Food for Thought

Making Kindness A Priority In The Workplace From Forbes

Article by Dr. Pragya Agarwal

Kindness is not always seen as a priority in the workplace, especially as it can contrast with the traditional image of a successful entrepreneur. Haven’t we been told that “nice people finish last?” Office culture can be cutthroat and competitive, leading to hurtful criticism, lack of collaboration, and miscommunication.

However, now we are increasingly talking about wellbeing in the workplace, and bringing an authentic quality to our work, being gentle with ourselves, and with others around us.

A new study in the journal Emotion looks at acts of kindness within a real-life working environment and shows how kindness really does create a positive ripple that affects the whole workplace culture. This study has shown that generosity and kindness propagates and spreads. The researchers from the University of California studied workers from Coca Cola’s Madrid headquarters. The study group consisted of mostly female employees from a range of departments. Participants were told they were part of a happiness study, and once a week for four weeks, they checked in to report how they were feeling, in terms of mood and life satisfaction, and their experience of positive and negative behaviors. This included how many they had carried out towards others, and how many others had made towards them. Four weeks later, the participants completed further measures, such as happiness and job satisfaction. There was a catch—19 of the participants were instructed by researchers to be the “givers,” where each week they performed some act of kindness towards some of their co-workers, who were not part of this control group. It was up to the altruistic group as to what generous acts they performed, and these included relatively simple things that we can often take for granted, such as bringing someone a drink and emailing a thank-you note.

After about a month, the study shows that the acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed, and it had a huge impact on the overall positivity in the workplace, and on the employees’ sense of wellbeing. The people who received kindness through the 4 weeks reported a sense of camaraderie.  In addition, the receivers felt in control at work and reported significantly higher levels of happiness. The acts of kindness, however small and insignificant they might have seemed acted as a buffer even during a period of stress, and difficult work conditions. Even the control group, those 19 people who were part of the control group, enjoyed higher levels of life satisfaction and job satisfaction, and fewer depressive symptoms. They also felt more autonomous, and more competent in their workplace. Therefore, evidence suggests we feel happier when spending money on others than ourselves, and acts of kindness increase not only the receivers but also the giver’s sense of wellbeing, autonomy, and competence.

The most interesting aspect of the study was to show that such acts of kindness are also contagious. So, there was an increasing amount of “prosocial” behavior with employees feeling that they were part of a unit and a workplace that looked after them and cared about them. People not only reciprocated the acts of kindness by taking the initiative to find out who had been kind to them but also paid it forward to others, thereby spreading the feeling of generosity. An additional side-advantage of this was that people were being more creative in how they could show their kindness and generosity, thereby making the employees think outside the box, and exercise creative thinking.

This study, therefore, shows that small acts of kindness not only benefit the receiver, but also the giver and the whole organization, thereby creating a positive workplace culture.

To start off with, organizations can introduce a Random Acts of Kindness Week, running from February 9 to February 15—but this doesn’t have to be so prescriptive. It can be introduced at any time. By performing random acts of kindness on a regular basis, each individual can improve their social and communication skills so positively that it may indeed contribute to the overall culture. 

Practicing gratitude is not difficult, although, in our culture of fast-paced digital communication, it can take conscious effort to remember to practice seemingly old-fashioned gratitude, and express in in our communication. When we communicate via digital apps and platforms, often rushing and writing quick messages, a lack of personal interaction allows us to say things we might never say to someone in face-to-face conversations. We do not see someone’s facial expressions or hear the inflections in their voice, which can often provide us with numerous cues in social interactions. This can breed confusion and misunderstanding. Although today as more and more people work remotely, it can be difficult to organize this, but if more of the feedback and communication can happen through e-meeting places which include audio and video, it can help in avoiding some of the confusion caused by digital communication. It has also been found that people are likely to be kinder and practice more gratitude when they see and hear the other person.

Making kindness a priority in the workplace will create a more inclusive workplace culture, one where people feel a sense of belonging, and wellbeing.

If you have kids or employees with kids, this article from Fast Company is worth your time: innovation can help limit the divide between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to remote education.

Article by Ainsley Harris

Personalized learning hinges on relationships, not just algorithms. To recover all the ground they lost during the pandemic, students are going to need more than technology.

No matter how many Clorox wipes they buy, or how far apart they place desks, schools will not be returning to normal anytime soon, due to continued public health concerns surrounding COVID-19 transmission. The grief of disrupted routines, short-circuited friendships, and delayed academic milestones that had sunk in by spring has been replaced with the stress of ongoing uncertainty.

Among educators, a different kind of grief has been taking hold, as they’ve realized that school closures have created a variance in students’ progress that is so great, it renders grade levels almost meaningless. While some schools achieved a degree of success with video-based lessons and digital assignments submitted via tools such as Seesaw and Google Classroom, many struggled to adapt—and many students have fallen behind. In May, the nonprofit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and collaborators at Brown University and the University of Virginia projected that students would return to school this fall having made only two-thirds of their typical school-year gains in reading and less than half of their typical school-year gains in math. McKinsey & Company estimates that at least 232,000 additional students will drop out of high school before the end of this school year—an increase of nearly 20% from the previous year.

“The remediation needs [over the] next year are going to be extraordinary,” says Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. “It’s unfathomable to me how a sixth-grade teacher will cope with the sixth-grade pacing guide she’s got in front of her. I don’t see any option but to innovate.”

Much of the creative thinking in schools in recent years has centered around personalized learning, a term for the practice of modifying lessons, pacing, and subject matter to meet the needs and interests of individual students. In theory, personalized learning seems an ideal way to tackle the problem at hand. But many educators are wary of personalized learning as a mind-­numbingly rote embrace of technology. For example, there are an increasing number of ed-tech products, marketed as personalized, that use adaptive algorithms to serve up a sequence of multiple-choice questions—preparing students for standardized tests but not much else. Two years ago, students at one Brooklyn school walked out in protest against a personalized-learning platform called Summit Learning; in a letter to Summit financial backer (and Facebook CEO) Mark Zuckerberg, they called the platform “boring” and said that it had eliminated “human interaction, teacher support, and discussion.”

And yet educators at schools where personalized learning is viewed as an overarching philosophy, rather than a digital panacea, say that adapting to the pandemic has been relatively painless, and that students are continuing to progress in their studies. The key difference between their approach and the popular narrative around personalized learning is that these educators have built their schools around the idea of student agency. In other words, their students are not passive recipients of personalized learning but rather active initiators of it.

It’s an important distinction. With remote learning likely to continue in some form at least through 2021, a greater degree of independence is being forced on students by structural necessity. Perhaps it’s time for schools to look anew at personalized learning, a model that in its best incarnations is not algorithm-led but student-led.

At Design39Campus, a public school in San Diego that opened in 2014 with a view toward personalized learning, there are no grade levels, and no one with the title of “teacher.” Instead, students are loosely grouped into “pods” roughly based on their age, and educators are known as “Learning Experience Designers,” or LEDs.

Last spring, as the school transitioned to remote learning, the biggest challenge for school cofounder and LED Megan Power was not managing her students but rather their parents. “We’ve trained the kids to be independent—to have an understanding of where they are and what they need to do,” she says. “And now the parents are taking a lot more of the lead.”

Still, she was pleased to see a group of her younger students step up and decide to create a game in order to master the concept of coin values during a spring unit on money. “It’s not the teacher telling them what to work on; it’s like a joint partnership,” she says.

