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Book Notes: HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership by Wanda T. Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What Makes a Leader?

Divisions with a critical mass of Emotional Intelligence (EI) out performed those without by 20%. EI comprises of 5 skills:

  • Self-awareness: knowing your strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and how you impact other.
    • Self-confidence, Realistic self assessment, Self-deprecating sense of humor, Thirst for constructive criticism
  • Self-regulation: controlling disruptive impulses and moods
    • Trustworthiness, Integrity, Comfort with ambiguity and change
  • Intrinsic Motivation: relishing achievement for its own sake
    • A passion for the work itself and for new challenges, Unflagging energy to improve, Optimism in the face of failure
  • Empathy: understanding other people’s emotions and feelings
    • Expertise in attracting and retaining talent, Ability to develop others, Sensitivity to cross-cultural differences
  • Social skill: building rapport with others so you can move in the same direction
    • Effectiveness in leading change, Persuasiveness, Extensive networking, Expertise in building and leading teams

EI are skills which we can practice, develop and improve.

What Makes an Effective Executive

What do effective leaders have in common? They get the right things done, in the right ways-by following eight simple rules:

  • Make smart decisions
    • Ask what needs to be done
    • Ask what’s right for the enterprise
  • Convert that knowledge into effective action
    • Develop action plans
  • Ensure accountability throughout your organization
    • Take responsibility for decisions
    • Take responsibility for communicating
    • Focus on opportunities, not problems
    • Run productive meetings
    • Think and say “We,” not “I”

What Leaders Really Do

Leadership is not just a matter of charisma and vision. Leadership skills are not innate, they must be acquired and developed. To understand leadership we need to know how it is different to management.

Management is about coping with complexity; bringing order and predictability.
Leadership is about learning how to cope with rapid change and to be able to adapt to it.

Planning and budgetingSetting direction
Organising and staffingAligning people
Provides control and solves problemsProvides motivation

The Work of Leadership

In bussiness there are many complex and changing problems and it is people throughout the organisation which needs to be able to adapt to these. This work is tough on everyone and the solutions are counterintuitive.

  • Rather than providing solutions, you must ask tough questions and leverage employees’ collective intelligence.
  • Instead of maintaining norms, you must challenge the “way we do business.”
  • And rather than quelling conflict, you need to draw issues out and let people feel the sting of reality

How do we do this?

  1. Get on the balcony. Move back and forth between the action and the “balcony.” You’ll spot emerging patterns, such as power struggles or work avoidance. This high-level perspective helps you mobilize people to do adaptive work.
  2. Identify your adaptive challenge. Ask which beliefs, values, and behaviors needed overhauling. Resolving these will bring company wide collaboration.
  3. Regulate distress. To inspire change-without disabling people-pace adaptive work:
    1. Let employees debate issues and clarify assumptions safely
    2. Provide direction. Define key issues and values. Control the rate of change: Don’t start too many initiatives simultaneously without stopping others.
    3. Maintain just enough tension, resisting pressure to restore the status quo. Raise tough questions without succumbing to anxiety yourself. Communicate presence and poise.
  4. Maintain disciplined attention. Encourage managers to grapple with divisive issues, rather than indulging in scapegoating or denial. Deepen the debate to unlock polarized, superficial conflict. Demonstrate collaboration to solve problems.
  5. Give the work back to employees. To instill collective self-confidence (versus dependence on you) support rather than control people. Encourage risk taking and responsibility-then back people up if they err. Help them recognize they contain the solutions.
  6. Protect leadership voices from below. Don’t silence whistleblowers, creative deviants and others exposing contradictions within your company. Their perspectives can provoke fresh thinking. Ask, “What is this guy really talking about? Have we missed something?”

Why should anyone be led by you?

Of course, you need vision, energy, authority and strategic direction but you also need these qualities if you want people to follow you:

  • Show you’re human, selectively revealing weaknesses.
  • Be a “sensor”, collecting soft people data that lets you rely on intuition.
  • Manage employees with “tough empathy”. Care passionately about them and their work, while giving them only what they need to achieve their best.
  • Dare to be different, capitalizing on your uniqueness.

