3 Ways senior leaders create a toxic culture (HBR)

by Ron Carucci

Whether presiding over the entire company, a function, a region, or a business unit, the people at the top of an organization have a disproportionate level of influence over those they lead. Those further down in the organization look to their leaders for cues on what’s acceptable (and what isn’t), and the team’s habits — both good and bad — will be emulated.

Some of the habits and fixes are:

Scattered priorities

It’s astounding how badly most leadership teams use their time together. They set meeting agendas haphazardly, frequently only days beforehand (if at all). Their conversations veer off topic, often into minutia. They leave unaddressed the decisions and problems needing resolution.

Effective leadership teams have clearly defined charters. They narrowly focus on the most strategic priorities and don’t detour from them. They stick to well-articulated decision-making processes. And they intentionally transfer their disciplined focus down through the organization.

Unhealthy rivalries

Competition among leadership teams isn’t unusual. After all, leaders that made the cut had to distinguish themselves among their peers to get the “big jobs.” But a team of excessively individualistic leaders vying for resources, status, influence, and, most often, their boss’s job, can fracture the organization beneath them.

Unhealthy competition erodes trust. If team members distrust the motivations and unspoken agendas of teammates, they will act with self-protection, even self-interest, to avoid risking personal failure. And when things don’t go as hoped, people point at one another in blame rather than healthy accountability.

Leadership teams must operate as a unified force. Shared goals must be accompanied by shared accountability. In the RHR study, high-performing leadership teams were five times more likely to hold members accountable for shared goals than their low-performing counterparts. Rivalry should be saved for external competition.

Unproductive Conflict

When conflict and information are mishandled among a leadership team, the rest of the organization follows suit.

Speaking negatively behind one another’s backs, withholding honest perspectives, or pocket vetoing decisions after they are made should be unacceptable. Leadership teams should have written norms that they won’t engage in these behaviors, and they should share those norms with the rest of the organization, asking others to hold them accountable.

Click here to read the full article.

How digital leaders inspire engagement (MIT Sloan Review)

by Jane McConnell

An engaged workforce positions a company’s digital initiatives for success.

Digital leaders should,

  • Clarify the role of digital transformation within the company’s strategic vision, then walk the talk. The three best practices to start with are:
    • Make it compelling and relevant. The “why” of a digital program has to be integrated into the organization’s overall vision and purpose.
    • Make it a priority.
    • Walk the talk. After clearly articulating the value of a particular program, leaders need to demonstrate the value they attribute to digital through their own behavior.
  • Share decision-making, especially with people on the edges of the organization.
    Leaders should encourage participatory decision-making. Digital initiatives cannot be defined in an executive black box. The customer-facing workforce, exposed to clients and competitors, is an often-untapped source of information and market intelligence.
  • Embed ongoing experimentation and learning in the work culture.
    Leaders should also encourage experimentation. A critical component of encouraging this experimental mindset is to break out of bureaucracy. Making processes and policies intrapreneur-friendly is a still deeper change. Traditional bureaucratic processes for getting project budgets are complicated in many companies.

Click here to read the full article.

7 traits of exceptional leaders

By: Sherrie Campbell March 23, 2017

Source: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/290967

Emotions are the universal language. The way the emotions are felt is the same in each of us. What triggers our emotion is individual, but if we can feel our own pain then we can know what it is like for another to feel their pain. Because of this projective identification, it allows us to empathize and lead others with greater awareness and increased bonding. To be an exceptional leader we must be able to place ourselves in the shoes of another, and feel what they are feeling.

1. Self-awareness

Great leaders are deeply knowledgeable about themselves and committed to their own personal development. To be great we must do the same. The most influential people on earth, those who have left the most significant impact, led from the heart. Empathy is not something we learn from a book. It is gained through suffering. From our suffering, we come to accept pain and challenge as integral parts of life, and totally necessary for great leadership. Think about it, would you want to follow a leader who had never suffered? How would this person know what to do, or how to lead us on the front lines if they’ve never been there before? To be great, we must know how to lead ourselves through our own fears in order to know how to lead others through theirs.

