A Sliver of Light
Things that don’t make sense have more potential than things that do. Things that make sense confirm, stabilize, or enhance things you already know.
Things that don’t make sense are slivers of light slipping through cracks in floors.
I asked, former Sr. V.P. at Apple, Jay Elliot (JE), “What advice do you most frequently give?”
- Know where you are going.
- Have passion for the product and the process.
- Have passion for your talent.
- It’s about the people.
While Jay talked, I jotted down notes and follow-ups. I had a question about #3. “Passion for whose talent, yours or theirs?” I assumed he meant his own but wanted clarification.
JE: Passion for their talent. Success is about getting, and keeping great talent.
LF: How do you get the most out of top talent?
JE: Be open.
Things stopped making sense. I expected more than two words. I expected multiple steps, difficult procedures combined with motivational theory. “What do you mean, ‘Be open.’” Surprisingly, he replied with still fewer words.
Jay continued by explaining that if you hire the best people you should listen to them. Explore their ideas. Don’t put people down when they make suggestions.
His comments reminded me of Peter Ducker’s insights about knowledge workers. Specialized knowledge workers know more than their managers. Only the dumbest managers refuse to listen to smart people.
JE: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Jay shared that he loves humor; a touchy subject in many environments. He gave the usual caveats like, avoid sarcasm and practical jokes.
He enjoys situational humor. Most importantly, he makes fun of himself.
Hmmm, Listening and self-deprecating humor help get the most from great talent. What I hadn’t understood, at the beginning, became a sliver of light.
This is pt. 3 of my conversation with Jay Elliot. Jay is an entrepreneur and author of, “The Steve Jobs Way: ileadership for a new Generation.”
Pt. 1: Plan execution: From an Apple Sr. V.P.
Pt. 3: How was Jay Elliot Changed by Steve Jobs
Dan, the simplicity of Jay’s “Be Open” and “Listen” jumps out at me. Simple, yet not so simple. That is, of course, unless you have:
1) A strongsense of who you are
2) A humble, teachable spirit
3) An abundance mentality
Simple does not mean easy it seems!
Dan, this is something that really concerns me as I do not have the ability to measure our progress. Time and time again, an organization’s management will talk about talent and keeping the talent, and the business being about people. Yet, people are not treated in a way that fosters that spirit. People I deal with are missing the Jay Elliot’s leadership style. I feel like there is a disconnect between what people expect in terms of management behaving in a way that lets them know they value them and what management actually does. As the organization gets larger, people start feeling like it is all about delivery and no longer about them (managing the work and not managing the people). I think this article is great, and love Jay Elliot’s 4 points (they are really powerful), but I guess what I am asking is how do we get that mindset to follow through in behavior so we have more people that are talking about experiencing it as staff, rather than it sounding like only a few are privileged to work in that type of environment?
Your comment is not uncommon. In our culture many mouth the words, “people are our most valuable assest” but they don’t live it. The issue goes beyond strategies and reaches into corporate culture. Buy in from key leaders is essential for corporate culture. If you haven’t read Joe Tye’s book, “All Hands on Deck,” I recommend it. It’s a great read that outlines the key elements to execute sustainable corporate culture change.
It’s not easy and without buy-in from the top tier of an organization it can be down right dangerous to try and make changes.
Perhaps others will have other suggestions.
Dan’s points are well taken.
It may be a case Thabo of what can ‘you’ do to walk that talk and be genuine in your interactions.
I suppose I would also ask genuine questions of management…yep, that’s a tightrope.
One way might be to shift it to you…”I want to learn how to keep talent here, how will I know if I am doing it right?” You have those questions…how would we know we are keeping the talent? How would we measure this? What does it look like?
This might be too pointed…”I know of other companies that said they wanted to keep the talent and really didn’t succeed, how would we know we are succeeding? Or find a publicized organization that failed and talk about it.
This post (another great one, by the way) led me to think of one of my favorite quotes: You don’t have to get a job with a famous company or hot-shot industry in order to have a spectacular career. You just have to do what you do with reverence (Hugh Macleod – the accompanying illustration can be found here: http://gapingvoid.com/2010/08/05/luckys-juice-joint-2/)
I think a key for a leader who is trying to get the most out of great talent is realizing that some talents require a certain amount of space (or environment, or way of interacting with coworkers) in order to get the most out of their talent. An IT person I knew was placed in a cubicle next to a contact center. Being around all of that noise and, honestly, all of those PEOPLE, made it difficult for her to approach her IT tasks – she was reverent about IT which made her succeed, but it was almost impossible to “shine” or enjoy or produce next to the constant chatter and activity that accompanies a contact center.