Crucible of leadership

Extraordinary leaders find meaning in and learn from the most negative events. Such transformative events are called crucibles-a severe test or trial. Crucibles are intense, often traumatic and always unplanned where leaders emerge from adversity stronger, more confident in themselves and their purpose as well as more committed to their work.

Four skills enable leaders to learn from adversity:

  1. Engage others in shared meaning
  2. A distinctive, compelling voice
  3. Integrity
  4. Adaptive capacity. This most critical skill includes the ability to grasp context, and hardiness. Grasping context requires weighing many factors (e.g.. how different people will interpret a gesture). Without this quality, leaders can’t connect with constituents.

Level 5 Leadership

Only 11 of the 1,435 Fortune 500 companies have sustained stock returns at least three times the market’s for 15 years after a major transition period (see Good To Great). These 11 companies has one thing in comment – a “Level 5” leader at the helm. Level 5 leaders have both deep personal humility with intense professional will. What are the leadership levels?

  1. Highly capable individual: Makes productive personal contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits
  2. Contributing team member: Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting
  3. Competent manager: Organises people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.
  4. Effective leader: Catalyses commitment to and vigorously chases a clear and compelling vision, stimulates the group to high standards of performance
  5. Executive: Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional drive

Each layer sits on top of the one before and to be an effective level 5 leader means mastering all 5 levels.

Seven Transformations of Leadership

A key leadership skill is leading transformations. There are seven types of ation logic – these have a significant impact on how the transformation is executed and received.

OpportunistWins any way possible.
Self-oriented, manipulative
Good in emergencies and in pursuing salesFew people want to follow them for the long term
DiplomatAvoids conflict.
Wants to belong, obeys group norms and doesn’t rock the boat
Supportive glue in teamsCan’t provide painful feedback or make the ard decisions needed to improve performance
ExpertRules by logic and expertise.
Uses hard data to gain consensus and buy-in.
Good individual contributor.Lacks emotional intelligence, lacks respect for those with less expertise
AchieverMeets strategic goals.
Promotes teamwork, juggles managerial duties and respond to market demands to achieve goals.
Well suited to managerial workInhibits thinking outside the box
IndividualistOperates in unconventional ways.
Ignores rules they regard as irrelevant
Effective in venture and consulting roles.Irritates colleagues and bosses by ignoring key organisational processes and people.
StrategistGenerates organisational and personal change.
Highly collaborative, weaves vision with pragmatic, timely initiatives, changes existing assumptions
Generates transformations over the short and long termNone
AlchamistGenerates social transformation.
Reinventing organisations in historical ways.
Leads society wide changeNone

Discovering your Authentic Leadership

Authentic leaders achieve by being themselves. To be able to do this you really need to know yourself.

  1. Which people and experiences in your early life had the greatest impact on you?
  2. What tools do you use to become self-aware? What is your authentic self? What are the moments when you say to yourself, this is the real me? 3. What are your most deeply held values? Where did they come from?
  3. Have your values changed significantly since your childhood? How do your values inform your actions?
  4. What motivates you extrinsically? What are your intrinsic motivations? How do you balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in your life?
  5. What kind of support team do you have? How can your support team make you a more authentic leader? How should you diversify your team to broaden your perspective?
  6. Is your life integrated? Are you able to be the same person in all as aspects of your life-personal, work, family, and community? If not, what is holding you back?
  7. What does being authentic mean in your life? Are you more effective as a leader when you behave authentically? Have you ever paid a price for your authenticity as a leader? Was it worth it?
  8. What steps can you take today, tomorrow, and over the next year to develop your authentic leadership?

