How to be thoughtfully ruthless in how you manage your career

Good read from the Globe and Mail written by Harvey Schacher. I like the bullet points and the idea that 50% of scheduled meetings could be cut, and I would add that most of them could be half as long and done electronically.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016 6:00AM EDT

Are you thoughtfully ruthless?

That sounds like an oxymoron but in fact it’s just an unusual juxtaposition of two approaches to management. And Val Wright, a British-born consultant based in Los Angeles, feels from her observation of executives over the years that it’s the key to success.

“Executives who stand out are thoughtfully ruthless about time, energy and resources. If they didn’t manage all three they wouldn’t be as successful,” she says in an interview.

A starting point would be what she calls your “sensibly selfish charter” – the daily commitments you want to make to yourself, be it exercise, long walks with the dog or reading. She suggests your charter should outline what you plan to do every day, week, month and year.

Also list rituals in the following areas: self-maintenance, pampering, friendship, couple, fitness, “me” time, and development. Then consider who you need to tell and whether you need support from them to make it happen.

With respect to time, a key point she hammers home is that you are the barrier. Not somebody else. You are allowing your day to be filled with questionable meetings and trying to help everyone around you without proper consideration to available time. She routinely hears from the executives she counsels about how exhausted they are, taking red-eye flights back to the office for yet another round of back-to-back meetings. “It’s within their power to say no,” she insists.

She still recalls the occasion when, during the back-and-forth of a meeting she was leading, a colleague screaming out: “Shush!” It was a plaintive cry for silence, so the woman could think.

Ms. Wright feels you should add more silence to your life and makes the following recommendations:

  • Book silence sessions into your calendar – during working hours, not just Sunday mornings – and protect them ruthlessly from cancellation.
  • Schedule fake meetings occasionally so you have time to breathe and think. Occasionally cancel meetings with your team and grant them the gift of a few hours of sudden freedom.
  • Create silence sessions in meetings: Don’t be the first to speak, as it may lead you to miss out on what others are thinking. Amazon has a period of silence at the start of each meeting during which people can read documents pertaining to the discussion ahead. The meeting only starts when everybody has finished, allowing those who get through the reading quicker some silent contemplative time.
  • Try silence in the car: Instead of filling yourself with more information from radio or podcasts or initiating a flurry of phone calls, try some quiet time while in transit. Let your mind wander.
  • Start and end every business trip alone: Don’t take the red-eye flight home. Stay over, allowing some time to reflect on your business or immerse yourself in a culture different from your own. Similarly, when leaving allow some quiet time rather than timing it so you arrive at the airport just before takeoff.
  • Ask permission to think for a moment: Like that individual in Ms. Wright’s meeting, ask permission to think. Or grant it. She recalls a leader who would regularly say, “Let’s take a 10-minute break.”
  • Listen to the silence: If you’re not a regular practitioner of meditation or yoga, the silence may seem uncomfortable. Allow yourself to be still and embrace it. Write down the thoughts that come to you.

Control your calendar. She says schedules increasingly resemble a game of Tetris, with everyone double or triple-booked. She believes most organizations can cut 50 per cent of their meetings. And for the remaining meetings, half the people attending can be sliced. So by being thoughtfully ruthless on meetings, you can reduce the number people attending by 75 per cent.

To protect your energy, she recommends divorcing your friends and network if they aren’t inspiring or energizing you. Teenagers cut off friends they tire of and replace them. But as we age, we retain and add, and that just drains energy. “If you don’t want to spend time with people, don’t,” she advises.

The biggest challenge with resources is to build for the future. Imagine what your organization will need from your team two to five years from now. Do the people on hand have those skills? If not, you must be thoughtfully ruthless with them and in choosing newcomers. It’s never good to have a team where everyone is handling the biggest job of their lives. You want some who have done this before.

Be thoughtfully ruthless with your time, energy and resources. It will pay off.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

The Case for Experience and Stability in Building a Management Team

Mike Smith has been a GM with two NHL teams and with Team USA. He is well known as one of the cerebral people in the game, having studied the game at different levels and written books on various hockey topics. Now one of his projects is a blog on His post on November 23/08 deals with building a management team and he uses the Detroit Red Wings as his elite example. As an assistant coach for the Red Wings for three seasons, I saw first hand of which he speaks. Here is an excerpt…

The point is, in my opinion, nothing replaces experience when you’re a GM. The same holds true for the management staff. Every season has a similar yet different rhythm to it. When things are bleak and look even darker going forward, the vultures tend to come out. Listening to them can be deadly. Experience tells you: “Don’t listen.”

The organization that epitomizes experience at the upper management level is Detroit. The Red Wings have clearly been the dominant franchise over the last 20 years. Four Stanley Cups, in ‘97, ‘98, ‘02 and ’08, and 18-straight playoff years reflect their success.

Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the Red Wings in June of 1982. Not only have they built a franchise that looked for and kept experienced people, they have also placed emphasis on stability. The NHL, like other major leagues, all too often makes changes prematurely, often in a panic.

Let’s look at the Red Wings’ combination of experience and stability:

  • Jim Devellano was the first GM hired by the Ilitch family in 1982. Twenty-seven years later, he’s still there. This is his 42nd year in the NHL. He played a major role in the construction of the New York Islanders dynasty in the 1970s and early ‘80s.
  • Ken Holland is starting his 12th season as GM and his 26th in the organization. A former American League goaltender, he began his post-playing career as an amateur scout, progressed to director of scouting, then assistant GM and, in 1998, GM.
  • Jim Nill is entering his 11th season as assistant GM and 15th with the Red Wings. He has a background both as an amateur and pro scout and also served as GM of Team Canada at the 2004 world championships.
  • Steve Yzerman, beginning his third season as vice-president. This is his 26th year with the club. He has twice served as GM of Team Canada at the world championships.
  • Scotty Bowman, though now with the Chicago Blackhawks, joined the Red Wings in 1993 as coach. His NHL coaching career began in 1967 with the St. Louis Blues and he’s won 12 Stanley Cups in his career. He stayed on as a consultant with the Wings following his retirement from coaching in 2002.

The critical fact is all of these men had jobs in which they had to make crucial decisions.

Being a coach, a director of scouting or a GM of a national team requires decision-making. Mistakes are made. But to grow, you need to learn from the mistakes. Nothing will happen during the season this management group has not seen before. Their years of experience have brought them sound judgment.

Not all ownerships follow the Detroit path. I like the Detroit model, but the new ownerships in Tampa Bay and Vancouver have looked to player agents – Brian Lawton and Mike Gillis – to be their hockey leaders. Both have limited, if any, team management experience. This is not to say they will not be successful. After all, it is hard to criticize the job Pierre Lacroix – a former agent – did with the Colorado Avalanche.

Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets and associate GM with the Maple Leafs. He also served as GM for Team USA More from Mike Smith