Storytelling is a powerful, generative leadership tool. In a season of information overload, it has the power to cut through the noise, motivating change when other approaches have failed. But how do we, as leaders, harness its power?
History remembers Madam C. J. Walker as the first self-made woman millionaire in America. Marketing her line of homemade haircare products for Black women, Walker built a business empire, first selling door-to-door, then empowering a legion of Black “Beauty Culturalists” to sell her products. Though her rise from impoverished washerwoman to wealthy businesswoman was paved with hard work, her approach was straightforward and simple: she told her story. Here are two lessons we can learn:
Leadership storytelling can take many forms. Whether you seek to inspire your team by sharing how you overcame a particular struggle, or you need to generate trust and buy-in by sharing how a new business practice has benefitted others, harnessing the power of storytelling can help you achieve your goal.
Do you want to know what motivates and inspires your employees? Do you need buy-in for new business ideas or practices? Let us share more leadership lessons from insightful leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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Few leaders would argue the importance of knowing your target demographics and the psychographics that drive their decisions. But do you know this information about the people you lead?
A third-generation CEO of H&M, Karl-Johan Persson took the reins of his grandfather’s corporation in July 2009 and immediately began work on a company-wide sustainability program. By early 2010, H&M had drastically reduced its use of traditionally sourced cotton, and by 2011, debuted its “Conscious Collection,” which consisted of fashions made with 100% organic cotton and other sustainable materials. Soon after, Persson spearheaded an international program, offering customers 15% off their purchases when they brought in old clothes—from any manufacturer—to be recycled or donated to charity.
Public reaction was positive. Interestingly, employee reaction was positive, as well. Team leaders reported their sales staff’s passionately directing customers to the sustainably sourced options in the store, and often overheard cashiers prompting buyers to bring an item to recycle the next time they shopped with H&M. Persson, it seemed, had tapped into something his employees cared deeply about, and it improved their job performance. Profits soared.
In the home office, Persson was working with his leadership teams to expand H&M’s sustainability program when Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangledesh, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. Even though no H&M clothing was manufactured by the factory, Persson immediately facilitated conversations between clothing manufacturers and government officials to create greater oversight of the Bangledesh garment industry. Again, employee support was immediate and emphatic.
Deciding that true sustainability had to ensure fair treatment of all people touched by the manufacturing process, and encouraged that his employee base shared this vision, Persson worked with his leadership teams to take next steps—beginning with Cambodian factories that manufactured H&M clothes. Within months, Persson flew to Cambodia to discuss working conditions and fair wages with government officials. Through his extensive network, he helped bring labor unions and decision makers together, and the resulting negotiation produced an increase in wages 21% higher than the Cambodian garment workers had initially requested.
Employee response was explosive. U.S. job satisfaction surveys, which had hovered near the 59% typical with U.S. companies, soared to 76%. H&M’s salesforce believed in the mission of the company, and without any change to their working conditions, reported greater happiness and motivation to do their best work. There is a lot we can learn from this.
Knowing what motivates those we lead is an incredibly important part of leadership strategy. Whether we use the information to shape future projects that involve an entire department, or to make individual assignments on a case-by-case basis, understanding the target demographic for the job, and the psychographics that motivate the employee are key.
Do you want to know what motivates your employees? Do you want to help your teams approach their work with excitement? Let us share more leadership lessons from insightful leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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Are your teams motivated to give their best? Have you developed methods which have helped you on your leadership journey? Please share your ideas and stories, below.
Organizational speed is crucial during times of change. The ability to innovate or pivot quickly in volatile environments can often make the difference between success or failure. Many leaders, however, are unwitting bottlenecks to this potential when business process requires the majority of decisions go through them. But how do we make the switch from decision making to decision enabling? The answer, and our historical inspiration, might surprise you.
Most of the world remembers Albert Einstein as the brilliant German-born theoretical physicist known for developing the theory of relativity. In fact, his mass-energy equivalence formula, E=mc2, is considered the world’s most famous equation. What’s less known about Einstein is that, in addition to his work within the scientific community, he had a brief career as a rather unconventional college professor. Shortly after publishing several papers on relativity physics, Einstein was invited to lecture at the University of Bern in Switzerland. His reception, however, was lukewarm. “Einstein was never an inspired teacher,” biographer Walter Isaacson summarized bluntly. His first lecture was attended by only two people—both friends from his former job in the patent office—and his second lecture had to be cancelled after only one student enrolled.
