Scrutiny

Being asked to generate this kind of realistic solution requires letting go of the childlike fantasy in which one can have all upside and no downside. It requires really digging into an issue, developing a depth of understanding that goes beyond drive-by feedback. As the officer quoted above observed, by mandating that any critique be coupled with a counterproposal, Ike’s policy “made for more careful scrutiny and analysis.”

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/sunday-firesides-never-criticize-without-offering-an-alternative/

Not long ago I thought that this arrangement—requiring realistic solutions be provided when criticizing current ones—was unhealthy. I thought that it also led to people generally not speaking up when they saw a problem. But I now see that there are two different scenarios: raising issues and providing criticism.

“Always bring me problems,” is an important policy. It encourages people on a team to speak up when they see something they believe is a problem. The team then benefits from everyone’s perspectives, a culture of openness and honesty is created, and even when mistaken less-experienced people learn from their practice at assessment of problems. This is a different scenario than the one of criticism.

One of the hallmarks of constructive criticism is that it provide alternatives. In this scenario it is not sufficient to simply point out flaws or problems. To encourage deeper understanding each person must be challenged to find an alternate proposal. Doing so requires each person to understand the goal and the realities which constrain the possible courses of action. This type of constructive collaboration, where criticism is of the idea and not of the person, is where teams can really multiply the impact of the individuals’ efforts.

To put it as a spin on acting improvisation: Where improv instructs us to avoid, “no,” preferring, “yes, and….” Constructive criticism requires, “no, and….”

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Expectations

All outcomes are manifestations of forces that are at work to produce them, so whenever looking at specific outcomes, think about the forces that are behind them. Constantly ask yourself, “What is this symptomatic of?”

~ Ray Dalio from, https://fs.blog/2011/09/management-lessons-from-ray-dalio/

This is pretty much the zero-th rule of being a rational agent. (But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bear repeating.) The post from the Farnam Street blog is simply a long list of quotes from Dalio. It’s a great list, and it’s assembled in the context of leadership skills. This one, (quoted above,) in particular speaks to me; speaks to me like a drill sergeant. “What is your dysfunction?!” Anyway.

Once I started practicing being rational—yes, emotions are real, they are important, they get their due… But once I started intentionally practicing using rationality as a tool I made huge strides in self-improvement.

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Bias to action

The full definition of leadership that Badaracco gradually unfolds through literature in the course is: “Leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective in the world as it is.”

~ Martha Lagace from, https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/machiavelli-morals-and-you

I’ve mentioned bias to action previously, but I don’t recall having every connected it to one of Machiavelli’s best-known quotes, that fortune favors the bold. (Click through for more context.) Here I’m struck by Badaracco’s choice of, “effective,” as a critical feature of leadership. Certainly without action, there can be no efficacy. (And, yes, using my words totally counts as action, thank you.) Leaders are by definition out in front. That means acting first, and that presumes being capable of acting. If my bias is towards inaction, (gather more data, think about it more, however you want to mince those words,) I cannot be a good leader.

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