Thursday, February 23, 2017

Here’s a Leadership Hack for 2017: Start finding ways to Invert Control

Guest post from Tom Reilly: 

The end result will be that you will get what you want without trying as hard. 

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? 

And yet it isn’t.  

The best part is that you can invert control over and over again. Not just at work, but also in any situation where you want to manipulate an outcome in your favor. 

Here’s what it involves: Assessing how to take back control in order to automate better results. You can sometimes accomplish this by simply paying attention to the specific phrasing of a command or request. Other times it involves imbedding structural elements into your overall management and leadership system, but in both cases it works. 

Often instantly. 

Here's where the concept of inversion of control comes from: The cliché Hollywood casting agent line, “Don't call us, we’ll call you.”  

Saying, “Don't call us, we’ll call you” to all of the actors who tried out for a part but likely didn't get it stops an influx of worthless, time consuming, and disrupting phone calls from coming into the casting agency. And it’s accomplished just by carefully wording a statement in a very specific and purposeful way. 

Salesmen know the power behind carefully crafted language. Car salesmen, for example, are trained to not directly ask a customer if he or she wants to buy the car they were looking at because that leads them to a binary option and potentially a fast, “No.” Instead, a good salesman asks, “Do you want the red car or the blue car?” Phrased this way, the question moves the customer closer to a purchase. That essentially takes some of the power away from the customer and gives it to the salesman. It inverts control.

Now take the concept of inversion of control and see how well it can work to automate better outcomes when you implement it by assigning discrete—rather than general—tasks to individuals on your team. A manager who changes a command from the general “get this project done,” to the specific by assigning one particular task to each team member likely automates a better outcome. By assigning discrete tasks there is a better chance that the job will actually get done. Why? Because there is specificity and accountability. When that manager checks back in it will be clear who did, and who didn't, do his or her job. Underpinning that is also clarity. The employees know exactly what they need to do. Consider the incredibly simple example of asking your kids to clean the kitchen after dinner. If you assign one specific task to each child, it will be clear who did his or her job and who didn’t, and that creates accountability, which in turn increases motivation, and therefore improves the chance that the job will actually get done. 

Here’s an example from my place of work; the film set. 

Specifically because we spend so much money to shoot a film—on average roughly $20K an hour for a studio feature—we have highly segmented jobs and assign very discrete tasks. That gives us maximum control and better outcomes. I don't say, “Someone go lock up that street corner.” Instead I assign that job to a specific production person. Discrete task assignment creates accountability, which in turn increases motivation and drives harder work, which ultimately maximizes productivity on a film set just like it does with the kids in the kitchen on cleanup duty. After all, people are less likely to slough off responsibility in a situation where the assignment is clear and they can be individually blamed if it is not completed. 

In film production we also invert control by breaking difficult tasks down into incremental component pieces. When shooting a stunt like a full body burn we don’t say “Let’s just light the guy on fire and wing it,” we break the stunt down into fractional tasks where every detail—from who will do what to how many seconds it will be done for—and that gives us as close as we can get to total control in a dangerous situation. It also allows any potential problems to be revealed before the process begins, builds the confidence of everyone on the team, and creates a string of motivating small wins. 

A firefighter who has to get a frightened victim to climb down a ladder to escape from the high floor of a burning building doesn't say, “Just climb down the ladder.” Instead, he or she parses the task into executable component parts by saying, “Just put your left foot on the top rung.” That much feels doable by the scared victim. Once that’s done, the firefighter can then assign a sequential task by saying, “Now put your right foot on the top rung,” and so on. That firefighter has used the specific phrasing of a command in tandem with discrete task segmentation to take back control in a tough, life-threatening situation, and therefore has a better chance for a positive outcome.

Entire industries have been disrupted by implementing the concept of inversion of control on a system wide level as well. Take the popular Harvard Business School case study that details how Hiroaki Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain, inverted control to address several industry issues when the franchise was planning to enter the US market. Aoki essentially re-thought the standard process and flow (moving a product all the way through production to consumer delivery) in the restaurant business by moving food prep and cooking to the center stage of the dining room and having chefs prepare the food in front of patrons seated at large communal dining tables. In so doing, he improved margins. He streamlined the menu, eliminated the distance from kitchen to table, addressed what were poor perceptions of Japanese food in the US at the time by allowing diners to see how fresh and simple the ingredients were, reduced the need for front of the house staff, and since the chef actually bowed to signify the end of the meal, he ended “table linger,” which is a costly factor in the restaurant business.

