Power Distance – Quantified

Power Distance – Quantified

In an article that I came across recently, Daniel Goleman analyses in a revealing way the interplay between corporate hierarchy and power dynamics.
He begins by asking the reader to contemplate email response times. He says, “Think of two people who work in your organization: one a level or two below you, and the other a level above. Now imagine getting an email from each of them. Ask yourself how long it would take you to answer those emails. Chances are the one from above you respond to right away. And the one from below you are likely to answer when you can get around to it.”

On reading this, I recognized this very pattern in how I, myself, responded to the hundreds of emails that I receive at work. If my boss wrote me an email, it meant that she most likely needed a bit of information right away—consequently, I would leap into action and find what she had requested. If, on the other hand, I got an email from someone under me, or from an equal with whom I have numerous collaborative contacts, I would let the matter slide for a while, before eventually answering the missive. (Underlying this is the tacit assumption that my boss is in charge of doing important things, and that her time is valuable. In Corporate America, as in the Army, this is the prevailing attitude, although it would be an exaggeration to say that everyone shared this attitude. Indeed, when a person in authority is performing badly, and is recognized to be wasting everyone’s time, email response times to that person lengthen. When underlings stop responding to emails completely, then the boss is on the way out!)

There is nothing particularly startling in what I have said so far. Of course, one jumps to attention when the boss calls or writes, and keeps underlings waiting. What is interesting, however, is the close inverse correlation between email response times and power distance.  Goleman goes on to say that researchers at Columbia have actually formulated an algorithm for automatically laying bare the social hierarchy within a company simply by analyzing the response times to electronic communications between various members.
After the shameful collapse of Enron Corporation, the internal emails became available to the researchers. Simply by applying their algorithm to response times to emails, ignoring the contents of the emails completely, they were able to re-construct the organizational chart of the firm, almost perfectly. The greater the power distance, faster were the response times—the contents of the emails did not come into play. That such a re-construction is possible, points to a pathological company culture, suggests Goleman. In a healthier company the merit of the emails would have influenced response times—not merely the position of the sender in the organizational chart. The re-construction would fall well short of perfection—it would be ‘noisy.’

In a company such as Enron was, all the attention flows in the same direction within the power structure. Goleman believes this isolates the leaders from the functions of the company, ossifies the practices of the company, and endangers the company by rendering it incapable of quickly responding to a crisis. The empathy felt by a manager, for those below, dwindles as the power distance widens. A leader can quickly get out of touch, and forsake all pathways through which inspiration and motivation can be channeled. Simultaneously, the leader will cease to receive feedback from the underlings, and will be cossetted in a cocoon of silence. He will be unaware of how the company is functioning, and how it is being perceived.

Goleman argues that companies work efficiently, and respond to the vicissitudes that they encounter, if the management structure is dominated by high-contact leaders—leaders who walk the floor, get to know the employees on the ground, and who create an atmosphere where people feel safe enough to be candid.

I, myself, have been fortunate to work for great leaders, who had an abundance of empathy, humility, and creativity. They were thinkers and dreamers who nevertheless had their feet firmly planted on the ground. They never forgot that they were managing other human beings, and kept our aspirations in mind, even as they attended to the abstract entity, which was the company.  We in turn were motivated to follow them into the unknown, and worked diligently to propel both the company and ourselves into a better future.

I would highly suggest following Daniel Goleman on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/danielgoleman

The Signs of a Leader’s Empathy Deficit Disorder http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131125023629-117825785-the-signs-of-a-leader-s-empathy-deficit-disorder?trk=mp-details-rc

Research Article:
Rowe, R., Creamer, G., Hershkop, S., & Stolfo, S. J. (2007, August). Automated social hierarchy detection through email network analysis. In Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD 2007 workshop on Web mining and social network analysis (pp. 109-117). ACM.

Accentuate the positive!

A friend had sent me a book called Strength Finder; it was by Tom Rath. I had been very impressed by Rath’s thesis, but I had forgotten about it until I found it again while cleaning up my bookshelves.  Rath has the simplistic sounding position that people perform best when working within their areas of strength; furthermore, teams perform best when the team itself is comprised of members who have a balanced and complementary strengths.

1. The most effective leaders are those who select team members on the basis of their strengths, and continually work to augment their strengths. This is in contrast to the generally prevailing practice of bosses and supervisors, who continually harp on the weaknesses of employees, and hope to correct such deficiencies by periodically upbraiding the underlings. For example, the best salesperson I knew was sloppy in how he wrote up his sales. Our boss constantly criticized his paperwork, which was often written up in bad handwriting. Feeling neglected, the salesperson left, and the overall sales of the unit was cut in half. The manager himself was eventually banished into the outer darkness.  A more productive approach would have been to celebrate the rapport the salesman had with his customers, and to have him pass on tips to the other salespersons. He could have made it the task of a secretary or coordinator, who enjoyed keeping meticulous records, to check over the salesman’s reports in order that they were filed correctly.

