Leaders must watch and wait more often

August 26, 2013 5:29 pm

Leaders must watch and wait more often

By Tom Peters

Wow or bust! Market yourself or perish! Sign up for the action faction! Don’t get sidetracked by analysis paralysis!

Those phrases urging business people to stop thinking and take action! Now! – always with an exclamation mark! – are associated with my work on what makes a successful management team. I’m not about to to recant. But I will acknowledge that two books have set me back on my heels: Quiet by Susan Cain , and Wait by Frank Partnoy. I despise terms such as “transformational”, but the ideas in these two books may actually merit them. As I put it, when speaking (loudly) about Quiet to one avowedly aggressive senior management team recently: “I’ll bet a pretty penny that you have been ignoring the half of the population who might have saved you from, or at least ameliorated, the horrendous mess of the past six or seven years.” The subtitle of Quiet is “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” and one of her arguments is that the more measured and thoughtful introverts might have helped to avoid the early 2000s feeding frenzy. But we failed to ask them aboard. Why? She unearthed voluminous research that says we find talkative people “smarter, better looking, more interesting, and more desirable as peers”. And we like fast talkers too. There is a lot to say for action- takers and risk-seekers: I have been celebrating them for 30 years. But Cain’s book gave me pause concerning the imbalance I’ve been party to, and cheerleader for.She has loads of practical advice for managers, boiling down to: “Make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategise, and solve complex problems.”

Cain also makes a strong case for introverted leaders. They will probably be better at listening to and engaging employees, which should arguably top the list of a leader’s tasks. As the late management writer Peter Drucker noted: “Among the most effective leaders I have encountered and worked with . . . the one and only personality trait the effective ones did have in common was something they did not have: They had little or no ‘charisma’, and little use for the term.”

Quiet is persuasive that strong subconscious biases in favour of noisy people is causing us to ignore those given to listening, deep thinking and risk assessment. If that does not make you feel like an idiot (as it did me), let’s turn to Partnoy to deliver the next implicit rebuke.

Years ago, in In Search of Excellence, my co-author Bob Waterman and I wrote that innovative companies cease the endless debating and try something, anything, right now. We boiled the idea down to a slogan – “Ready, fire, aim” – appropriated from computer services pioneer H Ross Perot. Partnoy argues that it can often be beneficial to hold your fire. “Life might be a race against time, but is enriched when . . . we stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why.” He even devotes an entire chapter to the power of procrastination. He quotes technology investor Paul Graham: “The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators.”

Both writers did their homework. The cases they discuss and the research evidence they unearthed make a case that cannot be ignored.

So what do you do tomorrow morning? For one thing, you might sit quietly through your first meeting and observe: is it dominated by a cacophony of voices interrupting and leaving no space for thoughtful reflection? In my experience at many companies, beset by pressure to “do something”, contemplation will be pushed aside.

Likewise, if your organisation is hiring, sit in on a couple of candidate interviews: are we so enamoured with the action faction that the quiet ones who frequently pause to reflect are considered too slow and passive?

If you’ve a keen ear, odds are high you’ll discover that noise wins out over thoughtfulness or giving things a little more time to simmer.

The advice these two books serve up is strategic not tactical, indeed possibly transformational. I became ever more antsy as the realisation sank in that ignoring the quiet ones and the failure to consider anything other than hasty action dominated my models for what makes for success. I have made a vow to myself that I will forthwith attend seriously to both these issues.

The writer is the author of several management books, including In Search of Excellence 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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