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Adam Grant: Natural Giver

So many of the management thinkers we have covered have superlatives attached to them and their achievements. The one most often applied to Adam Grant is youngest… youngest tenured professor and also most highly rated. But what comes out of the numerous interviews and assessments of him I read is ‘most generous’. For a man who has researched and written about the relative merits of giving and taking, he certainly lives up to his admonition to give more.

Adam Grant

Very Short Biography

Adam Grant was born in 1981 and grew up in Detroit. He went to Harvard in 1999 to read for his Psychology degree and, while there, worked at Let’s Go publications, where he became a top seller of advertising and achieved promotion to director. However, his future lay in academia and so, following his graduation in 2003, he went to the University of Michigan to read for an MS and PhD in Organizational Psychology.

After a short spell as a postdoctoral visiting scholar at Britain’s University of Sheffield Institute of  Work Psychology, Grant took up his first academic post, at the University of North Carolina, in 2007. Two years later, he joined the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as an Associate professor, gaining tenure in 2011. He became a full Professor of Management and Psychology in 2013.

Grant has been showered with academic awards and plaudits, and his first book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, (2013) was a deserved bestseller. His new book, Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World, came out in early 2016.

The two things that comes out from profiles, are Grant’s energetic productivity and his genuine generosity. He gets masses done, moving at warp speed from one thing to the next, yet still finds time to respond generously to a huge number of requests for help from his students and others. He regularly responds to dozens of these emails a day, dispensing advice (informed by psychological research), linking people to contacts (he offers to do this for any of his students, who trawl his LinkedIn account for opportunities) and providing citation references for colleagues (who see him as encyclopaedic in breadth and faster than Google).

In this way, Grant is a role model of his (to date) most powerful idea. (I have not read Originals yet, as I am writing this prior to its publication). He has also served in a number of voluntary roles – currently as a Board Member of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation (Sandberg has written the foreword to Originals).

Give, Take, or Match

Grant’s research, documented in Give and Take, concerns ‘prosocial behaviour‘. This is behaviour motivated more by a desire to contribute than to serve ourselves. He divides people into three groups; those who:

Give
Givers enjoy contributing – whether it is ideas, help, mentoring, introductions, or advice. Givers typically achieve a lot or fail spectacularly, depending on the choices they make in giving. The successful givers, Grant believes, significantly out-compete takers and matchers, and the organisations they work for gain in measurable ways. Successful givers principally give high value help that has a low cost to themselves – what Grant terms: ‘five-minute favours’.

Take
Takers try to get as much as they can from others while contributing as little as they can get away with. They believe that the world – and work in particular – is a zero sum game, wherein if others win, they must necessarily lose. They are therefore focused on each individual interaction as an opportunity for short-term success. Grant posits that Takers will find it increasingly hard, as social media make it ever easier for society to punish them. In the past, this has been the function of gossip. Now gossip is global in reach, open in visibility, and potentially indelible.

Match
Matchers seek to create an even balance of give and take. Theirs is a fair world, but with less initiation of generosity, so therefore less reciprocation and hence less opportunity for real growth in the prosocial economy.

Grant’s interest in motivation leads him to conclude that we are motivated by the opportunity to help others and that, by giving people more opportunities to do this, or by framing their work in this way, we increase overall motivation and therefore productivity. His book and research papers cite many examples of this.

The takeaway, therefore, is clear: it really is better to give than to receive!

The Power of Powerless Communication

Adam Grant at TED

 

 

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Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In

300th Post

Women are not on top.  Yet.

By far the majority of the top roles in politics, not-for-profit and corporate life are shared among fifty per cent of the population, and that cannot be good for society. One of the women who has achieved a leading role in business is Sheryl Sandberg, and her book and movement, Lean In, are an attempt to prompt, stimulate and support the change we need.

Sheryl Sandberg

Short Biography

Sheryl Sandberg was born in 1969, in Washington DC, but her family moved to Florida when she was an infant, so she grew up in North Miami Beach. A strong performer at school, she went to Harvard in 1987, graduating with a BA in economics, in 1991, as the top student in her year. While at Harvard, she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.

After a short stint working at the World Bank, Sandberg returned to Harvard to take an MBA, which she was awarded in 1995. After a year with management consultants McKinsey and Company, Sandberg returned to the public sector in 1996, as Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury.

Her big move came in 2001, when she was appointed VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google – the year it received its patent for Larry Page’s PageRank mechanism and just a year after Google first started selling advertising.

During her tenure at Google, Sandberg first met Mark Zuckerberg who quickly became convinced she would make an excellent Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, which he had founded in 2004. Over the next year, they got to know one another better and he made her a job offer in 2008. She negotiated hard and came to work for Facebook. Her main brief at the outset was to make Facebook profitable, which she achieved in 2010. In 2012, the Board of Directors invited her to join the Board.

During the years from 2010, Sandberg became an increasingly prominent public figure, advocating compellingly for more women leaders in all walks of life. Her 2010 TED talk, ‘Why we have too few women leaders’, has been watched over five million times – you can see it at the bottom of this post. In 2013, Sandberg released her first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which she co-authored with Nell Scovell. It focuses on the reasons why so few women (proportionally) reach leadership positions in business, and some of the things that need to change, to redress the balance. It has been hugely successful, selling well over a million copies.