Take a more recent example. The ride share company Uber. By designing their business model with an app that includes a customer rating system for drivers, Uber management instantly took better control of driver behavior—something traditional cab companies have virtually no control over. By taking carefully thought out steps to invert control on a system wide basis, just like Benihana had, Uber automated better outcomes.

Now take this concept of inversion of control into any of your management situations. Think about how often you can easily rephrase statements in order to automate better outcomes, how you can use discrete task assignment to instantly create more clarity and accountability, and how you might be able to structure your overall management system in a way that inverts control in a more comprehensive way. All of these efforts will get you what you want with less effort, have a positive impact on the bottom line, and that will ultimately make you a much better leader.
Tom Reilly is the author of The Hollywood MBA: A Crash Course in Management from a Life in the Film Business. He has been a professional filmmaker for more than thirty years collaborating on over 100 film and television projects for every major studio. He’s worked with directors Sydney Pollock, Irwin Winkler, Barbra Streisand, and Woody Allen and with more than 75 Academy Award winners. In The Hollywood MBA, Reilly explores the ten key strategies he utilized to manage big crews, big budgets, and big personalities on major motion pictures, and shows us how these strategies can be leveraged in any business for success. For more info please visit

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leadership Development and the Role of Millennials

Guest post from Philipe Bruce:

More than 50% of businesses claim that they do not have the resources or time to train their employees to be leaders. As such none of those business owners and leaders have the resources they need to sustain their enterprises. How serious is this? According to the same study, expenditures on leadership development programs have decreased by about 10%.

What is horrifying to note is that organizations that fail to develop employee skills are setting themselves up for disaster. Rather than utilizing their talent to the best of their abilities and facilitating growth, most organizations prefer to use employees as cogs, oiling them as needed in order to remain functional. Entrepreneurs willingly turn a blind eye to this for the sake of immediate gain and in turn, sets the entire machine up for failure. Sacrificing long term growth for immediate gain only serves to benefit those higher-up in an organization’s hierarchy rather than those who really need it.

Leadership development is the most ignored aspect for several reasons. It is either used to push forth bureaucratic agendas or not given the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, in the bid to save funds, many companies end up paying a higher price for this neglect in the long run, losing top young talent with the potential to steer organizations towards a better and brighter future.

Organizations in the United States spend over $170 billion on leadership based-training programs, but those funds are not utilized to their full potential. The reason is simple: leaders cannot be trained. They have to be developed. This means focusing on individual rather than mass talents. Rather than trying to mold new employees into cookie-cutter ones that can fit in established machineries, employers need to create leadership development programs that can be tailored to individual needs and existing talents.

This is easier said than done. In order to encourage managers to put in the time necessary to do this process justice, old leadership training methods have to be expunged. Now more than ever, failure to do so may result in a massive loss of top talent to competing organizations that recognize their potential and are flexible enough to devote resources to them.

There are a couple of reasons why the old model has lost its effectiveness. Two of the common ones include:

Business owners have become near-sighted – As mentioned before, most organizations sacrifice potential gain in favor of aimless productivity that can bring immediate gains. We are not talking about top management here – more often than not line managers for instance are given set instructions that they cannot deviate from. This leaves little to no room for employee development since most managers believe they do not have the resources or the ability to nurture future leaders.

Talent-choking red tape – Organizations that focus on developing existing managerial talent rather than future ones, lead to a tangle of bureaucratic red tape that chokes off creativity. This leads to development exercises that have little to no value for new employees, which takes up a lot more time than they are worth. Simply put, some of today’s development practices are perceived as just something that needs to be completed rather than important exercises that can generate value in existing talent.

Millennials are getting the short end of the stick…
These two reasons are part of the reason why organizations are failing to retain top talent and resources that can give them the flexibility they need to survive in a new business era. We are of course, referring to Millennials here. This generation is often described as the antithesis of the ideal candidate. They can be stubborn, opinionated, are loyal to themselves first, and have high expectations when it comes to career advancement.

However, that is also an immense potential. Millennials can be stubborn yes, but this trait points to a strong and assertive personality that is the hallmark of strong leaders. They have strong opinions, but that does not mean they cannot listen to reason. Millennials thrive on feedback, crave for it actually, and prefer to have their opinions challenged rather than shot down. This is a trait that is tantamount for visionaries and leaders who have the potential of influencing others to greatness. Since this generation craves feedback and especially from senior management, a lack of it demotivates them, leading to disillusionment and ultimately, resignations.

