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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When Every Leader Promises to Change the World, How Can We Tell Who Will Leave Us Better Off?

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Some bosses are all Id. A bundle of impulses in a suit — if they can keep the suit on — whose only predictable trait is their irrationality. We use all kinds of names for managers like that: Nutter. Ticking bomb. Predator. Moron.

We resent them. We denounce them. But we also follow, and even admire them. Or enough of us do that they manage to rise to, and stay in, power.

Those leaders are not just controversial. They are fundamentally anti-social. They hurt people, often impulsively, and then call it “authenticity.” They claim to have to shake things up to put an end to dysfunctional institutions, and lead the way to a better future. But in the name of authenticity and disruption, what they end up perpetrating is cultural assassination: they corrode norms of decency, trust, and cooperation in ways that are hard to repair

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The Avoidable Mistakes Executives Continue to Make After a Data Breach

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The past few years have taught us that companies will be breached and consumer data will be stolen. Last year was a record year for data breaches, and 2017, so far, has seen its fair share of high-profile cyberattacks. Still, top executives continue to stumble in the way they respond to an attack, magnifying and extending the damage both to their reputation and their customers.

In analyzing the top breaches over the past few years, it is clear that executives make a set of common mistakes, which is surprising given that so many companies, often led by otherwise effective leaders, fail to learn from the botched responses and mishandled situations of the companies that were breached before them.

Here are the missteps executives make time and again, and advice for avoiding these pitfalls:

Foot dragging

The longer companies wait to notify their customers, the greater the

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Can You Be a Great Leader Without Technical Expertise?

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There is a broad assumption in society and in education that the skills you need to be a leader are more or less transferable. If you can inspire and motivate people in one arena, you should be able to apply those skills to do the same in another venue.

But recent research is rightly challenging this notion. Studies suggest that the best leaders know a lot about the domain in which they are leading, and part of what makes them successful in a management role is technical competence. For example, hospitals managed by doctors perform better than those managed by people with other backgrounds. And there are many examples of people who ran one company effectively and had trouble transferring their skills to the new organization.

Over the last year, I’ve been working with a group at the University of Texas thinking about what leadership education would

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How Coca-Cola, Netflix, and Amazon Learn from Failure

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Why, all of a sudden, are so many successful business leaders urging their companies and colleagues to make more mistakes and embrace more failures?

In May, right after he became CEO of Coca-Cola Co., James Quincey called upon rank-and-file managers to get beyond the fear of failure that had dogged the company since the “New Coke” fiasco of so many years ago. “If we’re not making mistakes,” he insisted, “we’re not trying hard enough.”

In June, even as his company was enjoying unparalleled success with its subscribers, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worried that his fabulously valuable streaming service had too many hit shows and was canceling too few new shows. “Our hit ratio is too high right now,” he told a technology conference. “We have to take more risk…to try more crazy things…we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”

Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos,

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We Interviewed 57 Female CEOs to Find Out How More Women Can Get to the Top

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Only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs, and while there is incremental progress — there are 32 female CEOs this year, the highest percentage ever, compared with only 21 last year — the rate of change can feel excruciatingly slow.

But what if there were a way to make breakthrough progress by applying research-based tools and strategies to boost these numbers faster? With that objective in mind — and as part of their 100×25 initiative, which is pushing for female CEOs to lead 100 of the Fortune 500 by 2025 — the Rockefeller Foundation provided a grant for Korn Ferry to design and execute a research project geared to developing action-oriented initiatives to create a sustainable pipeline of female CEOs.

We secured the participation of 57 female CEOs — 41 from Fortune 1000 companies and 16 from large privately held companies. We then conducted a series of in-depth individual interviews, delving into

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The Common Traps of Working in Your Family’s Business

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“What’s wrong — is the company going bankrupt? Are we being sold?”

For Charlie, who had joined his family’s bakery business two years after getting his MBA and earning his stripes at another company, this question from the plant manager came out of the blue.

He was eager to earn his colleagues’ respect, rather than relying on his family name to provide it. So he went to great lengths to be just “one of the gang” in every possible way. This included parking in the back of the building and walking through the production plant, rather than zipping into the reserved space he’d been provided near the executive offices in the front. Most days he would stop and chat on his walk through the factory, getting to know his colleagues and learning more about the operations. But one day, after his morning walkthrough, the plant manager

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Astronaut Scott Kelly on Working in Space

Scott Kelly, a retired U.S. astronaut, spent 520 days in space over four missions. Working in outer space is a lot like working on earth, but with different challenges and in closer quarters. Kelly looks back on his 20 years of working for NASA, including being the commander of the International Space Station during his final, yearlong mission. He talks about the kind of cross-cultural collaboration and decision making he honed on the ISS, offering advice that leaders can use in space and on earth. His memoir is Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery.

