Blog article

Work is something you achieve, not somewhere you go

When you hear the word work, what comes to mind? Is it an office or another type of work site? For many people, that’s the case. They equate the concept of work with being at a physical location.

Working with businesses on issues involving gender equality, flexibility, work–life balance or integration, and other best practices, I often find that many managers, sometimes subconsciously, still think of work as a place someone goes to. They’re aware it’s possible to get work tasks done remotely. But many are distrustful of telework. They believe they can only be sure their team members are working when they’re in the office.

Both halves of this assumption are wrong. People are often even more productive when working from home. And being in the office does not guarantee productivity. It’s perfectly possible to be at your desk in the office, staring at your computer, and

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When the CEO gets divorced, who else pays the price?

During the COVID-19 lockdown, married couples have unexpectedly found themselves becoming office mates. Working from home has its charms, but conducting too many Zoom meetings in spare bedrooms can test the work–life balance of any couple. The inevitable interpersonal tension has caused attorneys to predict a surge in divorce cases; media reports in China already point to spikes in the divorce rate in the regions hit hardest by the virus.

It stands to reason that CEOs will not be immune from the uptick in divorce proceedings: Given their overarching responsibility for corporate strategy, CEOs face even more pressure than usual in times of crisis or uncertainty. And that should be cause for concern to shareholders and boards of directors, according to a new study (written before the coronavirus outbreak). That’s because after CEOs get divorced, the author finds, they curb their business ambition — but at the same time, they

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Creating the right kind of urgency to bring about change

Illustration by Peter Stark

When disruption strikes a business, it is natural for its leaders to try to defend it by focusing on core business activities and improving current products and practices, even while creating a sense of urgency to bring about change. In a survey of 486 global CEOs PwC undertook in 2019, a significant majority said this was a good response to disruptive new entrants.

On the face of it, this reaction appears to be a no-brainer. And there are numerous examples of companies whose defense succeeded. Take Sky, a European media and entertainment company that responded to disruption by digitizing its existing processes and at the same time developing new digital products for its customers — all of which aimed to improve Sky’s core business. Similarly, Walmart invested heavily in robotics to improve the efficiency of its retailing operations while also leveraging its 4,789 physical stores in

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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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