Lighthouse Leadership Weekly #71: Steve Jobs on Conflicts, a fun Book of the Month, and Challenges on Giving Praise

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Praise costs you nothing, but can deliver huge results. Everyone likes hearing they've done a good job, especially when they really put in extra effort.

That's why we so frequently talk about it both in this newsletter and on the Lighthouse blog.

And in these week's edition, we have a great write in Ask Lighthouse question about praise, and our long read gives you helpful examples. We also cover a new Book of the Month that is a fun read, and another lesson from Steve Jobs.

Let’s dive in…

Table of contents:

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🥘 Food for Thought on Conflict & Decision Making

You seemed to like the Steve Jobs commencement speech revisiting, so wanted to share another lesson from him.

"I've never believed in the theory that if we're on the same management team and a decision has to be made and I decide in a way that you don't like and I say, "come on buy into the into it like we're all on the same team. You don't agree, but buy in. Let's go make it happen."

...Sooner or end up having conflict. 

I've always felt that The best way is to 
get everybody in a room and talk it through until you agree.

Now that's not everybody in the company, but that's everybody that's really involved in that decision that needs to execute it.

...The way we run NeXT is we have a team at the top. We call the policy team. There's eight people, Mike is on it, I'm on it, we have six other people on it, and the key, we have two things we try to do.

One is we try to differentiate between the really important decisions and the ones that we don't have to make.

The really important ones, we work on it till we all agree, because we're paying people to tell us what to do. In other words, I don't view that we pay people to do things. That's easy to find people to do things. What's harder is to find people to tell you what should be done. That's what we look for.

So we pay people a lot of money and we expect them to tell us what to do. And so when that's your attitude, you shouldn't run off and do things if people don't all feel good about them.

And the key to making that work is to realize there's not that many things that any one team really has to decide."

This is a really fascinating, and nuanced comment by Steve Jobs in a clip I saw recently making the rounds on Twitter:

What I really like about this is it is right in line with a lot of what we talk about in the Lighthouse Leadership Weekly: Nuance.

Because the truth is that much of leadership is about understanding the nuance of a situation.

Sometimes you should follow timeless rules. Other times, it's best to do something completely different, or even counter to the norm.

But you only get to that point by understanding the nuance of a situation, which is exactly what Jobs is doing here.

So let's take a closer look at what he's saying...

1) Don't always "disagree and commit."

One of the most common management phrases you'll hear is that good teams should "disagree and commit."

Like most management rules, there is some truth to it. And there is a time and a place for that, especially if your team gets to the point of having a religious debate over which framework to build an application in, or some other fundamental disagreement that turns more emotional than rational.

Yet, Jobs here is talking about something much deeper here.

For mission critical, big decisions, you need everyone to agree.

Why? A few reasons:

  • Big decisions need full buy-in: You can't have someone halfway in, or begrudgingly support a decision, if it's literally core to your team or company's direction. You need everyone all-in.
  • You should really understand opposition: Disagreement is your friend, especially on tough decisions. Learning why someone disagrees can help make your ideas stronger by identifying weaknesses, blind spots, and risks.
  • Healthy cultures include diverse perspectives: Zooming out from a single disagreement, if you want to foster a culture where diverse perspectives are welcome, you have to actually listen to them.

As Jobs describes, sometimes you need to, "get everybody in a room and talk it through until you agree."

2) Know which decisions are important

A key part of the nuance of what Jobs is talking about is that you need to be open to these kinds of discussions for your most important decisions.

So no, you don't need to follow this approach when debating where to go for a team lunch. However, you should consider this approach when you and your team are determining your strategy for the second half of this year.

And that's why Jobs also talks about only making a small number of these decisions per year:

If this process is for 25 decisions per year, that's only ~2 per month.

That gives you plenty of time to let some tough debates happen, without exhausting people, especially because I think it's fair to assume some decisions won't have stiff disagreement.