2. Self-control

Empathy is most easily sacrificed when we’re upset, angry or disappointed with another person. We tend to be the most hurtful and impatient in these situations. The important thing to try and practice is taking a moment to get clear before speaking.

Great leaders tell others when a conversation will need to wait until they are clear enough to communicate responsibly. There is a wisdom to knowing that conversations can be placed on hold. We cannot be reactive and empathic in tandem. In taking some time, we are able to take in the feeling experience and perception of the other in a way that makes sense, or at least arouses questions that can be asked with empathy, rather than accusation. We get a lot further in business when we have enough empathy for the other to make sure and harness our own self-control before we speak.

3. Communication

Empathy is the great healer of miscommunication. It is the emotion that moves people and situations through times of being stuck. Without empathy, solutions are forced, rather than powerful. Exceptional leaders count on empathy as a catalyst for change. It makes communication a two-way, collaborative, reflective process. It allows for vulnerability. With empathy people feel seen and important. To develop a working environment conducive to success, we must be able to meet people where they are. We must be able to understand, respect and implement another person’s point of view, rather than only our own. This type of communication introduces the concept of fairness into the success equation.

When we’re empathic we care about how other people are. Exceptional leaders ask others how they are doing, what they need, and what they feel. This increases bonding, honesty and connection. When we have a clear idea of how others feel about what they’re doing, we can better support and guide them. When others trust that we support them, they realize they’re not alone and without help. We must keep in mind that if we want others to be invested in what we’re doing, and to respond with cooperation to what we’re asking, then we must consider their ideas and also how they perceive who we are. To be great, we must use empathy to guide all aspects of our lives, allowing it to influence not only what we say, but also allowing it to influence how we say what we say, and allow it to direct the kinds of questions we need to ask. When these steps are taken, it naturally inspires the development of empathy within others.

5. Boundaries

Exceptional leaders expect to face situations where they realize the only way a person on their team can grow is to either have to withdrawal their support from that person, or to set boundaries around their support in an effort to protect their generous nature. To remain empathic, great leaders know they must protect their hearts, and put themselves first in negative situations. Through trial and error, we must also come to understand that there are people who can stay in our hearts, but not in our lives or businesses. If we are dealing with a person incapable of empathy, we must separate from them. All it takes is one toxic person to short circuit an entire team’s path to success. It is impossible to work with someone who is constantly defensive and unwilling to listen or take feedback.

6. Kindness

Great leaders, lead from the heart. They live the wisdom that it is the kindness of their spirit, how they treat, think about, and relate to others that makes all the difference when it comes to developing a cohesive team driven to succeed. When we’re kind, we naturally come from a genuine and sensitive place. Exceptional leaders are kind and use empathy to guide their every word, deed and action. When we have this, we are able to be kind, even to those we do not care for. This is not a weakness or a vulnerability. To be empathic is our greatest influence over others. There is truly no human quality that will take us further in life than kindness. We must not strive just to be successful. We must strive to be exceptional. Anyone can be successful.

7. Unselfish

Great leaders give back. They understand that they get more from giving, then from getting. When we give back, it increases our own quality of life, our perception of what we have and it reminds us to be thankful for our lives, as we witness the impact we have on the lives of others. When we give back, we feel good. It reminds us of the love and abundance we have in our lives, inspiring us to continue to strive to succeed to have more and more to give back. To be exceptional we must embrace the power that comes from giving. Giving back is relationship building. It is through an involvement in our communities that we develop quality relationships which also give back to us. People want to be linked with others who are giving. People want to work for people and companies that care. Great leaders do not want to be remembered for their net worth, they would rather be remembered for how they made other people feel.

