The global outbreak of COVID-19 has created significant challenges for leaders around the world. Adding to the chaotic trifecta of a global pandemic, economic crisis and civil unrest, most of us are dealing with some level of “information overload.” Those we lead, however, are looking to us for answers. In a recent 10-country study by communications giant Edelman, workers said their employers were their most trustworthy source of information, scoring them 27 points higher than the government or media outlets.
“The moments when leadership matters most are in times of uncertainty and change,” says Marillyn Hewson, current chairman, and former president and CEO of Lockheed Martin. “People crave information…Leaders have to speak up.” But, how do we communicate in a way that doesn’t add to the noise? According to Hewson, with openness, compassion, and reassurance.
In 2005, Lockheed Martin’s Systems Integration business unit, under Hewson’s leadership, won the multibillion-dollar contract to build the next fleet of Marine One VH-71 helicopters. Four years into the contract, however, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates abruptly cancelled the program. Loss of the contract meant nearly 1,000 layoffs—roughly one-quarter of the Systems Integration workforce. Company precedent was to handle news of this sort via internal memo and managerial meetings, and for department managers to handle breaking the news to those affected. Hewson, however, handled things differently. Adamant that every employee had the right to stay informed, Hewson regularly held town-hall type meetings in the auditorium, where she openly communicated the situation as it developed, allowed any employee to ask questions, and provided straight answers.
But, she didn’t stop there. When the time for layoffs came, Hewson personally communicated her commitment to helping those affected find employment. She went beyond the standard severance package, providing professional development courses and hiring specialists to help interested parties polish their resumes and practice their interview skills. She hosted job fairs, with representatives from other areas within Lockheed Martin and outside the company, and provided as much information as she could to help people replace the jobs they were losing.
Finally, instead of simply cutting back and resuming business as usual for the other programs within the unit, Hewson worked with her leadership team to establish a new plan of growth, with the goal of replacing as many of the lost community jobs as possible. She shared this plan, in detail, with every company employee and held webcasts and group meetings where people could ask questions on any subject and receive answers. “We wanted to reinforce with the team that our mission was their mission,” she said, “and we wanted them to see that we were capitalizing on change to build a great future.”
Years later, employees still positively remember the way Hewson handled the crisis, saying they appreciate how she openly communicated with them, and that her approach helped them to stay calm during a confusing and terrifying time. In periods of uncertainty, it can be tempting to remain silent. But Hewson’s example shows us that leaders who communicate openly, compassionately, and with optimism provide their employees with the confidence they need to get through any crisis.
In this time of work-at-home stress, we hope you, as a leader, will reach out to your employees more than ever before. Listen to their concerns, and keep the channels open.
For more inspiring leadership lessons, we hope you will join our online courses, designed to fit your new work schedules. Give us a call and tell us what you and your employees need. We can create an immersive learning program, linking historical examples with your workplace issues.
In January 1945, a cargo plane carrying Major Charity Adams, our nation’s first African-American female commanding officer for the Women’s Army Corps, crossed the Atlantic Ocean for war-ravaged Europe. Six weeks earlier, the Germans had launched a concentrated counteroffensive on the Western Front, known as the Battle of the Bulge, killing more than 19,000 American soldiers, and wounding many tens of thousands more. Surrounded on all sides by injury and death, troops were desperate to receive word from their loved ones back home. The Army, however, hindered by the upheaval of battle and shortage of personnel, had been unable to deliver it. More than 17 million pieces of backlogged mail sat in warehouses, piled in rough stacks reaching toward the ceiling, and morale among our homesick troops had reached an all-time low.
Within moments of landing, Major Adams inherited this chaos. Leading the first Black women’s battalion to be posted overseas, the 6888th, she was given six months to solve what the military had deemed an essentially unsolvable problem. Adams realized immediately how much was riding on getting this right. “The eyes of the public would be upon us,” she recalled in her memoir, One Woman’s Army, “waiting for one slip in our conduct or performance.” The world was looking to her and the women she led to prove Black women held value in the military. Failure was not an option.
