Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KANYE WEST: BUSINESS ADVISOR?

Kanye West. The mere mention of the man’s name conjures a wealth of images and associations. There is the mic-snatching-incident that galvanized innumerable suburban tweens against him. Then there are the temper tantrums at the mention of the Taylor Swift debacle, the diamond teeth, and the Twitter outbursts. But to only consider the id-driven, puerile parts of Yeezy is to miss much of his true genius. For someone so seemingly self-absorbed, he has written with amazing clarity about the loss of his mother, painful breakups, and his own insecurities.

Like many rappers, Kanye includes a nod to his Lamborghini Murcielago in “Dark Fantasy”, the first track on his new album. However, unlike most rappers, Kanye’s understands that his conspicuous consumption is psychologically bigger than simply wanting a nice car. As he raps in “All Falls Down”, “...it seems we living the American Dream, but the people highest up got the lowest self esteem.” As much as some would like to, it is a gross simplification to write Kanye off as another hedonistic crybaby.

Mr. West’s much anticipated album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dropped yesterday to unbelievably positive reviews. The notoriously snobby reviewers at Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0; the writeup filled with the sort of breathless, sweeping praise you’d more typically hear from a 12 year old’s review of the latest Harry Potter installation. Adding my own voice to that chorus, I really do believe this album to be Kanye’s (insert your idea of greatest album ever here).

So, how is it that Kanye simultaneously attracts and repels us so viscerally? I believe that Kanye is simply a (better-dressed) hyperbolic symbol for the grandiosity and insecurity we all experience on some level. And inasmuch as that is the case, there are some things we can learn from him, that we can apply to better our work lives.

Productive Insecurity – I am a firm believer that insecurity is the motor that drives Kanye’s relentless quest for perfection and reinvention. For all of his big talk, he never seems content with what he has produced, and continues to reinvent in what appears to be an effort to quiet his own self-doubt. We all have insecurities, the question is, what are we doing with them? Freud called this sublimation – or the process of having neuroses serve a “higher cultural or socially useful purpose, as in the creation of art or inventions.” Say what you will about Kanye’s means, but the ends are indisputably high quality.

Vulnerability – I know, I know, Kanye can also be decidedly invulnerable, but it his moments of brutally honest self-reflection that keep us coming back. In a genre where bravado and swagger are king, it is telling that the person leading the pack is comfortable letting people inside his head from time to time. It is easy to draw parallels to the business world, which can also over rely on the façade of certainty. However, don’t forget that recent research suggests that emotional intelligence (part of which is self-awareness) is highly predictive of promotion. If you can share without oversharing, you’re headed in the right direction.

Personal Branding – Love him or hate him, it is hard to deny that Kanye has done an excellent job of creating an engaging persona and a strong personal brand. Kanye’s brand is sartorial inventiveness, bombastic speech, and a commitment to perfection. Even those that dislike him recognize him, and that matters in a business world overrun with prêt a porter suits and MBA-speak. If you cannot summarize your personal brand as holistically and succinctly as I did Kanye’s, you have some work to do.

I’m not suggesting that Kanye is a role model in the traditional sense, and I’m certainly not advocating for temper tantrums or the mistreatment of adorable country singers. Let’s just remember that we’re all a confusing amalgam of grandiosity and self-doubt, and that can lead us to make some very beautiful music.

Dr. Daniel Crosby is a corporate psychologist and President of Crosby Performance Consulting (http://www.doctordanielcrosby.com/consulting/index.html). You can also follow him on Twitter @crosbypsych. Daniel is a people scientist, who enjoys applying his craft to pop culture, as well as help organizations realize that soft skills can make you hard money.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autism Speaks (to Corporate Leaders)

I wear multiple hats professionally, and would not have it any other way. Four days a week, I work closely with businesses to hire, develop, and motivate their talent. I love the organizational consulting and leadership development work I do and nothing fascinates me more than helping the already skilled take their professional game to the next level. So what do I do with that remaining one day of the week? Each Wednesday, I work at the Riley Behavioral and Educational Center, a clinic and private school for children on the autism spectrum. The corporate world may seem have to little in common with the world of autism, but it is my belief that the C-suite has much to learn from individuals on the autism spectrum. For instance:

Creative Thinking:
One of the biggest problems facing corporate teams today is homogeneity of thought. A voluminous body of research shows that we tend to hire people who think the same way we do, meaning that the corporate ranks often fill up with a cadre of “yes (wo)men” chosen specifically because they “get it” (read, think the same way we do). This paucity of divergent thought, paired with the all-too-human tendency to acquiesce, leads organizations to make decisions with the full buy-in of everyone around the table with no real vetting or analysis of a decision. When businesses are uniform in thought and action, innovation stagnates, threats are ignored, and a team makes decisions with no greater depth than any individual member.

