Navigating When There Is No Map

map1“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”  – Jeff Bezos on the purchase of The Washington Post

Jeff Bezos wrote the above words the day he bought the Washington Post to the amazement of not only the online world but the traditional newspaper world.  Simply put, he said there is no game plan or road map on innovation.

I think Bezos is one of the most underrated and misunderstood founders of our generation.  He very well could be looked at as THE definitive entrepreneur of the 21st century (in strong competition with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.)  I say this even though Amazon is already 15 years old with a market cap north of $130billion, making Bezos one of the wealthiest people in the world. Yet I don’t think they/he has made anywhere near the impact they/he will make in our world.  Like it or not it’s only going to get more Amazonian as the decades go on.

My perspective above comes from how Bezos thinks – specifically how he has a long term perspective on new business models and innovation.  Regardless of business unit or product, the quote I opened up with stands above and beyond anything else I have recently read surrounding entrepreneurship.  In fact, I believe all entrepreneurs working on anything new or different need to embrace the mantra of navigating when there is no map.

Let’s breaking down the statement into chunks to see what else we can grab from it.

There is no map and charting a path ahead will not be easy

Almost too obvious to mention, there is no road map or directions to follow when you are innovating.  If you are doing something novel or new in a market, you are by definition innovating.   Yet, it seems as if some entrepreneurs (myself included) yearn for THE answer to all their confusion and frustrations when they are starting out, as if someone has the magical answer.  The fact is THERE IS NO ANSWER.  Or better said, NO ONE KNOWS THE ANSWER YOU ARE LOOKING FOR, so stop asking.

Why?

No one knows because most likely you are the first to encounter this specific problem, thus no map or charted path is available for you to lean on.  The first step of innovation is acknowledging you don’t really know the exact path and you will be blazing your own trail. Yep, it’s not easy to be a leader just as it couldn’t have been very comfortable for Lewis and Clark during their epic journey west.

We will need to invent

So if no one has your answer, what do you do?

You invent it.

Since no one has gone before you and you are encroaching upon uncharted territory, you need to muster up  the courage to invent your answer.  Then you also must have courage to trust your answer and trust it is the right step forward at that specific time.  Some entrepreneurs – especially rookie first-timers – have difficulty knowing when to trust their gut and when to seek and act on the guidance and advice from others.  But I will argue you aren’t really an entrepreneur (OK, an innovator to be more specific) if you aren’t willing to have the courage to create your own map and to trust yourself with your own answer.

and we will need to experiment.

One of the best ways to earn your own trust is to acknowledge the answer won’t be the first thing you act upon – it will be a series of things.  Embracing the fact that charting your own map will involve experimentation, failure and course correction goes along way to ease the uncomfortableness of uncharted territory.  Our first ideas are only there to get us going in the right direction, but will never be the only turn we make.  There will be right turns, left turns, wide turns, U-turns and maybe even parallel parking for a short period.

The point of all of this is to identify how one of our generations greatest entrepreneurs thinks and to illustrate how you can think the same way as well.  I think Jeff Bezos is a genius, but not in the way you might think about genius.  His genius – and one you need to see as well – is in simplicity and honesty with himself and others.

Believe me, a simple mind frame like this on complex subjects such as creating a whole new market segment makes all the difference.

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Stay True To Your Roots Regardless of The Competition

I love the way John Cook describes how he maintains the GeekWire focus and brand among stifling competition.  Basically, he says

If you want to differentiate yourself you need to stay focused on your unique DNA – your roots if you will – and why you started in the first place rather than just copying whatever the other competitors are doing.”

That’s an awesome statement and one I try to live by as a founder as well.

But how?

I think there are a few fundamental methods of staying true to your roots.

1)Deeply Know Thyself

It’s important to know why you started your company or built your product in the first place.  Was it something that occurred to you through a life experience?  Or did you see numerous other startups doing the same thing and raising money from investors so you thought you might as well jump in and do it as well?  Really evaluating and understanding the why of your pursuit will bring you closer to your roots, which will inevitably lead to differentiation from the rest of the pack.

