Enterprise Leadership: New leadership for a new world

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on May 4, 2021. 

Today’s leaders are being asked to simultaneously run the business and change the business. But Korn Ferry research shows that only 14% of leaders have what it takes.

CEOs today are leading in a world moving through crisis and disruption—where challenges have no known solutions, or if they do, there are far too many choices and few clear ones. Yet even while driving change amidst all this uncertainty, they need to keep the trains running on time.

This expectation that CEOs will transform the business while they maintain strong performance is not exactly new; it’s a trend that has been on an upward trajectory for years. But the current landscape has only accelerated this need. Keep employees safe or maintain efficient operations. Seek big and bold ideas or continue with the current strategy. Scale the company or focus on the core customer.

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Becoming a Leader: 6 Ideas for Today’s World

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on April 29, 2021.

Becoming a better leader normally involves, well, being a leader. Indeed, most leadership experts say about 70% of learning and development comes from challenging assignments that force leaders to learn new skills. The rest of that development usually involves hours of training seminars, working with coaches, and dedicating oneself to become more self-aware, mindful, and reflective.

In a pandemic, of course, much of that training wasn’t possible. But the skill sets for being a strong leader—of a team, a department, or an entire company—couldn’t have been more in demand, and still are. Only these days, leadership-building advice has been shifting, with greater emphasis on careful listening, more transparency, and greater probing. Below, a host of our tips—some fairly standard, some unorthodox—to grow into a better leader.

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Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is

By David Brooks.  Originally posted to New York Times on April 15, 2021. 

Morrie Schwartz was a Brandeis sociology professor who died of A.L.S. in 1995. While he was dying, he had a couple of conversations with Ted Koppel on “Nightline” and a bunch with his former student Mitch Albom, who wrote a book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which sold over 15 million copies. For a few years, Schwartz was the national epitome of the wise person, the gentle mentor we all long for.

But when you look at Schwartz’s piercing insights … well, they’re not that special: “Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.” Schwartz’s genius was the quality of attention he brought to life. We all know we’re supposed to live in the present and savor the fullness of each passing moment, but Schwartz actually did it — dancing with wild abandon before his diagnosis, being fully present with all those who made the pilgrimage to him after it.

Schwartz recruited Albom to share his quality of attention. He bathed his former student with unconditional positive regard, saw where Albom’s life was sliding into workaholism, and nudged him gently back to what he would value when facing his own death.

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Learning Agility from the Inside Out

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on April 14, 2021.  

Agile learners are hungry for more. More knowledge. More experiences. More skills.

These learners find lessons in everything they do. They are endlessly curious—relentless in their pursuit of new facts and information. They take risks, both big and small, exploring new and novel situations. They look back on those experiences, with mindfulness and intention, applying what they’ve learned to future events.

Curiosity, risk-taking, and reflection are central to Learning Agility. People who are highly learning agile have a sense of wonder, a readiness to seek out the unfamiliar, and an ability to unpack this new knowledge in actionable ways. And in today’s ever-evolving, ever-challenging business landscape, these qualities are in great demand, seen increasingly as critical to a company’s success.

Yet, although Learning Agility as a construct is nothing new, learning agile leaders are still in low supply. For decades, organizations have tried to develop a more agile workforce, with talent flexing and strengthening their Learning Agility muscles through stretch assignments and high-stakes turnarounds. But, experts say, the challenges of recent years have created a new dilemma: agile leaders are needed more today than ever before, yet in a world that’s much more digital and much more insulated, the traditional ways of developing agility may no longer be enough.

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The Purpose Principle: Gifts, Grow, Give

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on April 7, 2021. 

Purpose inspires the unmet longing of humans to make a significant difference in the lives of people. Korn Ferry Institute research on consumer products companies indicates just how much purpose actually powers performance. Comparing “average purpose-driven” companies to “highly purpose-driven” consumer companies, we found four times the revenue growth over a three year period.

As leaders we have a responsibility to address this significant question: “Why is it so important that we exist?” With this question, we courageously face who we are and how we are in the world. As the battle rages for the soul of capitalism, we need to pause on a few questions: Will we define business solely in terms of transactional financial levers, designed to accumulate capital, or will we apply our vision to shape business as a more universal lever that serves a higher, more sustainable purpose? Will the top two percent serve the 98 percent, or will the top two percent dominate, control, and be served by the 98 percent? When will we elevate from enterprise success to ecosystem sustainability? What is a new, broader definition of value creation that can endure?

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Back to the Office, Now!

Originally posted to KornFerry.com.

