Just listened to another great podcast from the Stanford Ventures Program. This was was by Bob Sutton – a management professor who has studied great leaders and reports back on what he finds.

To get the full power of this podcast you need to listen to it. But here are were some of the highlights and quotes for me.

First mover advantage is a myth. No evidence that if you get there first you have an advantage over others. Facebook was fourth. Amazon was eighth. Google was like 20th.

No evidence performance evaluations are good or bad. ½ are good. ½ are bad.

Main point of his book Good Boss Bad Boss. When you are a boss it’s not all about you. That is a ½ truth. When people are placed in a position of authority over others a number of things happen:

1. The people who you lead watch your every move very closely.
2. You will get more blame and more credit than you deserve for organizational performance.

On average leaders are good for 15% of performance for a group. Shockingly low. But on average get 15% of the blame or credit.

So the point is the best bosses realize it is all about them and they work very hard to be intune with how others are responding to them. Not for egotistically reasons but because that is one of their core job responsibilities.

This happens to baboons too. The typical member of a baboon troop will look at at their alpha male once every 30 seconds. Something biological or genetic going on here.

Power poisoning

Independent of personality when you put human beings in power positions over other human beings three things happen pretty reliably:

1. They focus more on their own needs and concerns.
2. They focus less on the needs and concerns of others.
3. They act like the rules don’t apply to them.

Also evidence that when performance is really great, the chances of these three things occurs are greatest (Mark Hurd of HP scandal is used as an example). So beware your successes – less you turn into an idiot.

UC Berkley Cookie Study (13min)

Three students are put into a room. One is identified as the boss. The experimenter brings in a plate of five cookies. We all know the social norm against taking the last cookie. So the cookie in play was the fourth cookie. Bosses tended to take the fourth cookie.

They tended to eat with their mouths open. They tended to leave more crumbs.

The lesson is that when you are boss and everyone is kissing your butt, you can see how hard it is to be in tune with the people and not fall pray to the power poisoning.

Hallmarks of intune bosses

1. Be perfectly assertive.

Best bosses have that ability to turn up the volume to be pushy to get in peoples faces when they need it, maybe give some negative feedback, and back off when it’s the right time to do that.

“I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it. If you hold it too loosely you lose it.” – Tommy Lasorta

When you lead people doing creative work, first do no harm is important. When you micromanage that stifles creativity. So leave people alone. Manage by getting out of the way.

Management by walking out of the room. CEO of IDEO does this. He will leave a room if he is not needed. Because he recognizes he is an authority figure and if he stays too long that can mess things up.

“After you plant a seed in the ground, you don’t dig it up every week to see how it is doing.” Manager, 3M

2. Attitude of wisdom.

Good bosses have the courage and the confidence to act on what they know right now, along with the humility to update when new information comes along.

“I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on you temporary convictions as if it were a real conviction; and when you realize your are wrong correct course very quickly” – Andy Grove, Intel

Research on flattery shows that if you want somebody to like you, you should flatter them. Even with false flattery. We still like people more.

Put that in a hiearchical position this is how people get a head.

The mum effect (23 min)

When people deliver us bad news, we like them less. If you want to get a head your flatter your boss, and you don’t deliver bad news.

But when you start adding up the hierical effects, you find that as the boss it’s really hard to get bad news.

Richard Feyman was a nobel award winning Physist. When he was asked to investigate the Space Shuttle (Rogers commission) he went rogue. The head of the commission told him to walk the line and not ask questions.

So instead he bought his own plan tickets and flew around interviewing engineers. He figured out the seals were the issue. One of the questions he’d ask during the process was: “What is the probablilty the main engine of the shuttle would fail?”

Engineers said 1:200.
Bosses said 1:100,000.

3. Fighting in a constructive way.

Most effective teams fight in an environment of mutual respect.

“Fight as if you are right. Listen as if you are wrong.” – Carl Wright.

“When two people in business agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

Then at some point stop fighting, accept defeat gracefully, implement the idea you may disagree with.

“If you disagree with an idea, you should work especially hard to implement it well because they way when it fails you’ll know it was a bad idea. Not bad execution.” – Andy Grove.

4. Use a small win strategy.

Jim Collin’s Good to Great books has then idea of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS). But BHAGS alone aren’t good enough. You need small victories and wins to get their.

So the best bosses aren’t those who are just idea guys who are good on vision. They can also help execute and get things done.

One executive was told that if they didn’t increase sales next quarter by 20% there were going to be big layoffs.

So what she did was assemble her team together and had them use stickies to write all the steps they needed to take to have a successful sales campaign.

Then she drew a line and broke them into two piles: easy & hard.

Then she said let’s start talking about how we are going to accomplish all the easy ones in the next two weeks. Which they did.

Then they had the confidence to tackle the more difficult things.

5. Superstars and Rotten Apples. (31 min)

Three minutes on HR. What’s the best incentive system for an organization. Who are the superstars?

“Somebody who gets ahead, by helping others succeed.” – Defn SuperStar.

Got to get rid of Rotten Apples. If you are in a personal relationship with someone and you have less than a 5:1 ratio of good to bad interactions that relationship is in trouble.

Having a bad encounter packs x5 the emotional impact as a positive one.

When teams have one Rotten Apple, it knocks down the team performance by 30-40%. When you work with jerks you start acting like them (contagion). They also suck time and energy.

Many people can be coached to be good. If you believe they can. But sometimes you’ve got to get rid of them.

One boss when he interviews people tells them: “If you start working here and I find out you’re a jerk I am going fire you.”

What’s your definition of a jerk? Someone who consistently puts their needs a head of their peers, the customer, or the company.

6. Human shields.

Good bosses protect their people. They let their workers work. He or she has got my back.

Managers are people who see visitors so others can get their work done.

Meeting behavior. One thing “powerful people” will do is arrive to meetings late. It shows I am so important the meeting can’t start without me. Then you hold people a little bit long because that shows I’m more important than anything else in your life.

But if you want to protect people, you might want to end meetings on time or early.

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