Monday, May 21, 2007

What's Wrong With Front Row Seats?

The most coveted seats at a concert are the front row seats. So why is it that in other settings nobody wants to sit in the front row? You have seen the empty front row at any big company meeting. The leader calls out, "Plenty of room up front," and nobody moves.

We want the front row at a concert because we value the performance. Apparently we don't share the same value for the speakers at a business meeting. Mostly they bore us. What would it take to become a front-row-worthy presenter? It's probably out of our reach.

On the other hand, we can lead by example and sit in the front row ourselves. Research has shown that students in the front row of class learn more. So, by taking our place right up front, we show how we value the presentation and we might learn a little more.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jeff Taylor on Office Space

In the presentation I went to yesterday, Jeff Taylor mentioned that the staff at Eons had just given him an office, but that he didn't know what to do with it. He said his office at Monster was five comfortable chairs and a coffee table. Now that's an open-door policy.

Think about what you use your office for. In general, leaders need to get out of their offices more and go work with people. Very little leadership happens in your office. These days, it's not totally clear that leaders need one. Laptops are portable, files are on-line, and we all have cell phones. But, there is no need to be extreme.

Take the lessons from Taylor: Be accessible and work with the people.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jeff Taylor on Attrition

I attended a networking event today that included a Q&A session with Monster founder Jeff Taylor. His newest project is the social networking site Eons for people 50 and over. It is like MySpace for people wise enough to use it productively. Taylor says you can sneak in at 49, but he is still too young to be a member.

Taylor shows a real passion and understanding for this underrepresented Internet demographic. "Retirement is a graduation," he says; not the end of a career, but the beginning of a life the retiree has been working toward for years. Taylor hopes to brand Eons as an exclusive club for those who are closing in on the career graduation rewards.

Taylor, who describes himself as undiagnosed with ADD, engrossed us with story after story from his career. The questions served as mere launching points for a series of fascinating glimpses into the philosophy of this entrepreneur. I'll be sharing more leadership take-aways in future posts.

Taylor started off talking about attrition. He said, "If I know you, I can keep you," adding that he was frustrated after Monster grew larger than 500 people because he didn't know everybody's name anymore. After hearing him speak, I don't believe he was exaggerating. His leadership lesson is that retaining employees depends on you knowing enough about them that you can relate to them as people rather than employees.

He told us a story about Eons employees celebrating the company's first anniversary by jumping into the ocean near their office in the Charlestown Navy Yard. "You have to jump in with your employees," Taylor said of both the celebratory swim and of daily work life. And I believe that he swims in the deep end every day with his team.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Another Great Thomas Paine Quote

Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.

Lead, Follow, or Get in the Way

Thomas Paine gave us the quote "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." We hear this old saw when a would-be leader is looking for a convenient way to displace another person who is getting in the way. The quote suggests this fourth choice of: getting in the way. Some leaders just can't stand to be questioned by anyone. Those leaders might as well say, "I'll have no questioning here."

I want to make an argument in favor of getting in the way, with a twist. Getting in the way is an act of not following. It is more deliberately being contrary to following. This non-follower does not like the direction the leader is heading. The non-follower is trying to stop that direction. Oddly, this non-follower is also a leader. Such a person is making a case for a different direction, but often without doing the important step of proposing what that different direction should be. Therein lies the twist: If you are going to be a leader and get in the way, you need to take the extra step of proposing an alternate direction.

Be ready to explain your concerns with the initial proposal. Be prepared to explain why your alternative is better. Make your case respectfully, and if necessary, privately. Since you are expecting the other would-be leader to consider your case, you also need to be genuinely willing to consider a response.

Working together, you two would-be leaders should be able to figure out a good direction for the team. Consider how great it would be if every team had two effective leaders instead of one beleaguered leader and a non-follower.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

That Guy With the Nametag

Tim Milburn over at pointed me to Scott Ginsberg's latest book Make a Name for Yourself. Scott has taken the unusual step of making his book available for free download with the expectation that once you read it you will want to buy it. He is right.

Scott wears a nametag everywhere he goes to be more approachable and make other people friendlier. He is a very encouraging person, and his book is chock full of practical life lessons, including much of value to growing leaders. It is very easy reading and given the price, you have no excuse not to read it.