The Toxic Tandem in Leadership

“Followers look a the leader; the opposite does not happen as regularly or intensely.”

The above is from Good Boss, Bad Boss. It’s a quote by anthropologists that study group dynamics among chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons. These species are unique in that they have a set power structure. They have alpha males and leaders among their ranks.

Anthropologists studying these groups noticed something unique:

Studies of baboon troops show that a typical member glances at the alpha male every twenty or thirty seconds.

Followers revere the leader of their group, assembling cues on how they should think, feel, and act. Psychologist Susan Fiske elaborates on why this might be the case:

In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.

This makes sense. If someone has even a small stake in your future, it’s in your best interest to understand how they think and respond in specific situations.

This wouldn’t be a problem if leaders were always conscious it was happening and acted accordingly. But, that’s not always the case. There’s plenty of evidence that power warps the awareness, thoughts, and attitudes of those that have it*.

The overarching themes are laid out in Good Boss, Bad Boss. Leaders tend to:

  1. become more focused on their own needs and wants
  2. become less focused on others’ needs, wants, and actions
  3. act as if written and unwritten rules others are expected to follow don’t apply to them

The “toxic tandem” is this: Leaders are under intense scrutiny from those around them yet their position often results in self-serving behavior.

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Create More Value Than You Consume

“Think Different.” “Don’t be evil.”

It’s common for brands to have catchy taglines. The former is from Apple. The latter was made famous by Google. At Automattic, our goal is to “democratize publishing.” We also have a creed that helps to guide our actions with some simple statements.

In a recent Tim Ferriss podcast with Tim O’Reilly, I was introduced to another slogan (for O’Reilly Media), “Create more value than you capture.” The slogan has stuck with me since I originally heard it on the podcast.

The real implications of “create more value than you capture” extends beyond a company slogan and can really be used as a guiding value in your personal and professional life. It can influence the choices you make, the projects you pursue, the recognition you strive for, and how you treat others.

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Building a Photo Site With GatsbyJS Part 3 – Building the Header

In Part 2 of this series, we mocked up the layout we’re looking to achieve and walked through how GatsbyJS handles data with GraphQL. We then practiced running a GraphQL query in the IDE to make sure data was returning.

In Part 3, we’re going to start building. We’ll put this thing together in three parts:

  1. Header component present on all pages
  2. Grid photo layout for the homepage
  3. Individual photo layout for single pages

Let’s start working on the header component.

Oh – also, if you happen to be following along and building this thing while we go through it, would you mind tweeting me (@jeremeyd) and just showing off what you have so far? I’ve received a few DMs from folks, which is pretty awesome!

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Building a Photo Site With GatsbyJS and the WordPress.com API

In a recent post, I talked about some recent experimentation I did with GatsbyJS and the WordPress.com API. While it wasn’t quite a fit for rebuilding my personal site, I wanted to build something else with it. So, I elected to build an Instagram-esque photo sharing site. I thought it might be helpful to share a bit of the process so I’ll be walking through the following steps:

We’ll walk through each piece together from start to finish and get a live site working online.

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Troubles and Triumphs When Re-Building Our Customer Onboarding Process at WordPress.com

I’m on stage right now at SupConf ATL talking about some work we’ve been doing recently over at WordPress.com to rebuild the onboarding process for our Business plan customers. What you’re reading below is a transcript of the talk. I’ll update this page with a video whenever it’s available! Full slides are at the bottom.

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Building a Rock Solid Career Reputation

I’m currently working my way through The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The book is fascinating as it draws on dozens of historical examples to pull out key takeaways and suggestions for building power and influence. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular lesson or takeaway and how you can apply it to your own life.

A few chapters in particular have stood out to me, but one in particular (Law 5 – “So Much Depends on Your Reputation—Guard It With Your Life”) is applicable to some of the topics I’ve been writing about recently.

In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality, whether generosity or honesty or cunning. This quality sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you. You then make your reputation known to as many people as possible (subtly, though; take care to build slowly, and with a firm foundation), and watch as it spreads like wildfire.

The two parts are then:

  1. Building a reputation.
  2. Spreading your reputation.

The trick is always “How?”. How exactly do you build a reputation? Perhaps more importantly, once you have that reputation, how do you spread that reputation without feeling like a selfish jerk?

This post will touch on the first piece – building the reputation. I recently wrote a piece on The Muse all about soft skills that will help you excel in your career. I have another one coming up on Todoist about demonstrating your value within an organization.

I wanted to pull together some common threads from the research I did for both that apply to building a reputation and some distinct points in the process that I’ve found helpful. In a follow-up post, I’ll discuss some thoughts on spreading that reputation and talking about yourself without feeling sleezy.