Exceptional leaders live by the Golden Rule. To be exceptional in our own right, we must do the same. We must put ourselves in the situation of the other and ask how we would like to be treated in their situation, and do our best to provide them what they deserve. The more empathy we bring to our more challenging relationship problems, business negotiations or disciplinary situations the more successful we will be. Empathy, humility, kindness and understanding all come from love. There is nothing more appealing to others then to be in the presence of a loving person. Exceptional leaders live this wisdom.

How to solicit negative feedback when your manager doesn’t want to give it

By: Deborah Grayson Riegel March 05, 2018

Source: https://hbr.org

In my role as a leadership coach, I consistently hear my clients say that they crave negative feedback from their managers in order to improve in their jobs, grow their careers, and achieve better business results. However, when it comes to soliciting negative feedback, they find that their managers would rather dismiss, deny, or delay it rather than speak directly, truthfully, and immediately about what isn’t working and what needs to change. That makes sense when you consider what may be at risk when giving (and receiving) negative feedback. In her article, “How to Give Negative Feedback When Your Organization is Nice”, my colleague Jennifer Porter cites barriers to giving negative feedback that include hurt feelings; a desire to maintain professionalism (rather than having things get “messy”); a lack of role models for giving negative feedback; the prospect of an emotional outburst; and not wanting to jeopardize the “nice” culture.

Additional research from University of California Professors Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman, and Purdue University Professor Kipling D. Williams, shows that negative feedback can be experienced as a form a social rejection (“You’re telling me I’m not good enough and that I don’t belong here” is one frequent interpretation), and that social rejection hurts emotionally and physically. Few managers want to cause their direct reports pain, and potentially risk an emotional outburst, loss of commitment, or even retaliation. Nevertheless, when people don’t receive useful negative feedback, they can’t grow. According to authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their article, “Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give”, when asked what was most helpful in their careers, 72% of respondents attributed performance improvement to getting negative feedback from their managers. The same study also showed that managers were reluctant to give negative feedback.

Bill Gates agrees: “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” So what do you do if you know that negative feedback is what you need to succeed — and nobody’s talking? Stop asking for negative feedback (you’ve already tried that, right?) and try one of these creative approaches instead:

Give yourself negative feedback first. According to Wharton professor and author Adam Grant, “When people shy away from giving constructive feedback, it’s often because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. But if they hear you talk about what you did wrong, the fear melts away.” Start by saying something like, “I know that I tend to work quickly and sometimes overlook important details. I’d like to get better at that. Do you have any thoughts on how I could improve?” And then, once you have them talking, you can ask, “And is there anything else I could be working to improve right now?”

Make self-improvement a personal commitment — and ask for help. If directly soliciting negative feedback isn’t working, tell your manager that you’ve made a commitment to yourself to improve in three areas this year, and that you’d like her feedback on what one or more of those should be. Ask, “Would you please help me keep the commitment I’ve made to myself?” That way, she can view her feedback as more about helping you make good on a promise, and less about hurting your feelings.

Reframe negative feedback as a learning opportunity. If your manager, colleague, or client is reticent to offer negative feedback directly, ask, “What is something you think I could learn from you?” It gives the other person a chance to reflect on their own talents and skills (which makes most people feel good), and share their thinking about where they could help you grow — in a nonthreatening context. (If you’re really lucky, they might even ask you, “And what is something you think I could learn from you?” and then you get to give some gentle negative feedback, too.)

Preemptively minimize the impact of the negative feedback. When people are willing to give negative feedback, they often couch it as “just one little thing — it’s not a big deal” to minimize the impact. You can do that yourself by asking, “If I could change just one small habit, what should it be?” That signals to the other person that they don’t have to minimize, apologize, or put negative feedback in context to make it palatable for you — you’ve done it already.

Managers should be able to give negative feedback, but even if they don’t, you need to learn how to solicit it so that you get the information you need to grow in your job and career.

