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Leading Off
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Openness, curiosity, empathy, balance. Such “soft” character traits are often the trademarks of the best leaders; those they lead are the direct beneficiaries of the care and support that flows from caring bosses. It’s a simple formula, so this week, let’s keep it simple. We’ve collected some of our recent conversations—with poets, coaches, experts, and other leaders—to help you look inward, understand yourself more deeply, and, we hope, pick up some tips to improve yourself and lead better.
It’s time to explore new beginnings and opportunities for transformation
“In the arts and in our professional lives and in our personal lives, newness, innovation only happens through experimentation and play,” says poet and best-selling author Maggie Smith in this video. As familiar as we might like the return from the pandemic to feel, much has changed at work and in our personal lives; adapting may require trying new things and taking the risk of failing. In her collection of poems and essays, Keep Moving (Simon and Schuster, October 2020), Smith celebrates the beauty and strength on the other side of loss. For corporate-social-responsibility expert Susan McPherson, the path to happiness and an antidote to overreliance on technology lies in building deeply personal and meaningful relationships by learning to be more intentional and authentic.
That’s roughly the share of people we consider ambitious who doubt that the effort they are making to be as successful as they can be is actually worth it, according to coach and author Nicolai Tillisch. He says that when he started to look at how to help people perform and achieve ambitious goals, “a whole picture opened up—that this is not just about performance. It really is holistic: you can achieve, but if you don’t have growth and well-being at the same time, it will be really difficult.” For young climbers, as well as those well into their careers, Tillisch calculates ROA (return on ambition), a formula that measures three vital factors: achievement plus growth plus well-being. Also, don’t forget to check yourself against the seven “frenemies” of ambitious people.
“When we are speaking to people whom we love, whom we care about, and they’re experiencing great suffering, we don’t often feel that it’s our job to tell them the exact truth.”
So says Shankar Vedantam, host of National Public Radio’s Hidden Brain podcast. Around the world, misinformation and the assault on facts and the truth seem destined to become one of the hallmarks of our current age. In this interview based on his new book, Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain (W. W. Norton, March 2021), Vedantam argues that, paradoxically, self-deception—normally believed to do harm to us, to our communities, and to the planet—can also play a vital role in our success and well-being.
Mellody Hobson
“Math has no opinion,” Mellody Hobson likes to say. When it comes to understanding and acting on diversity in the corporate world, the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and chairwoman of Starbucks pulls no punches. “Corporate America wants partial credit for showing their work but getting the wrong answer,” she says. “But in this area, we want credit for trying.” We think this interview, conducted in February 2020, is worth a second look on our pages because it serves as a clinic in self-reflection for the thoughtful leader. Hobson’s “happy warrior” personal story yields lessons any leader can benefit from—including those on diversity, the absolute importance of honest mentoring, the right way to think about feedback (“It doesn’t help you for someone to tell you that you’re terrific”), and the need from time to time to humbly “crouch to conquer.”
Happy is as happy does
Richard Layard
“The most shocking fact that I’ve come across in happiness research,” says Lord Richard Layard, is that “the time of day or the time in the week that people least enjoy is when they’re with their boss.” In this interview, the renowned economist posits a series of challenges to leaders to find answers to the problem: stop treating happiness as a “fluffy” concept and treat it seriously by measuring it; pay much greater attention to employees’ mental health; understand that a lot of work is either boring or extraordinarily exhausting, and improve it; consider group-performance pay as an alternative to pay systems that set one worker against another.
Lead with reflection.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office,
with special thanks to Eleni Kostopoulos
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