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The Most Important Questions for Leaders

Leading others well can be a great challenge. It requires courage, judgment, wisdom, emotional intelligence, integrity, and much more. Leadership excellence comes with experience, but it begins with intentionality and commitment. Here are the most important (four) questions to help ground your leadership in a powerful foundation, whether you are a new leader learning the ropes or a seasoned leader looking to upgrade or renew.  1. Why are you leading?  Is it for prestige? The title? Money? Power? Perquisites? Is it to prove something, or impress others? In truth, several of these may be drivers for you, but the key issue

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The Problem of Bad Leaders – and Why People Keep Following Them

With a pandemic and all of its attendant human suffering, with economic devastation and so much loss of livelihood and dignity, with painful but overdue and much-needed conversations about structural and systematic racial injustice and inequity, and with so much division, disdain, and distrust, we need good leadership more than ever. Not because it is a cure-all, but because it is a prerequisite for stemming the crises, healing the wounds, and getting us moving in the right direction. Not just leadership at one level, but leadership at all levels of society and organizations. Not top-down, but leadership all around. Yet

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CHRO – Become Your Organization’s Chief Culture Officer

Today’s Human Resources (HR) leader has a wonderful opportunity to make an important strategic contribution: Become your organization’s Chief Culture Officer. If your CEO already acts as the Chief Culture Officer, great. Then you can be his or her Chief Culture Execution Officer. But most CHROs aren’t that fortunate, and you may need some ammunition to persuade the CEO that focusing on building culture can be a source of competitive advantage: Researchers have found a “strong relationship between constructive organizational cultures and financial performance.” (Source: Eric Sanders and Robert Cooke, “Financial Returns from Organizational Culture Improvement: Translating ‘Soft’ Changes into

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Leading from Below

In our work with leaders across sectors and industries, we often get asked about how people can “lead from below”: how they can exert influence on the organization and its culture even when they do not have much (or any) formal authority, or when they work in middle management, or when they work for a bad or mediocre manager, or for a company with a toxic culture. The short answer: you can do much more than you think. Ronald Heifetz from Harvard has noted that, since we tend to conflate leadership and authority, even the idea of leading without authority can

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Personal Resilience and Self-Care in Hard Times

In times of great upheaval and uncertainty, we struggle to find ways to thrive despite the challenges. Much of this comes down to self-talk, self-regulation, and self-leadership—navigating our reactions to external events and ensuring that our inner voice does not undermine us amidst the difficulties. How are we doing with self-care and personal resilience? The toll of the pandemic is massive, from disease, suffering, death, and mourning to unemployment, financial stress, disruptions, and restrictions. The effects on our quality of life and inner state can be more profound than we realize. Stress, pressure, and fear—for ourselves and our loved ones—exact

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Sustainable Leadership on the 50th Earth Day

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a day on which we honor our planet and recognize the importance of environmental stewardship and our mind-boggling interconnectedness. Since 1970, the world population doubled, from 3.7 billion people to 7.6 billion today. We have made great progress on some fronts, but not nearly enough. In our triple crown leadership model, there are three mains aims: excellent, ethical, and enduring. We define the latter one, enduring, as “standing the test of time and operating sustainably.” Sustainability can be defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to

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What This Pandemic Teaches Us About Business and Society

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew.” –Abraham Lincoln As an insidious virus spreads around the world, we are wise to stop and ask: what can it teach us? Much, I think. One question I am drawn to lately is this: what does the pandemic teach us about the role of business in society? “This moment is the curriculum.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn   Shareholder Primacy? First, some context. For half a

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Five Words that Changed Me as a Parent

There I was, a new father, my wife and I blessed with a beautiful young daughter, before our second daughter came along. I had been awed at her birth, feeling the world move. Growing up, I had always hoped to have a family and be a father. I knew it would be a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of someone’s care. I knew it conceptually and thought I understood it but really had no idea whatsoever—no clue—until I became a father and experienced how magical, and sometimes how trying, it could be. I recall one day home alone with

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Leading in a Crisis

Today, we are all being tested greatly, and so it is with our leaders. Individuals, organizations, and systems are all under strain, with some facing overload. Here are several keys to crisis leadership.   Radical Focus When you are in a crisis, your immediate priority is survival. Crises require take fierce discipline in personal and organizational time management. Leaders should expect to use more “steel” (hard-edged leadership) than “velvet” (soft-edged) at the outset. In a crisis, leaders must mercilessly cast aside all manner of ideas and projects—some with real merit—to ensure a tight focus on one or two key priorities

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Avoiding Breakdowns

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” -Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms In leadership circles, too often the focus is on success principles for effective leading. That is all well and good, but often it can be more helpful to tackle things from the other perspective: what causes leadership to break down (and what can we do to avoid breakdowns)? First, there is a connection between personal breakdowns among leaders and the breakdowns of their organizations. Here we reflect on both. Personal Breakdowns “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”

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The Perils of ‘Climbing Mode’ in Our Career

In our culture today, it is easy to assume that the proper frame for going about our working life is to pursue “climbing mode” as early and aggressively as possible. When I say “climbing mode,” I mean striving to move up the ladder of success, focusing on achievement and advancement. For many, this notion is so ensconced in our culture that it is invisible, unconscious, and wholly taken for granted. But is it right? Is it helpful or harmful when it comes to living a good life and crafting good work? The assumption of course is that it is right and helpful.

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Man reflecting in front of water

Ten Keys to Self-Leadership

We face a barrage of challenges these days: rapid change, a barrage of demands on our attention, tension between work and home, and more. There’s one meta-skill that shapes how we respond to all these challenges: self-leadership.  Without it, we cannot sustain ourselves for long. Leading self may be obvious, but it’s far from easy. We neglect it at our peril. The task of leading self is the task of a lifetime. Here are ten keys to self-leadership:   1. Healthy Habits.  When we are leading self well, we develop an energizing rhythm of self-care. It includes the “fundamentals” that

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