Study these articles on leadership and management to improve your leadership skills and understanding of American business culture as well as your English.
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I’ve recently talked to several people who either lead or hope to lead a team of researchers. It made me start thinking (and reading about) about the characteristics of good leadership.
I’ve just finished a page on EnglishHints with that title. It talks about some key characteristics (with brief explanations, in case any words are new vocabulary to you.) Then it links to my favorite article and TED talk on the subject.
It also links to a podcast about Ernest Shackleton. He was an early 20th century explorer who demonstrated many of those qualities in a disastrous expedition to Antarctica. He and his men were stranded on sea ice for nearly two years—and yet all survived. His men attributed their survival to his leadership and encouragement.
The TED talk and podcast both include transcripts. You can practice listening, then check your understanding with the written text if you’d like.
This week I wanted to share an article and a talk, both from TED, that I enjoyed recently. They suggest insights from psychology that can help people make better decisions and avoid mental traps that can sabotage us.
The TED Ideas article describes how scenario planning and Red Teams (a form of war game) can help us make good choices. Scenario planning tries to picture various possible futures based on the way current trends might change over time.
“By forcing themselves to imagine several alternatives, scenario planners avoid the trap of the single seductive story.” Red Teams have military leaders look at complex situations from different points of view.
Another useful planning tool is a premortem. It requires imagining that a decision turned out to be bad-- & reconstructing what caused such bad results. It’s a good way to uncover potentially faulty assumptions that you might not notice otherwise.
Adam Grant’s TED talk emphasizes the importance of rethinking. He points out that “when it comes to our goals, identities and habits, we tend to stick to our guns.” (“Stick to our guns” is an idiom coming from the military. Gunners were not supposed to abandon their positions. Over time, the meaning has shifted to a stubborn insistence to hold onto the arguments or positions we have chosen even when they no longer work well. Now it usually refers to company leaders or managers)
Grant explains the psychology behind such stubbornness—and the importance of being willing to reconsider our decisions when circumstances change. He also points out the value of “confident humility.” He tells how much he learned from his students once he was willing to give them room to show what they could do.
He finishes by pointing out the urgency of rethinking as a society and not just as individuals. “We live in a world that mistakes confidence for competence,…that accuses people who change their minds of flip-flopping, when in fact, they might be learning.”
While looking for material on persuasion recently, I found a revealing Harvard Business Review article on how the team at Apple got Steve Jobs to reconsider ideas he’d previously rejected.
Jobs is famous for Apple’s brilliant innovations, but some of the biggest required him to reverse course. Steve had vetoed the idea of making a phone (or Apple TV)-- or a few other huge Apple successes—and his team (and even a potential supplier) found ways to turn him around.
Several times he eventually acknowledged the difference they had made. (Most of the people known for going head-to-head with him ended up filling important places in Apple, as well.)
Do you need to persuade a difficult boss or a self-assured client to look at a proposal he might initially dismiss (or has dismissed!)? It’s worth taking time to ponder the methods suggested here.
Even if you don’t have a headstrong boss you need to convince, these insights are worth reviewing.
In addition, the article is great English practice! It’s not too hard, but full of words worth knowing.
I’m ready for some lighter listening (or reading). You too?
For this issue, I want to share just one TED talk, on ‘”Why Great Leaders Take Humor Seriously.” It’s short (9 minutes), hilarious—and actually practical as well.
They give examples of how “our lives are full of humor, if we know how to look for it”—from only needing to comb the front part of your hair during the pandemic to signing a late-night email "Yours heavily caffeinated."
Around minute 5 they discuss the ‘priming effect’: we see what we expect we’ll see. I love what comes next: “…when we live our lives on the precipice of a smile…” A precipice is a dangerous cliff edge. But if you’re living so close that sometimes you fall off into a smile or laugh, that sounds like a good way to live!
Be sure to watch the way Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, managed to bring humor into an international incident. Also notice the use of a pet frog to help make a sale (twice!).