How Senior Executives Stay Passionate About Their Work

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When we talk about “learning to love your job” or “managing yourself,” it’s often in the context of junior or midlevel roles. But these things don’t stop mattering for senior executives. What aspects of their jobs are most important to them? What do they find rewarding? How do they sustain their passion for the work they do — without burning out?

Over the past few years, I’ve had in-depth, one-on-one conversations with hundreds of top business leaders, and questions like these frequently come up. I’ve identified several common themes in our talks, which I’ll share here.

Impact on society. As I was doing research and analysis for my recent book, I found that one of the best ways organizations can create a sense of purpose for their employees is to help connect their day-to-day work with the impact it has in their community and globally. People at the top also need

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Why We Prefer Dominant Leaders in Uncertain Times

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We are witnessing a worldwide surge in a certain type of leader claiming the highest offices of power — leaders who are confident, controlling, and strongly hierarchical. Indian voters elected the dominant Narendra Modi into power in 2014, Britain’s Nigel Farage saw his sharply argued views endorsed during the 2016 Brexit campaign, Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S. in 2016 after repeatedly promising to be “strong,” and autocratic Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reelected this year. The question is: Why are voters choosing this type of leader now? Our research (recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) attempts to answer this by focusing on when and why such leaders ascend to leadership roles.

We drew on research from evolutionary and social psychology, which distinguishes between dominance and prestige as two alternative pathways to leadership. Leaders associated with dominance are assertive, confident, controlling, decisive, dominating,

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Case Study: When You’re Successful, Stretched Too Thin, and Indispensable

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Marion Barraud for HBR

Carla was killing off her leading man. And it felt good—but not perfect.

She drummed her fingers on the editing desk and squinted at the monitors in front of her as she scrolled through footage from the season finale of Dope, her production company’s long-running drama series about DEA agents.

“What’s wrong?” asked Melanie, who had directed the episode.

“In that last scene, we need quicker cuts between the fire at the lab and the flashbacks. And the song isn’t right. Viewers should be sad, yes, but mostly shocked. This is their hero dying—without any warning.”

Melanie

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What Spinning Off a GE Business Taught Me About Managing Ultra-Fast Change

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Change management can be a test for any organization. Several studies by Towers Watson show that just 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term. I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics are worse in my industry, financial services, where so many companies are large, global, regulated, and structurally complex. So four years ago, when I was CEO of GE Capital Retail Finance and tapped to lead a mega change initiative — splitting off our unit into a new, publicly traded company, Synchrony Financial — I’ll admit I viewed it as a huge challenge. Major organizational changes, covering everything from recruiting and branding to regulatory approvals and marketing, happened in rapid succession, with a hard deadline of 12 months to get it all done for the IPO — and 18 months from the IPO until our full separation from GE. While every CEO is forced to work
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How to Become a More Well-Rounded Leader

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For years, when I spoke with CEOs or senior leaders, it was because they were interested in how my consulting firm could help their employees become more engaged, or innovative, or sustainably high-performing. During the past year – and especially the past six months – I’ve been hearing a different and much more personal initial question: “Can you help me better manage my own life?” Consider the challenges that modern corporate leaders — and especially CEOs — now face, in addition to running their companies every day:
  • A high likelihood that the company they run has a business model that is being seriously disrupted, most often as a result of technology.
  • A far more vocal and influential group of stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the public at large, all emboldened by their access to social media and by the speed at which their opinions can go viral.
  • A highly
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How to Make Agile Work for the C-Suite

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Many companies are attempting a radical — and often rapid — shift from hierarchical structures to more agile environments, in order to operate at the speed required by today’s competitive marketplace. Companies like ANZ, the Australian-based banking giant, have made explicit commitments to adopt agile principles, while others like Zappos, are on the bleeding edge of organizational transformation. Many stopping points exist along the continuum from hierarchy to holacracy. To successfully transform to a more agile enterprise, companies must make conscious choices about where and how to become agile. They have to decide where to adopt agile principles and mindsets, where to use agile problem-solving methodologies to dynamically address strategic and organizational challenges, and where to more formally deploy the full agile model, including self-managed teams. At Bain & Company, we do not believe that companies should try to use agile methods everywhere. In many functional areas, such as
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