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Weekly 3: Be a better co-worker


Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 31 · Issue #176 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: We spend a lot of time with our co-workers. This issue offers a few perspectives on positive traits to look for in the people we work with—and in ourselves.
(~6 min read)

#1. Don't be an asshole
As a leader, you should strive to be a competent “Not asshole.”
Stanford Professor of Management Science and Engineering Robert Sutton writes in the Harvard Business Review that, “by adopting the habits of good bosses and shunning the sins of bad bosses, anyone can do a better job overseeing the work of others.”
Yet all the coaching in the world won’t be effective unless the person has a certain mindset.
For Sutton, the best bosses have the following twelve beliefs:
1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
2. My success—and that of my people—depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
3. Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day.
4. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
5. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe—and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
6. I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.
7. I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong—and to teach my people to do the same thing.
8. One of the best tests of my leadership—and my organization—is “what happens after people make a mistake?”
9. Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.
10. Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
11. How I do things is as important as what I do.
12. Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk—and not realizing it.
#2. Identify a mensch, then become one
Mensch is a German word for “human being.”
As author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki points out in his book Enchantment, its Yiddish connotation is even more revealing: someone who is decent and honorable in all of their undertakings—they’re the same person in both private and public.
But not everyone is a mensch.
Kawasaki recommends a two-factor test to help you tell the difference between someone who is genuine and a “smooth pretender":
  • First, consistency is key: while some people may be able to cover up who they really are some of the time, it’s difficult trying to keep the mask on in all circumstances—it will slip at some point.
  • Second, Kawasaki suggests that many of us have a well-honed gut feel that a person might not be genuine. We can choose to ignore those signals and “small integrity slips” out of convenience or self-interest, but in doing so we’re only deceiving ourselves.
In a separate blog post, Kawasaki references the work of leadership coach Bruna Martinuzzi, who’s compiled the below list of eleven suggestions for how you can be a mensch in business:
  1. Always act with honesty.
  2. When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.
  3. Think back on any unkept promises you made in the past, and try to fulfill them.
  4. Help someone who can be of absolutely no use to you.
  5. The next time something goes wrong on a project, instead of assigning blame, ask: What can we learn?
  6. Hire people who are at least as smart as you are, preferably smarter, and give them opportunities to grow.
  7. Improve your communication skills, and give people their moment: don’t interrupt, don’t rush to give advice or immediately dismiss their concerns, and don’t change the subject.
  8. Resolve to do no harm in any of your actions.
  9. Become a “knowledge philanthropist.” What knowledge or expertise can you share with your colleagues or customers that will help enrich them?
  10. Don’t be too quick to shoot down other people’s suggestions: some of the most valuable ideas are the result of an initial “crazy” thought.
  11. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to mentally review what happened, and ask yourself: Are you proud of what you accomplished? Could you have done better?
#3. Make sure each member of your team is a “rare responsible person”
Netflix’s original culture manifesto highlights the following trend: as companies grow, both in terms of their impact and number of people, they typically develop ever-more complex processes and rules to help manage the increasingly large organization.
Yet, not all of that complexity is good, or even necessary, if each member of the team has the following qualities of a “rare responsible person”:
  • Acts like a leader
  • Doesn’t wait to be told what to do
  • Self-aware
  • Self-disciplined
  • Self-improving
  • Self-motivating
  • Picks up the trash lying on the floor
For example, as the Netflix manifesto points out, most companies have complex policies covering what you can expense, how you travel, and what gifts you can accept. Many of these companies have “whole departments to verify compliance with these policies.”
By contrast, Netflix developed a policy five words long: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.”
In practice, this means four things:
  1. “Expense only what you would otherwise not spend, and is worthwhile for work”
  2. “Travel as you would if it were your own money”
  3. “Disclose non-trivial vendor gifts”
  4. “Take from Netflix only when it is inefficient to not take, and inconsequential” (Examples include printing personal documents at work or using a company phone for a personal matter – both are inconsequential and inefficient to avoid.)
Beyond helping to reduce operational clutter, having rare responsible people on your team also helps to attract others with the same qualities: “responsible people thrive on freedom, and are worthy of freedom.”
Quote of the week
“… what happens between people really counts, because in groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other, ideas can flow and grow. People don’t get stuck. They don’t waste energy down dead ends …
Companies don’t have ideas; only people do. And what motivates people are the bonds and loyalty and trust they develop between each other. What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”
- Entrepreneur and executive Margaret Heffernan in her 2015 TED Talk Forget the pecking order at work
Idea Journal
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