Blog article

Four questions for a rapid leadership reset

The existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This insight raises a profound paradox — and challenge — for those who lead. Focusing on the constant demands of the present moment and the future can keep you from fully learning from what you’ve done in the past. An inability to reflect wastes experience, leaving its value only partially harvested.

As I write, there have been more than 11.4 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, causing more than 534,000 deaths. Unlike most crises that arise and fade away quickly, COVID-19 is persisting and is expected to resurge later in the year. And many experts think the second wave could be more severe than the first. It’s important for leaders to take the time now to contemplate what has and hasn’t worked during this first series of outbreaks in order to lessen the

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Fit-for-context leadership

Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity

by Amit S. Mukherjee, MIT Press, 2020

From Herodotus and Machiavelli to Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, most leadership writers have followed the same basic approach: They study successful leaders and try to derive practices from their lives and careers that aspiring leaders can adopt. Amit Mukherjee, a professor of leadership and strategy at Hult International Business School, rejects this approach in his intriguing new book, Leading in the Digital World.

In a variation on the theme of contextual leadership championed by Harvard Business School’s Anthony Mayo and Nitin Nohria, Mukherjee contends that the practices of business leaders must evolve with and from the technological context of their times. “Periodically, technologies appear that have long arcs of impact into the future,” he writes. “When introduced, they require dramatic changes in the nature of work, which, in

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A dramatic example of adopting best practices

Why do Japanese family businesses manage to survive for so long? One reason may be that, when they lack a suitable hereditary successor, Japanese families will adopt a promising young adult to groom for the role. Almost always men, these outsiders marry into the family and even take the family name. Suzuki Motor’s leadership is a famous example of this tradition, with the company having been run by four generations of adopted sons.

Adoption of this kind — known as mukoyoshi — is virtually unknown in Western business. But it was well established at Undershaft and Lazarus, the explosive fictional enterprise at the heart of George Bernard Shaw’s bracingly funny play Major Barbara. For business leaders, the play is dynamite.

Why should we concern themselves with this long-ago stage comedy? Because there has never been a more important play about business, and many of its central concerns remain contentious

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The importance of peer feedback in the digital workplace

In the first two quarters of 2020, much of the global workforce was suddenly, if reluctantly, thrust into a dependence on virtual work. Employees at all levels learned to hold videoconferences for everything from sales prospecting to exit interviews. For many, the technology was as new as their workspaces: kitchen tables and makeshift desks in bedrooms. Employers are still working out how to monitor and assess how this sudden shift is affecting employee performance and how to evaluate what these workers are doing.

The assessment approach known as 360-degree feedback can help. It’s a peer-review system that includes data on how others think an employee is performing, as well as how that employee views his or her own work. It can be done virtually, but its roots are in face-to-face interaction. Although the term originated in the 1950s, there was a surge in the use of this kind of

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Why now is the perfect time for a corporate book club

When countries began shutting down in response to the growing pandemic this spring, many employees found themselves working from home. That can be freeing and productive for some people, but lots of others scrambled to work around housemates, pets, partners, and children; splintered teams were reunited in endless Zoom meetings, and corporate life suddenly took on a very different tone.

Which is precisely why Krissee Chasseur’s team at Zappos, the online shoe retailer, started a book club. “We were putting together ideas to keep our team digitally engaged, and a weekly virtual book club seemed like an easy fit to blend our core values of ‘pursuing growth and learning’ and ‘building a positive team and family spirit,’” she told me via email.

Their first book was Atomic Habits, by James Clear, a guide to losing bad habits and gaining good ones, followed by Man’s Search for Meaning, a

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Leaders are building new muscles to deal with the pandemic

As the pandemic has broadsided the global economy, one of its striking features — for executives, at least — is how each month of the crisis has had a distinct feel to it, based on how companies and their leaders were coping.

March was the month of reeling and reacting. What just happened? We’re shutting down the offices, and everybody who can work from home needs to do so. Can we do this? April was more about taking stock of the economic damage. We’re clearly in this for the long haul. We need to run our models, plan for grim scenarios, and take whatever drastic actions are needed to save the company.

And starting in May, across the many interviews I’ve been conducting with senior leaders, I’ve heard more optimism in their voices — a sense that their companies were settling into a new normal, and that for all the

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