In Praise of Incomplete Leaders

The biggest myth in leadership is the “complete leader”: someone at the top who’s got it all figured out. Trying to be this person is a danger to you and your company. Instead accept that you’re human, with strengths and weaknesses. Understand the four leadership capabilities all organizations need:

  • Sensemaking: interpreting developments in the business environment
    • Constantly understanding changes in the business environment and interpreting their ramifications for your industry and company
  • Relating: building trusting relationships
    • Building trusting relationships, balancing advocacy (explaining your viewpoints) with inquiry (listening to understand others viewpoints), and cultivating networks of supportive confidants
  • Visioning: communicating a compelling image of the future
    • Creating credible and compelling images of a desired future that people in the organization want to create together
  • Inventing: coming up with new ways of doing things
    • Creating new ways of approaching tasks or overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems to turn visions into reality

Then find and work with others who can provide the capabilities you’re missing. Not only does this produce better results but it also promotes leadership throughout the organisation – leading to new ideas the company needs to excel.

Book Notes: You Can’t Know It All

You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise by Wanda T. Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Expert based leader – E-leader

Expert leader have grown through getting deeper and deeper knowledge on a particular topic (e.g. tax law). Being a leader tends to be more of the same deep expertise.

Spanning leader – S-leader

E-leaders are capped by their knowledge – it is a challenge to reach outside of their area of expertise. Spanning leadership is very different and is a transition which must be gone through so that leaders are able to take on broader areas – some of which they may have little knowledge.

E-leader transition to to S-leader

How You Add Value
adding value tangiblybecomesrecognising the intangible value you add
controlling quality and riskbecomescontrolling strategic focus and priorities
contributing specific knowledgebecomescontributing to the commercial impact
doing it yourselfbecomescreating leverage
How You Get (the Right) Work Done
controlling from the centerbecomesenabling the team
relying on professional skills and contactsbecomesrelying on a broad network
drilling deeplybecomesembracing ambiguity
deep focus and concentrationbecomesability to shift focus often
getting the right decisionbecomesmoving forward with a good call
How You Interact
trusting yourself to do a good jobbecomestrusting a broad base of people
relying on rational argumentsbecomesrelying on relationships and diplomacy to resolve issues and influence outcomes
converations are about factsbecomesconversations include emotions
quirky personality is acceptedbecomesexecutive presence matters
people follow because of your specific knowledgebecomespeople follow because of inspiration

Some of the key skills in the transformation

  • Delegation – proper delegation not directing/instructing people how to do the task
  • An enabling mind-set –
Instructing, Expert Mind-setEnabling, Spanning Mind-set
I know what to do
I provide answers or structure
If people do what I say, we will have a good outcome
I add value by knowing what to do
I am respected because I know what to do
There are multiple approaches that lead to the same outcome
I don’t know exactly what to do, but I know what the organisation needs
I encourage people to think and to stretch themselves
I have time to guide; this is on my primary agenda
I add value by enabling others
I am respected because I can involve and inspire others
  • Ask different questions –
The Instructing, Expert Mind-set asks:The Enabling, Spanning Mind-set asks:
Why did this happen?
What wasn’t understood?
What dd we miss?
Conclude with direction – “This i what needs to be done next time”
What possibilities does this create?
How else could you frame the situation?
How will you ensure that you stay on track?
What have we learned from this?
Who else needs to be consulted?
Who else has an opinion that should be considered?
Conclude with “What do you want to do differently next time?”
  • Keeping in touch with work – empowering but getting updates
  • Coping with mistakes – an inevitable part of the job
  • Build team members’ reliance on each other – building networks and less centralisation so things are not just hub and spoke
  • Co-develop strategy – not just a top down but including input and feedback
  • Being a connector exchanging information
  • Shifting focus based on value vs effort
  • Realising that there is no perfect solution so embracing that and moving forward

Book Notes: The Art Of Action

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results by Stephen Bungay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowledge Gap – Caused by the chaotic world in which we live in and how it changes.
Alignment Gap – Caused by miss alignment between top-level and low-level managers.
Effect Gap – The difference between the result achieved and the result desired

Real uncertainties produce psychological uncertainties which we do not like. As such we try to over come these gaps in the following ways:

Classic Knowledge Gap solution– Get more information and more analysis than resolution and action. This in tern slows things down and means the data is more out of date which can itself increase the risk which the data was supposed to help with.
Classic Alignment Gap solution – Forcing top managers to specify exactly what they want people to do – stressing actions rather than outcomes, causing extra work and confusion. People don’t feel trusted so push decisions up the organisation, which causes frustration and a reinforcing loop.
Classic Effect Gap solution – Causes extra controls to “ensure” they get what they wanted. Metrics, typically on inputs rather than outputs, are put in place and monitored. This adds additional cost and bureaucracy. Creating a culture of risk avoidance, checks and close supervision making the problem worse.

