Five Lessons from World Changers

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Now is the time to change the world. The past decade has been one of remarkable transformation and seemingly endless crisis. We’ve seen hundreds of millions rise from poverty to the ranks of the middle class, but we face persistent and difficult problems like disease, economic recession, and financial turmoil. Correspondingly, we need leaders who are willing to address those challenges.

They exist. The Passion & Purpose MBA survey found that, among graduate business students at least, two of the top three reasons for choosing a workplace were “intellectual challenge” and “opportunity to impact the world,” and nearly 85% of those surveyed thought “business people are well-qualified to solve the most pressing problems in the world.”

But what would it take for us, as individuals, to be world changers? That’s the central question in John Byrne’s new book, World Changers.* In it, Byrne recounts discussions with 25 entrepreneurs who have changed the world — people like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson. Byrne focuses on allowing those people to tell their stories, but in reading them, I found several valuable lessons for world changers in the making.

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Five Resolutions for Aspiring Leaders

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

As the New Year approaches, people will be making resolutions to eat better, exercise more, get that promotion at work, or spend more time with their families. While these are worthwhile goals, we have a more important challenge for young people: Think seriously about your development as a leader.

These are tough times. Many leaders of the baby boomer generation have failed in their responsibilities by placing their self-interest ahead of their organizations. In so doing, they have failed to serve society’s best interests. As a result, more young leaders from Gen X and the Millennials are being asked to take on major leadership responsibilities. To be prepared for the challenges you will face, we propose the following resolutions this New Year’s:

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Hope for the Holidays

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Post Co-Written By John Coleman and Bill George.

The recent Occupy Wall Street protests are only the latest of a series of global movements carried out by those who have grown cynical about leadership in business, government, and society.

There is reason for this cynicism. The twenty-first century has been rocked by scandals and failures of leaders in the baby boomer generation. In business, companies like Enron and individuals like Bernard Madoff have broken laws and violated trust. In 2008 financial markets melted down, triggering the Great Recession and costing millions of people their jobs. Governments have failed to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, creating trillions in debt and stifling global growth.

After a decade of problems, it’s not hard to see why people take to the streets or grow distrustful of those who bear responsibility for the troubles we face and who have too often put their self-interest ahead of their institutions.

But while senior leaders have often failed to fulfill their responsibilities, we see many hopeful signs that the Gen X and millennial generations have learned from these failures and are prepared to step up their leadership in these trying times.

According to a recent survey of 500 young MBAs from top business schools:

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Purpose as a Compass

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

What is purpose? Why – particularly in business – does it matter?

In a recent podcast, Stanford Psychologist Lera Boroditsky spoke about the Kuuk Thaayorre language spoken in the Pormpuraawaboriginal community in Australia. The Kuuk Thaayorre language does not have relative spatial terms (e.g., “left”, “right”) only terms for “absolute cardinal directions” (e.g., “north”, “south”, etc.).

As an English speaker, I can use the terms “north” and “south”, but I most often orient around myself and use the terms “left” or “right”. When I turn around, “left” turns with me – my sense of space depends on where I stand. If you place me in a dark room and ask me to point “south” I’ll be lost – I’m almost completely unable to identify a direction independent of me.

But if you put a five year old child in Pormpurraw to point “east”  she can do so instantly. Whereas I orient myself around myself, the Pormpuraawans orient around those points of reference fixed by sun, space, and earth. Consequently, their sense of direction becomes second nature. To quote Professor Boroditsky:

To say hello in Pormpuraaw, one asks, “Where are you going?”, and an appropriate response might be, “A long way to the south-southwest. How about you?” If you don’t know which way is which, you literally can’t get past hello.

Everything in their lives is fixed by an understanding of its relationship to something else. Their artwork, their understanding of time, their place in the world. And that orientation means they’re constantly aware of their surroundings, their direction, their path.

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To Grow, Leave What You Know Behind

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last year, I was fortunate to moderate a fascinating panel discussion with Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership on the topic of “Next Generation Leadership.” One of the panelists, Rosalinde Torres, encouraged us to ask the following question: “What has made you successful in the past that you need to change to move forward as a leader?”

As we go through different phases in our personal and professional lives, we’re called upon to adapt, to marshal skills different than those we’ve used in the past. And in the modern world — where the pace of technological and social change is as fast as at any time in human history, those demands on our adaptability are greater. An exceptional grocery store cashier, for example, will need a different set of skills to be a store manager as her career evolves. And those in computer repair have had to learn and unlearn a myriad skills over the past 30 years to keep pace with the changes happening around them.

So what skills do you need to modify or leave behind to grow? For me, a few suggestions come to mind.

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Leadership’s New Direction

January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Coauthored by John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and Oliver Segovia

On April 6, 2009, as the world was reeling from the impact of the global financial crisis, the Guardian ran a feature titled“Academies of the Apocalypse?” Arguing that U.S. business schools and recently-minted MBAs should shoulder most of the blame for the crisis, the article triggered a series of follow-on pieces in the world’s most-respected publications, manylambasting the value of top business schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT, and questioning the ethical and moral convictions of their graduates.

As the public developed their own views on whether or not MBAs were to blame, we felt that a key voice was being omitted from the debate: that of young business leaders themselves. With 100,000 men and women graduating from U.S. business schools each year, surely MBAs aren’t all ethically-starved, power-hungry, and deceitful, are they?

The answer, of course, is no. Today’s young leaders are growing up with the belief that business can provide them with a way of translating a meaningful, personal purpose into work that impacts the world in a positive way. These are 20-somethings in the early stages of their careers, holding roles that require tremendous amounts of responsibility and judgment — whether it’s managing a brand, starting a new venture, or transitioning the family business.

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