Adams got to work immediately, dividing her battalion of 855 women into four postal-directory companies that worked around the clock in rotating eight-hour shifts. She organized lists, which kept track of the movements of each military unit, and spearheaded a detailed method of record keeping that helped distinguish between people with similar names (more than 7,500 “Robert Smiths” served in WWII). Each shift, the women under her command sorted and processed approximately 65,000 pieces of mail, sending them out to U.S. troops scattered all across Europe. Letters and packages bearing labels such as, “Junior, U.S. Army,” added to the challenge of getting mail to its intended recipient, but the women were relentless in tracking down each soldier, sometimes following breadcrumbs until he was located. Adhering to the motto, “No mail, low morale,” the women worked tirelessly, successfully completing their impossible task, in half the time they were allotted.
But it wasn’t simply Adams’s organization and out-of-the-box thinking that helped these women succeed in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. In the years that followed, many from the 6888th credited Adams with creating the tight sense of unity necessary to pull together and keep going. While the women of the battalion fought for the soldiers’ morale, Adams fought for theirs—in large ways and in small.
When a male general showed up for a surprise inspection, Adams refused to allow him access to the women’s dormitory while some of the women were sleeping. After explaining the women worked in shifts, with one-third sleeping at any given time, she then refused to interrupt their rest by demanding they be present for inspection. The general threatened to send a “white first lieutenant” to better command her unit. Her famous response, “Over my dead body, Sir,” nearly earned her a court-martial, but made clear to her unit she put their needs ahead of everything else.
The day-to-day needs of the women she led didn’t escape her notice, either. When it was brought to her attention that the women under her command were not allowed entrance to any of the local beauty parlors, she set to work requisitioning supplies for the women and a space for them to congregate and have their hair done. The new beauty parlor became so popular that Adams had to step in, limiting appointment slots for outsiders, such as nurses and Red Cross workers, to make sure the women of her unit could always get an appointment when they needed one.
Leadership takes many forms, from creating structure and organizing ideas to instilling a sense of unity that gives your people the confidence to reach for difficult goals. Major Charity Adams stood in an abandoned warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with backlogged and undeliverable mail, and knew the only way to complete the task was teamwork. Through her organized and structured division of work, her out-of-the-box thinking, and her attention to the needs and morale of her team, she was able to lead the women of the 6888th to an impossible victory. There is much we can learn from her example.
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What have you done to increase the teamwork amongst those you lead? Have you made changes that are working? Please share your ideas and comments, below!
In a recent study by McKinsey & Company, research showed gender and ethnically diverse companies outperform their competitors by 21% and 33%, respectively. Accenture, a global strategy consulting firm, found that businesses which actively seek to employ people with disabilities enjoy 28% higher revenues and a 90% increase in employee retention. Diversity in hiring, however, is not enough to move your business forward—inclusion is imperative.
Our role model for inclusion in the workplace might surprise you. Henry Ford, to most people, is remembered as the founder of the Ford Motor Company and chief developer of the assembly line. Yet few realize his progressive thinking in regard to hiring and inclusive practices within his business model. Decades ahead of his time, Ford understood that a fair workplace is a profitable workplace and provided jobs and opportunity for advancement for people of color, women, and those with disabilities. A close look at his leadership style reveals two core lessons.
Decades ahead of his time, Henry Ford understood the best way forward is together. Census data predicts that by 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country, and women already make up 46.9% of the labor force. Research repeatedly shows that diversity, inclusion, and success go hand in hand, and that we, as leaders, have the power to make it happen.
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Do you have ideas about how to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace? Do you have questions about how others are approaching this? Please share your thoughts in the comments section, below!
As our country celebrates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote, many of us can’t imagine a United States that would deny voice to half its citizens. Yet, as our president prepares to issue a proclamation designating August 26 as National Women’s Equality Day, as each president since Richard Nixon has done, one can’t help but wonder if the day has been misnamed. Women are grossly underrepresented in government, across the executive suite, and recent statistics show that although the pay gap is narrowing, women still only make 85% of what their male counterparts are paid. It begs the question: can we truly ever achieve equality? According to Susan Wojcicki, one of the tech industry’s greatest leaders, the answer is a resounding yes!—if we pay attention.
