Pizza & Leadership: 4 Lessons - InformationWeek
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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
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5/30/2014
10:25 AM
David Wagner
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Pizza & Leadership: 4 Lessons

If you want to be a good leader, treat your team members in a way that makes them want to buy you a pizza. Allow us to explain.

the reason certain work needs to get done by a certain time. For example, "We need to get this done by the end of this week, or a factory will sit idle and people will get laid off," is a much more effective message than telling employees, "We have to get this in next week, because the project is three weeks behind schedule."

2. Show gratitude.
The study showed that of 19 types of politeness measured (such as saying "please," greeting people, deference to social standing, and apologies), only one showed a statistical impact on success rates: gratitude. Too many leaders don't bother saying thank you and mistake the paycheck for thanks enough. A little gratitude goes a long way toward making employees feel valued.

3. Be positive.
Not surprisingly, posts on a site where people ask for food tend to be negative and sad. Surprisingly, the Stanford study found that the posts that conveyed optimism and a positive attitude were more successful in getting a pizza than the downers. Sometimes, less "needy" individuals (like those asking for pizza for a birthday party, for example) had better results than those expressing great need. When it's time to rally your troops around a project or work event that you know they aren't going to like, try emphasizing the good news instead of the bad.

4. Be one of the gang.
The Stanford study showed that members of the Reddit community were more likely to help those who they thought were like them in some way. It's easy for leaders, especially those high up the ladder, to assume a persona that lifts them above the group. If you do that, be prepared to have it backfire at key moments of need unless you can also cultivate some aspect of "sameness." It works even better if you are actually able to relate to your employees. Even if you can't, do your best to cultivate a personality your team can relate to.

It should be easier for a leader to inspire a team than it is for people to get perfect strangers to buy them pizzas. You have the advantage of personal contact, a built-in understanding of why a team member might need to deliver at a given moment, and significantly more access to what makes them likely to get involved. But you also have the handicap that your behavior is monitored 40 hours (or more) a week by your team. If you want to be a good leader, you might want to consider treating your team members as if you always want them to buy you a pizza. Maybe they will. If they don't, at least they'll be more likely to work hard for you.

What inspires you at work? Which leadership traits have you found to be least effective in your IT organization? Tell us all about them in the comments section below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
6/3/2014 | 7:07:13 AM
Re: Free Pizza
I haven't taken them up on the offer yet because they haven't had a seminar that I was interested in but the first one that comes up that sounds interesting to me I'm going to give it a try.  It does make me wonder how many people are out there doing this though since there seems to be some solid experiences with food and meetings.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
6/2/2014 | 9:51:06 PM
Re: "thank you"
@snunyc It's been my experience that this is a more common struggle for female managers. I think the most common reason this is the case is because there are fewer women managers, period. In other words, when something's not really unique, there's no associated pressure to be a good representation of a new trend; you can just take on the style that you believe works for you and your organization and that's that.

One of the things I've observed is that you can have a male manager that can be a nightmare to work for, but he's not likely to get labeled as much as a famele manager who people may not like. When a male is like that, it's just sort of taken as a given that a certain percentage are that way. But when women are like that, it's seen as a problem they need to remedy.

The other basic reason this is a struggle is we in America tack on all these extra things to workers and managers besides their performance. If you got rid of most of it and just looked at whether a person or manager was good at their job and if they could get along with the necessary people, then life would be much simpler. And, in reality, those are the things that should really matter.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:33:40 PM
Re: "thank you"
@Pedro: Good for you, you are lucky. Now, I am too. I've long since left that organization and walked away with important lessons about human behavior that I would have rather not had but I am probably better off for knowing them. 

What also troubles me is how some employers seem to feel that they can take advantage of difficult economic times - when the job market is weak - to treat their employees poorly, knowing they have few options to walk away. These same employers will tend to treat people well only when there are too many jobs and too few people to fill them.