Students are falling behind: School disruptions during the pandemic are taking a toll.

[Sources, clockwise from top right: Center for Reinventing Public Education, June 10, 2020; McKinsey & Company, June 2020 study; U.S. Census Bureau, May 7–12, 2020, study. *$25,000 or less in annual income]

As students at personalized-learning schools grow older, those partnerships can become more complex. One morning this past June, graduating middle schoolers at the private Mountain View, California, Khan Lab School (founded by Khan Academy creator Sal Khan in 2014 and loosely affiliated with his online learning nonprofit) participated in a Zoom-based exhibition of their spring semester capstone projects. Each student had been required to recruit an expert mentor separate from their teachers and to check in with them regularly.

A student named Ishansh shared pictures of bread that he swabbed on a TV remote, a yoga mat, and other potentially germ-infested places, in effect creating a set of homemade petri dishes. Using a program he wrote in Python, he explained, he analyzed the germ growth on each slice of bread over time (and thoroughly grossed out his mom). “I feel a lot more confident and independent now,” he says, “because during the project I learned how to take the initiative and be more productive and organized.”

Self-awareness seems to come easily to Khan Lab students, who spend a week at the end of each term reflecting on their learning. “Metacognition develops with age, but we try to nurture it early on,” says Sonia Cho, head of Khan Lab’s Lower School.

Mott Haven Academy Charter School, founded in 2008 to serve children in the foster care system, stands in the shadow of the Major Deegan Expressway in the South Bronx. Though the academy has a very different student body than the Khan Lab School (500 students, the majority of whom are being monitored by child welfare services), its students have been relatively successful at learning during the pandemic—a reminder that any remote-learning strategy, particularly one that is personalized, requires that schools give educators the time and resources to invest in relationships with their students. At the academy, that happens through educator training, close coordination with social work staff, and family support services provided via nonprofit operating partner the New York Foundling.

As of early May, work completion and attendance was hovering around 95% for Mott Haven Academy’s middle school students, and around 85% for its elementary school students, despite ongoing challenges related to device and internet access. (The school gave cash grants to some families, so that they could afford to use their prepaid phones as Wi-Fi hot spots.) At schools serving similar communities, attendance rates have been far lower—if they are being tracked at all. As of June, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, fewer than half of districts nationally were requiring attendance or one-on-one check-ins.

Mott Haven Academy cofounder Jessica Nauiokas, who has been head of school for more than 12 years, says she’s “proud of the things we’ve been able to accomplish because of the priorities that we had before this crisis began.” Her staff knew which students were hungry, which were living in shelters, which had undocumented parents. The goal is for students to feel known, and also to remove barriers to their success. The coronavirus has been a reminder of just how daunting those barriers can be.

“We’ve already had two students whose parents have passed away from COVID,” she says. “Lots have lost grandparents, but these children are losing their primary caregivers. Just about the first person they reached out to tell was their teacher.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.

Becoming the CEO Your Business Needs

Bringing an organization to the next stage of the business life cycle frequently requires a transformation. Often hard. Usually messy. But oh-so rewarding.

Meet three Vistage members navigating those changes. Despite being at different stages of their companies and leadership journeys, each one had to develop new skills, move out of their comfort zone and broaden their vision to drive the business forward.

As you’ll read, their road to success was never only about meeting the numbers — but becoming the leaders that their businesses needed.

Sharpening Strategy and Leadership

Vector Marketing CEO Albert DiLeonardo embraces new generations of sellers and buyers

Rebuilt to Scale

Nonprofit CEO Deborah Winn-Horowitz scales level of care at her elderly-care facility for a booming population

Navigating the Growth Stage

GLDN CEO Christine Lavdovsky grows custom jewelry business for the masses

How to (Actually) Save Time When You’re Working Remotely from HBR

Article by Lauren C. Howe , Ashley Whillans and Jochen I. Menges

While the widespread shift to remote work hasn’t been without its challenges, it does offer a major silver lining: For many of us, commuting has become a thing of the past. In the United States alone, eliminating the daily commute has saved workers around 89 million hours each week — equivalent to time savings of more than 44.5 million full workdays since the pandemic began! These numbers suggest that working remotely could be a deus ex machina for reclaiming one of our most precious and limited resources: time.

But despite the potential for staggering time savings, many have struggled to achieve everything they hoped the pandemic would finally make time for: baking sourdough, meditating, or writing the next great literary masterpiece. On the contrary, data we collected from 12,000 people across the U.S. and Europe during the pandemic show that the additional time is often burned on unproductive work and unsatisfying leisure activities. Having more time does not necessarily mean that we use it wisely. So, what are we doing wrong?

Lesson #1: Working from home or living at work?

Without an office to commute to, the separation between work and home becomes tenuous. Although research shows that people rate their commutes as one of the most stressful and undesirable parts of the day, having no commute at all causes problems too.

In a series of studies, we found that being on the road can help people switch gears between home and work, and that without a commute, people struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Instead of shutting down the computer and rattling home on a crowded train at 6 PM, many people are working later than ever, “just one more email” stretching into an extra two hours hunched over the laptop. And that additional work time is not always well spent.

In our studies, people reported being stuck in more meetings during the pandemic than before, doing too much “agenda-setting,” not doing enough creative collaboration, and filling their time with more unproductive work. In a perfect illustration of Parkinson’s law, that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, the average 53 minutes per day people saved by not commuting was often immediately absorbed by additional, less productive work.

Lesson #2: Saving time or wasting time?

When people did manage to gain free time, it often wasn’t spent wisely: Our surveys found that activities we call “passive leisure” — such as watching TV — rose dramatically, while “active leisure” activities such as volunteering or socializing became less frequent. While a bit of passive leisure is a healthy way to relax, our research suggests that it’s much less likely than active leisure to promote happiness.

Admittedly, the pandemic has made many active leisure activities challenging. But we’ve seen plenty of creative ways to pursue active leisure while following social distancing guidelines, such as Zoom game nights and happy hours, clever socially distant sports, and virtual volunteering.

During a time of global crisis, it’s healthy to prioritize relaxation, and it’s natural that we might struggle to maximize productivity at work. But as we return to semi-normalcy, what can we do to ensure we use our time savings to pursue meaningful activities that make us truly happy?

Through our research, we found several strategies that can help you structure your workday to enable clearer boundaries and more time for active leisure:

1. Create your own commute.

For many of us, commuting was when we would get into “work mode.” But that transition doesn’t have to come from a physical commute. Research shows that the most-desired commute length is 16 minutes, so when you’re working remotely, take that time to find another way to transition into work mode. (We don’t mean literally pretending to be on a subway, as some Londoners have taken to doing.)

Specifically, a recent study of ours revealed that the happiest commuters are those who use their commutes to plan their workdays. So try starting your remote workday by taking 15 minutes to plan your day, either at home or with a short morning walk. In fact, walking is a form of active leisure that’s known to reduce stress, so it’s good idea to find ways to deliberately build some walking back into your day.

2. Give yourself a Feierabend.

In Germany, the Feierabend is a daily evening celebration marking the moment when work is switched off for the day — often accompanied by a hearty German beer. Whether you finish the day with a beverage, a snack, going for a run, or calling a friend, find a ritual that can mark the end of your workday and give you something to look forward to. These daily routines help you celebrate what you have accomplished during the day (rather than focusing on what still needs to be done), bringing life meaning and happiness.