These are the result of the separation of strategy and execution. Here managers produce the strategy and workers execute it. This separation produces a rigidity meaning that as the situation changes the plans can not be followed.
The book presents an alternative approach whereby everyone is deciding on strategy in align with the higher intent and execution. This approach is termed “Directed opportunism”. A key element of this is to provide both alignment and autonomy.

Alignment and Autonomy – These can be seen as opposite ends of a spectrum, however you can still have Autonomy with Alignment. “Directed opportunism” is seen as a way to achieve this. A key element of this approach are carefully constructed commands, consisting of the following components:

  • Context – What is the situation?
  • Higher Intents – Firstly, the what and why from my boss; Secondly, the what and why of their boss.
  • My Intent – What are we trying to achieve and why?
  • Measures – In order to know if the intent is being realised – however care must be taken that the measures themselves are not the target. Metrics along with other observations should all be taken into account.
  • Implied Tasks – Main Tasks, responsibilities and timing. Highlight which is the main effort.
  • Boundaries – What are our freedoms and what are the constraints
  • Backbrief – Has the situation changed? No – the brief is valid; Yes – we have to change some tasks, but what we are trying to achieve is still valid; Yes – and we have to change what we are trying to achieve

Directed opportunism Knowledge Gap – Limit direction to defining and communicating the intent
Directed opportunism Alignment Gap – Allow each level to define how they will achieve the intent of the next level up and “backbrief” so that there is a closed loop to ensure understanding.
Directed opportunism Effect Gap – Give individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with intent

A key element is that for this to work means that the people doing this need to be competent and suitably skilled.

At a time there is a key intent – a sequence of these are built such that there is clarity on what must be achieved to move towards the ultimate goal.

A briefing cascade will only work properly if the organisational structure broadly reflects the task structure. If it is in conflict it should be change before anything else. It requires an appropriate level of hierarchy of entities that can be made wholly or largely accountable for critical tasks, led by people who are skilled and experiences enough to make autonomous decisions.

People tend to act rationally based from their point of view

Typically strategy includes plans, incentives, targets, work-plans etc being passed to the day to day bussiness to operate. Instead the book uses a three tier approach with strategy, execution and tactics.

Leadership and management are not the only two approaches – directing is also an approach which should be in the tool box.

  • Directing – authority, responsibility and duty of direction
    • Developing strategy
    • Giving direction
    • Building the organisation
  • Leading – Getting people to achieve objectives
    • Task
    • Team
    • Individual
  • Management – Organise and controlling resources to achieve objectives
    • Resourcing
    • Organising
    • Controlling

In summary –

  1. We are finite beings with limited knowledge and independent wills
  2. The bussiness environment is unpredictable and uncertain, so we should expect the unexpected and should not plan beyond the circumstances we can foresee
  3. Within the constraints of our limited knowledge we should strive to identify the essentials of a situation and make choices about what it is most important to achieve
  4. To allow people to take effective action, we must make sure they understand what they are to achieve and why
  5. They should then explain what they are going to do as a result, define the implied tasks, and check back with us
  6. They should then assign the tasks they have defined to individuals who are accountable for achieving them, and specify boundaries within which they are free to act
  7. Everyone must have the skills and resources to do what is needed and the space to take independent decisions and actions when the unexpected occurs, as it will
  8. As the situation changes, everyone should be expected to adapt their actions according to their best judgement in order to achieve the intended outcomes
  9. People will only show the level of initiative required if they believe that the organisation will support them
  10. What has not been made simply cannot be made clear and what is not clear will not get done

Book Notes: The Fearless Organization

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book provides a number of great stories from when Psychological Safety was present, e.g. the, and when it was not, e.g. VW emissions scandal

Psychological Safety is the experience at a group level about personal consequences aka wil others give you the benefit of doubt. This is different to trust which is on the individual level.

