In this #mtpcon San Francisco keynote, Silicon Valley veteran and author Janice Fraser dives into the essentials of effective modern-day leadership and takes us through some of the findings in her book, co-authored with her husband, Farther, Faster and far less Drama.
Janice starts her keynote by sharing some difficult stories from her personal life. Her mother was at times suicidal, her brother had narcissistic personality disorder and killed himself at the age of 47, while her sister had a schizophrenic breakdown during her first year at college. She says: “What I experienced as a child was traumatising… we were fighting every single night. I still work with a trauma recovery team today.”
Understanding effective leadership
In 1990 she fled Ohio “in search of a normal life”. She watched other people to understand normal patterns of behaviour and learn what she could repeat.
Fast forward to today, and Janice is happily married, she’s started a few companies and has had a great career. At one of these companies there were 7 founders and every week for six months, says Janice, they would spend 10 minutes bickering over whether they should buy a $300 printer. “It led me to my quest to no longer have stupid arguments over things that don’t matter,” Janice says.
Janice then describes her journey to understand effective leadership – from LUXr, a company she started with her husband Jason, to Pivotal Software and on to the present day. She comments that the world around us in an accelerating state of chaos so the need for agile and effective leadership is more urgent than ever.
How do you “do” modern leadership?
- It has to be human, humane and that means it has to be really different
Says Janice: “Our hope [with the book] is to start a conversation about what leadership is in this century, in this time, given the complexities of this moment. We think it’s about different values. It’s based on different behaviours and it’s for a different time and context.”
- Leadership isn’t an org chart, leadership is a role
People who lead tend to lead everywhere, at least the sort of leaders we like. They tend to be the sort of people who show up and say ‘there’s no PTA, let’s start one’, Janice says. Or they’re the people who take charge of organising a vacation with lots of friends. Leadership isn’t not a gift given to you by promotion.
- Humility lies at the core of successful leadership
Psychological safety, collaboration and welcoming others are very important.
Four leadership motions
Janice then looks at what she calls “four leadership motions”, calling them motions because they’re things leaders can do.
1. Orient honestly
To do this ask:
- Where are we now
- Are we all in the same place? Do we have the same understanding?
- What makes this moment complicated?
- What is the uncomfortable truth that I’m not allowing myself to see or accept?
2. Value outcomes
When you value plans more than outcomes it’s easy to mistake effort for achievement.
3. Leverage the brains
You only need three kinds of people in any decision meeting: the people with the authority to say yes, the people with the information or expertise, and the people who have to live with the outcome. If this means leaving out lots of people from a decision team, then think of it as representative rather than direct democracy, says Janice.
4. Make durable decisions
Eliminate waste by changing your standards. Two kinds of waste come into decision making, says Janice – decisions can either be very slow or made quickly but chaotically. In the latter case this is because they may be made unilaterally, made by the wrong people, or with no commitment from others. While such decisions may be fast, productivity will be slow, Janice says.
Durable decisions should balance speed and strength. Two sentences to look out for here are “Can you live with it?” and “Does it move us forward?”, says Janice, these are different from “Do we all agree?” and “Is it the best?”.
“I think most drama comes from difficulties in decision-making,” Janice concludes. “I think decision making is a leadership skill. If you can facilitate great decision-making in a great decision-making process by bringing this more realistic framing to it, then you’re going to improve the culture of your organisations tremendously.”
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