Einstein, however, didn’t give up. He began offering to work with students on his own time, slowly shifting his approach from the traditional lecture format to a more informal, mentoring style of teaching. By the time he was hired to teach theoretical physics at Zurich University, nearly 6 months after his cancelled lecture at Bern, he had completely abandoned the traditional classroom structure. His new students, having experienced only polished professors and strict, nearly sterile classroom etiquette, didn’t know what to make of Einstein’s teaching style.
“When he took his chair in shabby attire with trousers too short for him, we were skeptical,” said student Hans Tanner, who attended most classes Einstein taught at Zurich. As the semester went on, however, the students grew to appreciate his more casual and accessible approach. While other professors taught finished, linear concepts, Einstein thoroughly explained his thought process—including his mistakes—so his students could understand how each of his ideas moved from germination, through development, and into final decision. He often paused to ensure every student understood not only the concepts presented, but also the process behind his decisions, and he encouraged them to interrupt his teaching whenever they didn’t—an unprecedented classroom behavior at that time.
As the university discouraged casual interaction between professors and students, Einstein began holding weekly “office hours” at the nearby Café Terrasse, where students could sit with him to discuss physics and mathematics and ask him any questions they had not voiced during class. Often he brought newly published, theoretical papers and invited his students to deconstruct the concepts with him, challenging them to find mistakes before he could. More importantly, Einstein encouraged his students to trust their knowledge, take chances, and practice making scientific decisions on their own.
While Einstein’s peers never approved of his accessible, mentor-style approach to teaching, and though his skill as a formal lecturer never improved, his students were among the most confident and high producing at Zurich University. By providing a substantial level of guidance during the early teaching phases, making himself accessible, then challenging his students to act on what they learned, he empowered a young group of scientists to make decisions on their own, rather than constantly looking to him for guidance.
There is a lot we can learn from his approach. While there will always be decisions that must pass through leadership, there are many day-to-day decisions we can delegate successfully, if only we provide the right training and support. Einstein often told his class, “The main thing is the content, not the mathematics,” as he believed they could learn more by focusing on the decision-making process than the decision, itself. As we strive to redefine “business as usual” in the wake of this global pandemic, organizational speed could not be more important. Making the leadership shift from decision making to decision enabling might just be the fuel we need.
Are you looking for ways to speed up your business process? Would you like to equip your teams to make more decisions on their own? Let us share more leadership lessons from insightful leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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Studies suggest autonomy is the single greatest predictor of employee engagement within a company. But how do we, as leaders, balance our employees’ desire for freedom with our need for predictable, measured results? Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of SunRun, the nation’s largest provider of residential solar energy services, knows something about this struggle. Having founded SunRun in 2007 with business school classmate Edward Fenster, Jurich made most of the managerial decisions herself. However, when SunRun doubled, then tripled in size, Jurich quickly realized she needed a method that allowed her to pass these decisions off to others without sacrificing the outcome. Today, Jurich follows a tried-and-true, four step plan we can all learn from: “Hire very good people, always hold them to a high standard, provide them a lot of context, and make sure they have what they need to succeed.”
Are you an empowering leader? Are you looking for ways to inspire your teams toward greater autonomy? Let us share more leadership lessons from empowering leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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As 2021 progresses, business leaders have a nearly unprecedented opportunity to define new normal in the workspace. Bu, disruptive leadership during a time of upheaval offers its own unique challenge: how do you lead your employees toward change during change?
After nearly 30 years in different positions within USAA, the San Antonio-based financial services giant, Wayne Peacock took control of the helm as CEO on February 1, 2020—just 19 days before a global pandemic began systematically changing our world. Yet, even amidst this uncertain, and at times frightening, backdrop, 89% of USAA’s employees reported high job satisfaction in 2020. It begs the question: how? Looking closely at Peacock’s leadership during this pivotal year, an important trend emerges: he asked two simple questions, again and again:
When employee concerns turned from preparedness to connectedness, Peacock worked with the communications team to initiate a program dubbed the “watercooler,” designed to help leaders nurture the social connections within their teams. To lead by example, Peacock began dropping into different departmental meetings, asking questions about his employees’ lives, and sharing from his personal life, as well.
As we slowly move toward a post-pandemic reality, our priorities are shifting. The “come to us” way of doing business is giving way to a “go to them” mindset, and leaders who embrace this new approach with a human focused leadership style will be the ones successfully leading their teams in this new reality. The process, however, doesn’t have to be complicated. Ask simple questions: “What do you need? What can we do better?” and truly listen to the answers. “Lead from the front,” Peacock encourages. “Together, we can take care of each other, and do it better than anyone else.”