A lack of psychological safety can create an illusion of success that eventually turns into serious bussiness failure.

Epidemic of Silence – because it is easier not to speak up, especially when you fear what will happen if you do. Speaking up benefits the organisation but the benefit is neither immediate nor certain. Speaking up produces learning –

  • from mistakes
  • fixing issues not just working around them
  • sharing knowledge even when confidence in the knowledge is low
  • team based learning through knowledge sharing, offering suggestions and brainstorming

Leaders need to embrace bad news, not only good news. Getting bad news early can nearly always reduce or mitigate failure. People need to be ok to embrace the bad and supported to experiment – which may result in failure. E.g. at Pixar all movies start out bad and it is by embracing that, getting feedback and improving that they make great movies. This is achieved through

  • transparency,
  • productive conflict,
  • humble listening,
  • caring,
  • making it safe to fail through rapid evaluation (because long lived zombie projects are the real failure),
  • asking for input and
  • saying “I don’t know”.

Setting the stage to align on shared expectations and meaning
reFrame the Work – setting expectations about failure, uncertainty and interdependence – highlighting the need for voice
Emphasising purpose – Identifying what is at stake, why it matters and for whom

Inviting participation so people are confident that voice is welcome
Demonstrate situational humility – acknowledge gaps
Practice inquiry – ask good questions and model intense listening
Set up Structures and Processes – forums for input, guidelines for discussions

Respond productively to orientate towards continuous learning
Express appreciation – listen, acknowledge and thank
Destigmatize failure – look forward, offer help, discuss, consider and brainstorm next steps
Sanction clear violations

Reframe the boss

Default FrameReframe
The BossHas answers
Gives orders
Assesses others performance
Sets direction
Invites input to clarify and improve
Creates conditions for continued learning
Learning achieved through success and failure
The aim is to achieve excellence
OthersSubordinates who must do what they’re toldContributors with crucial knowledge and insight

Reframe failure

Traditional FrameDestigmatised Reframe
Concept of FailureFailure is not acceptableFailure is a natural by-product of experimentation
Beliefs about
effective performance
Effective performers don’t failEffective performers produce, learn from and
share the lessons from intelligent failures
The goalPrevent failurePromote fast learning
The frame’s impactPeople hide failure to protect themselvesOpen discussions, fast learning and innovation

Responding to different types of failure

Preventable FailureComplex FailureIntelligent Failure
Process improvement
Systems redesign
Sanctions – if repeated or blameworthy
Failure analysis from diverse perspectives
Identification of risk factors to address
System improvements
Failure parties
Failure awards
Thoughtful analysis
Brainstorming new hypotheses
Design next experiments

Book Notes: Crucial Accountability

Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  1. What do you really want to address?
    1. The content
    2. The pattern
    3. The relationship
  2. If?
    1. Don’t let fear make the decision.
    2. What is the risk of not having the conversation?
  1. What story am I telling myself? What is the rest of the stories?
PersonalIs the person motivated to do itDoes the person have the skills/knowledge
SocialPeople want to fit in with othersAre others helping or hindering
StructureDoes the reward structure match the aimDoes the physical structure fit
  1. Make it safe with facts
  2. Explain the gap between expected and observed
  3. Make it motivating and easy (using the above table)
  4. Agree on a plan and follow up – who does what by when, then follow up
  5. Stay focused and flexible – keep to the topic, if new topics come up then decide if they are more important but return to the original topic. Don’t get sidetracked.