A professor I know did fine research, was a good lecturer, and had endless time for his students. What he was loath to do was to join College committees that discussed student parking or the unauthorized posting of notices in the hallways. The chairperson would criticize him in departmental meetings, and this professor gradually stopped attending them.  He decided that his loyalty was to the abstract Goddess of Learning, to his avocation for teaching, and not to the nit-picking time-servers in the department who did no research, and who cared little for their students. His effectiveness declined gradually, until a new chairperson took the place of the old. He overheard that man pointing him out to an eminent visitor, remarking, “And over there is Professor_____, who can never be persuaded to do anything administrative, but who does fine research, and who will drive in 50 miles, even on his off days, if a student wants to discuss scientific matters with him, and cannot find a more convenient time.  On overhearing that conversation, my professor friend felt validated in his efforts and became even more dedicated to educating his undergraduate students.

According to a study, employees who are not working in areas corresponding to their principal strengths are only 9% engaged in their jobs. On the contrary, those who work in their areas of strength, and are acknowledged as skilled at what they do, are at the 74% engagement. Clearly, this greater depth of engagement is directly linked to a substantial increase in productivity for the company.

2. The most effective leaders surround themselves with persons who have complementary strengths and then work towards maximizing these strengths.  We all have our special talents and generally enjoy being encouraged to develop them into great strengths. We also have our weaknesses, and seldom enjoy being hectored to eliminate them. Removal of incidental weaknesses is harder to accomplish than the development of strengths. Therefore a wise leader works to put together a team in which the collective strengths overwhelm individual weaknesses. Such a person recognized that no one can be perfect, strong in everything, but a team can be put together that approaches a well-rounded perfection.

When I read the book, more than a year ago, the strengths-based approach so appealed to me that I incorporated it into my approach to recruiting new employees, even though I more or less forgot about the book.  When we seek to fill a position, we consider the team that sits around that position, and we frame the advertisement in a manner that will attract an applicant with significant strengths in areas where the team lacks strengths

The strengths-based paradigm is highlighted when a member of a close-knit and effective team departs for other endeavors, and has to be replaced. One talks about the departed member in terms of their strengths. One hears people say, “We need someone with extraordinary diligence and attention to detail to go on publishing this weekly magazine—we have to find someone with Carrie’s strengths!” A person’s individual strength becomes his defining feature, not the cookies that person brought in on Fridays, nor how sharp he or she looked form the side.  An individual’s strength became the pillar of strength for the team.

If what I have said appeals to you, go on and buy the book—it is only $14, from Amazon. In the book, you will find a code that allows you to actually take a test, and identify your own strengths. Anyone can read the book, but the code authorizes only one test. I haven’t looked into the possibility of taking the test after reading a friend’s copy of the book. I believe it is best to take the test before reading the book.  Now let us look at my results, where I have smoothened out the sentence fragments in which the results are presented.

  1. Command – Likes to take charge; finds it easy to impose views on others; is fine with confrontation; likes things to be clear and up‐front. May be labeled as intimidating or opinionated
  2. Relator – Likes to spend time with people already known to one; Selective with relationships since one would rather deepen existing relationships than create superficial new ones
  3. Activator – Impatient for action; “When can we start?” Must act as soon as decisions are made, and decisions must be made cleanly and swiftly.
  4. Adaptability – Likes to live in the moment; expects and responds well to new, and changing demands; is very flexible.
  5. Positivity – Generous with praise, quick to smile; always looking for the positive. Might be initially viewed as lighthearted. Generally, full of energy and optimism

After reviewing my profile, I would say the Strength Finder did a rather good job. I certainly like to take charge, have deep connections, move into action, remain flexible, and stay upbeat, and eat an éclair.

Sometimes the hardest part of changing your job is making the decision to do something different – EQ can help you!

I often speak to job-seekers who have been driven to desperation by the fruitlessness of their search. I sometimes notice patterns of behavior that have contributed to their lack of success, but when I suggest even middling changes, they resist, and even fight back. Is it part of the Human Condition that people want to go on doing what is familiar to them? Is there an evolutionary advantage to resisting change? Surely that would be a fruitful investigation—I shall look into the matter and let you know what I find.