3. Focus your workload on a daily “must win.”

If your to-do list is anything like ours, it is always too long. To avoid drowning in work, identify a must win for each day — one thing you need to achieve no matter what — and then pursue it at full steam. In the face of constant interruptions from email and messaging platforms, staying focused on your top priority is a real accomplishment. And if you complete your must win, research shows the resulting sense of achievement is likely to have a significant impact on your happiness.

4. Put “proactive time” on your calendar.

Protect your calendar from never-ending Zoom meetings by blocking out “pro time,” or time reserved for work that is highly important, but not urgent. Our studies have found that scheduling a daily pro-time block, in which you turn off all distractions and focus on specific tasks, helps employees feel more effective and less overwhelmed. Pro-time can prevent you from focusing only on the next deadline and getting bogged down with less meaningful work, making your days feel more productive and less stressful.

5. Reclaim the social in social distancing.

The strategies above can help you get some of your time back. But more time in and of itself is meaningless — it’s what you do with it that matters. Are you using your newfound free time to connect with other people? To start exercising, or volunteering? Just like scheduling pro-time during the workday, we recommend being proactive about scheduling active leisure activities after work.

This doesn’t have to be a big commitment. Research suggests that short informal social interactions (whether in person or digital), as well as just 10 or 20 minutes of active leisure, boosts well-being. This isn’t about dedicating two hours to socializing every day, but rather spending 20 minutes catching up with a friend or going for a walk.

You can even maximize active leisure by combining social time with other pursuits, such as exercising together with a friend. This way you can kill two birds with one stone; plus, involving others in your goals makes it easier to stick to them.

In addition, try building social opportunities into the flow of your normal workday. For instance, studies show that using commute time to connect with others — even strangers on a train — promotes happiness. To replicate this while working remotely, perhaps part of your end-of-day routine could be a chat with a family member or friend.

6. Run time-management experiments.

Today, we’re all part of a grand experiment in how we use our time. But even after pandemic restrictions are lifted, it’s a good idea to keep trying out new time management schemes to see what works best for you.

For example, here at the University of Zurich, our team invented a “3-2-2 week” that gives us a good balance: each week, we spend three days at the office (yes, we think the commute time is worth the conviviality that only the office can afford), two days working from home, and two days dedicated to family and friends. Experiment with structuring your days and weeks in different ways to see what feels best for you, during the pandemic and beyond.

Around the world, shifting to remote work could save billions of hours — but it’s up to us to spend that time well. Now is the time to make thoughtful choices about how we reshape work to get more of what we all crave most: time.

Vistage shares 10 steps to building a killer business strategy you can execute flawlessly

Article by Marc Emmer

I have had the honor of helping over 60 Vistage members craft their best business strategies.

A couple years ago, I worked with the management team of a member who was contemplating the company’s growth plan. Based on instincts alone, most of the sales team thought the strategy should focus on expansion into new geographic markets.

After collaborating with the CFO to create a financial model, we illustrated that the company was far better off investing in its existing markets, albeit with a slightly different offering and message. In this particular case, strategic thinking, market research and depth triumphed over simplicity.

Our appetite for simplicity should not override our need to be thorough, especially when the future of a company is at stake.

Void of research and planning, many companies make hasty and ill-advised decisions that adversely impact their enterprise value. Our appetite for simplicity should not override our need to be thorough, especially when the future of a company is at stake.

In a world where CEOs are overcaffeinated, stressed and time-starved, many have been romanced by easy-to-use strategic templates that yield a quick-and-dirty business strategy. However, downloading a template tends to promote short-sighted thinking and poorly-executed strategies. The result is often something closer to a short-term operational plan than a true strategy.

Vistage members are focusing more and more on execution, as well they should. Hiring the wrong people or implementing an ERP based on faulty assumptions can be costly.

Strategic planning, and even visioning, cannot be casually ideated in a few hours. Often, strategic planning is associated with completing a SWOT analysis. Participants show up for an all-day meeting and end up with a list of opportunities including imprecise strategies, such as “expand internationally.” Their list is void of any market analysis, research and business intelligence. When their ill-conceived tactics fail, they blame the strategy.

Developing a business strategy in 10 steps

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 steps you can take to build the best business strategies and execute them with precision:

1. Develop a true vision.

Vision is an abstract word that means different things to different people. Classically, a vision or vision statement is a snapshot into the future. It should include aspirations of what type of company you want to be, and, unlike a mission statement, articulates what success looks like in clear terms (customers, markets, volume, etc.).

2. Define competitive advantage.

At the essence of strategy is identifying how a company can deliver unique value to its customers. In many sectors of the economy, companies are stuck in a sea of sameness. A well-thought-out business strategy should consider how a company can create space from competition in its service offering, pricing model, delivery system and more.

3. Define your targets.

One of the most significant barriers to growth is poor targeting. Absent of very specific targets, companies suffer from unclear messaging and thus misalignment between sales and marketing. Defining niches and specialties allows companies to focus resources (of course, some companies are generalists by design).

Clear target markets give a company the ability to create an integrated sales and marketing approach, where marketing enables sales productivity. Sales and marketing plans are executed more effectively when targets are tight.

4. Focus on systematic growth.

As one of our Vistage member clients says, “A thriving company is a growing company.” It is only through growth that companies can afford to invest in things like technology, the best people and new equipment. The strategic plan should identify in which segments a company will grow and in what proportion, so that the product mix yields a specific net margin result.

Only after coming to such conclusions could a company know how much it can afford in terms of capex, overhead expenses and so on.

5. Make fact-based decisions.

Strategy is a garbage in, garbage out exercise. Executives often complain about a lack of good data, but we consistently find information that is useful in the formation of strategy.

We once worked with a Vistage member who was trying to quantify the value of various segments served. By accessing the public records of a nearby port, we were able to quantify actual shipments of merchandise by potential customers.

6. Think long term.

In the face of constant change, planning horizons are shorter than they used to be. However, only thinking quarter to quarter is a trap that may rob companies of their ability to see around the bend. Best-in-class companies create processes designed to treat strategy as an annual cycle rather than a one-time, static event.

7. But, be nimble.

Companies can think long term and still be nimble. For example, a critical component of strategy is an external forces analysis. Companies should be evaluating long-term external forces, and adapting based on new information (meeting regularly-perhaps quarterly) to pivot.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon holds a strategy meeting every Tuesday to keep it front and center with his management team.

8. Be inclusive.

To be nimble, companies are including different people in their strategy than in the past. At a time when companies are hiring more millennial employees, there is greater transparency. While I am never one to advocate that companies open their books (as that is a personal decision for the entrepreneur), there is certainly movement toward more inclusion and transparency.

Deciding who to include in strategy formation is a critical selection. We recommend business owners include people they can trust and that can think strategically.

9. Invest time in pre-work.

If you want your managers to take strategy seriously, make them conduct research and prepare relevant information in advance of your strategy meetings.

10. Measure your results and execute excellently.

Every strategy should be actionable. Companies that are best-in-class:

  • Have a strategic action plan that they track often (usually monthly).
  • Promote common ownership of the plan across executives and departments.
  • Utilize key performance indicators (KPIs) that are predictive and align directly with the strategic plan.
  • Have cascading goals that reach every department and resonate with employees so they understand how their role contributes to the greater good.
  • Set up their corporate calendar to promote productive meetings, and establish a performance management cycle that supports cascading goals and objectives to every employee.
  • Rinse and repeat their strategy cycle every year.

