The Founding Fathers’ Surprising Skill Sets

Who knew George Washington was big on diversity? Or that Ben Franklin was all about agility? And that, save for his famous midnight ride, Paul Revere was an expert on teamwork?

Indeed, the traits and skills that helped build a nation nearly 250 years ago could also work pretty well running a modern-day organization. In honor of Independence Day, here are four of the most important lessons today’s leaders can take away from America’s Founding Fathers.

Respect for Diversity

George Washington’s leadership style was completely at odds with not only that of England’s but also much of the history of leadership up to that point. Instead of being hierarchal, Washington encouraged discussion and consideration of alternative approaches. He had to—his army consisted of a diverse mix of volunteers and militias with different traditions and backgrounds, primarily loyal to their own town, region, or colony. “Washington made that diversity an asset by actively seeking the advice of his subordinates,” says Signe Spencer, a senior consultant with Korn Ferry.

Learning Agility

Ben Franklin’s capacity for learning is both well-known and unmatched. The scientist, philosopher, cartographer, postmaster, diplomat, and journalist spent his life acquiring knowledge. That ability to adapt to constantly-changing conditions is in demand at the highest levels of modern-day organizations, says Kevin Cashman, global leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO and Executive Development practice. “Franklin embodied the best of transformational leadership,” says Cashman.

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Triple Your Focus

By Daniel Goleman; originally posted on Korn Ferry Institute on May 28, 2019. 

A strong sense of purpose, most agree, matters. But putting purpose into action does not come so easily in the world of business. For instance, in a recent survey 79% of business leaders believe that purpose is central to an organization’s success and longevity, but only 34% agree that purpose guides their decision-making.

In short, while many leaders see value in being “purpose-driven,” far fewer manage to integrate purpose into their strategy, organizational culture, and approach to employee development. The survey found that less than one third of business leaders guide supervisors to have open discussions with employees about why their work matters.

Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO & Executive Development, reminds us that establishing a line of sight into organizational purpose is a leader’s job, not just once as part of a “visioning” exercise but continually, incorporating purpose into every moment and process of leadership. In his words, “To optimally engage business performance, personal, team and organizational purpose must be aligned.”

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Resilience Trends At The Top: Fat Cats No More

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on May 10, 2019

Barry Posner, leadership professor at Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, has observed an emerging trend in keeping with my own observations regarding CEOs today.  We are both hard-pressed to name a single Fortune 500 CEO who is terribly overweight.  Recent research at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) that followed 757 executives over a five-year period identified a similar trend.  Top executives were healthier than the average American.  They drank less alcohol, smoked less, and were much more likely to exercise regularly.  CCL also found that the fitness of an executive influenced the perception of their energy level, self-discipline, and competence.

“Fat Cats” no more, the era of the “Martini Mad Men” is long gone.  Today’s superhuman demands require it.

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Buffett Goes Humble on Tech

When asked why he didn’t invest in technology stocks, Warren Buffett famously replied that he didn’t invest in companies he didn’t understand. He now admits that might have been a mistake.

Through his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s been bulking up on two of the biggest names in tech: Amazon and Apple. Berkshire is now one of Apple’s biggest shareholders, with a stake worth about $40 billion. But Buffett’s change of heart doesn’t just have financial implications. Experts say the famed investor’s reversal is indicative of his learning agility and adaptability, in this case recognizing that the world has changed and adjusting his philosophy to take advantage of it.

“The most effective and innovative leaders have a potent, paradoxical mixture of both confidence and humility,” says Kevin Cashman, global leader for CEO and executive development at Korn Ferry. “Confidence allows us to follow the contrarian view required to innovate and invest with creativity, while humility allows us to admit mistakes, learn, and pivot to changing realities.”

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Telling the Boss ‘No’

Originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute on February 25, 2019. 

There’s saying “no” to your boss, and then there’s what Kepa Arrizabalaga did in an English soccer title game that’s drawn international attention.

In the waning minutes of a tense game between powerhouse soccer clubs Chelsea and Manchester City, the manager of Chelsea felt his goalkeeper, Arrizabalaga, was hurt and had to come out. But the player would have none of it. Arrizabalaga refused to come off the field, the manager fumed, and Chelsea went on to lose.

Sound familiar? The stakes and dramatics might not be as high, but corporate leaders certainly hear protests to their decisions all the time—and even outright refusals. It’s a tricky proposition for any boss, but experts say it can create an opportunity for the firm when handled well.

According to Kevin Cashman, a Korn Ferry leadership coach, leaders can hear “no” from an employee and use it as a way to create value for everyone. “Bosses have to be open, self-aware, and agile enough to know that they may be wrong at times,” Cashman says. But letting direct reports refuse orders at the wrong time—or in the wrong way—not only jeopardizes the boss’s reputation but also can damage the organization as a whole.

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What’s Your Leadership Legacy?

Originally posted to City National Bank’s News & Insights blog on February 4, 2019. 