2) Talk To Your Users and Customers

Rather than looking at the competition, you need to look at your users.  Very early on you need to talk to your customers or users to determine why they are using the product and what value they are deriving from it.  The insights from your users will open your eyes to aspects of your product you may have not seen before.  This Customer-centric practice will keep you internally focused on your product/vision/future rather than what all the other competitors are doing in the space.

3) Be A Leader, Not A Follower

One of the best ways to stay true to your roots is to be a market leader, one who blazes the trail vs finding someone else’s trail.   Leaders usually have unique insights on an existing model and are doing something new and different than the competition.  They don’t care what others think or what the competition is doing.   They are independent thinkers and use their own models as testing for what works and what doesn’t.  In this manner, Leaders typically are the unique and original brands the other competitors are trying to copy – to little avail.

Listen to John touch on his perspective of staying true to GeekWire’s roots.   Go to Founders RAW >>

How To Best Handle ‘Battles’ Within Your Team

Is it a good sign if team members are frequently challenging and arguing with each other ?

I say yes.

And so does Patrick Henley.

During a recent Founds RAW conversation we touched on the subject of leadership and team dynamics.

“If they aren’t arguing with one another or passionately responding to others ideas, it tells me they don’t really care.” – Patrick Henley, co-founder of Amp Tab

I like that statement.  I believe it to be true as well.

A healthy dose of argument and discussion is essential for a team to balance themselves out.  There should never be the same winner each and every time, that would eventually discourage others from speaking up.  “what’s the point?” they will start up wonder.  Probably the best way to shut someone down is to never value their opinion, or put to use their ideas.

But if the team agrees upon a method of “battling” where each person’s perspective is heard, understood, evaluated and then placed in juxtaposition to the vision of the product/company and then eventually one direction is decided on, that – to me – is a healthy team.

The key is to actually agree upon your “rules of Battle” early on in the companies lifecycle.  How are new ideas submitted?  How will we decide which is the best option?  How do we  pitch these ideas, and hear each person out so everyone is on equal footing?  Who’s the ultimate decision maker?  Where does the buck stop?  Deciding on these upfront will save a lot of frustration later.

Watch and see what Patrick has to say.  It’s great.   Go to Founders RAW >>>

The Best Example Of Leadership I Have Ever Heard Comes From Bill Campbell

This is one of the best examples of leadership I have ever heard, given from Bill Campbell.  He was/is an executive coach to individuals such as Steve Jobs, the Google Founders (and many more) as well as Chairman of the board at Intuit.

A man asks a question late in the interview around how leaders should traverse the unstable landscape between political issues within their company.  Bill’s answer is spot on.

“As a CEO, your job is to break ties within the company, and if you cannot see where the ties are within your organization – then you shouldn’t be there.  You need to get to the bottom of it ASAP.”

Watch the clip at the 56:00 mark and if you have time watch the entire hour long interview.

How To Lead A Volunteer Army Into Uncharted Territory

You may have heard the description of founding a company is like leading a volunteer army.  I couldn’t agree more and want to dive deeper into the analogy to see if we can pull out some nuggets.

It’s true, most startups are formed by individuals who are passionate about their idea.  But, the fact is passion does not actually get the work done and they cannot do it all on their own.  They will need to attract other talented individuals who fill gaps in their skills to join the cause if they want to see it succeed.

Interestingly, this is where leadership comes into play.   Leadership is simply defined as influence – nothing more, nothing less.  A true leader has influence over others in their decisions and actions, resulting in the followers taking action based on the input and example from the leader.

Said another way, the founder’s ability to influence others to join him in his pursuits will solely determine if those people will actually join, and in the end will determine the outcome of the startup.  Early in the startup phase it’s quite likely  there is no capital available to pay each person’s salary.  Thus, people will need to volunteer their time and efforts for the cause and making it even more challenging for a founder to attract the right people.