The execution of strategic planning requires discipline, and it is the responsibility of senior executives to promote processes that keep a team focused on the prize.

From FastCompany: The 7 hallmarks of good leadership in the pandemic

Article by Katia Savchuk

Be honest. Take responsibility. Show compassion.

Good leadership can be a challenge in the best of times. But amid an unprecedented pandemic and economic crisis, even the best bosses are struggling with how to navigate turbulent waters.

Robert I. Sutton and Hayagreeva “Huggy” Rao know all about good bosses. For their 2014 book, Scaling Up Excellence, the two Stanford Graduate School of Business organizational behavior professors spent seven years researching how exemplary leaders build on successful performance as organizations grow. They have also examined how dozens of organizations, including JetBlue, Netflix, Home Depot, and the Atlanta public schools, have dealt with difficult times, ranging from natural disasters to recessions to ethics scandals.

In a Stanford webinar that drew in part on their recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, Sutton and Rao shared the hallmarks of great leadership during tough times. As layoffs and pay cuts proliferate, these are their tips for being a good boss during a crisis.

DON’T PASS THE BUCK

Leaders love to announce record earnings and awards, but most are loath to share bad news. You may be tempted to ask subordinates to deliver negative information, but as venture capitalist Michael Dearing has said, “There is a difference between what you do and how you do it.”

In late March, electric scooter company Bird left it to an anonymous executive in a two-minute Zoom call to inform 30% of the staff that they would lose their jobs. Workers had one hour’s notice to join the call, and those who missed it learned they were laid off when they couldn’t access email.

A counterexample comes from an April announcement from Henry Ward, CEO of the software firm Carta, to the 161 employees he was letting go: “If today is your last day, there is only one person to blame and it is me.”

Being a good boss in a crisis means not only making hard decisions—often quickly and with limited information—but also taking responsibility for them.

SHOW COMPASSION

From Gallup to Google, extensive research shows that a boss who expresses concern for employees’ lives leads to workers who perform better, are more committed to their roles, and are more satisfied.

Showing compassion doesn’t mean projecting insecurity or a lack of control. Instead, communicate to employees that you understand the situation is painful and the effect it has on them and their families. Don’t gloss over difficulties to project that “everything is just fine.” Give a realistic assessment of what’s happening, couched in empathy and understanding.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky demonstrated compassion, through his tone and actions, in a May 5 memo announcing the company was laying off 25% of its staff. “I have a deep feeling of love for all of you,” he wrote. “I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault.” Chesky also offered generous benefits for those leaving, including reorienting most of the company’s recruiters to help those laid off find new jobs.

OFFER AS MUCH PREDICTABILITY AS POSSIBLE

These days, you may not be able to promise much certainty to employees. But you can offer pockets of safety.

Psychologist Martin Seligman’s classic studies on learned helplessness show that when people feel powerless in the face of stressful events, they suffer physically and mentally. He concluded that the London Blitz was less emotionally disruptive than other German bombings during World War II because the country’s reliable warning system could alert residents to danger in advance.

More recently, researchers Erik Gonzalez-Mulé and Bethany S. Cockburn found that employees in highly stressful jobs where they felt little control were more likely to die or have health problems over a 7-year period than those who had more control at work.

As a leader, offer as much predictability and control as you can. Telling employees that their jobs are safe for the next month prevents them from waking up every day wondering if they’ll be laid off. If you’re still weighing your options, tell staff when you will update them. And if no layoffs are coming, don’t assume workers know that. In this climate of fear, make it clear.

WATCH YOUR TELLS

An executive vice president once told Sutton that, during the 2008 recession, his assistant asked when layoffs were coming. The executive was shocked—the company had decided on job cuts but not announced them. “It’s an interesting-shoes day for you, so we knew something was off,” the assistant told him. It turned out the executive had a tell: When he was stressed or upset, he’d look at people’s shoes rather than make eye contact.

Stanford biology professor Robert Sapolsky has noted that the average member of a baboon troop looks at the alpha male every 20 to 30 seconds. Such asymmetrical attention is a hallmark of human groups, too. If you are in charge, don’t forget that your employees are watching your every move and word, especially during frightening times.

CREATE COMMUNITY FROM AFAR

Building successful teams is hard enough under normal conditions—managing through a computer screen can be even more challenging. Most organizations were not prepared for a sudden shift to remote work.

Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, has spent years researching how companies can manage spread-out teams. She advises ensuring that everyone has the right technology, so no one is left behind. Next, managers should acknowledge that the world has changed and work with their teams to figure out new processes. She recommends meeting at least once a week and not neglecting fun virtual events, such as group lunches or happy hours, to maintain connections. You should also strive to help all employees feel like they’re in the loop and have equal access to you, she says.

BUILD PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY

Especially in a crisis, subordinates need to be able to tell you the ugly truth—you can’t fix problems if you don’t know about them. In her book The Fearless Organization, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson describes decades of research about the importance of psychological safety—”a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves”—to the performance of businesses and other organizations. Its absence is linked to everything from more medical errors to a greater chance of fatal plane crashes.

Yet research also shows that leaders’ knee-jerk reaction is to dislike those who criticize them or deliver negative information. Bosses must buffer against this instinct to avoid tunnel vision, because people want leaders who project confidence but who also invite contradictory views.

Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, consciously sought out “black sheep” at Pixar—those who wanted to do things differently but were being ignored. Thanks to their ideas, Bird’s team was able to make films that were more visually complex on a tighter budget.

Given the extent of the current crisis, if people around you are not providing bad news, that’s a signal that you’re operating in a culture of denial and fear. Creating a sense of safety to try new things is especially important as organizations try to adapt quickly to new realities.

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES

The pandemic has caused wrenching disruptions, but along with threats come opportunities. Crises can accelerate innovation by forcing us to question whether the previous status quo was optimal.

In a 1982 paper, management scholar Alan Meyer examined how a group of hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area reacted to a doctors’ strike. He found that an abrupt change doesn’t have to put organizations in jeopardy. Hospitals that framed the strike as an opportunity to learn and improve did better than those that hunkered down or ignored the protest.

Some entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the current reality to push historically rigid industries forward at lightning speed. For example, on April 7, 2020, Stripe CEO Patrick Collision and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman were among those who launched Fast Grants, which approves grants for COVID-19 research within 48 hours. By May 9, they had reviewed over 4,000 proposals and awarded over $125 million to 127 research teams. In contrast, the typical grant-making process in academia often takes years.

The pandemic can be an opportunity for leaders to do things faster and better than ever seemed possible. If you’re only playing defense, the professors stress, you’re probably missing out.

This post is lengthy and a reprint from an HBR article in 2002. It is worth the time. It is a “fictional Letter” that I think has more fact than fiction to it even today.

Article by Keith A. Caver and Ancella B. Livers

“Dear White Boss…”

It’s easy to assume that other people experience the world the way we do. More specifically, it’s very easy for white managers to assume that their colleagues of color face the same basic set of challenges they do. On one level that’s true: The work itself is the same. African-American and other nonwhite managers have to make their numbers, motivate employees, hire and fire, and plan for the future. But on another level, these managers frequently contend with an atmosphere of tension, instability, and distrust that can be so frustrating they lose the desire to contribute fully or do their best work; they may even drop out altogether. Their white bosses and coworkers are simply unaware of the “miasma,” as Keith Caver and Ancella Livers call this noxious and tenuous environment. They’re often puzzled when their nonwhite colleagues quit, seemingly out of nowhere, or appear to overreact to what seems like a minor incident—but which is really the last straw.

