The Real Meaning of Leadership

— It’s not a title, office or salary…

I originally told this story several years ago, more from a motivate-to-perform angle. As I’m sitting at my desk thinking, it actually distills leadership behavior into a single emotion. Be forewarned, this is a bit sappier than most of my writing (as I daintily blot a single tear)…

How does a leader make us feel? (more…)

The Trilogy: Responsibility, Accountability, and Leadership

I recently had a conversation with some really smart people around Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Read the book, it’s a good one, discussing how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic almost all the time. If you were expecting me to now give you some detailed book review, you’re about to be disappointed.

As these things often do, we ended up in an extended “bunny trail” conversation around the whole subject of individual responsibility and accountability, and what that really meant from a leadership perspective.

Here’s what we discovered during our lengthy and oft-times pseudo-cerebral discussions:

Responsibility–the easiest part. Responsibility is simply a list of things we do, tasks we perform, jobs we are given. Alan Weiss called this “inputs.” You can be responsible for myriad things, both that you specifically control, and some… well, not so much.

In my world, I’m responsible for coaching, facilitating, consulting, providing proposals, answering emails and calls, responding promptly to clients, etc.

These are all Responsibilities.

Accountability–it’s not the same as “blame,” per se, though there is a certain sect of people who would ascribe such. No, it’s bigger than that, yet infinitely simpler. It’s the outcomes of our responsibilities. It’s the results expected from our inputs.

For me, improved leadership behavior, demonstrably better skills, increased performance of a business, function, or enterprise (that actually follows my consulting or advice!) are all Accountabilities. It’s the results or outcomes of my Responsibilities.

We often confuse these two, yet the differences are both clear and significant. Pay attention to them.

Leadership–heavily influences both Responsibility and Accountability. For instance, we influence–actually determine–what a subordinate’s Responsibilities will be. We tell them what we want them to do, what we expect them to be working on, when to be there, etc. Leaders have, quite literally, 100% control (there’s that word) over employee Responsibilities.

Now Accountability gets a bit fuzzier.

Yes, leadership determines, from a starting level, what results and/or outcomes that an employee will be Accountable for (sorry for the dreaded stranded preposition–couldn’t be helped). But there is also a measure of personal acceptance required for real Accountability to be visible to others–an important component.

An employee can be Accountable “because I said so,” but evidence of that employee actually accepting that Accountability requires a willingness on their part to demonstrate that accountability openly, e.g., “Yes, I did that,” “No, it wasn’t an accident, it was my intent,” “That was my responsibility, and I didn’t do it,” and so on. These demonstrate acceptance of accountability, and that’s something only the individual can do.

Now, leadership clearly influences all of this. Leadership has to make sure that Responsibilities are clear, reasonable, and have value. Leaders must also ensure that an environment exists where accepting Accountability is not necessarily fatal; that demonstrating Accountability is a mark of courage and success, not of weakness and/or failure.

This, of course, is the heavy-lifting part.

The Principle of Before

–Or, give before you get

(Adapted from an earlier article)

So, a physicist, a preacher and an Iman walk into this bar…

Though that has all the makings of a great joke (appropriate apologies to those easily offended), I just wanted to highlight the diverse uses of today’s topic.

The three characters mentioned above are the most frequent users–or at least, most frequently referenced–of the Principle of Before, also referred to as the Empirical Priority Principle. Seems physicists thrive on making complexity from the simple… but I digress. Defined, The Before Principle “…asserts that within the circle of the world, what comes before determines what comes after without exception.”

Lots of examples for this. Battles before victories. Sweat before gains. Planning before execution. Investment before returns.

Pay Raise: I’m Thinking of a Number between 1 and 10

—  Yours may be “0”

Picture the Amazing Kreskin with an envelope pressed against his forehead (if you’re wondering “who the hell…” ask someone old).

We’ve all seen the surveys. “3.0% pay increases again this year.” Even we at Triangle Performance used to do one annually; we quit out of sheer boredom. An exciting year was when the data moved .1% in any direction. Like watching paint dry. Slow-drying paint.

I’ve been asked by several leaders and managers, “How in the heck do I reward today’s performance, motivate future performance and retain those same performers with a meager 3.0%??

My answer…? “You don’t.”

Diversity in Tech: Dudes, you’re failing!

Warning: Fairly lengthy article, something of a rant, and I’m going to say “bullshit” quite a few times. Buckle up, buttercup…

In Guy Kawasaki’s book, Reality Check, he claims “Silicon Valley is a meritocracy like nowhere else.” Bullshit. Look at the lack of women, minorities, over-40. If it’s a meritocracy, then explain statistically impossible under-representation. Tech companies aren’t examples, they’re poster-children for how not to “do” diversity.

Diversity. Inclusion. As important as these words are, Tech just doesn’t get it. Even while company leaders tout the need to increase diversity for both business and social justice reasons and trip over each other trying to hire the biggest, baddest diversity guru, the better roles and big bucks are reserved for keepers of the bro culture. Considering that most of the industry is nearly evangelical about progressive change, it’s downright hypocritical.

Tech (Silicon Valley and other) needs to stop with the PR eyewash and public pronouncements of “We’ll do better, starting now!” It’s bullshit, and it’s growing tiresome. And it can’t simply be accidental or even anecdotal anymore; no metric-driven problem that mattered would be allowed to go on this long in the measure-everything world of technology, particularly that in the investor-or-VC-backed space.