This to me, is the most egregious behavior of all. Because it has nothing to do with inherent humanity and everything to do with the bottom line. 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:27:40 PM
Re: Show evidence of need
@moarsauce123: entirely relate to the frustration you're experiencing. In some organiations, it seems, only a select few are "allowed" to have ideas, and the rest are considered as simply meant to do the work that the "idea people" tell them to do. This is an unfortuante reality in many organizations. In fact, a good friend of mine just quit her dev job of 8 years for this very reason, after a while it becomes too much of a fight.

I recommend buying your bosses pizza and then calling a meeting in which you get to tell them all your ideas while their mouths are full of pizza, so they can't interrupt or shoot down your ideas.

;)
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:23:48 PM
Re: Free Pizza
@Lorna, @SaneIT: This is genius marketing and with the availability in certain cities of services such as SpoonRocket, pretty soon we won't be limited to just pizza. Although, of course, pizza is a can't-miss favorite, second only to coffee IMHO.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:22:08 PM
Re: "thank you"
@Alison: yes, if a suitcase full of cash is not an option, a heartfelt Thank You is always my second choice.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:19:17 PM
Re: Pizza & Leadership
@Zerox203: Well said indded: Maybe ultimately, the real lesson is that you ought to try and learn from everything that you do, and be mindful of where else in life you can apply those benefits to maximize your time here on earth.

And, yes, pizza can be a VERY profound thing..

Dave's post, and your comment here, were like lightbulbs going off in my head, and you've made obvious what I hadn't before considered, which is how fundamentally most of us really do want to support one another. 

What I wonder, then, is what happens to leaders in particular, but really to so many in the workplace, where the innate human qualities of altruism and empathy get so far removed from how people behave at work.

Is this evidence of yet another evolutionary trait of establishing dominance over turf, as wolves and the big cats would do, for example? Why doesn't the desire to good in business outweigh the compulision to push others out of the way?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 8:13:11 PM
Re: When the Moon Hits Your Eye
@Lufu: this is even more true for me now that I'm gluten-free. 

I've been thinking alot about what Dave talks about here, though, as far as how many leaders I've worked for that I would sincerely want to buy a pizza for. Fortunately, at the moment I'd buy pizza every week for my leaders, but it hasn't always been like that. 

It also makes me wonder if I've been the kind of leader in my management posititions that would inspire my people to want to buy me pizza...

(don't worry, Dave, Curt & Sara--you don't have to answer that.)
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/2/2014 | 6:15:38 PM
When the Moon Hits Your Eye
While I enjoy a good pie as much as the other person, what I always found more rewarding and encouraging was a sincere "Thank you" or getting "Credit where credit is due" from either my boss or my co-workers.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/2/2014 | 4:14:07 PM
Re: Pizza & Leadership
Basically, what we can glean from this is really not all that surprising. If you keep looking at social research like this, you'll run up against a common theme pretty often; most human interactions are related. Just like with wolves and their baring of teeth, we're prone to a small set of reactions that we use for a variety of situations. Maybe you wouldn't think that a manager ought to seek altruism from his team members, but the truth is that 'charity' comes from a sense of community. I've read that our desire to help other people is the same desire that drives primate family groups - the idea is that, someone else's family being healthy is almost as important to your children's future as your family being healthy. In that sense, it makes perfect sense that managers ought to try and drum up a healthy environment of charity and community in the workplace!

Funny how you can always draw parallels from two seemingly unrelated things - and sometimes they can even help you see things you couldn't otherwise. Curt (Franklin) wrote on article last year on EnterpriseEfficiency about applying lessons from woodworking to IT, and the results there were just as useful as the ones you have here, Dave. Maybe ultimately, the real lesson is that you ought to try and learn from everything that you do, and be mindful of where else in life you can apply those benefits to maximize your time here on earth. Maybe that's a little melodramatic of a lesson to get out of pizza, but then again, I think we all know that pizza can be a very profound thing.




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