Ambitious business owners and professionals want to leave their mark on the world, but they’re often too busy to answer an important question: How do you want to be remembered?

It’s worth the time and effort to consider what contribution you want to impart to your company and people — whether it’s a new way of thinking, learning or doing. A powerful legacy also enables a leader’s influence to continue well into the future.

How to Create a Leadership Legacy

Many business owners may begin thinking about their legacy as they prepare to exit their company, but it’s just as important for leaders to create a living legacy — one that is built throughout your career, not just at the end.

Not only will building a living legacy provide purpose throughout your career, but getting clarity on your legacy early on can be an effective way to help you set goals and priorities, said Kevin Cashman, global leader of CEO & Executive Development at organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry in Minneapolis.

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Enterprise Leadership: Five Big Resolutions for 2019

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on January 15, 2019. 

One of the toughest development challenges is to elevate a critical mass of talent from executive management to true enterprise leadership.  To move key talent from controlling systems, processes and financial performance to courageously create value creating significance, sustainability and purpose across an enterprise is no easy task.  To move senior people from thinking and behaving downwards into a function, a geography, a division or a single team, to thinking, and collaborating and inspiring across all functions, across all geographies, across all divisions, across all teams and across all customer groups is a very complex and critical shift.  Accelerating the development of executive managers into enterprise leaders may be the single most important factor in achieving your strategy and creating a more valuable and sustainable future.

In 2019, as you consider elevating leadership more authentically to the enterprise level, I suggest reflecting on five resolutions to help you to do so…

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Accelerating Change On-Purpose

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted to his Forbes blog, Pause Point on December 28, 2018. 

Although it may be true that we can’t “step into the same river twice,” as Heraclitis said, once we step in, we are part of that river’s flow.  Since birth, we have been swept up in a raging, constantly changing never-ending flow of experience.  Sometimes we love the flow of life, sometimes we hate it and resist it.  But because the flow of the river is constant, we have no choice in the matter.  We have to change.  It is part of the price of admission to life.  Every moment our cells are changing; our thoughts are changing; our emotions are changing; our relationships, our marketplace, our finances.  Change is endless and relentless.

We have no choice in the matter except for one aspect—accelerating our growth through change by adapting and learning.  Most leadership research illustrates that as we go up the executive ladder, we need to become increasingly comfortable with uncertainty and sudden change.  As leaders, we have to have the “integrative ability” to weave together and make sense of apparently disjoined pieces, crafting novel and innovative solutions.  At the same time, we need to have the self-confidence to make decisions on the spot, even in the absence of compelling, complete data.  The qualities needed at the top—courage, openness, authentic listening, adaptability—also indicate that leaders need to be comfortable with and able to embrace the “grayness” that comes from multiple points of view coming at us at once.  In other words, we have to master our adaptability mentally, emotionally, strategically, and interpersonally.

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The First Strikes Against Short-Termism

By Kevin Cashman and Jamen Graves.  Originally posted on Korn Ferry Institute on December 5, 2018. 

A message to Wall Street is starting to get out that at least one big firm will be trying to focus more on long-term goals and success rather than short-term quarterly gains. But the question remains: Will investors listen?

In one key move, Apple recently announced it would stop reporting individual sales each quarter for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, citing that such reports were “not representative of underlying state of business.”

According to Jamen Graves, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry who specializes in tech, the move is an attempt to align employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders around the idea that Apple’s future success is about more than any one product.

“It sets up a culture that is conducive to what Apple needs to become,” says Graves. “The reporting change is likely just the beginning, and it signals a pivotal shift in what it means to work at Apple for employees, and how we should think about Apple as investors, shareholders, and customers.”

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Is the top job up for grabs? You better have a succession plan

By Olive Keogh; originally published in The Irish Times on November 9, 2018.  

Earlier this year Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance chief executive Carlos Ghosn had his contract renewed for another four years. But rather than continuing to run the business day to day, Ghosn (64) has a new job: succession planning.

Ghosn runs a tight ship and has been the public face of the alliance for almost 20 years. He’s a tough act to follow but it’s interesting to see that his focus at this point is on identifying potential leaders from within his own organisation.

There are good reasons to promote from within. It costs less, it retains staff, it keeps expertise in-house, it protects the corporate culture and it sends a positive message about career opportunities. However, it’s also potentially risky. If someone unexpected gets the job, it can really upset the status quo as those who thought they were a shoo-in are disappointed.

Internal candidates assume they already know what a job involves and often have strong opinions about the competencies required to do it. If the successful candidate doesn’t appear to have them – at least as far as rivals are concerned – it can generate great dissatisfaction with a potentially toxic side order of backbiting and a drop in morale.

The key to ruffling as few feathers as possible is high-visibility succession planning. This is a process that emphasises opportunity and makes it clear that, if someone misses out on one job, there will be other opportunities within an approximate timeframe.

In addition, if potential candidates need to upskill to apply for these positions, they will be helped to do so. This helps avoid internal competitions turning hostile.

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