So how (and more importantly why) will others volunteer for a desolate and untested startup, one that might even be in its idea phase?  What does it take to attract, influence and retain the talent required to succeed in your startup?

George Washington statue

Looking back into the history of the United States we can study great leaders and learn how they were able to lead a volunteer army.  George Washington is the epitome of the leader – strong, confident and influential.  He was the perfect leader for our country at a time where the talent he needed to attract were pretty much all volunteers.  Here’s a bit on Washington from Wikipedia:

Although Washington never gained the commission in the British army he yearned for, in these years the young man gained valuable military, political, and leadership skills. He closely observed British military tactics, gaining a keen insight into their strengths and weaknesses that proved invaluable during the Revolution. He demonstrated his toughness and courage in the most difficult situations, including disasters and retreats. He developed a command presence—given his size, strength, stamina, and bravery in battle, he appeared to soldiers to be a natural leader and they followed him without question.

Washington learned to organize, train, drill, and discipline his companies and regiments. From his observations, readings and conversations with professional officers, he learned the basics of battlefield tactics, as well as a good understanding of problems of organization and logistics.  He gained an understanding of overall strategy, especially in locating strategic geographical points.

As you can see, George Washington was exactly what the American colonies were looking for in someone to lead them to freedom.  He was strong in stature and in character.  He was knowledgeable in the tactics required for success in warfare.  He studied relentlessly – on his own men, on the competition, on the geography, and on organizational principles.  He didn’t let politics get in the way of his purpose, which was to win the war and emancipate the new country towards their new found freedom.

Washington was a true leader.  Drilling down a bit further, you can see Washington basically had three roles during the war:

First, he was the predominant leader and man in charge of the American forces.  In 1775–77, and again in 1781 he led his men against the main British forces. Although he lost many of his battles, he never surrendered his army during the war, and he continued to fight the British relentlessly until the war’s end.  He plotted the overall strategy of the war, in cooperation with Congress.

Second, he was charged with organizing and training the army. He recruited regulars and assigned Baron and General Friedrich von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff, to train them.  Eventually, he found capable officers, like General Nathanael Greene and his chief-of-staff Alexander Hamilton. The American officers never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuver, and consequently they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes resulted from innovative strategy , at Boston (1776), Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781), came from trapping the British far from base with much larger numbers of troops.

Third, and most important, Washington was the embodiment of armed resistance to the Crown—the representative man of the Revolution. His enormous stature and political skills kept Congress, the army, the French, the militias, and the states all pointed toward a common goal. By voluntarily stepping down and disbanding his army when the war was won, he permanently established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs. And yet his constant reiteration of the point that well-disciplined professional soldiers counted for twice as much as erratic amateurs helped overcome the ideological distrust of a standing army.

Sounds like a CEO and leader to me.  Although there are many others, here are 3 principles to keep in mind as you lead your volunteer army.

Unprecedented

The idea must be moving, unprecedented and important to the individuals involved.  No one wants to sacrifice for something we already see everyday.  People want to be part of something big, amazing and unique.  Many years down the road people simply want to be able to say to their friends “yeah, I was there at the beginning and we started it”

The main reason George Washington was able to attract volunteers to join the cause was because they were fighting for their own freedom and literally making history at the same time.

Dedication

A leader must be as dedicated – perhaps the most dedicated – to the cause if they are going to be an effective leader.  Followers will always be more influenced when leaders lead by example.  People don’t care much about what you say but will look more intently on what you do.  Dedication means working harder than others.  Dedication means fighting all the way to the end.  It means not leaving your co-founders the instant you sense things will be harder than you initially thought.  Simply put, a leader will attract and retain talent when the talent doesn’t even question the leader’s dedication.

