September 2023 – on meetings you hate, passion at work, character in leadership, and the invisible hand


Here is what came up during the month of September.

leaf raking by Nikola Faller


Talker or Writer?

Some people think by talking it out first and others think by writing. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive but we usually go to one or the other first. None is more effective than the other in general. It might just be that there is a greater number of talkers who end up being managers. And if that’s true then most non-managers would be writers [via].

Talker-managers should keep this in mind in their interactions with their people:

  1. Don’t expect everyone to think out loud like you do;
  2. Give writers time and space before you need their input;
  3. Ask writers what they need to think about the things you want them to think about.


Character in good leadership

Key findings from research by the Oxford Character Project into good leadership in UK business, involving over 1,100 participants working in 36 firms around the UK:

  1. Participants identified 84 features, reflecting three dimensions of good leadership: Character, professional competence, and interpersonal skills.
  2. Character is central to good leadership: 52% of features relate to character, 35% to interpersonal skills, and 13% to professional competence.
  3. Kindness, creativity, and humility are widely considered important for good leadership but were rated by participants among the five least central features.
  4. There is a high degree of consensus between genders and across leadership levels.
  5. Participants with higher levels of education consider it less central that leaders are caring, friendly, helpful, and kind.
  6. Millennials and Gen Zs value leaders who are attentive, committed to mentoring, and who can provide answers to questions and solutions to problems.
  7. Across the sectors of finance, law, and technology, leaders are expected to be competent, hardworking, and committed. Beyond these qualities, however, there are distinct profiles between sectors.


Fewer meetings, please

Shopify, an e-commerce firm, began the year by deleting 12,000 recurring meetings from corporate calendars, and asking everyone to think carefully before reinstating them. The company reports a rise in productivity as a result of the cull. (via)

This speaks to “If ‘less is more’, why do we overdo so much?” in a previous issue of the newsletter.


The components of an apology

  • An expression of regret.
  • An explanation (not a justification).
  • An acknowledgment of responsibility.
  • A declaration of repentance.
  • An offer of repair.
  • A request for forgiveness.

Apologies are definitely necessary to repair a broken trust.

Explanations don’t really matter to me when I’m on the receiving end of an apology. What does matter however is the person’s ability and intention not to do it again.


Two inspiring traits

From a tribute to actor Michael Gambon who died this week:

  • what I will remember most about him is how much fun he had doing his job. He was silly, irreverent and hilarious.
  • He loved his job, but never seemed defined by it.

“Not defined by it”: I prefer this wording to the usual “take the work seriously, but not yourself seriously”.


Does passion for one’s work improve performance? Yes, but…

The research on this topic is clear — more passionate employees are more productive, innovative, and collaborative, and they demonstrate higher levels of commitment to their organizations. Fostering passion is a winning strategy for organizations that aspire to achieve sustained growth, innovation, and success.

However, in the pursuit of nurturing passion, recent research reveals that employers may have overlooked and neglected the needs of employees driven by other sources of motivation, such as financial stability, social status, or familial obligations. These employees play a critical role in the success of their companies, but may be subject to an invisible penalty due to their perceived lack of passion for their work. (source)


The seven types of meeting that you hate

  1. Why Are We Here?
  2. Why Am I Here?
  3. We’ve Always Done It This Way
  4. This Isn’t a Meeting; It’s a Lecture
  5. We Can’t Make Progress
  6. We’re Aimless
  7. It’s Everyone

The challenge here of course is that you won’t necessarily get a meeting you love by doing the opposite of these seven instances. But it’s a good start to identify for oneself what constitutes a good meeting for us, at this time, in this specific context.


Before Harvard Business School

There was Herotodus in the 4th century BC:

It is sound planning that invariably earns us the outcome we want; without it, even the gods are unlikely to look with favour on our designs.

οἰκότα μέν νυν βουλευομένοισι ἀνθρώποισι ὡς τὸ ἐπίπαν ἐθέλει γίνεσθαι· μὴ δὲ οἰκότα βουλευομένοισι οὐκ ἐθέλει οὐδὲ ὁ θεὸς προσχωρέειν πρὸς τὰς ἀνθρωπηίας γνώμας.


What constitutes “good” work?

The United States Department of Labor identifies a ‘good job’ as one with fair hiring practices, comprehensive benefits, formal equality of opportunity, job security and a culture in which workers are valued. In a similar UK report on the modern labour market called Good Work (2017), Matthew Taylor and his colleagues emphasise workplace rights and fair treatment, opportunities for promotion, and ‘good reward schemes’. Finally, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has two sections on work. They cite the free choice of employment and organisation, fair and equal pay, and sufficient leisure time as rights of workers.

What all three of these accounts have in common is that they focus on features of jobs – the agreement you make with your boss to perform labour – rather than on the labour itself. The fairness of your boss, the length of your contract, the growth of your career – these specify nothing about the quality of the labour you perform.

And yet it is the labour itself that we spend all day doing. The most tedious and unpleasant work could still pay a high salary, but we might not want to call such work ‘good’. (…)

This is not to say that the extrinsic aspects of work like pay and benefits are unimportant; of course, a good job is one that pays enough. But what about work’s intrinsic goods? Is there anything about the process of working itself that we ought to include in our list of criteria, or should we all be content with a life of high-paying drudgery?

For managers and business owners the question translates into what we ask our people to do, how we ask them, and how we establish the criteria for work well done, to name a few. In other words, is there something about the work they do that makes them look forward to performing it?


No such thing as “the invisible hand”

This is pretty much what I had to cover before working out the nature and role of “interpersonal trust” for my dissertation, but I couldn’t write it quite like this:

Son, you’re eight years old now, and you’ll probably hear this soon enough from the other kids on the playground anyway, so I might as well tell you. Santa isn’t real, the Tooth Fairy is imaginary, and there’s no such thing as the “invisible hand of the market.”

Why did your mother and I lie to you? Well, we didn’t so much lie to you as tell you stories that were untrue, stories that we hoped would add magic to your childhood and also reassure you that capitalism is a good and fair system for everyone, instead of one in which some people can’t afford insulin while other people are Jeff Bezos.

And the thing is, back when Mom and I first told you about the invisible hand, we actually believed in it ourselves—not as a real hand, of course, but as a metaphor for a fundamental principle of economics. The principle I naively thought would save us when I got laid off…


My first time as a guest on a podcast

I was a guest on my first podcast. My friend and colleague Cassandra Goodman wanted to have a live conversation about a topic that she has been working on (and we have been discussing) for a few years now. I gladly accepted the invitation.

Here is the description:

In this episode of True Power, I speak with Richard Brisebois, PhD.

In addition to being a great friend and mentor, Richard is a multilingual, multicultural executive coach and a leadership development mentor who has worked with 7,000+ managers, leaders, and business owners in 40+ countries. Richard has been a visiting Professor and Guest Lecturer at 12 universities in 7 countries, delivering classes and keynotes in three languages.

In this conversation, we dive deep into unpacking the question what does it mean to be ‘true to ourselves?’. We explore how definitions (of the term “self” and others) can bring clarity to one’s thinking and choices as well as help overcome conflicts based on misunderstandings.

This was a rich (and at times challenging) conversation for me. Enjoy!


I leave you with a Fall poem from Robert Frost. The poem is often referred to as “The road less traveled”. Its title is “The Road Not Taken”. And it begins thus:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


See you next month!