The news must have created a sudden “gulp” feeling among many: New York City ordered all 80,000 of its remote-working employees back to the office the first week of May, a move that experts say could encourage at least some firms to speed up plans to end the work-at-home era.

The announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio comes at a time when nearly seven in 10 employers have said in a recent survey that workers need to be back at the office at least part of the time. The critical decision is how to go about that transition, either with a quick trigger as New York is doing or more gradually. “Most of our clients are taking a conservative and cautious approach,” says Anthony LoPinto, Korn Ferry’s global sector leader for real estate and managing director of the firm’s New York office. At the same time, how competitors respond to this latest development could shift some of that thinking. “Most companies are tracking what others are doing, so it may be a factor,” he says.

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The Long Goodbye

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on March 3, 2021.  

No more commuting to work. More time at the house with the family. And never setting foot on a plane for an exhausting business trip.

In one of the stranger twists of the pandemic, a small but surprising number of older executives have discovered they’re arguably better off in today’s remote-work world—enough to put off retiring. To be sure, they’re still energized, working hard, and dealing with the work stress that the pandemic has brought on. “But I’m hearing the upsides are making it worth it to stay on,” says Kevin Cashman, global leader of CEO and executive development at Korn Ferry.

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Anguish in the Remote C-Suite

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on February 10, 2021.

Unlike some of their younger, lower-level peers, CEOs most likely haven’t spent the pandemic working in a cramped apartment with roommates. They probably carved out a comfortable space for work at home, if they didn’t have a home office already, complete with all the hardware and software needed. They most likely haven’t had to move back in with their parents or stretched in other ways to save money, either.

Yet even without having to deal with many of the more common pandemic struggles, an overwhelming and surprising number of C-suite executives say the toll on them personally has been dramatic. Indeed, 85% of top bosses around the world say they have had significant challenges adjusting to remote work, versus 77% of all employees who say the same thing, according to a new survey from the business software giant Oracle. More than half, 53%, say they have struggled with mental health issues, compared to 45% of all employees.

While the numbers may sound surprising, experts say the reasons behind the high levels of anguish around remote work are not. CEOs, CFOs, and everyone else at the top of the corporate ladder have lost the ability to interact physically with employees, customers, investors, and other stakeholders. Connecting this way is a key facet of their leadership skills, and in many cases, helped propel them to the top of the corporate world in the first place. It’s been particularly difficult for CEOs who normally work in large corporate offices or who derive energy from speaking to large groups. “People get inspired by those who are around them,” says Tierney Remick, a Korn Ferry vice chair and coleader of the firm’s Board and CEO Services practice.

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CEOs as Directors? Maybe not.

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on January 27, 2021. 

It used to be that the surest way to a board seat was to serve as a CEO. Now it might not actually be the best role to have on one’s resume.

In a little-noticed but remarkable shift, many firms are skipping the corner suite and looking elsewhere for directors, choking off what once a wide-open path for current and former corporate CEOs. In fact, recent data shows that nearly two-thirds of the more than 400 director seats filled last year were taken by someone other than a CEO. Experts say since both the pandemic and the racial-equality protests of last year, companies are determined to create boards with more diverse faces and more specific skill sets.

With those trends only gaining more momentum, Charles Elson, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware, expects the number of CEOs on corporate boards to keep shrinking this year. Or, as Elson puts it, “there will be a lot more CEOs playing a lot more golf in the future.”

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The End of ‘I Don’t Know’

By Rob Kaiser.  Originally posted to KornFerry.com on January 22, 2021. 

Preparing to step out onto a rickety wooden footbridge 400 feet above a mountain chasm as he climbed Mount Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu Icefall in 2015, Hal Gregersen felt a little anxious. Seeing where another bridge had fallen didn’t help. He could risk forging ahead, or he could stay where he was and get nowhere.

Across the globe, CEOs now face a similar moment of reckoning, says Gregersen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Though many probably didn’t see it that way at the time, the pandemic removed at least one key part of a CEO’s job by forcing only mostly short-term decisions and avoiding any long-term calls. Indeed, it became common for CEOs to skip making forecasts at earnings calls and to tell stakeholders they had “no idea” about the next 12 months. With crisis management ruling the day, everything from capital investments to new products could be put off.

But that break from one the hardest parts of leadership—charting a course—is ending. Leaders now know who will be in the White House and which party will rule Congress. They know we have a coronavirus vaccine and what the economy might look like this year. Granted, nothing is certain, including the impact of a new virus strain, but CEOs focused for so long on the short term can start to plan much farther down the horizon. Are they up to it?

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