The Power of Habit

For many years, I used this quote as my email signature:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
— Aristotle

Intuitively, I knew it to be true.  I just finished reading The Power of Habit after it was recommended by a colleague.  This provides much more detail regarding the nature of habits and how they define individuals, organizations and societies.  It’s a quick read and well worth your time.  Two great quotes:

… it may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not really how companies operate at all. Instead, firms are guided by long-held organizational habits…

This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs and becomes automatic, it’s not only real, it starts to become inevitable…

Posted in Leadership | Comments Off on The Power of Habit

The Ability to Act

I recently read the somewhat infamous novel Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.  It’s a fascinating story that emphasizes the strength of the individual.  And, Rand does have some good insights into human nature, society, and economic systems – likely a result of her experiences in both the Soviet Union and the United States.  In spite of the fictional nature of the story, this quote from the thoughts of Hank Rearden in the story crystallized a key element in people’s effectiveness – especially under pressure.

He saw for the first time that he had never known fear because, against any disaster, he had held the omnipotent cure of being able to act. No, he thought, not an assurance of victory—who can ever have that?—only the chance to act, which is all one needs.

When challenges come, at work, home, or elsewhere, the ability to act separates the leaders from the followers.   If a situation requires resolution, a problem requires a solution, [starting to rhyme…], or a plan needs completion, action is required.  As a leader, one of the most difficult situations arises when indecision or fear paralyzes those you depend on.  As an individual, few situations bring with them the hopelessness of not knowing what to do next.

Those who rise to be leaders do so, in large part, because of their ability to act – even under pressure.  Not the ability to guarantee success, but the ability to act and take responsibility for the results.  It’s often risky.  But, it’s always required.

I have three young baseball players in my family.  When they are at bat, we encourage them to swing – to try whenever the opportunity presents itself.  “It’s better to strike out swinging than to watch strike three go by without doing anything.”  If you don’t swing, you will never get a hit.  Similarly, if we want positive results, we need to act.  If you act, you’ll get some good results and some bad results. But, if you never act, you’ll never get good results – ever.

Be strong.  Act.

Posted in Leadership | Comments Off on The Ability to Act

Keep Your Head About You

Rudyard Kipling’s great poem If starts with these two lines:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

… and finishes with these:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

There is something special about a person who remains calm under even the most stressful of situations.  These leaders enable others to step back and make good decisions, when emotions and panic have removed others’ ability to do so.  At work, we’ve all been exposed to managers who respond to challenges with a shotgun approach of small micro-managed tasks – as if somehow doing a bunch of things in a hurry will solve the problems.  It’s easy to confuse activity with progress, particularly in times of trouble.

On the other side of the coin, many of us know or work with people who respond more constructively.  Stress seems to bring focus and calm that drives effective response and, more importantly, frees those around them to focus as well.

Hard times are hard enough given the circumstances.  Panic makes it worse.  This does not mean it’s healthy to ignore your emotions.  Your brain is telling you something if you’re frightened, sad, or angry.  You should listen.  But, humans are created to not just think and feel, but to be able to think about how they think and feel.  Failure to use that ability, especially in times of stress, renders us ineffective relative to our full potential.

When problems arise, take time to understand the issues, recognize how you are feeling about it, and then decide how to respond.

Posted in Leadership | Comments Off on Keep Your Head About You

Effective Remote Teams

Almost all of my work involves remote workers – inside the US in other offices, home offices, foreign counties, near time zones, and distant time zones.  The few tips in this article at HBR are a great starting point for improving remote working relationships.  In particular, give the benefit of the doubt.  I’ve seen quite a few destructive patterns in remote relationships that began with a negative assumption about another person’s motivation or unspoken agenda.  Yeah, some nasty corporate politics exist.  But, most of the time, what appears to be negative is simply inaccurate interpretation of some unspoken “mystery” behavior.

Stay positive and give people the benefit of the doubt – local or remote.  Things will be better for all of us.

Posted in Leadership | Comments Off on Effective Remote Teams

Big Data isn’t the Silver Bullet Either

I have been excited about the latest round of improvements and new products that aid in the storage, processing, and analysis of big data.  I am particularly excited about Apache Spark (see last post) and some of the other tools that let you work fast and open with big data.  But, as this article at HBR reminds us, there is no silver bullet.  This is true in all disciplines and industries.  One awesome capability will never be able to cover the shortcomings in other areas.  For example, if you didn’t have clarity around the problem you were trying to solve with your relational database, it won’t become clear by adopting a Spark cluster.  So, embrace big data.  But, keep working on the other stuff too.

Posted in Big Data & Analytics, Leadership | Comments Off on Big Data isn’t the Silver Bullet Either