One of our best 2016 MBA theses on transformational leadership

Transformational leadership style : The relationship to companies that are digital leaders

By: Truter, Berdine 2017

Source: http://hdl.handle.net/2263/59790


The objective of the study was to explore the relationship between companies that are digitally mature and the leadership style of their C-level executives, with a specific focus on transformational leadership. Success in the digital era requires not only an investment in digital capabilities, but also a change in organisational culture that only strong leadership can inspire. Transformational leadership instils major changes at the organisational level, through changing attitudes and assumptions at the individual level and creating collective engagement. Moreover, this leadership approach facilitates organisational innovation and learning, and generates a shared, inspiring vision for the future.

The purpose this study was two-fold: Firstly, to explore the relationship between transformational leadership and having higher digital maturity levels – becoming a digital master. Secondly, to determine whether one or more of the transformational leadership factors has an effect on the digital maturity of South African companies (represented by four basic transformational leadership behaviours, or “I’s”.

An online survey, specifically addressing the research question, was sent to C-level executives from South African companies that fit the population criteria, using moderator regression models to determine if transformational leadership and its associated behaviours have an effect on a company’s digital maturity. For the sample population, it was determined that two of the transformational leadership behaviours had a positive effect on digital maturity, namely idealised influence and individualised consideration and that one transformational leadership behaviour, inspirational motivation, has a negative effect on digital maturity.


  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Innovation
  • Digital
  • Information Technology

3 reasons why CEOs are optimistic about 2018

By: Bob Moritz January 22, 2018

Source: https://www.weforum.org

You don’t have to look far for signs that we live in tumultuous times. Geopolitical uncertainty, cyberattacks, and jobs threatened by artificial intelligence are just a few of the topics that dominated headlines in 2017. But despite these harbingers of gloom, a record-breaking percentage of CEOs told us they are optimistic about the economic environment worldwide, at least in the short term. That’s one of the findings of PwC’s latest Global CEO Survey, launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos this week. I want to focus on three highlights here:

1. Soaring short-term CEO optimism

This year’s survey showed a record jump in the all-time highest level of CEO confidence regarding global economic growth prospects for the coming year. For the first time since we asked the question in 2012, a majority (57%) of the CEOs surveyed told us they believe global economic growth will “improve”. Strikingly, this unprecedented optimism is about twice as high as last year and it is truly global — from North America to both Western and Central/Eastern Europe, as well as Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.


This confidence waned, however, when we asked CEOs about their own company’s growth in the next three years. While last year, 51% of respondents told us they were “very confident” about their organization’s longer-term growth prospects, only 45% shared that view this year. CEOs may justifiably feel that the future is simply less predictable than it once was. With technological disruption and geopolitical unpredictability verging on commonplace, longer-term confidence may be increasingly elusive.

2. A focus on the geopolitical positives

In the short-term, CEO optimism appears unimpeded by shake-ups such as Brexit, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from trade agreements and climate accords, and increased anxiety over North Korea. Undeterred, CEOs continue to invest in and grow their businesses.

Simply put, 2017 looks set to be the best year for the global economy since 2010. As we kick off a new year, global commodities prices have recovered from their trough and the world’s major economies are growing. Even Britain’s economy seems to be persevering despite Brexit. This upward trend is set to continue in 2018, with PwC predicting that the global economy will grow by almost 4% in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms this year.


In the US, the Trump Administration’s pro-business policies — with the notable exceptions of trade and immigration — look to be fuelling a stock market boom, corporate confidence and low unemployment. With deep corporate tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending on tap for 2018, it’s no surprise that North American CEOs are our most confident survey respondents: more than half (53%) of CEOs from the region are “very confident” about their company’s growth in the next 12 months..


Only time will tell how well-founded CEOs’ short-term confidence is but the economic indicators are on their side, with booming stock markets and strong predicted GDP growth in most major markets. Also, while risks seem to grow and multiply, CEOs are, on the one hand, becoming more used to high levels of multiple risks; while on the other hand finding ways of managing them. There are plenty of potential potholes in the road ahead for business but CEOs have become better at predicting where they are and navigating around them.

