Power Can Corrupt Leaders. Compassion Can Save Them

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Andrew Nguyen/HBR Staff

In 2016 John Stumpf, then the CEO of Wells Fargo, was called before Congress to explain a massive scandal. For more than four hours, Stumpf fielded a range of questions about why the bank, which had over $1.8 trillion in assets, had created 2 million false accounts, and, after the fraud was discovered, fired 5,300 employees as a way of redirecting the blame. The recordings of the hearing are a shocking but illustrative case study of how leaders are at risk of being corrupted by power.

Stumpf’s appearance before Congress shows a man who had made it to the top of one of the world’s most valuable banks — and who seems to show an utter lack of ability to have compassion for other people. Even though his actions caused 5,300 people to lose their jobs, he seemed incapable of acknowledging their pain. Yes, he apologized, but he

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Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?

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In our assessments, surveys, and interviews of over a thousand leaders, many comments stood out, but one in particular was especially powerful and thought-provoking. “Leadership today,” Javier Pladevall, CEO of Audi Volkswagen, Spain, told us, “is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”

What Javier means is, the power of leadership lies in our abilities to form personal and meaningful bonds with the people whom we lead. This is truer now than ever, as millennials are becoming the majority population in most companies. Millennials are not satisfied with only a paycheck, bonus, and benefits. They want meaning, happiness, and connectedness, too.

The problem is about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found

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Self-Awareness Can Help Leaders More Than an MBA Can

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Vincent Siciliano, CEO of California-based New Resource Bank, was brought in to turn things around and restore the bank’s founding mission, which is to “serve values-driven businesses and nonprofits that are building a more sustainable world.” Within a few years, Vince had the bank back on track, but not everything was going as well as it seemed.

After the successful transition, the leadership team decided to take the pulse of the organization, and discovered low levels of engagement and displeasure with senior leaders. Vince was surprised, but he assumed the discord was left over from the many changes the organization had gone through, so he chose not to take action — time would heal all.

A year later, the bank sent out another employee survey. This time, the results were more specific: Morale was a significant issue, and the majority of people, including members of the senior

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Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help

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In today’s always-on, information-overloaded world, it can be hard to stay focused throughout the day. How often do you find yourself distracted by inner chatter during meetings? Or how often do you find that emails are pulling you away from more important work?

We’ve surveyed and assessed more than 35,000 leaders from thousands of companies across more than 100 countries, and found that 73% of leaders feel distracted from their current task either “some” or “most” of the time.

We also found that 67% of leaders describe their minds as cluttered, which means they have a lot of thoughts and a lack of clear priorities. As a result, 65% of respondents fail to complete their tasks. The biggest sources of distraction are: demands of other people (26%); competing priorities (25%); general distractions (13%); and too big of a workload (12%). Not surprisingly, 96% of leaders we surveyed said

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If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present

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Some years ago, we worked with a director of a multinational pharma company who’d been receiving poor grades for engagement and leadership effectiveness. Although he tried to change, nothing seemed to work. As his frustration grew, he started tracking the time he spent with each of his direct reports — and every time he received bad feedback, he pulled out his data and exclaimed, ”But look how much time I spend with everyone!”

Things improved when he began a daily 10-minute mindfulness practice. After a couple of months, people found him more engaging, nicer to work with, and more inspiring. He was surprised and elated by the results. The real surprise? When he pulled out his time-tracking spreadsheet, he saw that he was spending, on average, 21% less time with his people.

The difference? He was actually there.

He came to understand that, even though he was in the same

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Spending 10 Minutes a Day on Mindfulness Subtly Changes the Way You React to Everything

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Leaders across the globe feel that the unprecedented busyness of modern-day leadership makes them more reactive and less proactive. There is a solution to this hardwired, reactionary leadership approach: mindfulness. Having trained thousands of leaders in the techniques of this ancient practice, we’ve seen over and over again that a diligent approach to mindfulness can help people create a one-second mental space between an event or stimulus and their response to it. One second may not sound like a lot, but it can be the difference between making a rushed decision that leads to failure and reaching a thoughtful conclusion that leads to increased performance. It’s the difference between acting out of anger and applying due patience. It’s a one-second lead over your mind, your emotions, your world. Research has found that mindfulness training alters our brains and how we engage with ourselves, others, and our work. When practiced and applied, mindfulness fundamentally alters the
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How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day

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You probably know the feeling all too well: You arrive at the office with a clear plan for the day and then, in what feels like just a moment, you find yourself on your way back home. Nine or 10 hours have passed but you’ve accomplished only a few of your priorities. And, most likely, you can’t even remember exactly what you did all day. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Research shows that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot. Add to this that we have entered what many people are calling the “attention economy.” In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills. And because leaders need to absorb and synthesize a growing
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