A friend of mine with irregular habits, who eats when he is hungry, and falls asleep in the early morning hours, reading the latest book ordered from Amazon, even though he has an appointment at 8:00 AM in the morning, tells me that as a boy, in India, he was hectored to keep regular habits. “Eat your lunch at 12:30, go to bed at 10 PM, and don’t keep changing jobs, and you will live a long life!” “Perhaps just the boredom will make such a life appear eternal,” he had countered. Not only do people rigidly keep to their routines, they often do what is convenient rather than what is right, or productive. In the Middle East, the Sufi mystics invented a curious character, Mullah Nasruddin, stories about whom were designed to shake people out of their complacency, and make them “think out of the box,” as we say nowadays. In one famous story, Nasruddin is searching frantically for his lost keys, under a street lamp. “Where did you lose them,” a bystander asks. Nasruddin points to his dark house. “Why are you searching here, then?” the bystander persists. “Because, this is where the light is, you idiot!” says Nasruddin, “How do you expect me to search for my keys in the dark?” Against such a sublime foolishness, even the gods toil in vain.

That brings us to the currently fashionable concept of Emotional Intelligence (abbreviated as EQ to match the more familiar IQ.) EQ is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. A high EQ gives one a spontaneity, a freedom of action, a freshness of mood—unfettered by the fossilized thoughts and actions of one’s past. Decisions, it is argued, are cleaner and based on a substratum of fundamental truths. Displaying such decision-making is crucial when you are trying to convince a hiring manager to take you on the team, and often I find that people who display the hall marks of a high EQ can get jobs that would normally be considered out of their reach, were hiring decisions based on qualifications alone.

It is now thought that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can help guide you to making good decisions, by helping to ground you so you are able to employ sound judgment at critical junctions. An article in the journal Psychological Science, argues that if we understood better the source and relevance of our emotions, we would modify our decision-making tactics, and better evaluate our risks. For example, I was told by a colleague, that a study had shown that when a car broke down in Texas, the driver usually walked along the road to seek help, rather than take a short-cut across a field, owing to a pervasive fear of rattle-snakes. A statistical analysis of risk however indicated that the driver was three times more likely to be hit by car than bitten by a snake. There is an inordinate fear of snakes. What one should do, I suppose, is to look carefully at the statistics, and if they do indeed support this anecdote, work on losing one’s fear of snakes, or conversely, work on developing a greater fear of cars.

“People often make decisions that are influenced by emotions that have nothing to do with the decisions they are making,” said Stéphane Côté, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “People are driving and it’s frustrating,” said Côté. “They get to work and the emotions they felt in their car influences what they do in their offices. Or they invest money based on emotions that stem from things unrelated to their investments. But our investigation reveals that if they have emotional intelligence, they are protected from these biases.”

“The findings suggest that an emotionally intelligent approach to making decisions is if you’re feeling anxious because of something unrelated to the decisions, to not make the decisions right away,” said Côté.
The findings likely apply not only to negative emotions a person may experience but positive ones too, such as excitement.

Cote believes that People who are emotionally intelligent don’t remove all emotions from their decision-making instead; they selectively remove emotions that have nothing to do with the decision.

If you want more information around emotional intelligence, you can find it in The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Steven Stein and Howard Book. Whether learning about emotional intelligence opens up a pathway towards acquiring emotional intelligence is open to debate. Carry out your own experiments and report back to me.

Don’t let standard qualifications define your reach – Elliot Higgins didn’t!

Are you qualified to make a difference? Almost anyone is, Elliot Higgins would argue: all you need is passion and drive. In 2012, when Elliot (who lives in the UK) began blogging the Syrian civil war, he was an unemployed finance and administrative worker who spent his days, at home, taking care of his kid. Elliot started a blog called Brown Moses, which is primarily focused on examining the conflicts the Middle East, with special focus on the conflict in Syria. He rapidly became a fairly important person (FIP). Elliot began to analyze Syrian weapons systems as a hobby, but he is nowadays treated as an expert, frequently cited by the press and human rights groups. His reports have even led to questions in Parliament.

While Elliot Higgins has no formal background or training in intelligence matters, nor any sort of clearance for classified documents, his blog has become a focal point for discussions about these conflicts. “Brown Moses is among the best out there when it comes to weapons monitoring in Syria,” said Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director at Human Rights Watch. This is possibly because he mainly gathers his bits of information from social media forums, whereupon he pieces the bits together into a complex mosaic. His unique talent is finding patterns that others have missed. It is riveting that he has become a one-man aggregator of information about the unmerciful and endlessly tortuous civil war in Syria, and is being sought out by experts in the field. He has been using Google maps, and public forums, but as his connections to defense experts expands, he may be able to tap other sources of information—that, together with his maturing instincts for recondite truths, will propel his site into making a big impact in the global community.