3. Taking technology in their stride

Technology is affecting businesses in varied and complex ways. As we continue to hurtle through the digital age, business strategies for technology are in flux, and the numbers show that. On the one hand, technological advances — like cyberthreats and the sheer speed of change — are high on the list of concerns that keep CEOs up at night. Last year, 24% of the CEOs we spoke to told us they were “extremely concerned” about cyberthreats, but that number has jumped to 40% this year. In contrast, business leaders see enabling universal connectivity as the chief benefit of globalization.


There is no question that the impact of AI will be enormous, potentially transforming business and society at large. PwC’s recent global AI report predicts AI will contribute an additional $15.7 trillion to global GDP by 2030. But those benefits are unlikely to be shared evenly: the US and China are slated to account for 70% of the boom. There will also be winners and losers in the jobs market when machines can replace cheaper labour. Certain jobs will become redundant and new ones will be created. However, while CEOs are focused on the potential benefits of AI, they are for the time being relaxed about the impact on employment with fewer that one in five CEOs expecting to reduce headcount in the next 12 months.

Can you be a great leader without technical expertise?

By: Art Markman November 15, 2017

Source: https://hbr.org/2017/11/can-you-be-a-great-leader-without-technical-expertise?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

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 look like for our students. There is broad consensus across many schools that teach leadership education about the core elements of what leaders need to know. These factors include: The ability to motivate self and others, effective oral and written communication, critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and skills at working with teams and delegating tasks.

On the surface, this seems like a nice list. Good leaders do have these abilities and if you wanted to create future leaders, making sure they have these skills is a good bet. They need to take in a large volume of information and distill it into the essential elements that define the core problems to be solved. They need to organize teams to solve these problems and to communicate to a group why they should share a common vision. They need to establish trust with a group and then use that trust to allow the team to accomplish more than it could alone.

But these skills alone will not make a leader because, to actually excel at this list of skills in practice, you also need a lot of expertise in a particular domain.

As an example, take one of these skills: thinking critically in order to find the essence of a situation. To do that well, you must have specific, technical expertise. The critical information a doctor needs to diagnose a patient are different from the knowledge used to understand a political standoff, and both of those differ in important ways from what is needed to negotiate a good business deal.

Even effective communication differs from one domain to another. Doctors talking to patients must communicate information differently than politicians reacting to a natural disaster or a CEO responding to a labor dispute. When you begin to look at any of the core skills that leaders have, it quickly becomes clear that domain-specific expertise is bound up in all of them. And the domains of expertise required may also be fairly specific. Even business is not really a single domain. Leadership in construction, semiconductor fabrication, consulting, and retail sales all require a lot of specific knowledge.

A common solution to this problem is for leaders to say that they will surround themselves with good people who have the requisite expertise that will allow them to make good decisions. The problem is that without actual expertise, how do these leaders even know whether they have found the right people to give them information? If managers cannot evaluate the information they are getting for themselves, then they cannot lead effectively.

This way of thinking about leadership has two important implications. First, when we teach people about leadership, we need to be more explicit that domain expertise matters. Just because a person is successful at running one kind of organization does not mean that they are likely to have the same degree of success running an organization with a different mission. Second, when we train people to take on leadership roles, we need to give them practice solving domain-specific problems so that they can prepare to integrate information in the arena in which they are being asked to lead. For example, it isn’t enough just to teach people about how to resolve generic conflicts between employees, we should create scenarios derived from real cases so that people have to grapple with all of the ambiguities that come from the conflicts that arise within particular industries.

This issue is particularly important given the frequency with which people in the modern workplace change jobs and even move across industries. This mobility means that many younger employees may not gain significant expertise in the industry in which they are currently working, which will make it harder for them to be effective in leadership roles.  Companies need to identify prospective future leaders and encourage them to settle down in order to develop the specific skills they need to lead.