We asked Caver and Livers, faculty and coaches at the Center for Creative Leadership, to write a fictional letter from a black manager to a white boss describing the miasma and what it’s like to be different in the workplace. Their letter, with its attendant suggestions, draws on research from interviews and surveys with hundreds of mid-to senior-level African-American managers, as well as long years of personal experience. The point, the authors stress, is not to belabor the lack of people of color in the executive suite or any of the other barriers that limit opportunities in corporate America. Neither is it to extol the virtues and accomplishments of leaders of difference. Instead, their letter portrays the nature of corporate life once black managers are established—the feeling that they leave some part of their identity at home and the sometimes subtle and often systemic racial biases that inhibit and alienate African-Americans. The letter may not apply to every leader, black or white, or to every organization, but these issues are more widespread than corporate America cares to acknowledge. It should be required reading for white executives—after all, companies can ill afford to allow talent to slip through their fingers.

– The Editors

Do you remember that first management-team offsite I attended shortly after I came on board? You wanted to introduce me to the key decision makers—the people I’d need to know in my job as director of strategic planning. I appreciated the exposure, and, after the introductions and the requisite banter, I settled in to observe the team’s dynamics and get a sense of the culture. As a new employee, I didn’t expect to participate much in the conversation, although I was prepared to answer the occasional question about a particular strategy or offer any insights from my experience that might be relevant. Instead, I got a barrage of questions about issues related to diversity—what I thought about some new HR initiatives, why Brian and Matthew can’t get along, why Diane left the company, and on and on in that vein.

I answered the questions as best I could—I was a newcomer, after all, and wanted to be polite—but I went home feeling pretty demoralized. Despite my 15 years of experience, despite my solid track record, my new colleagues appeared to have little interest in my business expertise. Instead, they seemed to have assigned me some special role: official interpreter of minority concerns for the organization.

You may be wondering why I’m bringing this up after all these years—years that have been by many accounts rewarding for me professionally and for the organization as a whole. It’s because on that day, and on so many days before and since, I’ve been made to feel that my white colleagues and bosses don’t see my talents and accomplishments; they see only the color of my skin. I’ve wanted to write this letter for some time now, because despite all outward appearances I am not entirely happy, and at times my work suffers for it. In fact, when I look at my experience and that of my African-American colleagues, and then look at my white colleagues in this company and at you, one thought keeps resonating in my mind: It must be good to be king.

OK, that’s unfair. I don’t mean it as an insult. I’m quite sure you don’t feel like a king and may, in fact, think it’s misguided or even ungrateful of me to harbor such thoughts. I know you’re operating under significant pressures—to keep our division solvent, to stay abreast of current trends, and to be fair and aboveboard in your personal interactions and business dealings, just to name a few. You’ve been a good boss. I’ve learned a lot from you, and I’ve gotten my promotions and raises. And that’s the devil of it. Everything looks fine, but it isn’t.

Just as members of the royalty in medieval Europe were often shielded from the stark realities outside their castle walls, I believe you are in some ways blind to what is happening outside your office door. I truly believe you don’t know how frustrated I often am—how frustrated we African-Americans often are—by the lack of acknowledgment or apparent understanding of how our experience in the workplace differs from yours, and how it affects not just our own morale but the health of the organization overall. Have you noticed that the turnover rate for blacks is significantly higher than it is for our white counterparts? Have you stopped to consider why?

You and I both want this company to succeed. Therefore, I want to find a way for us to work together better, and I don’t think we can do that unless I can be honest with you. Now, I suspect you’re thinking that you’ve got a few honest things to say to me as well. That’s fair. If we’re trying to create an open dialogue, it’s got to be two-way.

But that’s another letter. For now, I’d like to describe to you the miasma that surrounds black managers in our everyday work lives and help you understand how it can erode my productivity and our relationship in insidious ways. I’m going to give you some examples, although I’m wary of doing so because each story, taken in isolation, may seem trivial. But please understand that I could go on and on. I could give you hundreds of examples—things that happen to me and my black colleagues and friends every single day. It’s the cumulative effect that wears us down.

Each story, taken in isolation, may seem trivial. But it’s the cumulative effect that wears us down.

All I ask is that you test your assumptions after you read what I have to say. I promise to test my own. Then, maybe we can start a dialogue. At the very least, we’ll understand each other better. And perhaps, with some work, we’ll both be able to change some of the behaviors that prevent us from being true colleagues.

“I Feel Alienated…”

It may surprise you to learn that I often think you can’t see past the color of my skin. We have a good working relationship, so why would I say such a thing? I’ll bet you don’t remember the time when you pinned me to the wall trying to get an explanation for Jesse Jackson’s perceived misdeeds or (much earlier in our relationship) the O.J. verdict. How am I supposed to know? I can’t explain Clarence Thomas. By the way, how do you account for some of Bill Clinton’s questionable behavior? And what about Timothy McVeigh? I know these questions are unfair; we should be able to talk as two individuals about business, current events, and other topics that interest us, without race-based judgments. And yet, you seem to hold me accountable for explaining the actions of other black people as if I had some personal knowledge or culpability. It makes me feel like you don’t see me for who I am; it makes me feel alienated from you, from this company.

It isn’t just you. Look back to that day at the management offsite, when the members of the executive team saw me not as a seasoned strategist but as an authority on race relations in the company, even though I had just started and barely knew the players. And do you remember when you, Jim, and I had lunch in the corporate dining room, not long after the offsite? As I placed my tray on the table, Jim surreptitiously pointed to a table of four African-Americans who were having lunch together and said, “Can you tell me why all of the blacks are sitting together?” I was momentarily taken aback by his question. Not only was I sitting with him, a young black woman was sitting alone at another table. Clearly, all the blacks weren’t sitting together. I managed to reply, “I don’t know, but I’ve been wondering why all the white people are sitting together.”

The executive team saw me not as a seasoned strategist but as an authority on race relations.

It may have seemed like a harmless question to you, but it struck a nerve. If Jim hadn’t focused on the few black employees in the room, he might have noticed that the vast majority of the 60 or so patrons eating lunch that day were white, and, with the exception of you and Jim, all the whites were sitting with each other or alone. The blacks were doing the same thing the whites were doing—having lunch with friends and colleagues. We have the same need for socialization and acceptance that you do. Perhaps more, because for us the workplace is often an uncertain and tumultuous place, in ways you don’t see. Unfortunately, rather than enjoying real conversations with our nonblack colleagues, we are often taken off guard by awkward jokes or slips of the tongue—leading us to wonder if these comments betray underlying feelings or assumptions about African-Americans in the office.

And I’ll tell you another story—an incident I didn’t mention to you when it happened, because I was too frustrated and thought you might think I was overreacting. One weekend I went to the office, in my normal, casual weekend attire, to finish up a report you needed to review on Monday. In the lobby, I had the strange feeling I was being watched and turned around to catch the weekend security guard staring at me. Although a few people were milling about and others were going (apparently) to and from their offices, I seemed to be the only one commanding special attention. Before getting into the elevator, I was stopped by an informally dressed young white man who in a stern voice asked to see my identification. This man was not even the security guard. He was someone who worked on a different floor from me, and I didn’t recognize him. Please understand, I had worked here for two years, but because I was out of context, he assumed I was a thug. You might chalk it up to an honest mistake, but I can assure you he hadn’t challenged any of the white people entering the building, nor had I demanded his ID.

