Soul Searching

By Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve.  Originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute

Another year has passed me by…
And I’m still in the dark
‘Cause I can’t seem to find the light alone

– “Man in the Wilderness,” by Styx

We’re at the 11th hour of the 11th month of a year like no other. From time to time, the sentiment for all of us has been, “What else could 2020 possibly bring?” During those times, we are like that person in the wilderness—wandering along, never quite knowing why—trying to make sense of it all.

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Election Wrap: 5 Takeaways for Leaders

Originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute

Help show workers how to overcome instead being overwhelmed. Find areas where there are connections, not division. And do what leaders always should do: inspire.

In the wake of a week that has shown how divided the country remains in the political arena, business chiefs find themselves looking for ways to focus all the energy Americans put into the election back into the workplace. Reviving the troops, so to speak, is never easy in years when the Oval Office is at stake. But it’s even more of a challenge amid the unprecedented events of 2020.

It is possible, though. At least, that’s what leadership books and studies have been saying for decades. Looking for ideas relevant to the current times, we spoke with some Korn Ferry experts after Tuesday’s historic vote, discussing leadership, engagement, and inclusion. Here are five actions they suggested.

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How to Listen More Effectively

The election shouting may end this week—hopefully—but the feeling that no one is listening to us is likely going to linger. And not only in the political arena but at work too.

Indeed, experts say the US presidential election season, which has lasted two years, only mirrored a growing feeling among workers that their leaders talk at them, not with them. That feeling only magnified at work when video calls and masks became routine during the pandemic. “Leaders and employees are stuck in a communication cycle of giving information and providing updates instead of really connecting,” says Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s global solutions leader for leadership development.

It doesn’t help that many people, according to years of research, aren’t great listeners in the first place. That’s particularly true when the topic involves something distressing or uncomfortable, as has been much of the conversation between employees and leaders this year.

With that in mind, Korn Ferry searched for a few ways to help managers at all levels—not to mention one colleague to another—become more effective listeners.

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The Power of Being Authentic

By Gary Burnison, originally posted to Korn Ferry Institute

Basketball practice was over. As the other kids waited outside the gym doors for their parents to pick them up, I started walking in the other direction—telling my teammates I had someplace else to be.

The truth, though, was I always asked my dad to meet me a few blocks away. It was the early 1970s, and I didn’t want anyone at school to see my dad’s car—a 1956 Buick with a rusted bumper that belched blue clouds of exhaust.

My dad had gone bankrupt a couple of years before and we had no money. I hated going to the grocery store and always tried to pick the checkout line with the fewest people so no one would see us using food stamps.

The car, though, was just as bad for a teenager trying desperately to fit in and not stand out for the wrong reasons. As I slunk low in the seat of that old Buick, my dad knew what was going on—and I knew that he knew. But we never talked about it. He just let me be.

Today, of course, I’d love to have that old Buick to restore. Even more important, I wish I could have one more chance to open that car door and sit up tall and proud beside my dad. But that was beyond what this 13-year-old could do. I was too embarrassed to know who I truly was.

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Election 2020: Counting Down the Anxiety

Originally posted on Korn Ferry Institute.

We’re familiar with the usual drill. Every four years, months of intense campaigning lead up to Election Day. Then there’s a late night that’s over by midnight, or the next morning at latest. The drama is over, and everyone can go back to work fully focused. But this is 2020: somehow, few believe the Biden–Trump battle for US president will look quite like that.

As if COVID hasn’t already stirred up one uncertainty after another, now experts say that, barring a major surprise, the country won’t be waking up next Wednesday to an agreed-upon election result. Indeed, ballot disputes and court rulings on the election—along with congressional maneuvering—could drag on for weeks, if not through year’s end.

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Becoming a More Patient Leader

By David Sluss.  Originally posted to Harvard Business Review on September 2, 2020. 

Leading effectively — especially during a crisis — takes patience. If you can’t retain your composure in the face of frustration or adversity, you won’t be able to keep others calm. When your direct reports show signs of strain, you need to support them, not get irritated. Solutions to new challenges usually take time to put into practice.

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Why Vulnerability Is A CEO’s Secret Weapon

Why Vulnerability Is A CEO’s Secret Weapon

The 8 Behaviours of World-Class Leaders During Crisis

In a stunningly short time, demand for her firm’s multibillion-dollar product had dropped almost in half. And almost as quickly, the call for many inside the company was to act fast and preserve as much capital as possible. It was the standard reaction multiplied many times by a global pandemic—save all that is left for better times.

Yet this CEO saw things differently. Cutbacks were made, of course. But instead of purely hunkering down, she directed the teams to work on finding new efficiencies for the product, create new services for customers, and streamline operations. The goal: yes, wait for better times, but give the company an edge for when demand inevitably returns.

In today’s remarkably rough times, with the global coronavirus outbreak upending the modern world as we know it, everyone is dealing with their own challenges. And that certainly includes the world’s chief executive officers. It is these leaders who must keep their organisations afloat. It is they who must inspire people to innovate and try to preserve as many jobs as possible. And while these CEOs are balancing so many impossible dilemmas—what suppliers to pay, what factories to keep open—they must carry the burden of their own uncertainties as well as those of the thousands of workers for whom they bear responsibility.

“It’s something that nearly everyone we’re working with is wrestling with,” says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and Executive Development. “It has never been tougher.”

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Quiet Heroes All Around Us

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on April 3, 2020.

I received a very warm note from a colleague late the other night saying, “Tell me, how are you really doing?” Instead of just saying, “I’m fine”, I shared with him the considerable personal and family stress underneath the business stress, like we all are facing now. My openness opened him up. We shared our real stories underneath the business narrative, the real stories we wrestle with daily.

This authentic exchange led to a deeper personal reflection, “You know what really impresses me in these disruptive times? The ‘quiet heroes’ all around us right now, rising up above the heavy stress every day.” As I write “quiet heroes”, tears hit my keyboard. It is something I had never said or written before. Quiet heroes…the heroes all around us, showing up despite all the anxiety, pressures and worry. The healthcare professionals, the retail clerks, the delivery people, our colleagues, our clients…and of course our loved ones. So why the tears? Profound appreciation, love and admiration for all of them. But also a part of me recognizes that their courage may be greater than my own, and that humbles me to my core.

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The Courageous Life Podcast

Kevin was recently interviewed by Joshua Steinfeldt on his podcast, The Courageous Life, on topics ranging from the importance of purpose and authenticity, how to inspire through storytelling, Leading from the Inside Out, and why courage may be the most important trait in leadership.

Listen Here