Current CEO of YouTube (owned by Google since 2006), Wojcicki started as Google’s 16th employee, and helped build the tech juggernaut to multi-billion dollar status. More importantly, however, she’s helping to break the glass ceiling of the tech world, and challenging us to think in terms of “how?” rather than simply, “what if?” In a Vanity Fair essay addressing the lack of female representation in the tech industry, Wojcicki states that while Human Resources departments play an integral role in creating a fairer work landscape, they must have the commitment and personal attention of workplace leaders to succeed. “It really needs to come from the top,” she says. “You need your entire management team to realize this is important—that we’re going to be a better, stronger team if we have diversity.” A large part of this, she argues, is paying attention to obstacles underrepresented groups face, then doing what you can to eliminate them. She offers two pieces of advice:
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Do you believe your organization could do more to create equality in the workforce? Have you made changes that are working? Please share your ideas and comments, below!
As our nation’s workforce struggles into its new normal, it is easy to believe there are more questions than answers on the horizon. Is the office truly necessary for productivity? Do we need to build a new system for getting work done? If so, do we implement the changes all at once, or do we transition slowly? How do we effectively lead our teams when their workdays are staggered or completed remotely? Never before has the Silicon Valley idiom, “building the plane while flying it,” made more sense. But do we really need to know all the answers to be able to lead well? History says No.
Known as our nation’s first oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller is believed to be the wealthiest American in history. To the casual observer, his career appears to be a steady line of easy victories. The reality, however, was much different. From his birth into poverty to his meteoric rise to oil magnate, Rockefeller navigated the uncertain future of the fledgling oil industry, a national economic crisis, a six-year recession, an industry-wide strike and a domestic oil shortage—all while continuing to attract new talent and steadily grow his company. How did he chart his path through all the uncertainty? A careful look at his leadership style reveals three important habits.
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John Rockefeller knew that strong leadership was important during uncertain times. How do you think we, as leaders, need to support our teams as our country reopens? What changes or difficulties do you anticipate? We would love to learn some approaches you have taken with your organization that made a difference.
By Mica Hemingway, Guest Editor
A critical need in our nation today is personal accountability. Americans are coming to believe that our actions matter, both at the micro and macro levels. And positive role models are more important than ever. “Accountability is best developed in an environment where it’s regularly demonstrated and emphasized by honorable, balanced leaders,” says leadership expert Lee Ellis. But where do we, as leaders, look for inspiration?
Days after taking the job as General Motors’s CEO in 2014, Mary Barra had to confront a global scandal that threatened to close the doors of the automotive giant forever. An ignition switch design malfunction in some of its older models had resulted in 124 deaths and nearly 300 injuries. To make matters worse, internal documents came to light showing lower level executives within the company had known about the issue since at least 2004 yet rejected a proposal to fix it because of cost. Barra refused to shirk responsibility.
She immediately issued recalls on affected vehicles, then launched an internal probe, hiring two outside law firms with Anton Valukas, who investigated Lehman Brothers after its 2008 collapse, to lead the investigation. Within weeks, she fired the 15 employees responsible for allowing the faulty switches on the assembly line, disciplined 5 employees who contributed to the issue, and appointed a new safety chief. To keep customers safe while they waited for their cars to be repaired, Barra offered free rental vehicles. And to help compensate families and victims affected by the faulty switches, Barra established a fund containing more than $550 million.
She wasn’t finished, however. In a town hall-style meeting, broadcast to GM employees and covered by news outlets, Barra took accountability to a new height. “We failed,” she began. “We didn’t do our jobs.” The words that followed that opening are important:
After she instituted her policy of personal accountability, engineers began reporting issues in greater numbers. By the close of 2014, Barra had recalled more than 30 million cars for warrantied repairs. The company took a tremendous financial hit, but it rekindled consumers’ trust that GM now put their safety ahead of profit.
Without accountability, organizations and people can lose sight of the bigger picture. However, when we, as leaders, set the example by speaking up when something is wrong, and by publicly doing the right thing, even when the stakes are high, we establish a culture of transparency and collective gain. Whoever we’re leading and wherever we’re headed, the right step begins with us.