Magazines and newspapers like Time, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times repeatedly place Sandberg high in their top lists of powerful and influential people.

What is Lean In about?

The core thesis that Sandberg puts in Lean In is that, whether you are a woman or a man who cares about genuine equality, complaining and making excuses won’t get you to where you want to be. There are barriers to women achieving their leadership goals and we need to address them… as a society and as individuals.

These barriers clearly start with systematic and individual cases of sexism and discrimination, and the realities of harassment that women face at work. Sandberg recounts Frank Flynn’s Howard / Heidi experiment. In this, he took a case study about successful entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. He gave the unaltered case study to half of a student group, while the other half received the identical case study with just a change of name to Howard Roizen, and changes to pronouns. He asked the students to rate their impressions of Roizen and students were much harsher in their assessments of Heidi than of Howard. They rated her as equally competent and effective but they did not like her and, crucially, they would not hire her, or even want to work with her. There is an in-built bias that we have, that women who are assertive are aggressive and we extend that to dislike of them.

The second big barrier that Sandberg acknowledges is the real desire many women have to put a lot of their energy into their home life and she concludes that the solution is not for women to value this aspect of their lives less, but for their male partners to contribute to it more.

Finally, and most controversially with some commentators, is an implicit acceptance by women of discriminatory stereotypes of women. This, she argues, leads women to have lower confidence in themselves – with higher incidence of ‘imposter syndrome’, and therefore to set lower expectations for themselves. Men are far more adept at faking capabilities they don’t have and benefit systematically from more promotion based on expectation than women receive. Women need far more to demonstrate achievements before being promoted.

Sandberg says we need to break down the societal barriers and women who choose to, need to address their personal barriers and strive for leadership roles. She acknowledges that her message will be easier to act on for women with the privileges of education, wealth and status, but points out that any progress will increase the prominence of women, make their leadership more common and therefore ‘normal’, and add their voices to public debate. This can only open up greater opportunities for the many women lacking the advantages that she herself had, early in her life.

Why we have too few women leaders

Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.

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Sandberg’s talks about her experience of speaking at TED and her book Lean In with journalist Pat Mitchell, in So we leaned in … now what?

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Also on the board of the Lean In organisation Sheryl Sandberg co-founded with Rachel Thomas, Debi Hemmeter, and Gina Bianchini, was her husband Dave Goldberg. He died far too young, in May 2015. Ms Sandberg’s public expressions of her grief have been dignified and thought-provoking. We can do nothing more than offer our genuine condolences for a loss that must still be raw.

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What matters today, in Business and Management?

Two weeks ago, we published a blog about the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, and The Management Pocketblog had one of our best weeks ever in terms of readers.

Time Magazine 2012 100 Most Influential People in the WorldCuriously, in the same week (our blogs are usually written one to two weeks ahead), Time Magazine published their 2012 special edition: ‘The 100 Most Influential People in the World’.  Warren Buffett is there (on page 71) with an appreciation written by… President Obama!

The quality of many of their nominations is attested by the quality of the people who have written about them – often far better known, than their subjects.  So I thought it an informative exercise to trawl the articles in the section headed ‘Moguls’ for indications of what passes for influential, these days.

Please note, that I don’t endorse the individuals, nor attest to their doing what is claimed of them.  I merely note that what is claimed of them as an important achievement tells us something of what is valued in business and management today.

1: See the way the world is going

The Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg is praised for her understanding of the impact of social media on society.  Like it or loathe it, that has to be correct: how can you pretend to any credibility in a senior role without at least engaging with the discussions and understanding the beast?

2: A Commitment to the Arts

Both Chen Lihua, philanthropist and owner of Fu Wah International Group, and Walmart heir, Alice Walton, are praised as collectors and patrons of the arts.  We aren’t all that fortunate that we can give away fortunes to pursue these passions but, while we live in societies with freely or cheaply available national and local galleries and museums, we have no excuse for not broadening our perspectives with a deeper appreciation of the beauty and insights of other cultures and our own.

3: Do it with Grace

Daniel Ek founded Spotify. If that name means nothing but you do enjoy music, then you need to take a look.  He is praised for ‘doing what he loves, doing it well and giving away all the credit.’  Wow!  That would make an epitaph I’d be proud of.  Having studied many people that the world considers wise, these are all components of a commonly-recurring philosophy.

4: Contribution

The new CEO of IBM is, for the first time, a woman: Virginia Rommety.  She is praised as an advocate of corporate responsibility – particularly in the fields of education, job creation and small local businesses.  What do you do or advocate for within your organisation that gives it a more robust place in its community?

5: Faith in yourself

Sara Blakely is a billionaire who founded an underwear business with $5,000.  No one had the confidence to invest in her business, but she trusted her gut: or should I say ‘she trusted her judgement about America’s attitudes to their guts’?

6: Discipline and Calm

The cult of personality and the tyrant-leader are powerful clichés, but I doubt either can deliver powerful results – at least, not sustainably.  New Apple CEO Tim Cook is praised for his calmness, his thoughtfulness, his ethical behaviour and his personal discipline.  Score 1 point for wisdom

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