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Giving Doctors What They Need to Avoid Burnout

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Across the health care industry, there’s a growing sense that pushing doctors ever harder to achieve productivity, quality, and service goals is backfiring. Doctors are working harder than ever and spending more of their time documenting clinical metrics and measuring patient satisfaction. One consequence of this growing burden, studies show, is that more physicians are considering leaving their jobs or complaining of depression, exhaustion, and detachment that can jeopardize patient care.

But we believe the implied solution — to combat burnout, you have to relax performance standards — is false. Great health care leaders can design staffing models and workflows that give doctors the support they need to meet performance goals while also creating sustainable, rewarding jobs.

A survey we recently administered to over 1,000 physicians, along with performance data from athenahealth’s network of medical and revenue cycle records, offers useful guidance. At its core is the notion

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Leaders Aren’t Great at Judging How Inclusive They Are

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Many organizations today are making concerted efforts to become not only more demographically diverse but also more inclusive and welcoming of difference. The latter is much harder to measure than the former. It’s not that hard to count the percentage of women or people of color in your organization, but how can you tell if leaders in your organization are genuinely welcoming? Do leaders know if they are as welcoming as they think they are?

To explore this question, we analyzed one large organization with an excellent track record of hiring and promoting diverse candidates and a reputation for inclusion. This organization had hired us to administer 360-degree feedback assessments for roughly 4,000 leaders, and agreed to let us use that data for this analysis.

Leaders Aren’t Great Judges of Their Own Inclusiveness

We focused on two items that have stood out to us in over 10

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Scott Dorsey’s Attributes of Great SaaS Leaders

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta for Techstars Atlanta Demo Day and the Venture Atlanta Conference. I had a great time and it’s fun to see the vibrancy of the Atlanta startup community. My brother Daniel came with me and we had dinner with our cousin Kenny, who lives in Atlanta, so we got some nice, quiet, emotionally intimate family time.

My favorite keynote at Venture Atlanta was from Scott Dorsey. While our paths have intersected for more than a decade and I knew him from a distance, I’ve gotten to know Scott pretty well over the past year. I put him in the awesome category.

If you don’t know Scott, he was the co-founder and CEO of ExactTarget (2000) – one of the original SaaS companies. ExactTarget went public in 2012 and was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2013 for $2.5 billion and became the core of the

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2017’s Top-Performing CEO on Getting Product Right

Pablo Isla, the CEO of Inditex, is No. 1 on Harvard Business Review’s “The Best-Performing CEOs in the World 2017.” He opens up about his management style and reflects on his tenure leading the Spanish clothing and accessories giant, whose brands include Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Pull&Bear. Successful fast fashion takes much more than speed, he says. Isla discusses aspects of the company’s business model: source close to headquarters, entrust store managers with product orders, and treat what’s sold in stores and online as one stock. He also forecasts the future of physical stores.

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Leading Innovation Is the Art of Creating “Collective Genius” – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM HBS EXECUTIVE EDUCATION


As Harvard Business School Professor Linda A. Hill began to dig into the scholarship around leadership and innovation, she soon realized there was a lot of research on both.

What she didn’t find, however, was work linking the two. Specifically, what is the role of the leader in creating and sustaining an innovative organization? A new book written with three coauthors attempts to answer the question of why some companies, such as Pixar, are able to invent continuously, while others aren’t.

The book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, was written by Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration, with Greg Brandeau, former CTO of The Walt Disney Studios and current COO/president of Media Maker; Emily Truelove, a PhD candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management; and

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Everyday People Who Led Momentous Change

Nancy Koehn, a Harvard Business School historian, tells the life stories of three influential leaders: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the ecologist Rachel Carson. They all overcame personal challenges to achieve and inspire social change. In Koehn’s new book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, she argues that tomorrow’s leaders of social change will come from the business world.

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Lots of Men Are Gender-Equality Allies in Private. Why Not in Public?

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In the last week, film producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment — which many have described as an open secret in Hollywood — have exploded onto the pages of the New York Times. The New Yorker documents even more disturbing accusations of rape and assault. It’s now clear that many men and women in Weinstein’s company and in the film industry knew about these alleged crimes but remained silent, allowing it to continue.

How does something like this happen? It happens for some of the same reasons that equal pay, parental leave, and equitable hiring and promotion have stalled in many companies: Women lack genuine male allies in the workplace.

Real male allies tend to have three things in common as agents of organizational change. Debra Meyerson and Megan Tompkins’s research, using the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program at the University of Michigan, finds that allies need three

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

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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