Washington lead by example and publicly displayed his dedication to the cause of independence.  It is clear no one under him questioned or doubted his dedication, and in the end, by not giving up on the war Washington and the colonies were able to squeak out an unthinkable victory and changing history forever.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and  feel how others are feeling.  It’s the ability to “walk a mile in their shoes” and “see from their perspective.”  Being an empathic leader helps you understand what others in your organization are thinking, feeling and doing.

Why is this important?  Well, people hate to be told what to do when the person who is barking orders has no idea what is actually going on in the individuals life.  It shows lack of perspective and lack of reality.  Instead, if the person giving the orders actually understood the reality of the other person, they can then amend their orders with more realistic expectations.  The leader will know what is possible and what isn’t.  They will be able to adjust the deliverables, understand appropriate timeframes, delegate important responsibilities, and find others to do the job in the end if that is what’s needed.

A clueless leader is an ineffective leader.

George Washington knew exactly what his troops were going through because he was right there with them.  He spoke to them and often dined with them.  He traveled with them and camped with them.   He “walked many the miles in their shoes” so in the end he empathetically understood their reality and intuitively knew what they were capable of.

Leadership is truly an art, not a science.  It takes courage, strength and dedication.  It also takes someone willing to walk the extra mile with their followers so they fully understand who they are dealing with.

Like NFL Coaches, CEO’s Must Make Tough Decisions. Period.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow CEO dealing with a personnel issue on his team.  The issue at hand is not as important as the fact that the CEO had been putting off the decision for some time.  He seemed to be second-guessing himself and not trusting his gut.  He felt the specific individual in question, who had been with the young company for about a year, was “just not a good fit” and the CEO was having some challenges with the individual, saying things like  “there’s always some issue with him every time we meet…”

My feedback oriented around the fact that being CEO meant being a leader.  And in being leaders we have to be strong enough to make tough decisions, to do what is in the best interest for the long-term health of the company first, and only secondly what is best for any one individual on the team.

This is not an easy thing to do.

A CEO must protect their organization, especially from itself.  It is up to the CEO – and all executive management as the organization grows larger – to place and remove individuals as they see fit.  Most importantly a leader must be able to determine if an individual is adding more value to the organization than it is taking away.  If not, that person must be removed or placed in a more appropriate role immediately.  This includes the CEO himself when he is skirting from his responsibilities.

In this specific instance, the CEO felt the individual in question was a net negative on the team and was a growing concern, even starting to split the team during meetings, discussions, etc…  He was obviously very concerned.

Most decisions a CEO will face won’t feel good or be easy to make.  It gets even more difficult when we involve highly talented individuals.  Sometimes it might seem counterintuitive to actually remove a highly talented individual from a team, yet if the value they bring to the table is being overshadowed by the value they are taking away (or could potentially take away) with their detrimental behavior, something must be done.  That or the entire team will fall as a result.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to make these decisions before its too late.  This is why I argue it is never too early for a startup to have a CEO/Leader in place.

I dovetailed the conversation a bit to illustrate my point.  Just last week the Seattle Seahawks (I live in Seattle and I’m finally proud to be a fan again) played the Washington Redskins in the NFC wild card playoff game.

RG3If you were watching the game you know exactly what happened. And a crystal clear lesson in leadership played out in front of the entire country on national television.   I sure hope others took note.

Robert Griffin III (or RG3 as many know him) won the Heisman trophy last year with Baylor and was drafted 2nd overall by the Washington Redskins and is believed to be their franchise quarterback for many years to come.  They signed him to a 4-year, $21 million salary with the entire deal guaranteed, meaning he gets ALL $21 million no matter if he plays or not.  Obviously, this is a huge investment for the Redskins.  You would think they would have treated him as such during his first season with the club.

RG3 strained a ligament in his knee on Dec 9th and sat out a few games but came back early to play the last game of the season and the playoff game against the Seahawks.   During the playoff game, it was quite obvious RG3 was not 100% and his leg was definitely in pain.  He was “playing hurt, not injured” as they say.

