Small actions make great leaders

107 points20
webbruce6 hours ago

Definitely agree with the article and thoughts. Little things also make the team feel valued and appreciated, quick thanks, short appreciation/feedback, etc. Feels good.

It's interesting having been on the side of being an employee with manager not acknowledging those things overtime it's wearing. But also tough for owner/manager to make sure to keep doing it too. Either way, a good reminder to keep the positivity flowing

Out of all these haterade comments, I don't see any having scaled a company or team. Don't read HBR if you don't want to improve as a leader, simple

kradeelav6 hours ago

Agreed. It feels like there's really a difference between leadership-as-a-buzzword or an self-bestowed empty title (in good faith, maybe what the comments are reacting to), versus true leadership that is so rare it can be experienced less than ten times in a person's career. Real leadership is something special, and feels like it's the kind of actions that were exemplified by the first story in the article.

robbintt5 hours ago

I'll subscribe to HBR with that endorsement.

ChrisMarshallNY5 hours ago

I really enjoyed that!

I don’t really like getting hung up in “rank and privilege.” If I’m in a leadership position, it really means that I have the burden of Responsibility and Accountability for my decisions. The buck stops at me.

It’s always been important to me to cultivate relationships with my staff. It’s not just a command structure. They need to follow my orders, because they trust and respect me; just as I need to trust and respect my employees.

It’s much more about being human, than it is about being a “leader,” whatever that means.

I dunno. It worked for me. YMMV.

jimkleiber2 hours ago

I think this article came to me just when I needed it. I've been struggling whether to frame the services I offer as emotional conflict resolution, communication, or leadership, and after reading this article, I feel a lot more at peace that these skills may swirl together. I agree with the author that I've found it hard to distinguish which skills are being employed, because many are in such short interactions.

I also feel a lot more confident in that the person in the story seemed to mostly be saying how she was feeling and how she imagined the other person was feeling—which is the core of the work I do.

I feel a lot more hopeful and excited that no matter what I call the services, they may help people, and I wouldn't have found this article at this time were it not for HN. So, thank you, HN friends.

robbintt5 hours ago

I agree with this, especially the part about working to build inner authenticity first. An abrupt remark isn't relevant to the success you may need help to produce. Being a jerk also isn't acceptable, though. There may have been a better followup story where the guy recognized he was being unconstructively critical. Maybe it got cut.

If your mind understood this story, the same narrative style is used in the classic book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

darkerside1 hour ago

The whole point of the story is how irrelevant the abrupt remark was in the broader context of the higher purpose they were both trying to achieve. Why did he react that way? Maybe he is a jerk. Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he was frustrated because the paper was truly terrible.

We don't know, and it doesn't matter. What matters is the end product accomplished the higher goal that they both wanted.

jjtheblunt7 hours ago

the best leaders i have so far worked for reminded me of a transistor: they could, with little but critically positioned decisions, influence the flow of effort much larger than themselves.

vanadium1 hour ago

This is a brilliant way of framing it; I couldn’t agree more.

shanusmagnus4 hours ago

I love this metaphor.

purplerabbit7 hours ago

A lot of this resonates with the idea of surface acting vs deep acting (see relevant section here:

thenerdhead6 hours ago

HBR has constantly produced mediocre content on leadership. The last good bits were when Clayton Christensen was alive.

Maybe just me but between these articles, the audiobooks, and the YouTube videos, HBR has really lost me as a regular reader.

lolinder5 hours ago

Would you mind including more details about why this comment applies to this particular piece? I feel like a comment like this shows up every time an HBR article lands, and I rarely see the criticism fleshed out to be meaningful in any way.

Sometimes commenters seem to only have read the headline. With HBR, it seems like some people only read the URL.

langsoul-com2 hours ago

Yeah, comments underneath this are similar.

