Brains and boards

Appearing in In The Black magazine, June 2019

 

Master Your Mind: Counterintuitive Strategies to Refocus and Re-energize Your Runaway Brain

By Roger Seip and Robb Zbierski

Wiley, $39, 256 pages

Master Your MindA recurring image in this book is that little wheel that pet hamsters run on: faster and faster but never going anywhere. Too often, say workplace trainers Seip and Zbierski, people confuse busyness with productivity, and long hours with focus. Master Your Mind underlines the value of slowing down, taking time to reflect, and saying no when it is appropriate to do so.

It sounds easy but for many people working fast and hard has become a habit. Even when they see themselves getting stressed and making mistakes they continue, often in the belief that it is the way to compete with everyone else. Seip and Zbierski cite a solid body of research showing that stress leads to poor decisions, although they are careful to not get carried away with neuroscientific jargon. They provide some tests to establish whether there is a need to slow down and they offer advice on how to do it. Regular conversations with oneself to develop mindfulness and set priorities are also useful.

If the idea of doing less in order to do more seems counter-intuitive it makes sense when it comes to quality and sustainability. Going nowhere fast is not a good career path. Ask the hamster.

 

Best of Boards: Sound Governance and Leadership for Nonprofit Organizations (2nd edition)

By Marci Thomas and Kim Strom-Gottfried

Wiley, $50, 256 pages

Being a board member of a not-for-profit organisation is a difficult proposition: tough decisions, considerable legal responsibilities and (usually) no remuneration beyond the feeling of doing something important and worthwhile. This book aims to help people new to NFP boards, whether they have experience with for-profit companies or are coming fresh to the field.

Thomas and Strom-Gottfried cover a great deal of ground, from understanding NFP financial statements to pushing through a change program. There is a framework for effective oversight, with one of the most useful tools being a template for resolving disagreements between the board and senior management.Best of Boards v2

The authors illustrate their points with interesting anecdotes and examine the legal and ethical questions that arise in connection with NFPs. They also emphasise that for a board the great enemy is complacency. The time when you are congratulating yourself for having solved all the problems is the point where you should start to look at the next wave of issues.

A problem with the book is that it is designed for NFPs operating within the US system of regulation, reporting and compliance. But this is a small point, and there are many valuable lessons here on effective governance and sound strategic thinking.

 

Thriving in the Gig Economy: How to Capitalize and Compete in the New World of Work

By Marion McGovern

Career Press, $30, 224 pages

McGovern was working to bring freelancers and employers together before the term ‘gig’ was coined to describe a new way of working, so she is well-placed to talk about the advantages and pitfalls. She looks at the equation from both sides, and some of the most important chapters deal with how companies can effectively utilise specialised, short-term contractors.

As for freelancers, she notes that the most successful ones see themselves as a brand to be framed, strengthened, and leveraged. They must be willing to market themselves, constantly upgrade their skills, and stay abreast of technological developments. Having a system for handling the practical business of getting paid is also essential.

McGovern identifies people who are returning to the workforce after an extended break or after retirement as a growth trend for the gig economy. It might be as an Uber driver or as an interim CEO but it is important to have the right mindset and to know where you can add value.

This is a useful, interesting book. It is hard to argue with McGovern when she says that the development of the gig economy is going to continue. She offers good advice on how to ride the wave.

Gig economy

 

Downloadable research

 

Resilience

Professor Jill Klein, who directs the Resilient Leadership program at Melbourne Business School, believes that setbacks can provide crucial lessons if approached with the right mindset. Whether the setback relates to failing to receive a promotion or dealing with an organisational restructure, she advises a focus on three questions: why did it happen, what does it mean, and what can I do?

This approach helps to clarify what is in your control and what is not, as well as identifying weaknesses that might be remedied. It also puts you in a positive frame of mind, so you can focus on the future rather than the past.

To read the essay and related material go to:

https://1.mbs.edu/news/A-resilience-expert-explains-how-to-pick-yourself-up-after-a-setback-at-work

 

Trends

AccentureA major study from Accenture, Are Your Ready For What’s Next?, aims to identify the critical technology-related issues that will drive the next three years. The key trends are:

–         DARQ – distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, extended reality, and quantum computing – as the next source of differentiation and competitiveness

–         a new level of interactiveness that will create a “tech identity” for every consumer

–         technology-driven work capabilities alongside employees’ existing skills, requiring new methods of work

–         enhanced avenues of “ecosystem collaboration” that open new opportunities but also raise security threats

–         empowered consumers that expect customised and on-demand experiences.

Download the full study or a ‘short read’ version from:

https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/insights/technology/technology-trends-2019

 

CFOs

Chief Financial Officers who speak in the same style as a company CEO and seldom offer differing viewpoints are likely to earn more and move up faster, according to a study by the Jones Graduate School of Business of Rice University and the University of Miami Business School. The research examined CFOs in 2,384 US companies, looking at “language style matching”, an unconscious form of imitation based on the use of terms like “I”, “we” and “us”.

But the study authors noted that even though imitative CFOs did personally better than others, in the M&A area their companies did less well than the average.

For the complete study go to:

https://phys.org/news/2019-02-ceo-cfos-higher.html

 

Hiring

In a useful TED Talk, Priyanka Jain examines the new hiring landscape. As the head of a consulting firm that uses neuroscience, algorithms and AI tools to make hiring decisions more effective, she draws on her experience to provide advice on how job seekers should structure applications. She suggests a move away from the traditional dot-point resume in favour of a focus on distinctive abilities and personal qualities.

Jain also explains how a new generation of psychometric testing tools are being used to measure creativity and suitability, resulting in better fit and a win-win situation for the company and its employees.

To watch, go to:

https://www.ted.com/talks/priyanka_jain_how_to_make_applying_for_jobs_less_painful

 

Keeping it real

Even the best-laid plans often fail to survive their first encounter with reality, and Charles Vandepeer, a former intelligence officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, is interested in why. In an insightful essay, Self-Deception and the ‘Conspiracy of Optimism’, he looks at military operations that have failed due to over-assessment of one’s own abilities and under-estimation of the opposition.

Business disasters often stem from the same pattern of group-think. A leader who wants to combat this has to actively encourage dissenting views, even if it means going outside the usual circle of advisers. Confidence is necessary but arrogance is a sure path to failure.

To read the essay Self-Deception and the ‘Conspiracy of Optimism’ go to:

https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/self-deception-and-the-conspiracy-of-optimism/

 

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