How many conventional leadership ideas do we take as the truth but turn out to be lies? We’re joined today by Ashley Goodall, the author of Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, and the Senior Vice President Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco. Ashley separates fact from fiction in the realm of workplace and leadership misconceptions, and what the truths really are.
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There are a few themes that run through the book that really resonate with an audience who is jaded about conventional wisdom at work. They can see with their own eyes it’s not true.
(1) We’ve lost sight of individual human beings at work. We all feel like we’re meant to be cogs in a machine.
(2) Small, good things become big, bad things when we try to scale them and turn them into systems. All of a sudden, the humanness is gone.
(3) We seem to pay much more attention to what doesn’t work in the world. But what does work? It’s better to focus on that than on our shortcomings.
Lie: people care which company they work for
A large company can have tens of thousands of employees. You’re never going to know them all. The reality is, when you join any large group, your experience is always a local experience — and that experience lives in your team.
Your company culture is abstract and distant. The experience of the team always trumps the experience in the company. You can’t get work right if you can’t get teams right.
Lie: people need feedback
This lie comes from the fear that, if we don’t give people feedback, they might not do their job. And if they don’t do their job, our teams will fail, then we as leaders will fail. But when you look at what people do need to get better, feedback does the opposite. When people feel like they’re about to be judged, their brain leaves the conversation and it’s no longer around to do learning.
People learn best when you pay attention to them and, especially, to what worked. You should stay on your side of the conversation. React to what they did, without judgment, and it serves to help them uncover what they did well so they can lean into it.
What is the thing we call leadership? We might enumerate characteristics that leaders have, but if we were to look at any accomplished leader in the real world, you’ll find exception after exception.
What leaders have in common are not a set of characteristics. There’s just one thing: followers. If you want to answer the question, “Am I a leader?” — look behind you. Is there anyone there? If yes, then you’re a leader. If no, you’re not. It’s a very simple test.
This means that leadership isn’t about leaders. It’s about followers. We humans are fearful of the future, and we follow people who help lessen that uncertainty. That bit of confidence is worth a lot.
The set of characteristics of who you are, what you have to contribute, and how you acknowledge other people around you: those are the characteristics we need to build more of and allow to flourish.
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