When I first became a CEO, I noticed something strange.
In a meeting, I was suddenly funnier. The slightest hint at humor could erupt the room into laughter. I was also smarter. And my arguments were more persuasive. Heads would bob up and down as I made a point.
Obviously my new title didn’t bestow some magical gift of brilliance. What it provided was positional power, and people were reacting to the position.
Immediately, I knew what happened. It took me longer to figure out what to do about it.
I’d seen this much earlier in my career when people would “parrot” the CEO. I call it the Parrot Principle. To get along and be accepted, some find it’s just easier to parrot the CEO than to think critically, to argue, or to be independent. Why rock the boat when you can just agree and repeat what you’re told?
The cause is usually fear. Fear of losing a job or of not being in the inner circle. It’s also a symptom of a culture needing change.
Because of a lack of self-confidence, a fear of job loss, or an extreme need for acceptance, it is easier to agree with the boss than to advance a different point of view.
The result is usually what I call a “pocket veto” where people nod in a meeting, then go outside and talk about what they really believe. It’s bad for everyone. The company is not served well. The CEO may not even realize what’s happening. And the parrot is building distrust throughout the organization.
It’s not just the new CEO who faces this problem. It’s almost any new position of power. If others are dependent on you, you can be vulnerable to the Parrot Principle.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know Faisal Hoque, CEO of BTM Corporation. His story is the classic success story. He moved to the United States from Bangladesh with nothing and now is regularly cited as a business and technology expert. We discussed his leadership journey, his views on company culture, and his latest book.
Faisal, you’ve had quite the journey. You grew up in Bangladesh and started a business at the age of 14 in order to raise money to move to the United States and study here. What a journey it’s been from that point until now. You’re the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation, you’ve written five management books, you’ve been named as one of the most influential people in technology. Give me a synopsis of your story.
I’d be happy to, Skip. It’s perfect that you use the word “journey” because that’s exactly how I view life – a journey. To date it has been comprised of a series of events as you mentioned, and each has held a valuable purpose in guiding me through every stage. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. There are many quotes from the books that I think of often, but the following, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” is particularly meaningful to me because regardless of the difficulties I’ve faced, I have never allowed a fear of failing to dissuade me from pursuing my dreams.
Twenty-three years ago, I had just finished my first summer semester at Southern Illinois University Carbondale after arriving from Bangladesh in 1986. I was 17 and a student in the College of Engineering. After paying my tuition for the summer and fall, I had $700.00 left to survive, secure an education and start my life. I didn’t quite realize how tight of a situation I was in.
I met some local students who became good friends. They suggested I introduce myself to the “art and science” of on-campus “janitorial engineering.” So began my expertise in polishing marble floors, cleaning arena bleachers, offices and bathrooms. My friends urged me to request financial assistance going forward. So my “pitching” career began with efforts to set up meetings with the dean, provost and university president.
It is here in the corridors of Carbondale I experienced rejection when I was told “No” to my request for financial help. The provost began by suggesting I should seriously consider going back home, which I would not even consider. After submitting numerous applications, I received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota in Duluth. I built my first software/hardware product, which was sold commercially by a local company.
Not long after, I accepted an offer from Pitney Bowes, even though it was not in the financial industry where I initially envisioned myself. From Pitney, I moved onto Dun and Bradstreet and then took the step of building my first company, KnowledgeBase.
I was asked to join GE to launch their first B2B e-commerce spin-off as one of their youngest business executives at the age of 24. Ten years after my journey here began, I started my next company, EC Cubed. We launched in December 1996 and immediately signed up GE as a customer. Less than two years later, after raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists (VCs) and securing top-tier customers, I was fired as CEO. It’s a story many entrepreneurs have experienced at the hands of VCs, and a lesson I will never forget.
Not long after, I returned to the drawing board and wrote another book, then prepared for the launch of my next company in December of 1999, BTM Corporation. Fast forward 13 years, four more books, and many Fortune 500 customer transformations, and I count my blessings each day as I continue to pursue my dreams in this ongoing journey.
Our ability to manage business technology has not kept pace with our creation of new technology.
Let me stop for a moment to deﬁne ‘‘business technology’’: the application of technology to deliver a business capability or automate a business operation, in other words, the right technology to meet the business objective. In many organizations there are still two camps–technophiles and technophobes–and if they aren’t at war, they are at the very least wary of each other. In too many organizations, the ‘‘business side’’ comes up with a plan and throws it over the wall to the ‘‘technology side’’ for implementation. Because technology is so embedded in the way things work today, these two sides should have been sitting and planning together from the very beginning.
When you make a commitment, especially one to yourself, you begin to energize your mind in a way that opens new doors of possibility.
A commitment starts the engine of the subconscious mind. It takes a dream or an idea, and begins the process of turning it into reality. Mixed with discipline, commitment shapes the future.
Steve Jobs is known for a lot of his attributes, but one of them was his commitment. He was committed to excellence. There’s one story about him opening up an Apple computer, looking inside and making the team start over. You can hear the conversation:
Steve: That’s ugly.
Engineer: Who cares what the PC board looks like? The only thing that’s important is how well that it works. Nobody is going to see the PC board.
Steve: I’m gonna see it! I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of the cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.
One of the most important jobs of a manager is to provide feedback. And it’s not just advice from the boss. Whether you’re raising kids or leading a team project, feedback is a critical tool for success.
Effective feedback has nine elements. They are:
If you work for a boss who gives you little to no feedback all year long, then you know the dreaded process. You fill out a performance review form. You schedule a meeting with your boss. You sit down and wait to see what will happen. You have no idea what to expect. You may be nervous, anxious or just plain curious about what she will say.
An effective boss doesn’t wait for performance review time to give feedback. It’s a continual process. I’ve found the most effective feedback is given during informal times—over a cup of coffee or lunch. You have the opportunity to have a discussion about something.
As readers of this blog know, I’ve long been interested in innovation. Is there a creative gene? Are you able to develop it like a skill? How can company culture be changed to improve the odds in favor of creative teams?
The International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University offers programs in creativity. Chris Grivas and Gerrard Puccio wrote The Innovative Team to make fifty years of research at the institution available outside of the academic institution. Gerard Puccio is department chair and professor at Buffalo State University, and Chris Grivas is an organizational and leadership development consultant.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Chris about the book and his observations on innovation.
What first started your interest in innovation?
Back in the days when I was in college, I had what can best be described as a “grunt” job. It was long days with people vying to work the weekends where they would get extra pay. Most of my colleagues did not have college degrees and few could have hoped for a better job. They seem resigned to accept this state of life rather than work on improving their options. Why would people settle for a life like this? What would inspire them to do something more and find a way to make it work? I talked with friends and professors about it, and one answer that came up made a lot of sense to me – it’s about how they use their creativity. If they were confident in their ability to create new alternatives, they may become inspired to innovate their way to a better life. Now that was a topic that got me excited, so I went on to explore it in graduate school.
You decided to write this book in story form. Why?