Harnessing that potential will be critical in the next decade or so since this generation has all of the qualities that future leaders need to remain relevant in today’s business environment. In fact, this generation will make up more than 70% of the global workforce at that time but this does not mean they do not need leadership development at all. Unfortunately, with their hesitance to tackle existing politics, most employers prefer to have a laid-back attitude regarding the Millennials need of leadership development.

This is dangerous for organizations that have plans to expand and which will only have baby boomers and retirees to rely on during that time. Many of them will be experienced but will not have the strength, vitality, resourcefulness and most importantly, practical knowledge of current business trends to create sustainable production models.
The key is to pinpoint talent, in this case Millennials, that have all of the mentioned traits above and those who can be encouraged rather than forced to realize their full potential. 

The first approach can persuade them to use their talents to uncover opportunities that should not be hidden from them in the first place. The second approach will make it difficult owing to this generation’s stubborn nature. Therefore, future leadership development programs should be designed to nurture existing talents in order to prevent a significant skills gap down the line.

Philipe Bruce is the Founder of P.O.D.S Professional & Organizational Development Solutions, a business coaching consultancy based in Omaha, Nebraska. Born in The Republic of Togo of West Africa, Bruce ​is a business development coach with degrees from University of Nebraska, Bellevue University, and Peru State College. Fluent in English and French and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Bruce brings a diverse, global perspective to the challenges facing the American workforce. His new book Not Just Talent: TheMillennials Redefining Talent & Human Capital Management
 is available now on Amazon

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Six Ways to Make Your Presentation a Hit

Guest post by Ted Frank

Scientists say our attention spans are now shorter than a goldfish, so it’s more important than ever to make our presentations as engaging and compelling as possible. How can we do that?  One way is by taking cues from the place that can still captivate us for hours at a time: the movies.

Storytelling: In the way execs have wanted it all along

Movie-style storytelling is actually a perfect fit for corporate presentations because it’s built on the same principles we’ve all been seeking from presentations: being simple, quick, visual and powerful. But the best news is that you can get a lot of movie power without even using video. Here are a few tips to make your next presentation a hit.

1. Find the three key points that matter mostScreenwriters are able to write so quickly and powerfully because they start with three key scenes, then build the rest of movie around those. This not only keeps them out of the weeds when writing, but it will make it easier for us to remember and share it with other people. Business people can do the same thing: decide what three things are most important and emphasize those. It will make it easier to write your presentation, and will enable you to choose what people remember. If you evenly emphasize ten points, who knows what they’ll remember.
2. Cut out what you don’t need
Now that you’ve got your key story, take another cue from movies and cut what you don’t need. Hollywood calls it “killing your babies,” but in truth, few in Hollywood kill their own. Screenwriters cut the novel to 150-or-so pages, the director cuts down the script, and then finally, the editor cuts it all down to the story we see on screen.
And you know what? Most of the time, we don’t miss those cuts one bit. Because having less detail often helps us absorb and remember the most important parts of the story. So grab a colleague close enough to your work to understand it, but far enough from your weed pile. Tell him or her the three key points you want your stakeholders to remember, then ask them to cut anything that gets in the way. In my workshops, I’ve seen people cut 80% from their partner’s deck, and their partners are always, always grateful.

3. Tell those points through example stories We all know how much easier it is to understand and remember a concept when we hear or see it through an example. The example helps us grab hold of it. So unless your point is so simple a kid can understand it, always look for a way to describe it through an example. And then, cap it off with the opportunity your point presents to your stakeholders. Put the example and the opportunity together and you give them not only a story they can relate to, but also one they can use.

4. If you can make it visual, even better
Just like an example helps us grab hold of it, seeing that example makes it even more clear. It also puts everyone on the same page because we all see the same visual. And while we normally gravitate toward a drawing or animation, a photo can actually be more helpful because photos depict real things, and that makes it even easier for stakeholders to relate and believe.

5. Speak to the emotional side
We all know how powerful emotions pull on us, otherwise, no one would own a sports car or SUV. But for some reason, when we get to the office and pull out our PowerPoint, we forget about emotion. The truth is that no matter where we are, we are influenced by our emotions. So speaking to the rational side and informing can only take you so far. If you want people to get behind you, you have to inspire them and make them believe, and that all comes by engaging their emotional side.

