How to Lead When You’re Feeling Afraid

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I’d known Jeff (not his real name) for many years, as a client and as a friend, but I’d never seen him so thrown. I could feel his fear, his sense of uncertainty.

And it was with good reason.

Jeff was the head of sales for a company whose product was, more or less, impossible to sell.

His company, Golden Global (also not its real name), is an active fund manager. Active funds invest in particular stocks that they think will do well, as opposed to passive funds, which track an established index, such as the S&P 500. Today many investors are pulling their money out of active funds and putting it into passive ones. In January 2017 alone, investors withdrew $13.6 billion from active funds and invested $77 billion in passive ones.

It makes sense: In addition to charging dramatically lower fees, passive has outperformed active 92% of

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How to Actually Start the Task You’ve Been Avoiding

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Think about something you’re having a hard time getting started on, something important to you.

Maybe it’s a particular kind of work — like writing a proposal or crafting a particularly delicate email. Maybe it’s an important conversation you know you need to have with someone that you haven’t had. Or, when you’ve had similar conversations in the past, you spent 10 minutes talking around what you wanted to say instead of just saying it. Maybe it’s speaking up in a meeting to say something you’re a little scared to say.

Perhaps you never get to that important but hard thing, accomplishing all sorts of smaller tasks but avoiding this one. Or perhaps you’re simply sluggish getting to it, wasting valuable time in the process.

The most productive people I know move right through these moments, wasting little time and getting to their most important work and

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The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead

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I looked at my watch. It was 3:20pm. I had been on the phone for over an hour, almost all of that time listening to Frank*, a senior manager at Jambo, a technology company, complain about his boss, Brandon. Jambo is a company I know well — I have many ongoing relationships there from when I used to work with their CEO — but they are not, currently, a client. In other words, I wasn’t soliciting complaints or asking for feedback.

“He’s so scattered,” Frank griped about Brandon, “He’ll waltz into a meeting — late, mind you — and share his most recent idea, which is often a complete distraction from our current plan. Totally ignoring our agenda. And then he’ll micromanage everything we do, reorganizing our work — though we’re still accountable for the stuff he’s ignoring. And that’s not the worst. The worst is he’s completely

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Outsmart Your Next Angry Outburst

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Robert and Howard* had always gotten along well. They’d worked on several projects together and considered each other friends. So when Robert discovered that Howard held a strategy meeting and hadn’t included him, he felt betrayed. He immediately shot off a text to Howard: “I can’t believe you didn’t include me in that meeting!” Howard was in the middle of a client meeting when his phone pinged with a new text. Stealing a look at his phone, he felt a jumble of things: concern, anger, embarrassment, frustration, defensiveness. The text distracted Howard, and his meeting didn’t go as well as he had hoped. His anger grew as he thought about the fact that in a meeting earlier that week, Robert didn’t support an idea Howard proposed to Jane, their CEO, even though before the meeting he’d said he liked the idea. So as soon as Howard stepped out of his client
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The Magic of 30-Minute Meetings

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Five years ago, after becoming frustrated with my fruitless tendency to juggle multiple activities at once, I tried an experiment: for one week, I would not multitask and see what happened. The experiment changed everything for the better. My relationships improved, my stress dissolved, and my productivity soared. There is zero downside to focusing on one thing at a time without distraction. One of the side benefits of my focusing on one undistracted task at a time was a new and almost unbearable impatience for wasted time. In the past, if I was on a call that wasn’t going anywhere, I would do email or surf the web. In my post-multitasking world, staying focused on a dragging call was painful. Which is how I stumbled on the single most life-changing, business-transforming revelation of my last five years: Compressed time. First, though, a caveat. There are some things in my life
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The Right Way to Hold People Accountable

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John* was doing his best to be calm, but his frustration was palpable. Jeanine was explaining that there was little chance her group was going to make the numbers for this quarter. “Honestly?” she said. “The numbers weren’t realistic to begin with. It was really unlikely that we were going to make them.” That’s when John lost it. “You agreed to the numbers in our budget meeting! You came up with them!” Jeanine was silent for a while. Then she stammered out a weak defense that John promptly tore apart. Later, when John and I were debriefing the conversation, he asked me a question that I have heard countless times from countless leaders. “How do I get my people to be more accountable for results?” Accountability is not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong. It’s not a confession. Accountability is about delivering on a
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A Healthier Approach to Business Travel