Self assessment

Choose What and If

  1. To avoid getting into an argument, I tend to put off certain discussions longer than I should.
  2. Sometimes when people disappoint or bother me, I confront them-only to realize that I talked about the easy problem, but not the real root problem.
  3. Parts of my life would improve if I could just figure out how to talk about certain hot topics without taking too much risk.
  4. Occasionally I talk myself out of holding a certain discussion by convincing myself it’s better to cope than it is to risk an ugly confrontation.
  5. With some of the problems I care about the most, I find myself bringing up the same issue over and over again.

Master My Stories

  1. When others do things that are mean or selfish and I’m less than kind in return, I tell myself that they deserved it.
  2. When others don’t deliver on a promise, there are times when I judge their reasons for doing so more quickly than I should.
  3. Sometimes
  4. I assume that others cause me problems on purpose, and then I act as if this assumption is actually true when it may be false.
  5. Occasionally I wonder if I’m too quick to anger.
  6. There are times when I’ve totally blamed others for a problem only to learn that I was partially responsible.

Describe the Gap

  1. Sometimes I bring up problems in a way that makes others defensive.
  2. Occasionally I talk to someone about his or her bad behavior within earshot of others.
  3. There are times when I can’t figure out how to give others completely honest feedback in a way that won’t offend them.
  4. Sometimes when I bring up a problem. I do too
  5. much talking and not enough listening.
  6. When I bring up problems with others, there are times when I make it hard for them to share their views

Make It Motivating

  1. I can’t motivate some people to change because I don’t have enough power to do so.
  2. In order to get people to want to do certain things, sometimes I rely on guilt or threats
  3. There are times when I can’t figure out why people aren’t interested in doing what they should be doing.
  4. Sometimes it’s hard to get others to understand that the behavior I want from them is really in their best interest.
  5. There are people routinely deal with who, to be honest, just can’t be motivated.

Make It Easy

  1. When people find a job to be unattractive or nox ious, I occasionally turn up the heat so they’ll do it no matter what.
  2. When someone can’t do something, I tend to jump in with my advice, when all they really want is a chance to talk about their ideas.
  3. Sometimes I think that individuals who bend over backward to make jobs easy are pampering people who just need to do their job and be held accountable.
  4. Occasionally after finishing a problem-solving discussion, I forget to check to see if the other person is committed to doing what’s necessary.
  5. There are times when I’ve asked others for their ideas but didn’t really need them because I already had a plan of my own.

Stay Focused and Flexible

  1. When talking to others about problems, sometimes I get sidetracked and miss the original problem.
  2. When people bring up whole new problems during an accountability discussion, I don’t know what to do with the new issue.
  3. When people get angry in the middle of a discussion, I don’t always know how to respond.
  4. I’m pretty good at staying focused on an issue, but occasionally I may miss talking about what the other person really wants to discuss.
  5. When people miss a commitment and should have updated me but didn’t, I generally let them off the hook-even though they didn’t have the courtesy to involve me.

Agree on a Plan and Follow Up

  1. Sometimes I work through a problem but forget to clarify who is supposed to do what by when
  2. There are times when I’m disappointed with what others have done because they have failed to understand exactly what I wanted them to do.
  3. Sometimes I neglect to give others a specific deadline, only to be surprised when they don’t deliver by the time I expected them to.
  4. I’m pretty sure that either my kids, my spouse, or some of the people I work with think I micromanage them.
  5. Sometimes I give people assignments but don’t have adequate time to follow up.

The aim – to answer “No” to all of the statements

Book Notes: The Ideal Team Player

The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents 3 characteristics for the “Ideal Team Player”. These characteristics are:

  • Humble – a lack of ego or concerns about status. Share credit emphasise team and define success as collectively.
  • Hungry – always looking for more to do, responsibilities and things to learn – a manageable and sustainable commitment to doing a good job and going above and beyond when required. Not in a selfish way.
  • Smart – common sense about people. Having good judgement and intuition around the subtleties of group interactions.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”

C. S. Lewis

Interview Questions


  • Tell me about the most important accomplishment of your career? Look for I’s and we’s
  • What was the biggest embarrassment in your career or biggest failure? Humble people are not afraid to tell their unflattering stories
  • How did you handle the failure? Look for what was learnt
  • What is your greatest weakness? Are candidates uncomfortable acknowledging something
  • How do you handle apologies, either giving or receiving them? Humble people are not afraid to say sorry or accept others with grace
  • Tell me about someone who is better than you in a area which matters to you? Look for a genuine appreciation of others