Now, when I go into the office on weekends, I make sure to put on khakis and a polo shirt—and when I look at my white colleagues coming in wearing jeans or jogging suits, I feel my resentment growing. What’s more, this type of experience is so common that many blacks have nearly given up on getting our white colleagues to see us as nonthreatening. Little wonder so many of us remain alienated. Little wonder so many of us leave in search of greener pastures—a place where we can be accepted for who we are as contributors and team members.

“I’m Not Sure You Believe in Me…”

I’ve said that, at times, I don’t think you can see past my skin color. To be honest, I also think you sometimes make judgments about me—usually not intentionally—based on a set of historical and cultural preconceptions. Practically speaking, this shows up in the expectations you and other white managers have for black employees. Those expectations aren’t just demeaning; they can limit our ability (and our will) to contribute.

Do you remember when Robert, our black marketing director, hired Marie, also an African-American? Marie had worked in the marketing field for more than 15 years and had won three national awards. Her work was innovative and exciting, and she was by far the best candidate of the four Robert interviewed. Things became complicated, however, because Robert had also recently promoted a black man into a position of authority. Like Marie, this manager was clearly the best qualified of candidates. After hiring Marie, Robert began to hear whispers in the halls—suggestions that he was building his own little “ghetto fiefdom”—and before long one of his white colleagues came up to him, slapped him on the back, and said with a laugh, “So white people aren’t good enough for you?”

Robert did his best to ignore the comments, but what really got to him was that his boss suddenly seemed to take a greater interest in the details of his group’s work—asking for reports and updates he’d never needed when Robert’s team was primarily white. Subtly, his boss was letting him know that at some level he expected the team’s performance to drop. As we talked later, Robert explained that his frustrations came less from being questioned or joked with than from knowing his department’s as well as his own credibility was now suspect. Consequently, he said, on top of his ordinary work he was going to have to expend significant energy managing his white colleagues’ perceptions if he or his two new managers were to have a chance of succeeding. And the stress took its toll—his group has done outstanding work, but, as you know, Robert recently gave his notice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took Marie with him. He told you he’s leaving for an exciting new opportunity; he told me he’s worn out by the need to constantly defend his department.

The ribbing that Robert took may have been intended as humor, but it feeds the perception among blacks that our white bosses don’t really believe in us. Here’s another story for you. A black female reporter told me about a startling but open conversation she had at a convention with the CEO of a news media company. Seeking to gain greater insight into the industry, she queried him off the record about his views and hiring practices regarding blacks. He replied that he was afraid to hire black leaders because, he said, “If I fire them, they will sue me.” Do you think people hired under such circumstances are really given the opportunity to succeed? I don’t. Do you think our white counterparts are scrutinized for positions based on the preconceived idea that they will fail? No, I don’t think so either. How can we possibly succeed in an environment where our new bosses have already thought about what’s going to happen when they have to fire us? I think stereotypes based on fear that have festered into “fact” are what’s behind this behavior.

And no matter how successful and senior we are, we’re never immune to these stereotypes. One of my dear, and very talented, black friends was recently hired as a senior vice president for a major financial institution. With the exception of a few initial interviews and meetings, she did not set foot in the new organization until her first day at the office. As she emerged from the elevator, she was abruptly greeted by a white male who directed her to a small cubicle and asked her to quickly put her things away as they were expecting a new senior officer to arrive shortly. In mock obedience, she went to the cubicle and set her box down, only to return and inquire about the rest of her shipment that had been sent previously. As he stared at her in confusion, she smiled and continued, “Quite frankly, I don’t believe all of my things will fit in this cubicle.” She told me she almost felt sorry for the man as recognition of his error seemed to be slowly reflected in his face first by embarrassment and then by terror. He launched into an awkward and confused explanation of how they were also expecting a new administrative assistant, and how he had mistaken her…and then he fell silent. Instead of berating him, my friend simply smiled and said, “I understand. However, when the new assistant arrives, I hope that you will be far more gracious in welcoming the new member of our team.”

These may seem like extreme examples, but my black colleagues and I run into this type of preconception all the time. Every day. It’s discouraging, but it also has practical implications for what I and other African-Americans can accomplish. Research suggests that you’re more likely to put me into an assistant director’s position, even though I’m fully qualified for the director’s role. Research also shows that mentoring is particularly important for blacks, yet people choose to mentor others who look like them, making it difficult for us to find mentors. What am I asking you to do? Consider mentoring me, even if I don’t look like you. Consider me for that vice president’s job. Give me a chance at the most technical and operationally critical roles, rather than limiting me to administrative positions. Give me credit for the ability to make good, rational business decisions. And draw your conclusions about my abilities based on my track record, not on the color of my skin.

“I Don’t Fully Trust You…”

This might be the hardest thing I have to tell you, because we’ve worked together for many years and have accomplished a great deal in that time. But to be honest, our relationship goes only so deep because I feel I can’t fully trust you. Here’s a story for you. A black friend of mine, James, was at a business dinner with a colleague who may have had one glass of wine too many. “Before I knew it,” James said, “my colleague was telling me about how blacks get too many breaks and how most of us aren’t smart enough to be in executive positions. This is someone who considers himself my friend. This is someone who’s dealing with clients, peers, direct reports—some of whom are black or at least not white.” At this point in his story James stopped and just looked at me for a moment. “I got through that meal, and I never let on what I thought. I have never forgotten that dinner, though, and I will never trust that man. I’m always professional with him. But I don’t share more than I have to, nor do I deal with him if I can get around it.”

That story has implications for both of us. The pervasiveness of experiences like James’s takes a toll on African-Americans: It slowly eats away at our ability to trust the people we work with. Whether you, personally, exhibit these behaviors or attitudes is less important than the fact that experiences such as this make blacks wary of encounters with our white colleagues. Furthermore, our mutual history in this country and the way our different experiences currently manifest themselves in the workplace often impair my trust in you. Like James, I don’t let you know about it—I can’t afford to. What’s more, James and I aren’t alone. My own uncle, who had a long and successful career in corporate America, told me before I started work, “You have to be careful bestowing your trust; your white managers will treat you differently, no matter how well you do.” I know times have changed, but I don’t know if they’ve changed that much, as I often find myself being cautious around some of my white colleagues. This feeling that we need to guard ourselves, and the extra work that it takes to discern our true friends, creates significant additional stress for us.

Do you think the impaired trust and chronic stress that African-Americans feel might be contributing to the difficulty of retaining black employees? Because we often don’t trust you, or, it seems, you us, is it possible that blacks don’t feel free to fully (or openly) contribute? Do you think James’s “friend” will appropriately use or develop the talents of his African-American direct reports? And do you think that our mutual distrust allows us to have solid interpersonal and working relationships? I’d say it means we’re not likely to be as efficient or as effective as we could be. I’d say that some of us are reluctant to take risks we probably should take, because we don’t think you’ll support us if we make a mistake.