Elliot Higgins’ story teaches us that immense interest and hard work, along with hitherto unsuspected natural gifts, can propel one forward into a position of eminence in unfamiliar domains. One’s genius may be hidden even from oneself, but unrelenting effort, underpinned by a passionate curiosity, may let it unfold—which fits in with Edison’s definition of genius as 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration. Elliot’s story should be read by all who seek success in these economically dismal decades. To all those who feel unqualified, uncertain, and afraid, Elliot would say, “Keep going!”

Meet Kerri Donnelly—your next everything hire!

A current employee sent me Kerri’s information, and as I glanced over her resume, I saw at once that she had a good background in editorial matters. Then, I noticed that she was had actually worked for the International Quidditch Association, the governing body for Muggle Quidditch. I knew I had to meet her at once.

When I met with Kerri, I was half expecting her to be focused on achieving great things in the narrow straits of the editorial world. (I know a bunch of single minded editors, and the world is a better place owing to their efforts!)  Kerri, as I realized after a couple of minutes of  meeting her, did not have an exclusively editorial focus. I could tell that Kerri was able to do almost anything involving communications. She was highly organized, getting most of her jobs by making connections, and remaining flexible and fluid, as her tasks demanded. She was very optimistic and upbeat, had a great energy, and she wanted to be put to work in a job that would challenge and inspire her—however, she was completely open to entering a business at any level, through any entry portal.

As we spoke I could see Kerri doing a multitude of things, in sequence or simultaneously. As a sample of what she could be doing, I could see her working directly with clients, I could see her project-managing the backend of a large campaign, and I could see her leading a brainstorm.

Kerri has a resolute drive to obtain her goals, and she is happy to start at any arbitrary position in a company because she is confident that she can do a brilliant job in the right setting, and that will facilitate her to rapidly advance her career. She has sense of ease about herself—a sense of ease that comes with a commitment to something larger than herself—a commitment to being excellent. She is that unusual sort of employee who sets higher standards for herself than her bosses set for her.  She is at ease because, in a profound sense, she works for herself, and is not reluctantly meeting some mediocre minimal requirement of the organization in which she is incidentally working.  Kerri’s working style and her innate ability will allow her to excel at any task, without making an obvious and begrudging effort. That should make her a pleasure to have around in anyone’s work-group.

Contact Kerri on Linkedin:


Meet Alex Joseph—your future HR Intern

One day Alex emailed me using LinkedIn, to ask me some questions about HR subtleties. Alex was not a direct or “first” connection, but he had found my profile by poking around looking for HR professionals in his extended network. On closer inspection, Alex and I share a connection, a former intern of mine had been a classmate of Alex.

Alex explained in his email to me that he is currently studying at the University of Massachusetts and he wanted to know a bit more about what I handled in HR, how I got into the field, and how he might be able to break into HR management after finishing his university studies. His principal concern centered on that fact that he did not have a plethora of experience in the actual HR field. While a student, he had been working part-time in retail store and had also been the founder of a car detailing business.

In our conversation, Alex explained to me that UMass had not had a specific HR major, so he had gotten special permission to build a Human Resources Management curriculum. To put together such a curriculum, he had had to get special approvals and permissions, no small task in itself, and he had had to persuade professors to shoulder the burden of teaching specific new courses.

I advised Alex to get his foot in the door by getting some sort of internship in any type of HR. I told him to look into HR Data Management and Analysis, an aspect of HR Management that was growing rapidly, driven by the increasing sophistication of software tools that better enabled a business to capture and analyze data, and establish metrical criteria that could enhance a business. I conjectured that it would suit him well. It is for people who like working with data, organizing systems that fit that data, and gathering insights from properly organized data. Commercial organizations have recognized the field as the means by which they can bridge the gap between metrics and the manpower.

When we talk about the intangibles, we are specially talking about things that need to be expressed or mentioned in cover letters or in conversation. When I think about Alex, I recognize that whether or not he has had formal HR experience, he is nevertheless a superior candidate. He was able to put together a custom made academic program to suit his interests in school, he was able to locate and connect to someone in the HR field when he needed more and more precise answers.  He is completely open to knowledge.

Contact Alex on Linkedin:


The right stuff

This blog is dedicated to getting the word out about talented folks who are looking for their next position. While they might not have direct connections to people in power, I believe that they have the right stuff—and ultimately that is all that should really matter in propelling them to success.

I have observed a great many people entering the job-market, and I have distilled from my observations the markers of success—character traits that generally entice success. It is my considered belief that an organization does well to employ people with an inquisitive nature, with immense quantities of passion, and an indomitable spirit. They should preferentially be offered employment even if they do not fit the exact job specifications. Such persons often do more, live more vividly, and fight their battles harder. They are the reason that companies thrive; they have a point of view that companies need. Most importantly, they have the determination and the discipline to execute their vision.