haruki zaemon


I write, therefore I am.

Modelling required

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 28, 2023
  3. 3 mins

How can we expect people who’ve never seen what good looks like to perform to their potential? It’s up to leaders to role model the behaviours we expect–and in my experience people crave it.

People with experience might not even realise they need to explicitly role model. Perhaps they’ve internalised what good looks like and think “surely it’s obvious?!” Even when they realise they need to role model, doing so might not come naturally, and a bit of coaching is in order.

I first heard about Andy Molinsky’s 5 psychological barriers to pushing outside our comfort zone via Leisa Molloy. I think at least 4 apply:

  • Authenticity - When we feel like we’re performing, it can feel fake, foreign, and false–“This isn’t who I am!”
  • Competence - In addition to feeling inauthentic, we might also feel like we’re not doing a good job–“They’re going to realise I’m an imposter!”
  • Resentment - This usually manifests as frustration or annoyance at the very fact that we have to do this in the first place–“These people should know this already. They’re paid as much if not more than I am. Why am I always the one to have to drive things?!” or “I’m a parent at home. I just want to come to work and deliver, not parent work colleagues as well.”
  • Likeability - In this case, we might worry that people will stop liking us for being a version of ourselves they are unfamiliar with–“I’m usually the quiet one. They might think I’m ego-centric and that I’m trying to prove how good I am.”

(For the record, my two biggest challenges are always Authenticity and Resentment with Competence running a close third.)

In my 20’s, I had a friend who was a student at the Australian Ballet School. I would go and watch them practice regularly. For hours on end they would go over the same moves, the same techniques, the same routines.

One day I went to a performance. Even though they were students, they made it seem so natural–the graceful movements, the interaction between the characters, the sets, the costumes, … Afterwards, I met my friend at the backstage door. As they came out to greet me I was taken aback. They had yet to remove their makeup and it was, to be blunt, hideous! It had never occurred to me that making dancers’ appearance realistic to the audience required makeup that was over the top.

Inside your own head, explicit role modelling can seem a bit like wearing stage makeup–unnatural and inauthentic; to the audience, it seems natural and authentic–because it is!

Deliberately growing and developing people requires role modelling, and role modelling takes practice, vulnerability, and pushing outside your comfort zone.

Motivating change

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 20, 2023
  3. 3 mins

As managers and leaders, driving and supporting change is a critical part of the role. When we go about making change, we can inadvertently subvert the process and slow things down. Worse, we run the risk of losing the trust and confidence of the very people we need to enact not just the current, but future change as well.

The hard work is rarely the change itself. The hard work is developing the trust and understanding to make the change in the first place.

When most of us experience what we perceive as resistance to change, our initial response will be to lean into what Adam Grant calls Preacher mode–“they don’t understood how right I am!” If that fails, we’ll become a Prosector–“I’ll show them how wrong they are!” If things get out of hand, and we realise that we’re “losing” the “argument”, we might turn into a Politician–“maybe I need them to like me more?!” If none of that works, we become frustrated, judgemental, angry, and start to blame, at which point we might withdraw and find someone else who is more “willing” to help.

I know this because it was exactly how the majority of my interactions used to go.

What many people perceive as resistance to change is actually discord: between the therapist and the client; between the coach and the player; between the manager and the report; between the executive and the company. When you’re trying to evoke change in someone and you feel they aren’t responding, stop pushing for change and get back to strengthening the relationship before trying again.

Research also shows that self-efficacy is a significant predictor of change success, and that what we perceive as resistance, may actually be ambivalence. People who have been a part of failed change in the past have mixed feelings about their ability to enact change in the future. This experience of failure leads to a lack of confidence in the themselves and the system. When planning change, ensure people feel empowered, have agency, know what good looks like, and understand what might be holding them back from playing a part in their own journey.

Relying on a few “willing” people to drive change and “tell others what to do” may seem like a fast track, but it can be frustrating, exhausting, risky, and unlikely to generate long term improvement.

Scaling change through others requires effort to empower and give people agency. It requires engaging and listening and taking into consideration that you might be “wrong,” and that even when you’re “right,” that you took the action you did after considering their perspectives.

Most people want to improve, know that improvement requires change, and want to take an active part in it. Engage with them early and often, be explicit about what is known, and what is still to be worked through, and help them understand for themselves how to use their own skills to drive the change you want to see.

UPDATE: Catching up on my reading and unsurprisingly, Ray Grasso recently posted on a similar topic. Go check it out.

Discomfort required

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 15, 2023
  3. 1 min

Leading people is uncomfortable and requires overriding the urge to “fix” everything and everyone.

The instinct to avoid failure (rather than seek success), and the pressure to deliver, cause people to optimise for efficiency over effectiveness. Except, the efficiency is an illusion–you will always have to pay back the debt (people, time, resources) you borrowed to get to whatever outcome you thought you could achieve faster.

If the thing you care most about is perfectly executing, then telling people what to do, and in what order is fine. Except, only a handful of people will learn from the experience, and you’ll need to continue with the command and control approach on the next thing. That doesn’t scale.

Leadership requires constantly communicating intent. Leadership requires constantly seeking to understand. Leadership requires constantly bringing people back into alignment. Leadership requires scaling through others by giving them agency. Leadership requires empowering and supporting people to try, fail, and learn.

(via Harold Jarche):

In the book Range, David Epstein states that, “learning is most efficient in the long run when it is inefficient in the short run” […] There is no Red Pill.

Leadership takes a lot of effort and feels inefficient.

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 11, 2023

Jill Lepore covers hundreds of years of history from ancient times, Columbus, British settlement, independence, the civil war, right through to the modern day, all backed by meticulous research.

I found the almost poetic story telling style challenging at first but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down stop listening. The fact that it’s read by the Author makes it all the more enjoyable.

Lepore doesn’t shy away from addressing head on the racism, sexism, bigotry, and injustice that have been an integral part of the history of the United States of America since before its founding.

I can’t stop thinking about this one line:

Slavery seemed like a monster, that each time it was decapitated, grew another head.

As with Capitalism and Slavery, if you feel like having your eyes opened, go read the book.

Evo AU #98 – Scaling A Development Team

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 2, 2023
  3. 1 min

It was lovely to meet and chat with such a great bunch of open, curious, and pragmatic leaders:

We discussed challenges, approaches, mistakes, and lessons we’ve learnt scaling teams.

Mostly though, I just enjoyed the conversation. It didn’t necessarily always stay on topic, in a good way.

Capitalism and Slavery, Third Edition by Eric Williams

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. Apr 2, 2022

Williams battled the establishment to get his book published, eventually financing it himself. To my layperson’s eyes, he puts forward an eye-opening and compelling narrative that capitalism as we know it has its roots in white supremacy, racism, and slavery.

I got the impression that Williams was writing for a majority white, largely racist, academic audience and, while he touches on other countries, he focuses primarily on Britain as the model for slavery across the globe.

One thing that continues to ring in my ears since I read (actually listened to) the book is something Williams calls “The Triangular Trade”: Britain took people from Africa and enslaved them in the West Indies to cultivate crops. Those crops were sent to Britain and powered the manufacturing industries of Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, etc. Manufactured goods were then shipped across the globe, including to the colonies in Africa.

In the end, slavery was abolished in Britain not due to idealism or humanitarianism, but through the resistance of Africans themselves and because, in the battle between the old Mercantile and new Industrialist classes, it was no longer profitable.