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Op/Ed

Learning leadership skills from other cultures will refine your own

(EDITORIAL) You can avoid a lot of confusion by understanding where your business counterparts are coming from. See where you stand regionally in regards to cultural leadership styles.

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Fluff words

I don’t believe in leadership… really!

In my experience, more often than an example of someone exhibiting a worthy strategy for advancing the goals of an individual or group, I’ve found “leadership” to be a buzzword translating roughly to a skeevy sales-pitch that sounds something along the lines of: “Concerned you lack both ideas and skills? Don’t worry! Here are social strategies you can use so no one will notice your absence of merit until it is far, far too late.”

At best, it’s a marketing term used to take advantage of insecure people who actually do have good ideas or solid skills.

At worst, and let’s be honest here; when I wrote my little screed about leadership, how many of you immediately had a face and/or name of someone in mind?

Possibly more than one, even?

It’s OK.

This is a safe space.

Not “tattling” to incompetent, but powerful authority figures is just one of the services we offer here at The Real Daily.

Egalitarianism and hierarchy

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to come across a piece on leadership with real value.

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Over at the Harvard Business Review, Erin Meyer has built a useful metric for leadership styles. Her purpose is to establish the different expectations that exist for business leaders in multiple cultures (though the metric is applicable as a trans-cultural concept as well).

The two axis of her graph are “egalitarianism” and “hierarchy.” “Egalitarianism” tracks the degree to which employees expect involvement in the decision-making process.

“Hierarchy” reflects the degree to which employees defer judgment (and responsibility) to their organizational superiors: think top-down vs. bottom-up.

The intersection of the two creates four strong categories, all of which need to be in a good leader’s repertoire, which I’ve listed for you below:

High egalitarianism: top-down

I start with this one because I’m from the USA, and this is us. American employees on the whole expect to be involved in decision-making, especially when the decisions involve them.

That said, for all our open plan offices and open-door policies, let’s be real: we’re a top-down bunch. Ultimate responsibility still rests with El Jefe, who makes the call and takes the consequences thereof.

In that environment, employees (should) get input, but once the call is made, they’re expected to go along with the decision and adjust to its consequences.

A good leader in this setting makes sure everyone is involved in the process.

The cutoff in responsibility that occurs when the decision is made can lead to discontent if an employee feels insufficiently involved, since they’re expected to live with consequences of a decision they don’t feel they were part of t. Conversely, depending too much on employee input can give employees an impression of “weakness” on the part of the leader.

Low egalitarianism: top-down

By the heading, this probably sounds like the widely admired “Do What I Say, peon…” approach to leadership.

It isn’t, really.

Rather, it reflects a different distribution of responsibility, one that places a distinction between decision making, which is seen as the sole responsibility of the designated leader, and implementation, which is what the employees are for.

Meyer memorably cites an American company working with a Chinese one in which the management was shocked to learn their egalitarian management style had led to them being perceived as not just incompetent, but arrogant, since what they saw as open-minded suggestion-box management, their Chinese employees perceived them as failing to do their jobs, then acting as if they’d done their employees a favor. Meyer also sorts major business cultures like Russia and Brazil into this category.

Obviously, in a setting like this, a responsible leader has to make clarity a priority. Process is vital: here’s where your responsibilities fall, here’s where my responsibilities fall. In addition, obviously, no leader can function without input.

Incorporating contributory opportunities into a rigorous decision making process avoids misplaced egalitarianism while still involving workers with the changes that will affect their lives.

High egalitarianism: bottom-up

It’s decision by debate, more or less. In this environment, the leader does less “leading” in the “buzzword” sense and more facilitating, encouraging everyone involved with the decision and likely to deal with its consequences to make their voice heard.

Meyer notes that this tends to be the decision-making process that takes longest (go figure), but also one that can lead to high employee morale and a clear sense of involvement.

A successful leader in this setting does their best work making sure every view is heard and, as decision-making time nears, everyone is on board.

Good news for would be leaders: this business culture is characterized by the least pushback after a decision is made.

Low egalitarianism: bottom-up

This is characteristic of business cultures where a high regard for formal authority interacts with an involved, informed, worker culture.

Authority still rests with the person at the top of the perceived structure, but the decision itself is made in groups, with the authority figure implementing and taking responsibility for the decision reached by consensus.

This can be a tough environment for would-be leaders, combining as it does a high degree of responsibility with comparatively little control. The best leadership strategy in this setting is a “first among equals” approach, guiding discussion without dominating it and taking responsibility, and exerting influence, when making the decision and managing its consequences.

