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Foot in mouth or fingers in ears? Feedback is a matter of give and take

David Silverman recently published an interesting article at Strategy & Business about the importance of listening, using a real world example as a metaphor. You can partly guess the example from his article’s title: George Harrison: Now That Guy Knew How to Listen. His essential point – that listening is a vital element of communicating – is important, but we need to remember that working life does not consist of a series of impressive solos.

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Too late for a 2014 Resolution?

So what will put the ‘New’ into ‘New Year’? And what might stop that happening, leaving us living through “2013 – The Sequel”? The first barrier is probably risk: creativity and innovation isn’t a guarantee of success, even if an absence of them might speed up the process of failure. In an environment where resources remain tight, and may continue to do so, a reduced appetite for risk is understandable. But risk is fundamental to success: ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ may be a cliché but it’s also a truism, and risk is one of the major food groups in any organisation’s diet.

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Populating the tent

Promoting other people in your own image not only says something about your preferences, it says something – and not something particularly healthy – about your own self-image. Leadership depends not just on developing self-awareness, but on maintaining it – staying aware of your impact, of the impression you create, and your relationship to the changing world around you. (If you want a truly ghastly analogy here, consider the scene in Behind the Candelabra where Liberace produces a photograph of himself as guidance for the plastic surgeon hired to ‘re-model’ his partner. If you want to be adored, try being adorable. It’s cheaper and it leaves fewer scars – on everyone – although it does mean finding out what other people find attractive.)

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Employeeship

As a non-academic, there are times when I encounter the outpourings of the higher education community and catch myself thinking “Yes, I knew that, actually. I wouldn’t have explained at such great length, or with so many historic references or such recourse to technical language. But I still feel like I knew that already.” I had that feeling recently, when I researched the idea of Organisational Citizenship.

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Defining Courage

Courage isn't just about bravery and derring-do. It also includes holding yourself accountable, encouraging pushback and seeking out feedback – including negative feedback – on your own behaviours and actions: taking the personally rough with the personally smooth. To quote Hemingway, “Courage is grace under pressure.”

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Opinions? Buy one get one free. But facts?

The skills of learning are close to the skills of project management: time management, organisational skills and resource allocation, knowledge management, scoping and prioritising. The academics have grasped that learning is work: the best of business has grasped that work is learning, although I’d hazard a guess some organisations may still be in the remedial stream on this one.

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Bulls, china shops, climbing frames and unfortunate acronyms

Where the urge to skip over the ‘pleasantries’ of observation is a failure of leadership, it suggests a need to review the criteria for elevation to leadership positions. The leader’s role is to inspire the best overall performance from all available resources, not to use them as cannon fodder. It certainly suggests that the ability to investigate and understand before acting is not being recognised or rewarded – indeed that a wish to avoid observance is being rewarded. Where it is a failure of team working, the quality of leadership that is evident when the most helpful contributions of other team members are not being taken into account needs to be called into question. Given the importance of a sense of contribution to a sense of engagement, it’s worth bearing in mind that - unlike fools - angels have wings and might choose to flutter off of their own accord sooner of later.

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The limits of positive thinking. Or why I’m not Eric Clapton.

Ed Emith argues that the elevation of the idea of triumph of sheer willpower that Lance Armstrong has encouraged does more than cycling a disservice. Willpower has a role in any success, but it can never be an adequate explanation. Indeed, to attribute success to determination alone is to deny responsibility for the other inputs that we could make in the success of others.

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Two Way Monologues

I can see quite clearly how employees’ opinion – especially where it's expressed confidentially to a third party – of the quality of management they receive could differ from the managers’ opinions, but the figures above suggest that the two groups have sharply different opinions about how often they meet and for how long. The survey goes on to show that they are no greater agreement about the topics they discuss when they do meet. So how come 33% of employees don’t notice the weekly meetings they have with their manager, and even the ones who do think these meetings take place seem to think they are considerably shorter than their managers are reporting?

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