What happened next was all things fascinating (from a leadership perspective), lucky (for us Seahawks fans) and excruciating (as I feel bad for Griffin) to watch.

Early in the game Sunday RG3 tweaked his right hurt knee again, to the point of limping, wincing and running with an impaired gait.  It was obvious he was injured and should not have continued playing.  Even the announcers were wondering when the Redskins will pull him out for the betterment of his health.  Numerous times, the television cameras showed RG with assistance from trainers and medical personnel, walking into a “small room” for who knows what, but my guess is examination and possibly a cortisone shot (pain reliever) so he could drag himself back onto the playing field to continue playing.

And that he did.  According to sources, it was his decision and he absolutely wanted to play the rest of the game even though he was a shell of his previous self.

OF COURSE THE YOUNG STAR WANTED TO PLAY. Anyone high performance individual is going to want to continue, especially when we are down or struggling.  We all want to prove we can overcome obstacles and be champions in the face of adversity.

So what happened next?

As the game continued, the Seahawks eventually took the lead. It was then, as the Redskins were doing all they could to win, RG3 awkwardly bent down to grab a bad snap only to fatally injure his knee; looking as to have seriously torn some ligaments in the process.  Injuring a previously weakened knee on a play where no one touches you, referred to as non-contact, is an obvious sign you shouldn’t have been playing.

RG3 went down, and the future of the franchise lay on the ground to the disappointment of the silent stadium full of Redskins fans.  Although the injury is not career threatening at this point, it’s arguable if RG3 will actually be able to play at the level he was before the injury.

So whose fault is it?

Not RG3’s.  The problem is the person involved is not thinking clearly or wisely at the moment.  They are focused on themselves, considering only the moment and the short term, not the long term.  They do not understand the long-term ramifications of their actions.  Even though RG3 said he could still play the responsibility to make the right decision ultimately falls on the coach, the leader of the team.  He should be realistic enough to make the right decision.

In the case of RG3, his head coach and somewhat the CEO of the organization, Mike Shanahan, is the person who should have been thinking about the long-term consequences of what was transpiring in front of him.  But for some reason he wasn’t thinking clearly either, perhaps wanting to roll the dice and gamble to win the game. His prize procession, the guy they gave up so much to draft and the one they touted as the future of the organization – their $21 million investment – placed himself directly in front of a Mack truck and no one did anything to stop him.

What’s the point of having leaders if they are not looking out for their team?

It’s easy to understand why Shanahan chose to leave RG3 in the game, he’s a good player when healthy.  It was reported he repeatedly told his coach he could play.  He said “I’m hurt, not injured”.  RG3, being a rookie, could be passed for naïve and maybe didn’t fully understand his actions had such drastic consequences.

But Shanahan, a veteran coach and the leader of the organization, should have known this and put his fist down.  It is his responsibility to make the tough decisions and do what is right for the entire team.  The truth is his lack of judgment in the heat of competition has not only cost the Washington Redskins a playoff win, it jeopardized the future of the organization since the resulting knee injury will lead to months of recovery time and RG3’s promising future now looks a bit more unclear.

Like it or not, the fault always goes to the leader.

To win one playoff game (short term) Shanahan could possibly have just given up the entire next season (long term) with his gamble.  But more importantly, Shanahan’s lack of leadership has now altered the life of one of the most promising young athletes to enter the NFL in a long time.  There is a strong possibility RG3 will never be able to perform at the level he was previously, in the end maybe even costing him millions of dollars and lost opportunities.

All because he did not have the courage to grab Robert Griffin III by the shoulder pads and say, “Robert, you are finished for the season.  I want to protect you for the long term so rest the knee and start preparing for next year and going back to the playoffs.”

Leaders must have the courage to do what is right not only for the organization but each individual within it, even if it’s the most difficult thing they have ever done.

I asked my fellow CEO if he thought Coach Shanahan would like to have that game back and possibly make a different decision?  We both agreed and believe he would.