  • What is the hardest you have ever worked on something in your life? Look for joy
  • What do you like to do when you are not working? A long list of hobbies is a warning
  • Did you work hard when you were a teanager? Look for difficulty, sacrifice and hardship. A work ethic tends (not always) to start in early life
  • What kind of hours do you usually work? If people focus on the hours, schedule or balance then he may not be hungry.


  • How would you describe your personality? Smart people generally know themselves and talk about their behaviours
  • What do you do in your personal life which others may find annoying? Smart people know what they do and try to moderate them
  • What kind of people annoy you the most and how do you deal with them? Looking for self aware and self control.
  • Would your former colleagues describe you as an empathetic person? Does the person value empathy

Manager Assessment


  • Does he genuinely compliment or praise teammates without hesitation?
  • Does she easily admit when she makes a mistake?
  • Is he willing to take on lower-level work for the good of the team?
  • Does she gladly share credit for team accomplishments?
  • Does he readily acknowledge his weaknesses?
  • Does she offer and receive apologies graciously?


  • Does he do more than what is required in his own job?
  • Does she have passion for the mission of the team?
  • Does he feel a sense of personal responsibility for the overall success of the team?
  • Is she willing to contribute to and think about work outside of office hours?
  • Is he willing and eager to take on tedious and challenging tasks whenever necessary?
  • Does she look for opportunities to contribute outside of her area of responsibility?


  • Does he seem to know what teammates are feeling during meetings and interactions?
  • Does she show empathy to others on the team?
  • Does he demonstrate an interest in the lives of teammates?
  • Is she an attentive listener?
  • Is he aware of how his words and actions impact others on the team?
  • Is she good at adjusting her behavior and style to fit the nature of a conversation or relationship?

Self Assessment

On a scale of 3 = Usually, 2 = Sometimes, 1 = Rarely, rate what “My teammates would say“:


  1. I compliment or praise them without hesitation
  2. I easily admit to my mistakes.
  3. I am willing to take on lower-level work for the good of the team
  4. I gladly share credit for team accomplishments.
  5. I readily acknowledge my weaknesses.
  6. I offer and accept apologies graciously.


  1. I do more than what is required in my own job.
  2. I have passion for the “mission” of the team.
  3. I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the overall success of the team.
  4. I am willing to contribute to and think about work outside of office hours.
  5. I am willing to take on tedious or challenging tasks whenever necessary.
  6. I look for opportunities to contribute outside of my area of responsibility.


  1. I generally understand what others are feeling during meetings and conversations.
  2. I show empathy to others on the team.
  3. I demonstrate an interest in the lives of my teammates.
  4. I am an attentive listener.
  5. I am aware of how my words and actions impact others on the team.
  6. I adjust my behavior and style to fit the nature of a conversation or relationship.

Book notes: Making Work Visible

Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & flow by Dominica Degrandis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book is a good read and I would recommend it – these are the most dangerous causes of extra work:

  • Too Much Work-in-Progress (WIP)
  • Unknown dependencies
  • Unplanned work
  • Conflicting priorities
  • Neglected/partially completed work

The book then goes on to show how visualisation can aid identifying the causes of delay and focussing on improving flow. Flow metrics:

  • Lead time
  • Cycle time
  • WIP
  • Aging report

Book Notes: Accelerate

Accelerate: Building and Scaling High-Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren , Jez Humble and Gene Kim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

