Find and fix problems, not symptoms

I’ve had my share of medical interventions over the last ten years – sometimes, I feel like I’ve had more than my share. My experience with the medical practitioners I’ve interacted with is that they tend to focus on the symptom the patient presents with. That is what they treat, particularly as that is often their specialisation. A knee surgeon will look at the problematic joint because that is where the patient reports the symptom. That makes sense, right? Doesn’t it? What does this have to do with the broader work and life sphere? What if this is the wrong approach?

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Why managers must enable thinking

Our lives at home and work are full of distracting noise. We surround ourselves with activities and gadgets that actively discourage thinking. This lack of space for thought is often compounded by an unrelenting series of tasks and meetings in a work environment. As I continue to work on my management skills, one area of focus that has echoed for years in my brain is the need to help others develop insights from their experience. I firmly believe that this should be a primary focus for all managers. So how do we do this?

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The Art of Asking Good Questions

It has been said that assumption is the mother of all f**k-ups (or failures, in more polite company). This statement, ironically, is an assumption itself. However, it is true that it is easy for us to assume we know something. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking leads to all sorts of biases in action – confirmation bias, recency bias, and others enable us to fool ourselves. And while it is easy for us to fall into this trap, it can be simple to avoid as well – by using the right questions to check ourselves.

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On seeing and being seen

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspectives recently. I’ve also written before about the value of different perspectives from a leadership point of view. But, lately, because of something lovely that someone did for me at work, I’ve also experienced what it’s like to be seen.

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Humanity at work

In the last two weeks, four people I work with in one capacity or another have cried in my office or in a virtual meeting room with me. This is a personal record. In fact, I started to think the cause was me – my ego is still relatively functional, it would seem. They all became emotional for different reasons. One thing they had in common was they immediately apologised afterwards. It has occurred to me since that this is something we do whenever we express strong emotion. What is wrong with this picture?

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When Leadership goes Wrong

I’ve recently finished reading “Bad Blood” by John Carreyou, which is a fascinating expose of the cultural and leadership failures at Theranos (why do I always think of Infinity Stones when I read that name?). It’s a well-written, highly critical view of how Elizabeth Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, systemically lied and misled investors, staff and regulators before eventually being exposed. It made me think in a broader context about leadership failings, and I’m going to try and capture some of those thoughts in the paragraphs that follow.

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Give the Gift of Useful Feedback

Last weekend I wrote a post about the importance of receiving feedback openly and without falling into defensiveness. A colleague kindly reminded me that receiving feedback is only half of the equation. As managers, leaders and human beings, we all have the ability to give feedback to help improve others. Honest, sometimes brutal, feedback is a gift – here’s why it’s important to give it, and some suggestions on how to give it well.

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