“Race Is Always with Me…”

I suspect that by now you’ve picked up one of the main points of this letter. Differences really do matter, although they may matter in ways you probably didn’t expect. One of the big ways they matter is that race is always with us. As a friend of mine said recently, “I don’t think a day goes by that I’m not reminded that I’m black.” Another friend once recounted a minor, but daily irritation she had to contend with early in her career. “I used to work in a place that was pretty mono-ethnic,” she told me. “And at my job you were expected to wear stockings. But the town I lived in didn’t have stockings the shade I needed. I had to have my mother send them to me. I always thought of it as a mini–Berlin airlift.” As you read this, you probably think that this is such a small thing it needn’t be shared. You might go on to suggest that if that’s all the inconvenience race causes, we should consider ourselves lucky. Well, I know it’s a small thing. But it isn’t something you have to think about. And more to the point, it’s just one of many small—and large—things we cope with, day after day.

Difference itself is not a bad thing. Research shows that heterogeneous groups make better decisions than do homogeneous ones. Diverse groups also tend to have better problem-solving skills, are more creative, and deal more effectively with complex challenges. And with the increasing globalization of business, we need to be able to relate to numerous ethnic and racial constituencies. But because so many organizations manage difference poorly, they may not be reaping the benefits diversity can bring. I don’t want us to continue making that mistake.

So, what do we do? There’s no easy fix. We’re confronting deep-seated, complex, and highly personal attitudes and assumptions—but opening a dialogue is a good first step. I think we have to be willing to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions and be prepared to deal with some difficult answers. At my last company, one of the vice presidents brought the entire senior management team together for a half-day session with five African-American managers, with the goal of putting some of these issues on the table. She stressed that the meeting was to be a safe environment and was respectful and candid throughout. Even with her comments, the meeting got off to an awkward start, but in the end everyone had a chance to ask questions and express their concerns. The senior team came to see that the experience of African-Americans at this company is different from that of whites. And frankly, my black colleagues and I saw that at times we need to drop our guard. We came to see how some of our own experiences and baggage led us to perceive actions differently than they were intended. While I can’t say everything was perfect after that meeting, we did arrive at a shared understanding and developed something of a shared language for addressing difficult issues or communication lapses on the spot.

There are other ways to build awareness. My cousin, a product manager for a large manufacturer, told me about a new initiative at her company. Each member of the management team belongs to a racially diverse “learning circle,” composed of three or four people who have been charged with studying and exploring issues of difference in the workplace. Periodically, the circle meets to discuss what they’ve learned and how it might apply to them and the company. It’s just a beginning, but at least they’ve begun to uncover some difficult issues, and that’s the first step in tackling them.

• • •

I like working here. I believe in the company, in our products, and our future. But I have options, and so do my colleagues of color. This isn’t a threat; I simply want you to know that I’m here because I choose to stay. I want our company to succeed, and I want to succeed along with everyone else. I’m an invested and involved partner, and I wish you could see that, in the same way that I wish you could see the miasma that muddies the work environment for me and other African-Americans. Right now, you probably can’t see it, but I can tell you about it—and I hope you’ll consider this letter an invitation to begin a conversation. And maybe in the future you’ll see it for yourself. At any rate, thanks for listening.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2002 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Forbes Shares Four Concepts To Drive Innovation In A Time Of Crisis

Article by George Baker Sr.

What we are experiencing throughout the current pandemic as family members, friends, colleagues, professionals, citizens and human beings, is conflict. Conflict is frightening and unnatural for us. But also, because of these exact qualities, it is a catalyst for innovation.

My team members are well aware that I often repeat quotes from great thinkers to put the finishing stamp on a thought. I do this with complete faith that the successes and challenges we encounter have been experienced, in some capacity, by others.

The quotes I will share undoubtedly originated from a place of conflict, and they can help structure our way forward during these trying times.

‘Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity — not a threat.’

Let’s forget that this Steve Jobs quote might be considered a cliched reference from a technology entrepreneur and think about its essence. We are preconditioned to view change as a threat. It is an inherently negative feeling. However, if we were not experiencing any modicum of threat in our daily lives, it would be hard to imagine what would drive us.

In more than 20 years serving the parking industry — from striping and sweeping the lots as a teenager to managing parking operations on a national level — I became driven to change it. I understood the issues and inconveniences around parking because I experienced them firsthand on both sides of the operation, and I wanted to solve for them.

‘If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.’

Charles Kettering succinctly sums up what we don’t always want to hear. It can feel unsympathetic to say to people you care about, or even yourself, that change is often for the best. But contrary to every natural impulse within us, we know it is.

Years ago, I saw my industry hampered by outdated processes. I saw consumers frustrated with an experience that was often their first point of contact at a destination. I wanted to challenge the friction that had become the norm and offer a solution. The conflict I felt became the vision for the company I founded and lead today.

‘Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.’

A logical approach to dealing with a tough problem is to think about it. Albert Einstein seemed to say in this quote that it just doesn’t work. Innovation is driven by conflict, and it is also removed from it. If we meet a problem by focusing on the problem itself, it limits our capacity to imagine a situation any differently. We remain in the confines of what we know.

An alternative is to create a solution and then tie it back to reason. I created a minimally viable product and shamelessly put it in front of people who might need it. When it turned out they did, they brought valuable insights into how it could be improved. The products I devised are still being iterated on based on clients’ new operational needs and the ever-growing capabilities of my team.

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’

Fast forward five years, and I am now seeing numerous partners experiencing drastic setbacks due to the pandemic. I am also seeing a burgeoning of innovation across the industries we serve, which brings to mind the words above, which are commonly attributed to Charles Darwin.

As a dedicated partner and professional, I am determined to listen, advise and collaborate to promote our adaptation to change. It’s not a matter of paying it back or paying it forward. It’s just the way I prefer to approach conflict.

Fellow Vistage Chair and Leadership Coach Greg Bustin shares some insights on how Lewis and Clark role modeled good leadership.

Lewis + Clark + You

10 Lessons from this Daring Expedition

On August 12, 1805, Meriwether Lewis climbed the eastern slope of the Continental Divide toward the realization of a lifelong goal.

Lewis was on the verge of becoming the first American to view with his own eyes the fabled Northwest passage—an all-water route that connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

So begins Jack Uldrich’s fascinating examination of the daring two-and-a-half-year expedition many consider the greatest leadership team in American history. Into The Unknown.

The remarkable journey of Lewis, Clark, four dozen other men and Sacagawea (the Shosone teenager who carried her infant son on her back for 5,000 of the expedition’s 8,000 miles) offers 10 lessons for today’s leaders wrestling with an unknown future.

The Background

Relations between President Thomas Jefferson and the Federalist-dominated Congress were so strained Jefferson secretly requested funds to explore the new territory acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. A budget of $2,500 ($57,000 in today’s dollars) was approved.

The expedition’s primary objectives were to:

  1. Map, study and describe the region, its flora and fauna while establishing diplomatic relations with Native Americans.
  2. Locate a practical water route across the western half of North America.
  3. Establish an American presence in the territory before Britain and other European powers claimed it.

Scientific discoveries—though numerous—were secondary objectives.

The Lewis and Clark expedition covered more than 8,000 miles over 863 days transporting thousands of pounds of food and equipment. They consumed nine pounds of meat daily, totaling 6,000 calories. They battled frostbite, fires and flooding; grizzly bears, wolves, rattlesnakes and stampeding buffalo; dysentery, malaria and near-starvation. There were 54 life-threatening incidents. Yet only one man died—from a burst appendix—that even the best doctors of the day could not have saved.

Total cost: $50,000—the equivalent of $1.14 million in today’s dollars.

Priceless value: As Dayton Duncan said in Ken Burns’ documentary, Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, “Lewis and Clark at their best is America at its best.”

