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Leading Off
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Sixty-five years ago, John F. Kennedy published Profiles in Courage, eight stories of genuine bravery and integrity at critical moments in American history. The instant bestseller helped catapult Kennedy, then a junior senator from Massachusetts, to the US presidency, but its real value lay in illuminating its protagonists' struggles and compromises as they tried to do the right thing in the face of doubt and peer criticism. With that spirit in mind, let's consider four leaders—a mold-breaking entrepreneur, a hard-driving CEO, a healthcare administrator, and a passionate advocate for child literacy—and celebrate their grit, commitment, and care for those they lead.
Assume nothing
“The COVID-19 crisis has undermined most of the assumptions of the traditional planning cycle,” write the authors of “When nothing is normal: Managing in extreme uncertainty.” This is the defining business landscape of the era, a constantly shifting footing upon which so many leaders have had to make, revise, and sometimes reverse decisions against an existential threat to lives and livelihoods.
The annual minimum wage, in US dollars, that Dan Price, chief executive of credit-card processor Gravity Payments, decided to pay each of his employees back in 2015. Price received a ton of media attention for the move, which he made after reading that raising minimum wages to that level could boost his employees' emotional wellbeing. When the pandemic hit, Gravity saw a 50 percent decline in revenue, but putting employees first paid back when employees volunteered to take pay cuts to avoid layoffs.
“I might be wrong, but we get paid to make decisions and make calls.”
That's David Farr, chief executive of Emerson Electric, on the sudden challenge he faced as COVID-19 ravaged operations in China and Europe—and then in the United States. This article from the Wall Street Journal reports that Farr, who has run the industrial conglomerate for more than two decades, found his style of control and constant action stymied by the pandemic as he faced new regulations, damaged suppliers, and sick workers. The article profiles what it's like to run a global enterprise without a map, as well as the leadership lessons and limits to be learned.
photo of Kate Walsh
Eighty percent of people who come down with COVID-19 don't need to come anywhere near a hospital. “But what if you don't have a home to go to?” asks Kate Walsh, the chief executive of Boston Medical Center, New England's largest safety-net hospital. Half of the center's patients come from underserved populations. In this interview, Walsh takes us on a tour of the healthcare front lines and the uncertainty and chaos of the pandemic's early surge within a particularly vulnerable population, and she explores what it takes to triage during a crisis and simultaneously plan ahead to reimagine better approaches to face the future.
This one's on us
photo of kids at school
Sometimes inspiring leadership is just a colleague away. In 2018, McKinsey teamed up with the largest education-focused nongovernmental organization in India, home to 35 percent of the world's population that cannot read or write. In this video, McKinsey senior partner Ramesh Mangaleswaran describes how his passion for working with nonprofits helped launch this effort, which aims to strengthen government partnerships to support baseline literacy and to focus scattered educational services in 3,000 Indian villages. “If there are more initiatives like this, India does have a brighter future,” he says.
Lead well.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey's New Jersey office
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