The Story Principle: The Inspiring Language of Leadership

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on June 23, 2021. 

Stories are the language of leadership that can move both heads and hearts to go beyond what people thought was possible.

A personal story. My phone rang at 2:00 am – rarely a good sign. Startled, I wondered who it was and what bad news awaited me. Sitting up in bed, I reached for the phone. Putting it up to my ear, I heard my mother’s shaken voice saying, “There’s been a terrible accident. Your father is unconscious. He’s in intensive care. Kevin, you have to go to the hospital.”

I reacted, “No way. I’m not going.” I’m not proud of my response, but it was honest. It represented the reactive way I felt. I knew that my mother couldn’t handle going either. She and my dad had been separated for some years.

She insisted. “This is your father, Kevin. You have to go.” Grudgingly, I pulled on my clothes and drove to North Memorial Hospital. The entire drive I held onto my resentment, resisting what awaited me. When I walked into intensive care and saw him – bruised, bloody, unconscious, vulnerable, and attached to a web of cords and devices – unexpectedly, I felt something different. Resentment, at least partially, fell away. My mind said, “No,” but my heart was surprisingly saying, “Yes.” In this conflicted state, I moved forward and held his much too cold hand. As I did so, I remembered his familiar smell and our common DNA. While he was not a great father, I understood that he was my father. His story and mine were intertwined.

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The Great Resignation…by Remote Workers

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on June 17, 2021. 

The Great Resignation. It’s been the headline of the day and the topic that looms large at any company trying to snap back to business quickly. The question is, which group is bolting the fastest?

According to many business leaders and human resources pros, the largest pool of employees quitting is those doing remote work. That comes as a surprise to some who were hoping that allowing workers to stay at home this past year and a half would increase people’s satisfaction in their roles when the time came to return. Instead, many are apparently preferring to test the job market even when they are not asked to return to the office.

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The Human Touch

Originally posted to Korn Ferry’s Briefings magazine, issue 49 on June 10, 2021.  

Almost 100 years after Mayo and Roethlisberger began the conversation about human relations, a new iteration is taking form. Some call it “radical humanity.” Others use the term “humanocracy.” The essence remains. It is about purpose powering performance, rather than performance being the purpose. It’s a plea for businesses to put people and planet before, or at least alongside, profit. For leaders to have the courage to challenge old ways of thinking and to take on the big issues. It’s a yearning to use our creative faculties in collaboration with one another. A demand for empathy. For decades, workers have divided their identities into work and personal. Radically human workplaces, say the idealists, create the potential to harness the full expression of self for a purpose bigger than self. “It’s about a higher quality of existence,” says Jaime Maxwell-Grant, a Korn Ferry senior client partner.

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The Great Unmasking

By David Brooks.  Originally posted to the New York Times on May 27, 2021.  

For millions of Americans, the next six months are going to be great.  The power Covid had over our lives is shrinking, and the power we have over our own lives is growing.  The image that comes to mind is recess.  We’ve been stuck emotionally indoors for over a year.  Now we get to sprint down the hallway and burst into the playground of life.

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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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