Doesn't make sense, it's a fairly short article that starts with a story and how to resolve it, adding some explanation as well. Very good formula.

djbusby6 hours ago

Some manager is trying to juke the stats for their next career step. They choose quantity over quality, numbers bigger, line goes up... Promotion! The after effects (decline) are the next fools problem

shanusmagnus4 hours ago

I think there's some wisdom in this, but am annoyed that the article was basically one giant shill for the author's consulting company.

jnash2 hours ago

Great leaders excel at picking the right people for the job at hand, giving them a clear objective to accomplish with matching incentives, and otherwise stay the hell out of the way.

gfody7 hours ago

this reads like linkedin fiction, it's the worst piece of rubbish ever. the author over analyzes an normal exchange of constructive feedback and makes Julie out to be a cunning manipulator then lauds it as a leadership achievement.

quesera7 hours ago

Articles in HBR are often best described as corporate fanfiction written by recently-graduated MBAs.

See also: 99% of business writing though. HBR might actually be on the better end of a really vapid genre spectrum.

exodust16 minutes ago

Glad someone said it.

There are many ways to respond to someone who calls your paper rubbish. In this case, the recipient of the feedback agreed it was rubbish. They could have fired back a witty comment, a joke, or sarcasm, which may have broken the ice and caused the exact same outcome. There is no winning formula in those interactions which reflects "good leadership".

It's tiring hearing about all these strategies people use on each other in order to "win" some prize. In my book, anyone who uses pre-cooked tactics when talking to my face, is not leadership material.

darkerside1 hour ago

You're right. It was total garbage. Your post actually describes the situation much more concisely and effectively. It really reframes the parable described on a way that makes it accessible to every person, whether they consider themselves a leader or not. Thank you for your contribution to discourse on this forum.

Spooky237 hours ago

It’s HBR, what do you expect?

q7xvh97o2pDhNrh4 hours ago

TL;DR: Good article. Worth digging through the MBA-speak to get to the value.

As someone who has led a decent number of initiatives (and usually done at least a pretty decent job), I can confirm: The article makes good points and strongly suggests the author can walk the walk.

The biggest thing that suggests this (at least, to me) is the general focus on mindfulness. The word doesn't appear in the article at all, but the entire framing of first focusing on -- and then gently redirecting -- your internal state is in exactly the same conceptual neighborhood. And being able to get your emotions under control in emotion-spiking situations might be the most fundamental executive skill.

(Interestingly, the psychologist Lisa Feldman-Barrett has a related framework that's also very useful for this. [1] She points out that an emotional response can be mindfully observed and decoupled into its components -- and, in doing so, it can be much more easily reframed and redirected.)

There were other little things that also suggest he knows his stuff when it comes to leading knowledge workers in modern organizations. The reference to nature analogies -- and the bit about complex systems -- will get a nod of recognition from anyone who's held the job for a while. And the habit-building approach he talks about near the end suggests that he knows how to teach skills in this domain, too. It's a bit Pavlovian, but that Pavlov dude got results.

Having said that, I'll admit the points are covered in a thick layer of MBA-speak. Maybe it's just my personal style, but the mock conversation felt stilted and almost painful. And the attempt to turn "love" and "self-realization" into brandable concepts definitely made me laugh. (Good try, though!)


ilaksh3 hours ago

If that's what great leadership is about then..that's why I often don't respect managers.

The situation is that they have worked for years on a paper and now the first draft has serious obvious editing flaws. So the "leader" instead of giving constructive feedback just says it's garbage and dismisses it? It's not only rude but makes no sense for an intelligent person to behave that way in a team.

Then the other person recognizing they need to get on the same page and acknowledging the poor writing is just a sort of integral way of preserving all of that work on the research.

If you need to go to Harvard to learn to not be a stupid asshole..

Hasu2 hours ago

> So the "leader" instead of giving constructive feedback just says it's garbage and dismisses it?

The person being dismissive is not the leader in this example. The person who does a judo move accepting the criticism and using it to improve the article, the working relationship, and the conversation is the leader.