  • Version control for all production artifacts
  • Automate deployment process
  • Continuous integration
  • Trunk-based development
  • Test automation
  • Test data management
  • Shift left on security
  • Continuous delivery
  • A loosely coupled architecture
  • Empowered teams for tool choice
  • Gather and implement customer feedback
  • Visualise of the flow of work value stream
  • Working in small batches
  • Foster and enable team experimentation
  • A lightweight change approval process
  • Monitoring across application and infrastructure to inform bussiness decisions
  • Check system health proactively
  • Improve process and management with work-in-progress (WIP) limits
  • Visualise work to monitor quality and communicate through the team
  • Support a generative culture
  • Encourage and support learning
  • Support and facilitate collaboration among teams
  • Provide resources and tools that make work meaningful
  • Support or embody transformative leadership
Low cooperationModest cooperationHigh cooperation
Messenger “shot”Messenger neglectedMessenger trained
Responsibilities shirkedNarrow responsabilitiesRisks are shared
Bridging discouragedBridging toleratedBridging encouraged
Failure leads to scapegoatingFailure leads to justiceFailure leads to inquiry
Novelty crushedNovelty leads to problemsNovelty implemented

Servant leaders focus on their followers’ development and performance, whereas transformational leaders focus on getting followers to identify with the organisation and engage in support of organisational objectives.

Book Notes: Thinking in Bets

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People tend to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of the result. However in the real world it is not possible to make perfect decisions because some of the information is hidden – as such real world decisions are more like games of poker rather than chess.

As such we are very bad at separating luck and skill as bad decisions can still produce good outcomes. In poker the feedback loop is short, in the real world this is much longer making the evaluation of decisions even harder.

We suffer from Hindsight bias – believing we could have predicted something at the time. Alternative we attribute all of our successes to our skill and all our failures to bad luck – in reality neither are fully the case. There is a lot of space between being unequivocally “right” or “wrong” which we tend to vastly simplify. Offloading the losses to luck and onboarding the wins to skill means we persist our approach without learning. This is because our Ego need for a positive self image and losing feels twice as bad as winning.

How our beliefs are formed:

  1. We hear something we believe is plausible
  2. We then believe it as a true
  3. Sometimes at some point later, if we have the time and inclination, we think about it and vet it to determine whether it is, in fact, true or false

Instead of altering our beliefs to fit new information, we do the opposite, altering our interpretation of that information to fit our beliefs. This prevents us from learning.

There is a big difference between clocking up experience experience and becoming an expert.

In reviewing decisions the result does not matter as this is influenced by luck which is out of your control.

How can we overcome our deficiencies?

Putting a percentage on our statements – this helps us realise that things are not fully true or false and in calculating the percentage we evaluate our beliefs.

Instead of fixating on an outcome, think of a set of future outcomes.

Better evaluate decisions

  • Communism – data belonging to the group, data which we have an urge to leave out is exactly the data we must share
  • Universalism – universal standard no matter the source of data
  • Disinterestedness – vigilance against things which could influence a groups decision
  • Organised Skepticism – discussions to encourage engagement and dissent

Building a decision support group

Visualising our future self or how will I feel about the choice in 10 min, 10 months, 10 years

Run premortems to evaluate both sides of the problem

Book Notes: The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter, Raymond Hull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Raise to Their Level of Incompetence

Each role requires a different set of skills, as such people using the skills which made them successful in a different role will either not help them in the new role or will hold them back.

A second manifestation is where subordinates of the person in the incompetent role tightly follow the rules, because deviation from them will act against them personally. They are incentivised to be strict to the rules.

Organisations work around it by “promoting” people or moving people sideways into roles which they can do no harm.

If people are super-incompetent then they are easily let go. Ironically this also applies to the super-competent. These people challenge the hierarchy and are let go to preserve the current order.

Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence

There is no direct relationship between the size of the staff and the amount of useful work done.

Nothing fails like success

Psychological profiling can place employees in roles which they are most suitable for. This means that any promotion will be to an area of less competence.

Good followers do not become good leaders

There is a compulsive desire to get to the level at which you are not competent, as the jobs which are easy for you to perform well offer no challenge. As such people push themselves into the roles which they can not do. The challenge is more to stay one level below the level of incompetence.

Incompetence can be classified into four types:

  • Physical
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Mental

This is not just a workplace phenomenon, political candidates are chosen to will elections rather than because of their law making skills.