Compare the corporate norm of homogeneity with the mind of an individual on the autism spectrum. Animal behaviorist and autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin has compared her thought process to Google Images. When asked to envision a church steeple, most neurotypical individuals imagine some sort of generic steeple that is an amalgamation of all the steeples we have encountered historically. Dr. Grandin, who did not speak until age 4 and is herself on the autism spectrum, describes her thought process as qualitatively different. Rather than envisioning a generalized steeple, she “thinks in pictures.” That is, her mind generates a very specific group of actual church steeples she has encountered, but does not combine them into a more generalizable single steeple. Her thought process is neither better nor worse than the process undertaken by her neurotypical peers, it is simply different. And as we see, different is something that all organizations need around the boardroom table.

Unfiltered Dialogue:
Being different in and of itself is no virtue when discussing what makes high functioning teams tick. Research and development labs, brainstorming sessions, and team meetings are filled with seminal ideas that die on the vine. So, why are we content to let our most original ideas wither without seeing the light of day? Because “typical” people are creatures of conformity and could learn a great deal about forthrightness from our friends on the autism spectrum. Imagine a team that has successfully managed to skirt the intellectual and cultural homogeneity discussed above. Their ultimate success lies not in their ability to assemble a diverse team of thought leaders, but also to ensure that these varied perspectives are laid bare, debated, and examined. Noted business consultant Patrick Lencioni describes this process as that of “unfiltered dialogue” and lists it as one of the five skills necessary to have a high performing team.

By and large, individuals on the autism spectrum who are capable of verbal communication have little trouble with unfiltered dialogue. An autistic client of mine recently (and correctly) observed that I was overweight by mentioning, “Your tummy is getting bigger Dr. Crosby.” This sort of comment is unlikely to emerge in “typical” conversation and is viewed as socially inappropriate. However, when we interact with people unskilled in the art of subterfuge, politicking, and disingenuousness, we often learn truths about ourselves that can prompt positive action (it should be noted that I’m currently on a diet). I’m not promoting a lack of civility, rudeness, or forthrightness that is hurtful. What I am advocating is a more direct, more honest dialogue among professionals around ideas. Again, businesspeople of all stripes can learn a lesson from my clients. While I was not pleased to come to a deeper understanding of how out of shape I was, I was certainly not upset with my client for having brought this to my attention. He shared this feedback with sincerity and earnestness, couched, I think, in compassion for me. Similarly, we should be able to dispute and debate the concepts put forth by our colleagues, not to hurt or defame, but to ensure that the best decision wins the day. When these difficult conversations are undergird by a sense of mutual respect and caring, even seemingly harsh comments lack the sting they might otherwise carry.

My learning from having an unusual career path has been this; there are leaders all around us. In the last few years, the titans have industry have largely shown themselves to be corrupt, vapid, and unimaginative. Maybe all of this is a wake-up call to us; a reminder that exemplary behavior is just as likely to come from a classroom as from the halls of power.

Daniel Crosby, Ph.D.
www.doctordanielcrosby.com
Daniel@doctordanielcrosby.com

Friday, September 17, 2010

What is leadership?

I've been batting something around in my mind lately, and it's this thought that leadership ensues from people of deep character and can never really be pursued directly. A similar phenomenon exists as we try to chase happiness. The more you chase happiness, the harder it becomes to attain. Consider this, Jim Collins found that humility was one of the two defining hallmarks of a great leader (intense will was the other). So it seems that in the very moment that we aspire to be a leader and take that mantle upon ourselves, we've ceased to meet the most basic criterion of true leadership. I'll continue to think on this, but in the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy these two quotes that I feel speak to this concept better than I ever could.

Best, Daniel
www.doctordanielcrosby.com

"Those are only happy (leaders) who have their minds fixed on some object other than happiness (leadership). Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness (leadership) along the way. Ask yourself whether you are happy (or a leader), and you cease to be so."