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Why do some leaders get stuck when they try to unlock creativity? In a time already dubbed by business experts as “the year of innovation,” this question is more relevant than ever. But, unsticking might be easier than we think.
Known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Austrian-born Hedwig Kiesler, known to U.S. audiences as Hedy Lamarr, appeared in more than 30 films between 1930 and 1958, and inspired the likenesses of Disney’s Snow White and DC’s Catwoman. Her glamorous exterior, however, hid a creative mind with a nearly inexhaustible capacity to reinvent herself, and the genius behind some of today’s most used technology, including cell phones, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. How did a movie star, who never finished high school, accomplish this? Two of her core beliefs, in particular, offer valuable lessons for today’s leaders:
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A recent Microsoft study of more than 30,000 people across a wide variety of companies found that 41% of the employees are considering leaving their jobs. Is it possible to reverse this alarming trend? Benjamin Zander, founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, assures us it’s not only possible, the leadership method is teachable!
So what does an orchestra conductor know about managing unhappy employees? More than you might think. In a landmark Harvard study, orchestra musicians were found to be more dissatisfied with their jobs than even federal prison guards. Yet the musicians of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) report no such discontent. In fact, many credit Zander’s leadership with their continued happiness in their chosen careers. Zander says the difference comes down to one idea: “I’d been conducting for twenty years, and I suddenly had a realization: the conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound… He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful. That changed everything for me.”
Zander calls his approach the “art of possibility,” and encourages leaders to adopt three governing habits.
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“Some people worry about our federal deficit, but I worry about our bravery deficit,” Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani, says, her eyes tracking around the room at Vancouver’s Tedx conference. “The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look.” But what does the term “bravery deficit” even mean, and how do we, as leaders, fix it? Saujani has ideas.
On its surface, Girls Who Code provides a space for 3rd to 12th grade girls, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to learn about computer programming. And, while the non-profit has given more than 300,000 girls the coding foundation they need to be competitive in college and beyond, Saujani says it’s the hidden magic of the program that makes the real difference. “I started a company to teach girls to code,” she says, “and what I found is that by teaching them to code, I had socialized them to be brave.” The process, however, wasn’t seamless.
This isn’t simply a problem for girls. A recent study by Hewlett Packard revealed that while men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, women won’t apply unless they meet 100%. The same numbers apply when considering promotions or projects within a company. Saujani argues this is the direct result of socializing women to aspire to perfection instead of bravery. But, it isn’t simply a matter of encouraging women to take more chances. Women, she discovered, need certain criteria—what she calls the Three Pillars—to step beyond this socialized caution, and she has placed them at the center of the Girls Who Code curriculum.
International Women’s Day falls on March 8, 2021. As we consider this year’s theme, #ChooseToChallenge, we are reminded of the leaders we’ve had the privilege to teach, and of your tireless efforts to create a fairer world for those you lead. Thank you for all you do, and for making us your partner in this fight.
Are you wondering how to inspire bravery in your teams? Are you looking for ways to help them feel confident and informed? Let us share more leadership lessons from empowering leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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What does it take to engage and retain top talent in the 2021 workplace? “The pandemic has upended the very way we live and work,” says business strategist Tim Minahan. “People want to work for companies where they can pursue their passions and explore, create, and innovate alongside individuals with different perspectives to deliver meaningful outcomes.” But bringing different perspectives together—without knowing how to compromise effectively —is a recipe for disaster. It begs the question: in a society that increasingly views compromise as a dirty word, how do we create the workspace today’s employees are seeking?
History often views the achievements of our early government through a lens of homogeny, as if our Founding Fathers were a composite group made up of like-minded individuals with similar backgrounds. Nothing could be further from the truth. The framers of our Constitution were made up of farmers, cobblers’ and blacksmiths’ sons, lawyers, ministers, merchants, physicians, soldiers, clothiers (among other trades), and both old money and self-made men. Add into this mix widely opposed beliefs about how strong our country’s central government should be and the differing (and often competing!) needs of Northern, Southern, large and small states, and you can imagine the minefield our Founding Fathers navigated.
Delegates had to work hard to create the Constitution—often called a “Bundle of Compromises”—to be acceptable to each of the 13 states. While each compromise was important, two, in particular, offer valuable lessons for today’s leaders:
Are you wondering how to lead a diverse team effectively? Are you looking for ways to help them feel confident, informed, and work together? Let us share more leadership lessons from empowering leaders in an online workshop. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking real-life examples with your individual workplace issues.
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