Ron Carucci on Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives (Transcript)

But when you come in from up in the organization, the problem is, my guess is that if we went back to hardware and YouTube and support and assistance, all the divisions you mentioned, and I asked you to describe some of the cultural realities of your organizations, I might hear some common threads about Google’s culture. I might hear some differences. But Google has a very strong environment, and there are things you know about Google. Well, the problem is, your belief that you know those things causes you never to test those assumptions.

So as you rise up, or as you change groups and departments, you bring what I know with me, and you see the world through those biases, without ever understanding, well, is that really how it is in this group, or how it is in this team, or how it is in this part of the world? And so it’s very important to always test the assumptions you have about what you believe you know, about where you’re arriving at, because they know things about you as well that may or may not be true.

And just as we don’t want to be labeled or concocted in some way, neither do the environments you have. So how do you let go of what you know long enough to see if all you know is really all there is to know? So those are just some of– there were probably– there’s certainly a bunch more.

So you can see, right, any one of these could take an otherwise promising, gifted, talented person and send them off course. All of them, avoidable. With just the right kind of preparation, the right kind of communication, the right kind of conversations, nobody has to step in these landmines.

But every day in organizations, we’re throwing these things in the way, and people are doing them. But if you’re lucky enough to get to that place and you arrive at a new altitude, then there are these– you feel like you’ve arrived on a new planet. There’s this disorienting aspect of a higher altitude. And these were four of the things we discovered that leaders struggled to be OK with.

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One of the problems is, when you’re leading other people, especially if the people you are leading are remote, is there’s now multiple versions of you. So you get this– almost like your life is now playing out on the jumbotron. And people are watching you, and they’re making up versions of you. I have leaders say to me all the time, I hear all the time, John said I never said it. You have to assume that when you become more influential in an organization, just assume there’s a megaphone strapped to your mouth 24/7.

And everything you say and do is amplified. You can’t raise your eyebrow without somebody attaching meaning to it. Oh, she’s in a bad mood today. Or uh-oh, she just came out of a meeting. It didn’t go well. Or he’s really frustrated with something. Could be, nothing could be further from the truth. But we attach meaning to our leaders– their behavior, their choices, their words, how they act in meetings, all has meaning, whether it’s true or not.

But we act upon it as if it is true. Leaders struggle to know, what do I do when people are making things up about me, or concocting versions of me, that don’t exist? And there are ways to manage that, but for many leaders, it’s paralyzing.

The third one was the access to information. So suddenly, people who were my peers are now my direct reports. Suddenly the way I get information, or access to it, is a little different. It feels a little filtered. It feels a little more sanitized. It’s not quite as honest. And so how I get people to tell me the truth now becomes harder and harder the higher I go, because people don’t want to upset their bosses. And so dealing with a little bit of a sifted data set becomes difficult when you’re trying to make hard choices or make hard trade-offs or allocate resources. How we do that becomes harder when I don’t know if the information I’m being given– did my mic just go off? OK Should I wait? Oh, there it is.

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When I don’t know that I can rely on the data that I’m getting. And so how do I make it safe, to make sure the people that I work with are telling me the truth? How do I make it safe for people to raise tough issues? You are the company case study for how to create psychological safety among teams. So my guess is that if I went around and polled you on how psychologically safe is your team, just because the case study was written about you doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere at your company, right? So it’s still a difficult thing to do.

For leaders, when they then have to wonder, why aren’t they telling me the truth, and what is the information that I’m not getting, and how am I getting access to feedback, can be terrifying. For some leaders, that loss of control, that sense of influence loss, can be completely debilitating.

And lastly, the entire network of relationships that shifts can be very unsettling for leaders. So people who were your peers are now direct reports. People who were bosses are now your peers. People who were direct reports before don’t interact with you at all. And so what are the rules now? What am I allowed to say? What am I not allowed to say? When you come to me saying, so, you want to go out for beers? And I’m like, well– and then you get the whole, oh, you’re a boss now. Right OK, never mind.

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