and with different people, and this is often driven by their own personalities and alignments. Power sharing can often be the best way when one cares about creativity and flexible organizations.
The class was definitely eye-opening and a lot of fun thanks to the professor's straightforward, no-bullshit manner, honest advice-giving, and of course his jokes and nostalgic clip-art presentations.