Let’s start with some representative facts:

  • The U.S. population is approximately 51% female; Silicon Valley employs just 20% of women in technical positions.
  • African Americans make up 13.2% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs less than 4% African Americans in technical positions.
  • Hispanics make up 17% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs just over 4% Hispanics in technical positions.
  • Asians make up just over 6% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs almost 40% Asians in technical positions.
  • Hispanics and African-Americans constitute a combined 14 percent of computer science and engineering graduates—but only 5 percent of the tech workforce.
  • Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate the leading tech companies hire them. (read this one twice)

Tech companies have been promising to “get better” now for almost a decade. So, a seemingly fair question… how much improvement on the numbers of women and people of color?

How’s this for an answer… Nothing. Zip. Nada. Bupkis. Ok, in all fairness, some numbers have moved ever-so-slightly. But I guaran-damn-tee that the amount of movement would be called “remained flat” in any financial results analysis.

If one of these tech firms had a critical financial metric scrutinized by their Board, and was unable to improve that metric at all in two years… how deep of analysis would be in play to satisfy the Board? What do you think would happen to the executive team? Whacked, is what would happen. Adios amigos.

At Facebook, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino (as EEO categories) remain substantially the same (2% and 4% respectively) as 2012, although Facebook’s headcount has grown almost 350% during that same time. 350%! Female employment is up a single percentage point during that same time.

In 2014, Facebook Diversity Czar Maxine Williams wrote “So at Facebook we’re serious about building a workplace that reflects a broad range of experience, thought, geography, age, background, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and many other characteristics.”

Yeah… I’m calling bullshit.

Add to this the near assault-on-women going on. This pervasive environment of sexual harassment cannot exist in a vacuum. CEOs, when not the perpetrator (which seems to be common), know or permit such conduct. Investors turn a blind eye. VCs accept it as frat-boy shenanigans. Current examples include Uber’s Kalanick, Caldbeck of Binary Capital, Dave McClure at 500 Startups (and his subsequent bullshit apology).

This behavior is just the recent stuff, and only notable because it’s already in the news. As any who work in HR will tell you, if there’s “one or two,” there’s damned sure more.

Tell me again how diversity and inclusion within tech companies is a priority, and that they are doing “everything they can” to improve. Another bullshit call.

If I seem a bit ticked about this stuff, I am. And those who know me, know that I’m not a huge fan of diversity program efforts. But dammit, this is an industry who frequently holds itself up — and above others — as a beacon for social change and progressive improvement. And they’re frauds.

Here I am, in Houston Texas. Though incredibly diverse, many others don’t see my city in that regard. Saddled with the legacy of oil & gas and drilling mavericks, many believe that the good old boy network still runs at full speed here. It doesn’t, and as a matter of fact, Houston blows Silicon Valley out of the water when it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion.

According to the US Census Bureau to look in the valleys tech workforce is less than 3% black and just over 4% Hispanic. I’m from backwoods Houston, supposedly a bastion of good old boys (read: middle-aged white guys), and our tech workforce is 11.9% black and 12.6% Hispanic. We rank #1 for minority entrepreneurs.

In fact, almost every major metropolitan area in the country does a better job employing black and Hispanic tech workers than Silicon Valley. Houston, I think there’s a problem… in Silicon Valley.

And please, no crap about locally available talent. Silicon Valley has almost 3 times as many Blacks and Hispanics with degrees than employees, while employing four times the number of foreign nationals than black and Hispanic.

We cannot continue to accept microscopic improvements as advancement. I’ll say again: if tech executives and investors believed the poor diversity showing to actually be a major limiting factor to the company, they would put the effort and resources behind it and fix it. Until that occurs, we’ll just get more lip service.

Okay, why is this such an intractable challenge?

Personally, I doubt their sincerity. I don’t think they lay awake staring at the ceiling, agonizing over the lack of diversity at their organization. I think pledges they make publicly, and other idiotic moves like publicizing diversity goals, are simply an attempt to appear responsive to media accusations that racism and sexism just continue to permeate the tech industry.

In other words just a bunch of hooey.

I think it’s hysterical that some tech firms — Facebook, for example — actually blame the education pipeline for their inability to hire an equitably diverse workforce. Think about the sheer irony here… Mark Zuckerberg Facebook CEO is not a college graduate (nor is his cofounder Dustin Moskovitz). Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, another non-graduate, as is Tony Hsieh of Zappos.

Don’t even get me started about John Mackey, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Howard Schultze or Walt Disney. I’m not advocating dropping out of college, but I am saying you cannot use lack of diverse college graduates—even if true—when most technology and innovation has come from non-college graduates.

It’s the culture, folks. It’s broken, and must be fixed, and morph into something where diversity and inclusiveness are absolutely central to the success of the organization. Making diversity a bolt on statistic to a workforce will simply not work. Negative messaging—incentives, threats—don’t work.

Compliance is not enough… a culture shift is required, and that can’t come solely through compliance. Some starting points:

  1. Consequences matter. Both positive and negative.
  2. HR must change the focus to conversations, dialog and the commitment to diversity as a success competency, not a best-places-to-work soundbite.
  3. Candidate sourcing—change it, get better… This isn’t that difficult. You don’t recruit at a junior-college for ivy-leage graduates, because they aren’t there. Shift to target-rich sourcing environments.
  4. Modify the culture to retain diverse employees. Issues must be able to be raised without consequence (opposite of Google’s latest debacle). Failure without fear. Mentorships and advisors readily available to all.
  5. Money matters (always will)—but actions matter more. Show a commitment, don’t just keep talking about it.

This isn’t an all-inclusive list; nor is it some high-level, ultra-sophisticated rocket science. It’s problem solving 101, and it’s the same thinking process that drives revenue models, market approach and funding conversations. Apply it to diversity, if you believe it’s important.

If not, just shut up about it. I’m tired of you complaining, whining, promising, explaining and justifying failure. It’s bullshit, and enough is enough.

Do or do not; there is no try.