Erin Meyer’s work is a masterclass in serious assessment of leadership in the workplace. It’s an analysis as well as a how-to, and repays a close look by anyone who is less interested in “being a leader” and more interested in actually leading.

#leadership

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Op/Ed

Why I’m not impressed by the ridiculous glorification of over-scheduling your life

(OPINION) It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life. Let’s discuss and see if I can change your mind about your scheduling.

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Comes a voice from the back

If you’re one of those people who keep their calendar filled up with meetings, activities and appointments, check yourself to see if that’s really a fulfilling way to live. In some circles, it’s almost become a badge of honor to have a calendar without any open spaces.  If you feel as if your calendar is out of control, you’re not alone. But you are the only one who can take control of your schedule.

Might I recommend that you stop over-scheduling your time?

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Habits and routine

One of my first articles for TRD’s parent site, The American Genius, was about the false hustle. Being busy all the time is not good for you physically or mentally. It’s exhausting. When your calendar is full, it has to be stressful never to have time for yourself or have the ability to sit down and read or do whatever you want.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Allow for some flexibility into your schedule. Put down what’s important to you, but don’t go gung-ho about organizing your time.

Know your routine

Most people have a routine. I don’t need to write down certain things in my calendar, because I know that I plan to be in church on Sunday. I’m not so rigid that I won’t take a Sunday off, but it doesn’t need to go in my calendar. Much of my work through the week is routine too. I know that I have seven articles due every Monday. I usually try to get them done Friday afternoon, but if I don’t, I know I’ll have to work on them Monday.

Now, you might tell me that you don’t have a regular routine. I know some people have different activities and appointments that have to be scheduled and can’t be missed. When I was helping on the homeschool convention, I would fill in the slots on my calendar of things that were coming up, like board meetings, deadlines and meetings. But I also tried to leave room for adaptability.

Granted, you may have to manage a group of people and need their calendar to overlap yours. If that’s the case, may I suggest having a work calendar and a personal calendar?

Just as entrepreneurs are told to keep business and personal finances separate, leave your work calendar at work.

Ease up on your time management techniques. Know your priorities and learn to say no. Your loved ones will thank you for having some time to be spontaneous. It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life.

#ScheduleYouTime

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Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

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Op/Ed

Don’t just survive, find mental toughness and thrive

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Strength training doesn’t just pertain to muscles and weight lifting but also to mentality and brain training.

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Strength training your body is a pretty common goal for folks, but what about strength training your willpower? Whether you’re an entrepreneur, civil servant, a student, or somewhere in between: resilience is something that we all need to be successful.

Adversity comes at us in a lot of different forms, and without that resilience even the most talented professional won’t be able to accomplish their goals. We have a lot of different words for resilience – grit, mental toughness, fortitude – and it’s the subject of research and a fascinating piece by James Clear.

The most important takeaway you can pull from Clear’s writing on toughness is that it can be developed. This is something you can build. Some ways to help you build that toughness include:

Command your expectations. In many ways, our expectations fuel our motivations, but too often our expectations get away from us. Everything is a surprise and an emergency – and that lack of control compromises your ability to stay resolved.

Know yourself. Know your motivations and seek to find out who you are. How does your mental resilience connect to your real world success? Define who you are and what the resilient you can accomplish. Your reasons need to be something that you own and that represent who you are – “just because I should” is not a motivation to sustain you to excellence. Do things that can help you get to know yourself better – Psychology Today has some suggestions.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This US Navy SEAL quote is one of the first things I learned getting ready for graduate school. We often face challenges we aren’t’ comfortable with – ask any HR or Management professional having to have a difficult conversation – but it’s how we endeavor through those challenges that defines our victories. If building resilience is like working a muscle, working out of your comfort zone is adding more weight. You can’t grow any stronger without working out of what’s easy and familiar. #comfortablyuncomfortable

Manage your resources. Burnout is real and it’s the far side of stress. Your personal resilience is not an infinite resource and stress can take its impact on you emotionally and physically. Continuing our gym metaphor – burnout is injury. You cannot build your grit if you’re so emotionally burnt out – you have hurt your emotional “muscles”. Find out what you need to do to emotionally recover and build those resources back up. Practice that #selfcare.

I’ll touch back on Clear’s piece again – habits are an important part of all these building techniques. Make it a habit to practice self-care.

Make it a habit to frame your expectations. Make it a habit to write down your goals and connect them to your life. Make it a habit to always embrace the difficult and the uncomfortable. Create a mental foundation that can take you not only through the extreme, but the day to day. Stay consistent, and stay focused.

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