Here are the lessons.

10 Leadership Lessons of Lewis and Clark

  1. The Principle of a Higher Calling. “Lewis and Clark wanted to leave their mark on the world by expanding the base of human knowledge…and to further the cause of liberty.” A commitment to these higher purposes—beyond power, glory, ego and wealth—“shines through their journals, and it is clear [these higher purposes] affected virtually every action and decision Lewis and Clark made.”
  2. The Principle of Shared Leadership. Jefferson selected Lewis for his knowledge and “firmness of constitution and character.” Lewis selected Clark as his co-commander and made him “equal in every respect.”
  3. The Principle of Strategic Preparation. “They prepared meticulously and ran out of only three items (trading beads, tobacco and whiskey). They literally traded the jackets off their back for a canoe.”
  4. The Principle of Diversity. Each person was chosen solely on merit. And while Lewis and Clark were confident leaders, they “had enough respect for their team to allow every person—including Sacagawea and York [a slave]—to vote on the location of their winter camp.”
  5. The Principle of Compassionate Discipline. “They could administer 100 lashes as punishment when necessary…but at the end of the day would reward [their men] by naming rivers and streams in their honor.”
  6. The Principle of Leading from the Front. Lewis and Clark had dozens of daily significant responsibilities and they pushed their men to the brink of exhaustion. Yet they “were not above getting out of the boat and pushing it upriver, or ‘swinging their pack’ to shoulder their share of the daily burden.”
  7. The Principle of Learning from Others. They made serious mistakes, including one experiment that “cost them 12 days during the height of the best travelling season, but never stopped learning and always stayed open to new ways of doing things.”
  8. The Principle of Positive Thinking. Lewis and Clark “demonstrated the internal fortitude to listen to their men [when confronting] the prospect of starvation, but never once considered turning back.”
  9. The Principle of Aggressive Analysis. “Their flexibility, as well as their ability to weigh the cost and benefits [of the risks before them] was the epitome of their entire journey.”
  10.  The Principle of Developing Team Spirit. It was during the first six months of their journey that Lewis and Clark “abandoned their old style of military discipline” because they realized “they would need to rely more on each other.” The more brutal the journey, the more their trust in one another deepened.

Lewis and Clark had little idea what lay before them. They battled adversity at nearly every turn. Yet in their journals, the phrase “Proceed on” is repeated numerous times. If you’re a leader, the idea to “Proceed on” has never been more essential.

HBR Shares 6 Ways a Crisis Can Help You Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Article by Susan J. Ashford , Maxim Sytch and Lindred L. Greer

Disruptive, stressful experiences are often opportunities for growth. Research has shown that crises can help lift the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra that pervades many organizations, creating new opportunities for people to voice their ideas on how to do things better.

For example, when the pandemic forced an insurance company we advise to go fully remote, the challenge of remote work prompted several teams to explore better ways of tracking progress. Field employees proposed new metrics for tracking sales contacts with customers, as well as new ways to integrate these metrics with existing key performance indicators on the Salesforce platform. Leadership liked the new system so much that it’s now being scaled nationally.

Similarly, basketball and hockey teams often show improved performance after losing teammates to injury, because the remaining teammates are able to discover new ways of working together. As teams are forced to take on new challenges, face new uncertainties, and recover from mistakes in the Covid-19 era, they begin to internalize that both their own abilities and those of their peers are not fixed, but rather can be developed.

This growth mindset can serve us — and our teams — well during this crisis. Below, we offer six suggestions for managers looking to leverage the transition to remote work to nurture a growth mindset in themselves and their teams.

Be patient. While it may feel like a long time, we are still only a few months into the widespread shift to fully remote work, and we are still learning. By now, most everyone knows how to share a screen or a run a breakout session on Zoom, but it may take longer to reshape deeply ingrained work practices for a remote environment. Be patient with yourself and your people. Remember to recognize effort, even if outcomes don’t yet live up to your expectations.

While it’s nice to talk about the benefits of a growth mindset, learning a new practice is challenging and the lack of immediate, measurable progress can be discouraging. Forgive yourself, and be generous with others — try to focus on the effort being put in and the valuable insights you’re learning from that effort, rather than the lack of immediate results.

Teach the growth mindset to others — and reinforce it in yourself. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spent his first months on the job teaching people the value of a “learn it all” culture rather than a “know it all” culture. He led by example, sharing monthly videos where he reviewed his top learnings and prompted groups across the company to discuss theirs. Consider doing something similar on your team, though perhaps on a smaller scale. For example, you might dedicate part of a weekly or monthly team meeting to a discussion of what team members have learned during the crisis so far.

Send the right signals. Both what you say and how you act send critical messages to others. For example, in a recent study, leaders asked newly promoted executives, “What have you done since we last talked, and what if anything have you learned from it?” every two weeks. Fairly quickly, because they knew he would be asking, they started to pay more attention to their own growth and were astounded by how much they were learning.

You too can send signals to your team. You might ask about learning, or informally reward progress made, lessons learned, and recovery from mistakes as much as star performance. To model what a growth mindset looks like in action, you might share not just your final triumphant plan, but also the setbacks and potholes along the way.

Reset expectations and revisit established practices. The shift to remote work provides a perfect excuse to reset your team’s expectations around giving and receiving constructive feedback. If you’re a team leader, try asking, “What three things would you try to change if you were in my role?” Modeling openness to feedback will make it easier for your colleagues to accept feedback themselves.

This crisis is also a good time to encourage your team to assess and improve established practices. Online work is significantly less forgiving of coordination and leadership failures, so it’s a great opportunity for involving others in implementing immediate course corrections. This might involve starting meetings by communicating what you know, indicating that much is still unknown, and inviting teammates to share not only their knowledge, but also their concerns and questions. By getting things out on the table, more issues can be addressed.

For example, a team leader we advised shared that after just a few weeks of remote work, an open conflict broke out between two of her employees. The tension, as it turned out, had been simmering for months. As the team leader started to sort out the situation, she realized that the root of the problem was that one of the employees had a rather terse and direct communication style, which the other employee found offensive. When work went remote, the tonal ambiguities in their emails coupled with the pre-existing tension in their relationship caused the problem to escalate quickly, resulting in a major conflict.

In trying to learn from this episode and revise team practices, the team leader facilitated a session with the entire team to brainstorm how best to communicate in a virtual environment. One new practice the team developed was the “two email rule”: if two emails sent to a colleague are insufficient to resolve an issue or reach an agreement, you are expected to call or video conference with that colleague. After implementing this rule, the team both had fewer misunderstandings between employees and was able to more quickly resolve complex work issues.

Get to know your teammates better. Working remotely, we’re coming to know our teammates in a different way. We see their workspaces, their children, and their pets. One executive jokingly commented that before Covid, if a cat jumped onto a teammate’s laptop during a (rare) virtual meeting, the typical response was embarrassment, apologies, and a hastily disabled video feed. Now, he said, people just laugh it off. Studies suggest that being less worried about social evaluation and embarrassment stimulates experimentation and creativity, both of which are key to growth. Additionally, other research shows that personal identity expression at work can also boost employee creativity.

While the Covid-19 crisis presents a variety of new challenges, it also creates new opportunities for leaders to cultivate a more expansive growth mindset in themselves and their teams. Though it won’t be easy, the right mindset can help teams to better coordinate, innovate, and own their own futures, making it possible not only to weather the crisis, but to come out of it stronger.