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Mary Barra knew that nothing could be solved without accountability. She understood that before real change could occur, real ownership of the problem was necessary. How do you think personal accountability will be important as our country strives to find its new normal? How do you think we can set this example for our teams? Let’s share ideas in the comments, below, as we all work together during this time.
For much of our country, the battle to survive economically during the COVID-19 crisis is every bit as real as the war we’re waging against the virus. Entering what specialists have termed a “wartime economy,” many of today’s leaders are looking to wartime history for guidance. But today’s economic crisis, Oxford University’s Daniel Susskind warns, is framed by entirely different circumstances:
Perhaps, rather than lessons offered by wartime leadership giants, which focus on rebuilding business in a decimated economy, we would do well to study a more recent leadership approach: rethinking.
When Alan Mulally took over as Ford Automotive’s CEO in September 2006, the company was facing certain bankruptcy. Within the space of a single year, Mulally reduced its loss margin by $10 billion. By 2008, less than two years after he took the helm, Ford was profitable, again. At the heart of this success was what Mulally considers his most important contribution to the company: his “One Team” approach.
Every Thursday, Mulally held a business plan review meeting, or BPR, with all of his team leaders. Attendance was mandatory. In the days preceding the meetings, Mulally would engage employees from all levels of the company, seeking their input on what was working and not working in their respective areas, and he expected his leadership teams to do the same. During the BPRs, he and the team leaders shared what they’d learned with each other, along with progress data from their departments.
The first meeting was wildly unproductive. In spite of Mulally’s reassurance that honestly would not be penalized, team leaders presented their successes, but remained quiet about what was not working efficiently. About halfway through, Mulally stopped the meeting. “We’re going to lose billions of dollars this year,” he said. “Isn’t there anything that’s not going well here?” Still, no one spoke.
As the second BPR approached, Mark Fields, in charge of Ford Americas, faced a dilemma: Production had already begun on the new Ford Edge, but a grinding noise coming from the suspension had been reported. Deciding to take Mulally at his word that honesty would not be punished, he reported the issue. The silence in the room was deafening. Fields remembers his colleagues had begun to look at him with pity when suddenly, Mulally started clapping. “Mark, that’s great visibility!” he said. “Who can help Mark with this?”
In the months following this revelatory meeting, Mulally taught the different branches of Ford Automotive to rethink their individualized approach into a “One Team” perspective, working together for the success of everyone. He encouraged his team leaders to share information, to problem-solve together, to extend the practice of honesty without penalty to staff from all levels, and to value the input they received. When asked why he felt this extreme brand of community and communication was so important, he stated simply, “We finally have it all out in the open. Now we can start fixing it.”
It’s easy, in times like this, to become overwhelmed by uncertainty and paralyzed by fear. None of us has faced anything like this, before. But if we take Mulally’s leadership lesson to heart, we know we can work together to successfully lead our teams through this unprecedented time—provided we understand what we’re facing. Mulally often said, “It’s important to seek understanding before seeking to be understood,” and that simple philosophy helped him lead Ford Automotive from bankruptcy to profit. Whatever challenges we face as our country struggles to reopen, a team approach to problem solving will get us further than going it alone. Ask lots of questions, both of your employees and of other leaders you respect and offer your expertise as we all work together to navigate this time successfully.
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Alan Mulally knew that for problems to be solved, they first had to be discovered and understood. What are some problems you anticipate as our country reopens its economy? How do you think we can create opportunities for our teams to alert us to the issues they’re facing? Let’s share ideas in the comments, below, as we all work together during this time.
In a March 23rd article titled “COVID-19: What Employees Need From Leaders Right Now,” Gallup identified four universal needs followers have of leaders during times of crisis:
Taking office in the midst of war, Winston Churchill stepped into office boldly, reaching out to the public by addressing their core needs and thereby winning their love and support.
With war already taking its toll, people were living in fear, yet Churchill did not withhold information from them. In his frequent addresses, he would state—as clearly as he could—what was happening. In May 1940, he delivered a radio speech to the nation saying, “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” In a War Room speech from September 11, 1940, during the worst of the night bombings, Churchill told his people, “Behind these clusters of ships or barges, there stand very large numbers of German troops, awaiting the order to go on board and set out on their…voyage across the seas…No one should blind himself to the fact that a heavy, full-scale invasion of the island is being prepared...” While some cautioned this extreme brand of candor would lead to national panic, Churchill believed his people deserved to know the facts. Their response was to rally behind him, and to trust what he said.