6. Stand up for what you believeOne of the most profound ways people can raise the level of their presentation is to get up from behind the projector and stand in front of the screen. Do that and you’re already a million times more engaging. First, because they see the words come from you, which increases your credibility, solely because it shows you believe in your message enough to stand for it.
But it also enables you to enhance your communication through gestures and body language. You can even emulate one of the most powerful shots in movies: the dolly-push. When you want to make your big point, walk slowly toward your stakeholders like a dollied camera and you’ll feel all the power movies bring to their heroes.

Ted Frank is the principal story strategist at Backstories Studio. His book, Get to the Heart, shows professionals how using movie-style storytelling can make presentations clear, compelling, and c-suite ready. Follow him on Twitter @backstoriestv.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Are You a Great Manager?

Guest post from Jack Litewka:

“How can I know whether I’m a Good Manager or a Great Manager?”  (I’ll assume that no one reading this article is a Bad Manager.)

That’s an important question that all leaders need to ask themselves.  “Why is it an important question?”  Because a Great Manager achieves significantly better results than a Good Manager does – in revenue, in profit margin, in out-of-the-box thinking, in exceeding expectations, in team morale, in talent retention, in enhancing the reputation of a company’s brand and the company’s products and services, and in being perceived as a leader.  So if a leader is not taking the time to think about what s-he needs to do to continue along the path from Good Manager to Great Manager, becoming a Great Manager will always be out of reach.

Good Managers
Let’s begin by looking at what Good Managers do. 

Good Managers deliver quality results on time.  Good Managers deliver quality results on budget.  Good Managers do a good job of hiring talent.  Good Managers do a good job of setting expectations.  Good Managers to a good job of setting context for their team.  Good Managers do a good job of planning.  And more, of course.
These are important accomplishments, and the work-world surely needs more Good Managers.  No argument there. 

But is that a high-enough bar for excellence?  That question (and its answer – “No”) inevitably leads to these questions:  “What’s different about a Great Manager?  How do Great Managers distinguish themselves?”  Read on…
Great Managers
A Great Manager does all the things that a Good Manager does – but does those things in a world-class manner (not just in a good-enough manner). 

A Great Manager also does additional things that a Good Manager does not do.  “Such as?”  Here are a few of the key characteristics that differentiate a Good Manager from a Great Manager.
Great Managers have a framework – one might call it a philosophic frameworkwithin which they can consider all potential activities and trade-offs.  Key to this is that Great Managers understand the critical aspect of their role – their overarching framework – which is:  creating conditions that allow others to succeed.  Of course, Great Managers cannot guarantee that their team members will always succeed; they can, however, create conditions that give team members the optimal chance of meeting and exceeding the quality bar in their deliverables.
Great Managers have a keen and healthy self-awareness of their impact on others, as regards the people on their team and on other managers, executives, and members of the board of directors.  That self-awareness makes it possible for Great Managers to protect their teams (from noise, rumors, inadequate budgets, etc.) and to create optimal conditions for their teams to do world-class work.
Great Managers have a very sophisticated understanding of how to motivate their teams.  They understand that long-term motivation is not always achieved by throwing parties… or giving gifts… or coming up with gimmicks… or verbal kindness…  or justly-earned promotions… or ensuring public recognition – though each of those can (in the right circumstances) be good things.  Great Managers understand that members of their teams will feel motivated when they are successful – and that feeling of success propagates self-motivation, which is long-lasting.  So, again, creating conditions that allow others to succeed is crucial.
Great Managers do not believe everything they think.  They regularly ask themselves, “What if I’m wrong?”  That question leads Great Managers to regularly think about alternatives that might be preferable to the first one they come up with before making significant decisions.
Great Managers understand that developing a Great Team requires creating a Great Team Culture.  Great Managers think a lot about how to create a culture in which the sum is greater than the parts.  They realize that it doesn’t happen by itself, doesn’t happen by accident.  They understand that it doesn’t automatically happen by hiring talent.  Creating a Great Team Culture requires a Great Manager to orchestrate dozens of factors in a skillful (and often subtle) way.  Great Managers step up to this task – and do the work necessary to create a Great Team Culture.  “Why are they willing to spend time and effort on this?”  Because they understand that a Great Team Culture results in their team exceeding expectations on a regular basis.

Jack Litewka is a management consultant who has mentored dozens of managers.  He is the author of The Sophisticated Manager:  Essential Leadership Lessons for Developing High-Performance Team… and Avoiding Critical Mistakes.