As for his situation, I told him he needs to let the individual go, as soon as possible if he wants the rest of his team to stay intact.  I told him the responsibility of his organization rests on his shoulders and he should strongly consider what happens if he doesn’t make this tough decision.  “Everyone else on the team is watching how you handle this situation”, I told him.  I also suggested he owes it to the individual to be upfront and honest so they know what is happening as well as to free them up to go pursue their goals as soon as possible.

CEO’s must protect their organizations, the people within them as well as themselves by making tough decisions.   Problems are solved by tackling them head on, not by running away from them.

It’s Amazing How Much Technology Negatively Affects Our Leaders

As a lifelong student of Leadership, I’m sure I look at certain people and situations a bit differently than my peers.  When observing those at the helm of large or small tech companies, others might think genius or insanely wealthy where I tend to look for greatness or Leader.  All too often, and to my disappointment, I end up with something like “hmmm leader… not so much”.

The current state of Leadership in the tech sector has recently come to my attention as mini-crises seem to occur daily.  Wall Street this, tech companies that…  the rising turnover at executive levels of various companies.  These all definitely point to something not quite right at the top and everyone’s pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

And as it is with everything, it all comes down to leadership.

Look no further than Groupon and Zynga for real life examples. They are perfect studies of what happens when there is a clear lack of leadership.  Both companies are in free-fall with no end in sight, and both are now seeing early investors, shareholders (even founders) cashing out before it craters to rock bottom.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Surely I don’t blame a founder for wanting to secure their future after years of hard work, but based on recent actions the lack of faith is clear as day.

Why all the focus on Leadership?  Well, I recently stumbled across one of the most incredible articles on the subject, Solitude and Leadership, originally a lecture given by William Deresiewicz to a class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2009.   I can only imagine what it must have been like in the room that day, reading it now still yields a strong sense of how important leadership means to our military.

But as I read the article something unsettling occurred to me: are we, as an industry, giving Leadership its due respect?  Are we adequately preparing individuals to lead organizations, some numbering in the tens of thousands?  Or are we inadvertently focusing on the wrong skills and placing the wrong people at the front?  These individuals may be highly intelligent, top of their class, technically oriented and gifted with the ability to communicate with machines, but do they embody basic abilities to connect, communicate and lead others on a human level.

Accomplishment doesn’t necessarily mean people are adequate to lead.  Highly qualified people can have a CS degree from a top school, be a grifted engineer, and had the foresight to be a co-founder of a startup or previously earned millions from a well placed bet.  All those things make for a successful individual, but they have nothing to do with understanding the principles of leadership.  High tech and human interaction are pretty much opposite sides of a broad spectrum.

To put it bluntly, are we appointing the wrong people only to see the ship go sideways?

To viscerally grasp quality Leadership, one has to have a deep understanding of human motivation, psychology and sociology.  Basically, a leader must inherently know what makes people tick, and why.   The dynamics of human nature is one of the most challenging arenas to master, its more art than science.  There’s no formula or equation to use when approaching another person in the heat of the moment.  It takes awareness of the situation, yourself and the other person – all at the same time – to best handle a tense or high pressure situation.  Some people naturally posses such talents and can handle things with ease and grace.

And some don’t.

I believe this is where well intentioned but misplaced individuals fail promising companies.

The entire article gripped me, full of lessons and anecdotes on how we need to review the basics of human nature and leadership.  But a few things jumped out at me I want to share with our community in hopes it can help get our leaders back on solid ground.

Solitude is true leadership

It’s quite interesting how Deresiewicz refers to solitude as true leadership. How can time alone bring clarity to thoughts and ideas, leading to better leadership?  To find out, a simple glance around will give some perspective.  If you look around you will notice most people tend to be excellent sheep.  They flock around, listening to and following others, and are ultimately way too distracted “climbing the greasy pole of whatever opportunity they are after at the moment” to actually think clearly.

