Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Always let them see the fear in your eyes

There's a leadership philosophy which emphasizes not revealing your fears.  "Never let on that you have fears.  If your team sees that the leader is worried, it will make them discouraged and even more scared themselves."

I used to believe in this, when I was just starting out at Microsoft.  My first manager subscribed to this theory and would tell me, "No matter how you worry on the inside, never let it show to your team."  He lived this philosophy, and never told me about any worries, even as that specific project started faltering.

Many years later, my management coach at Google countered this theory.  "The most effective leader is one who is straightforward, and comfortable in their own skin," said Brian, the management coach.  "Think about Bill Clinton.  Effective leaders let you know when they're nervous.  They do it in a calm way."

I've subscribed to Brian's approach for 6 or 7 years now, and I find it effective.  If the team knows that the leader is nervous about X, they'll focus on that rather than being distracted by Y.  Seeing the leader's vulnerability makes the team feel a stronger connection.  It's also a relief for the leader to be honest rather than trying to bottle up all of the worries.

There are a few keys:

1. Spend most of the time describing potential solutions, not dwelling on the problem.

e.g. "I want to reduce the likelihood of Bob getting defensive at tomorrow's meeting.  I sent out an agenda beforehand so he can be mentally prepared.  I invited Joe who is a calming presence.  I also will limit the time we spend on controversial topics.  But I'm still worried that all of these are not enough."

Don't spend all your time catastrophizing: "I'm worried that Bob will get defensive at tomorrow's meeting. If he does, it might set the tone and influence Phyllis and Janet.  If all three are opposed to the contract I proposed, it could kill the deal.  If we don't get this deal, we'll fall short of our revenue targets."

2. State the situation in a calm tone of voice.

3. Make it clear that you welcome help, but that you are not relying on the help, and that you will be resourceful in the situation regardless.

Say "This is my plan, but I'm not 100% confident it will succeed, and I welcome suggestions."  rather than "What are we going to do?!  This is horrible!"


I met a startup CEO a few years ago.  The startup started going through tumultuous times, and the CEO never revealed any worry.  He broadcasted an aura of great confidence.  However, everyone else in the company was already highly worried because they could log into Google Analytics and see that there were major issues with traffic levels, user acquisition, and revenue.  The CEO acting stoic just made people feel out of touch with him, and less able to brainstorm together.

There's always a roller coaster in every startup, no matter how successful it is.  It's better to come across as a courageous human than a stoic robot.

Pianos and art

There are many pianos in Moscow, in unexpected places.  Today we went to Gorky Park.  There were half a dozen pianos used as flowerpots.

There are also ping pong tables in the parks.  How are they not ruined by rain?

We went into a random underground walkway in order to cross the street, and it was filled with beautiful art for sale!  

I like the brush strokes in these paintings.  The middle one is a crucifix theme but doesn't seem emo like most paintings of the crucifixion.

This sculpture is subdued, with subtle emotions.  It is a nice alternative to all the Rodin sculptures I've been seeing, of nude sculptures writhing in agony as they combat serpents or each other.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Breakfast and Kremlin

Yesterday was my first day of the Moscow trip.

There was a parade in Red Square, so we ate breakfast at a nearby cafe.  I'm guessing it was an Americanized cafe, because there was pizza on the menu and no borscht.

Service was slow.  It took 20 minutes before any food was brought to the table.  My food arrived 15 minutes before my dad's pizza, so I finished eating before his food arrived.

Why are Russian restaurants so slow?

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Kremlin is surrounded by a tall wall.  Walking around it looking for an entrance felt like the Mongolians trying to circle around the Great Wall.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney was a badass.  He starts a company at age 20 making cartoon commercials.  It goes bankrupt.  He starts another company doing animated short films.  After 8 years, he creates a popular rabbit character Oswald.

His Hollywood boss cheats him out of the intellectual rights for the rabbit.  Walt loses the profits and rights.

This happens in New York, and Walt faces a two-day train ride coming back to California.  Just before getting on the train, he telegrams to his brother (and business partner) "Don't worry".  Then he boards the train.

During the train ride, he comes up with the idea for Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney is such a baller!

I went to the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio.  The exhibit showing Walt Disney's many animated films.

Walt Disney wanted an artist Herb to race all weekend and finish a sketch for the proposed Disneyland.  Herb didn't think there was enough time.  The story is that Walt looked at Herb with brimming eyes and said, "Herbie, will you do it if I stay here with you?"

Then Herb said, "Sure, if you stay here all night tonight and all night Sunday night and help me, I'll stay here and see what I can do."

The internet says Walt Disney was a slavedriver who worked his animators to the bone for little wages, which is what led them to go on strike in the 40s.  So why was he so nice to Herb?  

A telegram after his passing.  "At least he left an inspired legion of talent, taste, and imagination to guide the greatest show on Earth.  Our hearts are at half mast."

Another interesting point from the museum is that Walt Disney at age 21 lamented that he joined the animation industry "six years too late".  He felt like all the interesting work had been done, and he had missed the boat.