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FountainBlue’s CONNECTIONs leadership scoops highlight leadership thoughts and concepts which would be of interest to the entrepreneurs and execs in the FountainBlue community, along with our original leadership posts, which were created in collaboration with the dozens of executives and entrepreneurs over the past two decades. We hope that our writings and articles help others to connect ideas, thoughts, people and concepts, that stimulate more strategic, more inclusive, more collaborative thinking and more results-achieving communications and actions. At FountainBlue, we write, coach and consult with the purpose of facilitating leadership One Conversation, One Leader, One Organization at a time.
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Earning Influence & Power in the Workplace

Earning Influence & Power in the Workplace | Connection |
Earning Influence & Power in the Workplace
  • Published on July 12, 2017

Anurag Harsh

FollowAnurag Harsh

SVP Ziff Davis, LinkedIn Top Voices (Tech #1), Author (7 Books, 400+ Articles)

Conversations about leadership, corporate culture, and management have revolved around the upheaval of command-and-control structures and approaches. It can be easy to forget that this upheaval comes with implicit assumptions that often condemn people’s intentions. 

For example, someone who is doing a job to wield influence may be seen as opportunistic, although she isn’t necessarily a bad manager or a bad leader. The ends do not justify the means we have often heard; they also don’t determine them.

In other words, there are many ways to accomplish a goal. 

Some Research into Power & Influence

Research reveals that there are three predominant reasons why people go into management or accept administrative roles. The first is social affiliation, or the need to identify with and/or be liked by a group; the second is the need for achievement; and the third is the desire for power, as in, power in a group.

Being Political and Moral

There is a misconception that thinking about power or acting politically is innately deceitful or fraught with disingenuousness. Certainly there are people who act in this way and do reprehensible things, but that isn’t a function of acting politically, it’s a function of sidestepping or stepping on people around you. It’s a function of prioritizing ulterior motives over group priorities.

All that being said, if you want to compete in an environment infested with people like that, you need to know how to play the game, no matter the sector. That’s why I have put together these tips.

It’s my attempt to arm you with the tools to compete and succeed in organizational environments.

The 9-step Plan

1. Let People Know About You

The people in managerial and administrative positions in your workplace are probably so preoccupied with their own work that they don’t have time to notice the finer points of your work. Don’t assume that your boss is aware of your progress. Sure, she will notice big achievements or when you complete an assigned task well, but much is lost in the day-to-day.

As such, the first order of business is to make sure that your boss notices your accomplishments and your effort. The easiest way to do this is to tell them. It’s a simple matter of mere exposure. 

Social psychologist Robert Zajonc studied the mere exposure effect at length and described it as the phenomenon that people prefer and choose what is familiar to them.

People like what they remember, and that includes you. 

2. Cultivate and Hold Onto Influence

People change over their lives. As you can change, you can develop qualities that help you cultivate power and eventually, hold on it. The first step to any self-improvement is the belief that you can indeed change. You must believe that you can better yourself in deliberate and predetermined ways. 

After that, you must assess your strengths and weaknesses dispassionately. Don’t zero-in on negative traits more than positive ones: consider them on a par and decide how to treat each one.

And, lastly, you must identify what traits are most important in your environment and work on harnessing those. Each space and culture will vary slightly so it’s up to you to make those evaluations.

3. Where You Start Affects Where You Will Go

Not all starting points are created equal, not all career paths are the same.

Some people have more advantages than others; some people create advantages for themselves; some people enjoy tremendous amounts of luck. The first and the last of these are largely out of your control, so there is little to no risk involved. The second is riddle with missed opportunities, risk, disappointments, and, alternatively, the satisfaction of a mission accomplished.

When looking to place yourself in a position to succeed, you don’t want to throw yourself into the shark tank immediately. You want to locate the places from where the shark tank draws its power and go there, or, identify niches where potential for growth exists that few people have stepped into.

4. Staying Silent Is Worse than Being Rejected

You may not have heard of Reginald Lewis, but he taught me a valuable lesson.

He was a successful African American corporate lawyer and founder of a buyout firm, TLC Group. Although his story isn’t consigned to the history books, it’s legendary.

He was the first black man to own a company with revenues over $1 billion back in the 1980s. He grew up in a downtrodden part of Baltimore, aspiring to study law at Harvard Law School. After he graduated from Virginia State University he was accepted into a Rockefeller Foundation-funded program where he discovered that those accepted were ineligible for admission to Harvard Law School. He defiantly approached the dean of admission, argued that his presence at the school would be mutually beneficial, and became the first person to gain admission to Harvard Law School before even applying.

Lewis understood that the worst that could happen from asking for something would be getting turned down. And if he were turned down, so what? People who ask and do not receive are no worse off than those who don’t ask in the first place. 