While Churchill did not sugarcoat the reality his country was facing, he offered rational, realistic cause for hope—always stating his belief his people could overcome anything they faced. His September War Room address to the nation ended with these words:
Little does [Hitler] know the spirit of the British nation… What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts...which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed. He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe… It is a message of good cheer to our fighting Forces… they have behind them a people who will not flinch… but we will draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves, but for all.
In 1941, Churchill was on his way to Bristol University to award honorary degrees when the city was bombed. Understanding the importance of stability during uncertain times, Churchill decided to go ahead with the ceremony. Professors stood with him on the dais, their clothing beneath their robes wet and sooty from fighting fires throughout the night. People arrived in the audience, filthy from pulling bodies from the rubble, yet all desperately seeking that moment of good in the destruction that surrounded them, and grateful to be a part of something normal.
At the end of the awards ceremony, Churchill gave an impromptu speech, praising the people of Bristol, saying, “Many of those here today have been all night at their posts, and have been under the fire of the enemy… That you should gather in this way is a mark of fortitude… of courage… I see the spirit of an unconquerable people.” Churchill spent an hour driving around the city, documenting the worst of the damage, before boarding his train to return home. Upon boarding, his aides reported he spent long minutes weeping over the devastation he’d witnessed, then immediately began setting plans in motion to ensure the people of Bristol had extra allotments of food provisions to help them through their time of emergency.
We can learn a lot from Churchill. What we’re facing now is unprecedented, and those we lead are looking to us for answers. We’re up for the challenge, though, and we’ll come through this time stronger, more resilient, and confident in our ability to lead our people through anything.
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Are you wondering how to meet your employees’ core needs during this time of crisis? Let’s open a discussion, sharing with one another our struggles and triumphs during this time. Post your question or comment below.
Much has been said of the direct correlation between understanding and achievement. “Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess,” wrote Goethe, the German statesman and author. Does that same thinking apply to leadership? In a word – yes.
Hired by Google in 2001, Sheryl Sandberg grew its sales and advertising department from four employees to over 4,000—about one-quarter of Google’s total. Her team has brought in more than half the company’s revenue. Since taking her position as Facebook’s COO in 2008, she has meteorically increased its value, moving it from a $56 million loss to a total market value of over $425 billion. Her success, importantly, isn’t limited to financial gain. Under her leadership, Facebook has been ranked in Glassdoor’s annual “Best Places to Work” for a decade, spending three of those years in the coveted first place position. When asked what made Facebook so successful, both as a company and as a place to work, Sandberg responded, “We believe that skills are more important than experience.”
Citing 2001’s leadership manifesto, Now, Discover Your Strengths, as the primary inspiration behind her leadership approach, Sandberg explained, “At Facebook, we try to be a strengths-based organization, which means we try to make jobs fit around people, rather than make people fit around jobs. We focus on what people’s natural strengths are and spend our management time trying to find ways for them to use those natural strengths every day.” So how does Sandberg understand her people well enough to find their natural strengths? She’s developed two very important habits:
While these habits are not groundbreaking, Sandberg argues they are too little used. Today’s employees want the opportunity to do meaningful work, and they aren’t going to put their trust in a leader who prioritizes what they get wrong over what they get right. “People don’t have to be good at everything,” she says. “Most aren’t, and the best workplaces acknowledge that... Some companies spend an awful lot of time…telling people what they’re not good at, and then trying to make them better. We try to shift the focus onto strengths.”
Are you wondering how to uncover the natural strengths of those you lead? Do you want to earn the trust of your teammates by recognizing their strengths and helping them succeed? Take your team out of the office and give them time to learn from strong role models. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking timeless historical examples with your individual workplace issues.
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Sheryl Sandberg understands that recognizing the strengths in others is essential to effective leadership. Do you believe your organization succeeds in this area? What are some things you’d like to change, or ideas you’d like to try? Please share your ideas and comments, below.