In short, rarely does anyone actually take the time alone to think for themselves.

“I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.”

Leaders would do themselves (and their followers) justice by simply taking more time alone to think independently.  Only by letting all parts of the mind come into play will they arrive at an original thought.

Deresiewicz believes we have a crisis of Leadership in this country.  “What we don’t have is Thinkers.  People who actually think for themselves – independently, creatively, flexibly, strategically.”

And he is absolutely right.  What we need is better thinkers, independent thinkers.  True leaders are able to take the time to think things through for themselves, and then have courage to make decisions even when those decisions are not popular but in fact the right thing to do.  Courage to think and act independently – for the right reasons – is what Leadership is all about.

Learn to think for yourself

To think clearly and independently a Leader must remove themselves from distraction and influence.  And when I say distractions, I mean all of them.   Today, more than ever, leaders are so bombarded with interruptions via email, texts, social networks, employees, bosses, media, etc… it’s no wonder they can’t gain any clarity of thought.  And studies have proven people do not multitask effectively – at all.   In fact, multitasker’s pretty much suck at everything they are doing when they are engaging in numerous activities at once. Various studies have shown multitasking only further distracts the individual and can actually impair ones ability to think clearly.

This is why I believe Twitter and Facebook, fascinating as they may be in our world today, are killing our ability to actually think clearly and independently, taking with them our uniqueness and innovation as collateral damage.  We’re now all dopamine feigns, searching for the next high pumped directly into our veins via short tidbits and chunks of useless information.  It’s like we are all now thinking in short tweets…  And according to Deresiewicz, this is not good:

“Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.” (Emphasis mine)

A.  Constant.  Stream.  Of.  Other.  Peoples.  Thoughts…  No wonder we are having problems thinking for ourselves.

When was the last time you found yourself in the solitude of concentration?  How about being lost for hours because you were so damn focused on working through a challenging task you forgot about time?  It’s probably been a while due to all the chiming and dinging of gadgets stealing from you any time alone or peace of mind.

Maybe unplugging for a certain amount of time each day or week is exactly what you need to progress your life.  It’s amazing to realize that without solitude—the solitude of Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison and Thomas Paine—there would be no America.

Quality Leadership and technology are inversely correlated

As a society I fear we have become too distracted by the “efficiencies“ of technology we have lost sight of how to actually lead effectively.  The problem is the more we use technology the less we actually communicate with people.

Great leadership requires mastering humans, not machines.  It requires face-to-face communication (not Instant Messaging or emailing) so the leader can gauge a person’s non-verbal cues and adjust their delivery accordingly.  Leaders must be able to read an individual simply by looking into their eyes, studying their facial and body movements to decipher what that twitch or brow raise might mean.

To become a better leader, simply use technology less and spend more time with your people.  But beware, it takes an all-encompassing person, someone who is emotionally stable and can handle being outside their comfort zone as they address challenging issues with someone possibly less stable.  During a though conversation, you must be able to hear them out and handle their objections in a way that, in the end, results in saving the face of the company and everyone involved.

One of the best ways to determine if you are cut out to lead is to ask yourself “do I actually like talking to people?”  It’s a simple question but the answer tells a lot.  Indeed, intelligence is required to be a leader, but it’s people’s emotional intelligence that makes them great leaders.  Daniel Goleman, in his industry-leading work on emotional intelligence and leadership, writes:

” My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

To be sure, intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels.”

It’s obvious by now the above description of a leader naturally fits certain people and naturally dismisses others.  My suggestion is two-fold.  First, as leaders we do a better job of identifying naturally gifted individuals and place them in their appropriate positions – be it a leadership position or not.  And second, we realize the slippery slope of technology on which we are currently standing, how it affects our interactions with others and understand if our leaders fall they will surely take us down with them.

Disclaimer:  It took me a number of attempts to finish this article, as I had to check my email, send a few tweets and see what my friends were up to on Facebook.  I know… I’m working on it too!