Yet, when you do have disagreements, you want to have a process in place, and the will / energy to see it through.

3) Delegate decisions to the right people

The last lesson that is just as important as the other two is making sure decisions are in the hands of the right people.

The true value of having this type of conflict and lively debate comes from the people disagreeing bringing relevant perspective, expertise, and experience related to the decision.

That means to apply this rule you should first make sure the decision is assigned to the team with the best skills, experience, and expertise to make the call.

And if you feel like the right team has a gap in their skills or perspective that would be valuable for the discussion and decision, then one of the best things you can do as a leader is to add to the team to fill in those gaps.

Sometimes leadership is less about your ideas, and more about who you bring together to arrive at the best ideas. This is a perfect example of that.

Bonus: Remember to let go of your ego.

Ego is one of the most destructive things that a leader can bring into their work.

Ego makes you want to follow your ideas at the expense of listening to others. Ego causes you to surround yourself with Yes Men and Yes Women. And Ego prevents having exactly these kinds of important conflicts that lead to better ideas and the full commitment of your team.

📚 Book of the Month: A fun, light read for your summer vacation

As we head into the summer months, many of us will be taking vacations with family or loved ones, which means it's a great time to read a book.

And while many of our suggestions aren't too difficult to read, it can still leave you wanting something a bit more fun and entertaining. That's why this month's Book of the Month is something a bit different, yet still leadership-centric:

tina fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I read this book as a gift from a friend's wife, and I was not disappointed.

It was the perfect book to read on a flight, as I found myself flying through it, finishing just as I landed back at home.

This book is a great read for a few reasons:

  1. It's genuinely funny. Tina Fey is a talented writer and comedian, having worked on SNL, 30 Rock, and the movie Mean Girls. Herta lent really shows in this book. This is not one of those fluff, ghostwritten cash-grab books.
  2. If you're a woman, much of her commentary on balancing work and family life will probably resonate, whether through your personal experience or friends and family.
  3. ​If you're a man, this will help you understand and empathize better. In between laughs were some very poignant moments and inner dialogue that helped me understand women I work with better.

And again, this is a lighter read, so you're not making a huge commitment to read this, but you might crack a smile and laugh out loud a few times on your way to learning a few things you can apply to managing your team.

You can pick up your copy of Bossypants on Amazon here.

🗣️ Ask Lighthouse on Challenges of Giving Praise

A reader wrote in with a great question about praise:

"How does one balance your praise theory with financial impacts in reality? 

Some people feel that the more that the are praised, the more their pay needs to increase. While I can control some things, I cannot totally control pay as there are a lot of things that go into it and other factors, such as a departmental budget that has to be thought about."

This is a fair concern, especially if you're managing people in an hourly work environment, or very new / junior employees.

Knowing this, if it does happen, there's a few things you can do:

  1. Expectations management: If the person says, "You've been praising me a lot lately. I'd like a raise." Then the best thing you can do is manage their expectations. Be simple and firm about when compensation is reviewed; most companies that happens once or twice a year.
  2. Direct that motivation: You can certainly tell them if their performance continued like this if they would be in line for a raise or promotion. If they are weak in other areas than what you praised, now is a great time to coach them saying something like, "You're doing a great job with X, and to get a raise or promotion next time, you'll also need to work on A, B, and C. Would you like to set up a time to talk about those?"
  3. Clear communication: The other part of this is to check in with your boss and HR to see if they have clear ladders for your department. At many companies, they have a clear list of "If you are this level, you must master x, y, z and work towards A". You can use that as a resource both to identify where you should coach them, and share with them where they stand today along with where they need to go to get that raise/promotion.

While some leaders take a hard "Yes/No" approach to when their team members ask for raises, there is actually quite a bit you can do to redirect their energy to win-win scenarios, even if it does not include an immediate raise.

Try some of these and you may be surprised how you can turn a potential point of conflict into sustained motivation and ongoing strong performance from your team member.

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Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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