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Earlier this year I returned from a two-day meeting on the West Coast. The schedule was reasonable and the travel, this time, was easy. Still, it took me an entire week to recover. It didn’t use to be like this. Maybe I’m getting old? Although business travel can be exciting and even fun, it is a surprisingly profound stressor on the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. We’re rushing to make flights, waiting in lines, suffering through flight delays, and subjected to surly flight attendants and annoyed fellow passengers. Then we have to sit still for hours, while flying through the air in a metal tube. On arrival, we need to adjust to time differences, hotel rooms, and disrupted routines. We’re separated from our families, friends, and the comforts of home. Because of this increased stress and altered schedule, we tend to sleep less soundly and for fewer hours. We work
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The High Cost of Conformity, and How to Avoid It

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ANDREW NGUYEN/HBR STAFF
I was biking with my friends Eric and Adam, both far more skilled and experienced mountain bikers than I, on terrain that was slightly beyond my own skill. I thought I could do it. I was wrong. I suffered a pretty dramatic crash, falling down a ravine, flipping over a few times, and hitting my (helmeted) head on a tree. Eventually, I ended up in the emergency room. But not before riding another hour. Everything turned out fine, but continuing after my crash was a poor decision. Not only was I riding injured, but, because I was tight with fear, I fell many more times. Why didn’t I stop? I wish I could say it was bravery but, the truth is, it was nothing of the kind. I kept riding, quite simply, because Eric and Adam kept riding. There are a host of tangled reasons, of course:
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A Simple Formula for Changing Our Behavior

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“Whoa! What are you doing?” I asked aghast. I had just walked into my daughter’s room as she was working on a science project. Normally, I would have been pleased at such a sight. But this time, her project involved sand. A lot of it. And, while she had put some plastic underneath her work area, it wasn’t nearly enough. The sand was spreading all over our newly renovated floors. My daughter, who immediately felt my displeasure, began to defend herself. “I used plastic!” she responded angrily. I responded more angrily, “But the sand is getting all over!” “Where else am I supposed to do it?” she yelled. Why wont she admit when shes done something wrong? I thought to myself. I felt my fear, projecting into the future: What would her life look like if she couldn’t own her mistakes? My
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Quash Your Bad Habits by Knowing What Triggers Them

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A client of ours, Jeff*, was the CEO of a high tech, fast growth company and he had a reputation for losing his temper. He once threw a telephone across the room. And a chair. But, mostly, he raised his voice and criticized. Not always — but often. We were at a two-day offsite meeting with his leadership team, where we were discussing the company’s strategy and addressing several issues that seemed to be limiting its execution. Nick, the COO, was at the front of the room, facilitating the conversation when, suddenly, Jeff erupted. Red in the face, he threw his hands in the air and decried Nick’s lack of accountability. “One minute I was fine,” Jeff later told me at dinner, “And the next I was yelling.” He paused, thoughtfully, shaking his head, “I did not see that coming.” “That’s interesting,” I told him, “I watched your
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Employees Can’t Be Summed Up by a Personality Test

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When we were in college, Eleanor, then my girlfriend (now my wife), wanted me to take a Myers-Briggs type test, a personality assessment that would categorize me into one of 16 boxes, each box containing four letters that would explain me. I didn’t want to do it. So she made it easy for me. “Come on, it’ll be fun,” she said. “I’ll read the questions. You just lie there and answer. I’ll write down your answers.” She began asking me questions. “When with a group of people,” she read, “you enjoy being at the center of attention.” “No.” I answered. “I’d rather speak to one person.” “No way!” she replied, “You love being the center of attention. I’m checking a big YES.” She must have changed at least half my answers. I’m not saying she was wrong. Most of the time, I think we
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If You Want People to Listen, Stop Talking

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Andrew Nguyen
George*, a managing director at a large financial services firm, had an uncanny ability to move a roomful of people to his perspective. What George said was not always popular, but he was a master persuader. It wasn’t his title — he often swayed colleagues at the same hierarchical level. And it wasn’t their weakness — he worked with a highly competitive bunch. It wasn’t even his elegant and distinguished British accent — his British colleagues were persuaded right along with everyone else, and none of them had his track record of persuasion. George had a different edge, which wasn’t immediately obvious to me because I was listening to what George said. His power was in what he didn’t say. George was silent more than anyone else who spoke, and often, he spoke last. I say “anyone else who spoke” because there are plenty of people who remain
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