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The New York Times had an interview over the weekend with Nell Minow, co-founder of the Corporate Library, a provider of corporate governance research, in which she discussed the art and science of managing people. Some relevant excerpts:

• “One thing that helped move my thinking forward was that I noticed in my first job that there was something very definitional in who was included in somebody’s ‘we’ and who was included in somebody’s ‘them.’ I found generally that the more expansive the assumptions were within somebody’s idea of who is ‘we’ - the larger the group that you had included in that ‘we’ - the better off everybody was. I started to really do my best to make sure that my notion of ‘we’ was very expansive and to promote that idea among other people.”

• “You’re constantly trying, whether you’re raising children or dealing with employees, to get them to take responsibility for their own issues. I’m not saying that in a maternalistic way, just in a way of trying to get people to take responsibility for themselves, to do the best that they can and to learn as much as they can. In both cases, you’re trying to make people more independent and bring them along.”

• One common thread among poor-performing companies, Minow suggested, is that “all of them had C.E.O.’s who took an enormous number of steps to make sure that no one would ever question them or second-guess them. At one of the companies we were involved in, we talked to a number of employees who all used the exact same phrase — that if you disagree with the boss, you get fired on the spot.”

• On what she looks for when hiring people, Minow says, “I really look for a kind of a passionate curiosity. I think that is indispensable, no matter what the job is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more … Another thing that’s important to me in hiring somebody is the ability to become very fully engaged with the company, and that is a real challenge when you get past a certain number of people. The fourth person you hire is just a different kind of person than the 25th person you hire … And this is where it starts sounding like I’m looking for someone to date, but I also look for a sense of humor, because that’s really the best indicator of some kind of perspective about the world. And ultimately I won’t hire anybody who can’t write … It’s just tremendously important, their precision, their vocabulary, their sense of appropriateness of communication.”

• On time management: “Well, it helps that I’m A.D.D. I think there are a lot of qualities that are not conducive to doing well in school but are conducive to doing well in management. And so I’m very impatient and that kind of propels me and prevents me from getting too caught up in one thing or another.

“I like to have a lot of different things happening at once. I like having a life that has a lot of contrast, and I find that alternating right brain and left brain is tremendously energizing, and that if I try to do one thing too much that I start getting bogged down. So that way, what really is important rises to the top.

“I also delegate as much as I can and I jettison as much as I can. I try to ask myself, do I need to do this? Is this something that is really going to help?”
KC's View:
Smart thinking about smart management.