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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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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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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The Leadership Lift

By Susanne Blazek, Lalitha Urs, and Evelyn Orr; originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute on October 7, 2015. 

When presidents, royalty, and CEOs seek to optimize their health, they turn to elite medical centers’ executive health programs, where internists, cardiologists, dietitians, and others help them elevate every aspect of their fitness. The expert teams not only prescribe a regimen but also ask—is it effective over the course of months and years?

For alumni of Korn Ferry’s Chief Executive Institute™ (CEI) and Executive to Leader Institute™ (ELI) the value of the 12-month experience—even as much as 25 years later—is sustained and powerful.

To assess the enduring impact of CEI and ELI, intensive programs that Fast Company magazine called the “Mayo Clinic of leadership development,” researchers from the Korn Ferry Institute interviewed 39 people who completed CEI or ELI between 1989 and 2013.1 The executives were asked what the experience was like for them, what they had learned about themselves, how they applied those insights to their work, and what impact on their careers they attributed to the program.

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Profit vs Purpose: The Duel Begins

By Russell Pearlman, originally published in issue 35 of Briefings Magazine, and posted on KornFerry.com on May 15, 2018. 

Kurt Graves had just heard from multiple investors in Intarcia Therapeutics, the pharmaceutical firm he runs, asking him a single question: Why wasn’t he putting Intarcia up for sale?

Intarcia is one of those “unicorns,” a firm with a multi-billion-dollar valuation. Its big product is a pushpin-sized pump that, when placed under a patient’s skin, will deliver medicine without trouble for a year. It’s a potential life changer for diabetes patients, many of whom have trouble keeping up with all the injections and pills to keep their disease at bay.

But the treatment, while succeeding in many clinical trials, was still facing months of regulatory review. Selling now, or taking the company public, the investors argued, would let the owners earn some quick short-term profits.

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The Salary Surge

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Following the launch of The Global Talent Crunch, Korn Ferry is pleased to share The Salary Surge. This latest report in our future of work series outlines the potential costs that organizations may need to pay to secure skilled talent amidst severe global skilled talent shortages.

In The Salary Surge, we project the impact that talent shortages will have on salary bills by mapping Korn Ferry’s proprietary global pay data against the skilled labor shortage estimates across 20 economies at three future milestones of 2020, 2025 and 2030.

Got a minute?  View the Infographic

Got three?  View the Executive Summary

Got 30?  Read the Report

8 Resolutions on the CEO’s Desk

Originally posted on Korn Ferry Institute on January 10, 2018. 

Some may be obvious but still get missed as the grind of the business year cycles through. Others are new and unique to 2018. Either way, the breath of this year’s resolutions that experts believe CEOs need couldn’t be wider.

A tight focus on culture, to prevent so many of crossed wires that befelled many too CEOs last year. Some real change–more than talk–about diversity at all levels. A much deeper pipeline of talent to fit the fast improving job market today. And so on, as Korn Ferry experts provides the following overview:

Create an effective culture.

As business leaders look ahead to 2018, many of them are looking for ways to drive cultural change. It makes sense: five years ago, salary and benefits were the No. 1 reason a job candidate would choose one company over another; today, culture is No. 1. Organizations have found that when they lead with purpose, transparency, fairness, and accountability, they’re able to attract and retain better talent, and inspire greater creativity and innovation—all of which ultimately helps their bottom line, experts say. And while culture permeates every aspect of a business — from its systems to its ethics to its processes — as a business leader, a change in culture starts with you. “It’s a mistake for top leaders to believe that culture is somehow separate from themselves or a separate project,” says Arvinder Dhesi, a Korn Ferry senior client partner. “Everything that we do contributes to the culture. There’s no culture-neutral behavior.”

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Women CEOs Speak

Korn Ferry Institute in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation conducted comprehensive interviews and assessments with 57 women who were Fortune 1000 CEOs.  Our goal was to discern what made them unique.  Considering the fact that only 6% of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, some interesting findings surfaced:

  • Most never set out to be CEOs
  • Most had a key inflection point based on someone seeing and fostering their potential
  • They were particularly driven by challenge
  • They were motivated by purpose
  • They had a significantly higher degree of humility than male CEOs.

The whitepaper found HERE may be of interest as you seek to develop a more diverse and inclusive CEO/Senior Executive Pipeline.