-John Stuart Mill-

"Most men pursue pleasure (leadership) with such breathless haste they hurry past it." - Soren Kierkegaard-

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Take a walk in another man's oily shoes (BP and empathy)

There is a gaping hole in the Gulf of Mexico that needs to be plugged immediately. I’m speaking of course, of the hole in Tony Hayward’s heart. The BP CEO’s recent comment that he’d “like his life back” is emblematic of a larger concern among leaders of all stripes; empathy is seldom (ever?) a requirement for being installed in a position of power. His moment in the international media sun has been pocked with numerous examples of his inability to walk a mile in another man’s oil-slick waders. Mr. Hayward is his most self-absorbed when he is his most earnest. None of his other comments have rung with the same childlike authenticity as his plea for a return to personal normalcy. Observe too his walk along a ruined Gulf beach; flanked by puddles of oil, and canary-suited cleanup workers, his only act was to shoo the cameramen covering his survey of the damage. These offenses notwithstanding, the most painfully ironic evidence of his disconnectedness to the human impact of this disaster was his recent attendance at a glitzy yacht race, featuring his $700,000 boat, “Bob.” Nice try Tony, but not even a pedestrian name like “Bob” will fool the world into thinking you’re a man of the people.

I’m not saying that I wish Tony Hayward had acted differently because it looks bad, or seems insensitive, or because it sends a bad message. Those are public relations concerns and what I’m talking about is bigger than PR. I don’t wish that Tony Hayward had acted differently, I wish that he were different fundamentally. Simply put, empathy is the ability to feel deeply what another person is feeling. You won’t see “empathetic” as a desired characteristic on any job posting, and that reality has negative implications for workplace outcomes tangible and intangible.

Consider for a moment what percentage of the 50% drop in BP’s stock price owes to the gross insensitivity exhibited by BP executives and spokespeople. Imagine the lost morale and subsequent loss of productivity of the 80,300 BP employees that go to work every day for an organization that has shown such disdain for “small people” (another gem by BP chief Carl-Henric Svanberg). Through a series of experiments, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman has shown that emotional intelligence (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ) have no correlation with one another. Anecdotally, Dr. Tony Hayward, who holds a Ph.D. from Edinburgh University has borne out this research before our very eyes. BP’s privileging of IQ over EQ will cost them dearly, as it has so many organizations that have erred similarly. After all, “Britain isn’t the only place that has oil.”

Daniel Crosby, Ph.D.
www.doctordanielcrosby.com

Friday, June 11, 2010

The True Cost of a Mis-hire

Take a moment to consider your most disastrous hire. What did this mistake cost you in time, resources, and reputation? In their book “Topgrading”, Brad and Geoff Smart interviewed 52 organizations and asked them to calculate the true cost of their bad hires. When factoring in the time wasted, lost production, and other collateral costs, the true cost of a mis-hire of someone making $100,000 was estimated to be a staggering $1.5 million dollars. A recent Yahoo! Hot Jobs survey found that 41% of job applicants admitted to having lied in a job interview. A 2006 Forbes article estimates that 40% of resumes are not “entirely above board.” It is also worth noting that these figures are pre-recession. One could easily infer that the financial pain caused by the latest downturn is leading would be employees to do whatever it takes to get a job, even if that means being dishonest.

With the task of separating the truly talented from the pretenders being so fraught with deceit, and the cost of making a mistake so steep, many organizations are turning to experts in the field of pre-employment assessment. At Crosby Performance Consulting, we provide two solutions for making the kind of hiring decisions that protect the organizational bottom line while ensuring goodness of fit between employer and employee. The first solution is our pre-employment assessment that includes a behavioral interview, measures of intellect and strategic thinking, as well as standardized personality profiles that give piercing insights into potential hires. Before undertaking the pre-employment assessment process, our consultants meet with the hiring manager to determine the competencies necessary for success and then provide specific, concrete data that ranks the candidate relative to the identified competencies.

The second solution, featured in a 2010 Forbes article, is a real time assessment of the skills of the candidate, as he or she navigates a series of obstacles designed to perfectly simulate what would become their role. By “doing and observing” rather than “asking and believing”, would-be employers gain valuable insights into the actual skills of a candidate and cut through layers of subterfuge. In a corporate landscape where technological parity and the free exchange of knowledge are the status quo, hiring exceptional people remains “the last competitive advantage.” Please contact us using information below to find out more about our data-driven talent management solutions.

Sincerely,

C. Daniel Crosby, Ph.D.
daniel@doctordanielcrosby.com
www.doctordanielcrosby.com

Wednesday, June 2, 2010