To the degree possible – understand what they need for the work they revere.
Thanks for the Post (and The Series w/Jay Elliot)
I like how you’ve made your posts 300 words or less – simple and to the point. (Clear and Concise Communication!)
This series with Jay Elliot was extremely effective. Your questions tackled important issues that challenge leaders every day.
Thanks for work.
I loved this post. Came away thinking about the light under the door metaphor and Elliot’s advice about openness and not taking yourself too seriously. Perhaps when we see the light under the door, it should remind us that we need to OPEN the door and let in some light. We shouldn’t be locked up thinking we’ll find the answers inside.
@Thabo — I agree that saying people are the most important asset and acting like people are the most important asset are wholly different things. In large organizations, it can be hard to maintain a “people focus” when the span of control for managers becomes too large. I think that is why people sometimes equate a flat organizational structure with a “people-focused” approach. (I don’t think they are equivalent, I think it just seems like flat orgs are more people friendly)
The challenge is getting big without feeling big. A smaller span of control or team-driven org structure can help leaders stay focused on people when it is perhaps easier to focus on products. Again, not as easy in practice as in theory, but I think it helps. There is a maximum number of inputs any one individual can attend to at one time. When we exceed it, we start focusing in to conserve our cognitive resources, I think.
Thinking about this — especially, “Have passion for your talent” and the teacher bashing that has become so prevalent in current news. Let’s have passion for the talent in our schools and let them know that we do.
Jay has suggested very simple and powerful ideas to engage people in the team. I like the idea of “Don take put people down when they make suggestions. It is so powerful that when you appreciate and take suggestions of people, they feel respected and in the process trust is created. I have experieced it, it really works and powerful tool to motivate people. Today, managers usually impose their ideas on people through communication. And people are supposed to follow it blindly without questioning or putting logic.This is one of the reason, organisaitons fail because people working at frontline know better about customers, products, processes and have more suggestions that can have posiitve bearing on performance. Why it happens ? I think, this kind of practices flourish where people at bottom are not engaged in the decision making proces. And even if they are sometimes engaged, they are not listened to. It means top management listen to senior management and senior management listen to middle management and nobody listen to frontline management. IT usually happnes where promotion is based on seniority and relationship. Managers are more concerned about boasting about their efforts and flatter senior people because they need promotion. The organisations where ideas are appreciated, people at bottom level are more engaged and productive.
I think, managers can get the most out of great talent by changing their self centered approach, enhancing their knowledge and skills, appreciating the effort rather than personal relation, removing the veil of ego and arrogance blob…blob..
Jay Eliot is so right. It’s a pity more leaders and managers don’t follow this. Time and time again one hears of people feeling that their talents are being wasted and they are not listened to. What we can do to improve this I’m not sure, because it’s not a new concept.
Great post Dan, I have been a silent follower of your blog for a fair while now and just could not resist posting today as I’m finding your posts of late to be of uncanny relevance!
I have to agree with what Ajay says, that often management does not listen (they don’t always lend their ears to, much less seek the opinions of) those (often below) that potentially have otherwise undiscovered valuable feedback to the organization, and that like Thabo says, it often becomes about managing the work (and not necessarily about the people).
I don’t think it has to be a large organization for this ‘disengagement’ to occur, a small/medium organization with a less flat structure can also have this problem…
However, even if they were to listen, management only have so much time to spend listening and to what degree do they then choose to act on what they have heard?
Another great post! What’s striking is that while many in Jay Elliot’s position would be arrogant, he appears to be quite humble. The short answers are not that of one who needs to hear themselves speak. The advice what about how great people make you successful not about how great of a job he has done.
Thanks for sharing.
Dan, I heard that Jay is starting up a new blog called Freak Leadership and is going to be 30 words or less for his posts…x10 quicker than LF. 😉
I see ‘choice’ as underlying Jay’s tenets. Choose to be genuine…or not. Choose to show your path, your passion, your personal investment in every interaction, with every person, every time (no easy task that) and have fun with it…perhaps it can be fun because you made that choice.