“Jonathan, you need to stop reading books. They are hurting your career. Read the email I just sent you.” – Name Withheld (Obviously)
I would bet in any career field, you run across people who say things that are incredibly damaging in multiple ways. Causes pause for how toxic or caustic people get into leadership positions. Nevertheless, the most outrageous comment I’ve ever been told is to stop reading books.
If you know my leadership style, then you know I perpetuate the knowledge culture, which is heavily based on DevOps’ CAMS (Culture, Automation, Measuring, and Sharing). Working with other teams who don’t embrace that philosophy can and does create friction. Which is where education is applied. Culture is critical, we all agree.
So, if your wondering what the email said, I’ve kept it in my personal journal. Sharing it’s entirety to you editing out business bits:
From: Director, Information Technology
Sent: Long Long Time Ago…
To: Jonathan Merrill
I wanted to tell you something I learned a long time ago. What you did yesterday or last week or last year is almost worthless. I too have won [people] awards. They mean nothing. The business world is focused on what have you done for me now. The growth of teams is far more important than most anything else.
One of the main things that I desire is that I would rather make progress than simply prove that I am right. As long as the progress is in the best general direction then it will likely make things better. In time possibly it will convince people (that aren’t under me) that it was a good idea. Maybe it shows how it wasn’t. But I don’t try to emulate anyone.
The people you list (Leonici, Maxwell, Wooten) are mostly wrong in any approach they suggest. Each approach has to be custom tailored for the situation. I find that most of the books people write all say basically the same thing. Many of them are worthless and if they are good I take only a few points from each of them that I have found worked.
For example I remember when everyone said emulate Jack Welch and his leadership style. I started reading about him and it sounded impressive. Then I started learning that it wasn’t uncommon for the company to lay off people all the time just to improve stock price. I found that his words lacked practice. So he said the right things but practiced a form of management that basically resulted in turn over at all levels (forced or not forced). In time I figured out that in my opinion he was just another useless manager who had some good ideas but his ideas likely only worked one time in one situation and me saying I would use them was highly suspect.
So really I hate to say it (good or bad) but I don’t study anyone. I keep a list of things I have learned and try to put who taught it to me. Outside of that I don’t worry about it. Graduate school taught me that for the most part. Good management is 50% how you treat people and how they perceive you and 50% of your ability to define what you want. Combine those and you likely get progress.
Sounds seat of the pants I know but how I work.
Let’s dig into a few of these statements, as parts of his email is peppered with logic, and where it goes off road.
#1. What you did yesterday or last week or last year is almost worthless
Leaders are always judged positively by their achievements. Finding the achievement pattern leads to good hires. Not tracking your achievements nor having a track record of your achievements is a professional miss in self-development. I argue all people, from help desk to VP, IT should actively track achievements. Marry them up with your personal and professional goals. Minimally, present them annually during the evaluation process so the organization understands what your about and the value you bring.
#2. As for selling on approaches or styles I rarely if ever do that. Nor will I start.
Managing a team on democracy and goals is good, but if the culture isn’t set to create the operating context of expectations, then that team is no different than a mob. People want great cultures. People desire to know the boundaries so they can freely do their job. I would argue effective leaders have a style and actively sell/mentor approaches to their people. Ineffective leaders do not try.
#3. The people you list (Leonici, Maxell, Wooten) are mostly wrong in any approach they suggest. Each approach has to be custom tailored for the situation.
How can you argue with the results of those leaders who study and embrace good leadership principles versus those that do not? We take what is learned and apply it to any situation. Most situations require customization as no one things fits. I argue studying principles of success does far better to educate versus only depending on your last leadership experience.
#4. I remember when everyone said emulate Jack Welch and his leadership style… I found that his words lacked practice.
I too have read Jack Welch and found many things that didn’t align with my leadership philosophy or brand. I don’t advertise leading this way, but learning how he led isn’t less important. We should not read any book and apply it to our life prima facie. Books should educate us, challenge our thinking, and give us opportunity to change us, make us better, or just entertain us. I argue practicality alone shouldn’t be a reason to not read books about leadership.
#5. I don’t study anyone. I keep a list of things I have learned and try to put [into practice] who taught it to me. Outside of that I don’t worry about it. Graduate school taught me that for the most part.
I would argue that going to college should just be the beginning of your life long learning journey. Not the end.
#6. Good management is 50% how you treat people and how they perceive you and 50% of your ability to define what you want. Combine those and you likely get progress.
Of everything said here, this statement rings most true. And worthy of underscoring as working with this leader for over a year, I can say he wasn’t intentionally “toxic”. He was a grounded guy, with a family, bills, car, and problems just like us all.
However, looking back on what he got accomplished during his time, he achieved very little. Not many strategic things got done. He touched no one. Influenced little. And was quickly forgotten as he left. Does anyone enter a leadership gig with the desire to leave no legacy? I would argue no.
I ran across this comic today and it reminded me of that leader and his email.
If anyone knows the author of this book, please let me know.