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We Should All Be a Bit Angry

A child yelling as he picks up a weight from the ground.

“I’m probably the angriest person here.”

That phrasing caught me by surprise. I was at dinner at the 2017 Automattic Grand Meetup in Whistler, BC. I was sitting next to one of the happiest and most enjoyable people I know.

This person went on to elaborate on what they meant. They weren’t angry about their current situation, the dinner, or anything else related to that particular point in time. Here’s a short list of things they were angry about:

  • Certain parts of the education system in the US
  • Gender gaps in tech
  • The lack of self-advocacy techniques shared with underrepresented groups (in and out of tech)

We overuse the term “passionate” to describe our various areas of interest. Passion implies a strong belief and an interest in learning more about a particular issue. Often times, passion stops there short of action, short of follow-through that changes the situation for others.

“Anger” is different. It implies something more than passion. Yes, you hold a strong belief about the issue. Yes, you want to learn more about it. But, anger doesn’t stop there. It goes a step farther – you’re actively working to change the game for everyone else.

Many would characterize themselves as passionate. Not many would say they’re angry.

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A Comprehensive Look at How to Give Better Feedback

A woman sitting on one side of the table as she receives feedback from two individuals

A few months back, I published some notes from a presentation I gave at Automattic all about why receiving feedback tends to sting. While everyone is focused on developing the skill of delivering feedback, I truly believe becoming a better feedback receiver is worth spending some time on. The skills go hand in hand. While you can’t always control how feedback is delivered to you, you can control your reaction to that feedback.

Still, there is an art to delivering feedback. When delivered appropriately, feedback can grow the relationship you have with colleagues, teammates, and even friends/family. When delivered inappropriately, it can create animosity.

If you remember the three types of feedback triggers, you’ll know that the three reasons feedback tends to sting are:

  • Truth triggers – We’re upset by the substance of the feedback. It’s unhelpful or simply not true.
  • Relationship triggers – We’re upset by the dynamics with the feedback giver. Either we feel mistreated by this person or we feel as though they’re not in a position to give us feedback on this particular topic.
  • Identity triggers – The feedback we’re receiving conflicts with our own internal narrative.

Similar to receiving feedback, I led a workshop awhile back at Automattic on the topic of giving feedback. Here are some extrapolated notes from that topic. They’ll address specifics like:

  • Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes. We’ll talk about the three specific types of feedback and why you’re likely falling short on one of them.
  • Now that I know why colleagues are set off by feedback, how can I tailor the feedback I’m giving to avoid the three triggers mentioned above?

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Be Unnecessary (And Two More Tricky Leadership Principles)

I’ve been reading, learning, and writing a good deal about leadership over the past two years. It’s one of my favorite topics because the applications expand far beyond your business career into your personal relationships, family, and more. Regardless of whether you’re in an official leadership position within an organization, you’ll benefit greatly from developing leadership skills.

In my mind, one of the best ways to learn about leadership is to read, absorb, and apply lessons from the greats. I wanted to distill some of the more counterintuitive principles I’ve picked up from reading books like The Score Takes Care of Itself, Extreme Ownership, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

  1. Be a leader, not an achiever.
  2. Make yourself unnecessary.
  3. Take all the blame.

Here’s more about those leadership principles and how they specifically apply.

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The Failure of Kodak: Why New Ideas Feel Risky

Way back in the 1970s, an engineer named Steven Sasson at Kodak invented the first digital camera. Sasson’s invention was ahead of its time by a few years so one would assume that this innovation would put Kodak at the forefront of the digital revolution.

If you have read one of the many articles on the topic though, you’ll know this isn’t the case. Despite being ahead of the curve, Kodak eventually fell far behind (filing for bankruptcy in 2012). The term “Kodak moment” now connotes missed opportunities instead of magic moments to be captured on film.

As Scott Anthony points out in his article on Harvard Business Review “Kodak’s Downfall Wasn’t About Technology,” the fall of Kodak has less to do with the actual digital camera technology and more about the culture of the company surrounding innovation and new ideas.

When Sasson originally brought his prototype to management, Kodak made a large chunk of their profits from selling film for their cameras. As one might expect, this new film-less invention didn’t get a warm welcome from leaders at the company. As Sasson recounts: 1

My prototype was big as a toaster, but the technical people loved it. But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute — but don’t tell anyone about it.’

The first digital camera created by Sasson at Kodak

New ideas can be both incredibly exciting and intensely stressful. On one hand, new ideas are necessary to disrupt an industry and create a unique product/service. On the other hand, they represent a change in the status quo. By definition, a new idea is a departure from what you’re comfortable with and what you may have had success with in the past.

Let’s take a deeper dive into why new ideas are so difficult to adopt pulling from Adam Grant, author of Originals, and others.

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