5. Networking Is about Relationships 

Ever since I read this definition of networking from Hans-Georg Wolff and Klaus Moser, I never forgot it:

“Behaviors that are aimed at building, maintaining and using informal relationships that possess the (potential) benefit of facilitating work-related activities of individuals by voluntarily gaining access to resources and maximizing advantages” 

This covers a broad array of behaviors. What I like is that it emphasizes intention, and the key verbs of “building, maintaining and using” informal relationships.

The focus should always be on cultivating relationships with others, not exploiting them. There must be some reciprocity there for it to work.

6. Safeguard Your Reputation

Your reputation is the highest capital you have, so you should be deliberate about how others perceive you. Don’t leave this to chance. Granted you cannot ever wield full control over the perception that others hold, but there is a large degree of influence you possess here. Let your actions, words, and outputs always align with a predetermined moral compass, wherever it may point. 

One way to safeguard your reputation is to not avoid conflict. Surely you don’t want to create it, but when it arises, be prepared to confront it with temperance.

A few things to remember is that a little tenderness can go a long way, and so too can leaving people a graceful out. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. It’s fine to feel them. It’s not fine to let them steer. Also, don’t take things personally.

7. Don’t Get Overconfident 

Studies have shown that those who believe that they wield influence tend to get overconfident, which results in greater risk-taking, less social regard, and stereotyping, and tendency to see others as means. I advise that any intimation of these feelings and beliefs be dispelled immediately. They only cause you—and others—harm.

8. Politics Aren’t Inescapably Nefarious

Many people have an aversion to politics. They like to think that there is some way of opting out of “office politics.” As almost any Ancient Greek philosopher would tell you, we are political animals. Everything we do is part of the body politic, whether we want it to be or not. There is nothing inherently undesirable about that.

Politics can take many forms. It’s up to you to decide what kind of political animal you want to be. Some politics can support general well being, job satisfaction, and career development, while others can prioritize influence over people engendering cut-throat workplaces where dissatisfaction is high.

9. Find the Right Place for You 

And last but not least, find the right place for you. To do this you must be brutally honest about your strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Your motive should be self-enhancement and you cannot do that if you aren’t happy at your workplace. Part of the reason some people express unhappiness about their job is because they feel confined. Don’t let others trap you or coerce you into behaviors you don’t condone. And always objectively analyze the workplace.

What opportunities are there, what room for growth is there, who will you work with and how can they further your career. These are objective questions that help guide your decision-making and put you in a position to succeed.

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9 Habits Of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People  

9 Habits Of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People   | Connection |

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

When emotional intelligence first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into what many people had always assumed was the sole source of success—IQ. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack.

How much of an impact does emotional intelligence (EQ) have on your professional success? The short answer is: a lot! It’s a powerful way to focus your energy in one direction with a tremendous result. Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we’ve found that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is made up of four core skills that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence.


Personal competence comprises your self-awareness and self-management skills, which focus more on you individually than on your interactions with other people. Personal competence is your ability to stay aware of your emotions and manage your behavior and tendencies.

  • Self-Awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen.
  • Self-Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and positively direct your behavior.


Social competence is made up of your social awareness and relationship management skills; social competence is your ability to understand other people’s moods, behavior, and motives in order to respond effectively and improve the quality of your relationships.

  • Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on.
  • Relationship Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions and the others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully.


Despite the significance of emotional intelligence, its intangible nature makes it very difficult to know which behaviors you should emulate. So I’ve analyzed the data from the million-plus people TalentSmart has tested in order to identify the habits that set high-EQ people apart.

1. They’re relentlessly positive.
Keep your eyes on the news for any length of time, and you’ll see that it’s just one endless cycle of war, violent attacks, fragile economies, failing companies, and environmental disasters. It’s easy to think the world is headed downhill fast. And who knows? Maybe it is. But emotionally intelligent people don’t worry about that because they don’t get caught up in things they can’t control. They focus their energy on directing the two things that are completely within their power—their attention and their effort. Numerous studies have shown that optimists are physically and psychologically healthier than pessimists. They also perform better at work. Remind yourself of this the next time a negative train of thought takes hold of you.

2. They have a robust emotional vocabulary.
All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36% of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions. People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. While many people might describe themselves as simply feeling “bad,” emotionally intelligent people can pinpoint whether they feel “irritable,” “frustrated,” “downtrodden,” or “anxious.” The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it.

3. They’re assertive. People with high EQs balance good manners, empathy, and kindness with the ability to assert themselves and establish boundaries. This tactful combination is ideal for handling conflict. When most people are crossed, they default to passive or aggressive behavior. Emotionally intelligent people remain balanced and assertive by steering themselves away from unfiltered emotional reactions. This enables them to neutralize difficult and toxic people without creating enemies.

4. They’re curious about other people. It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

5. They forgive, but they don’t forget. Emotionally intelligent people live by the motto “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” They forgive in order to prevent a grudge, but they never forget. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Holding on to that stress can have devastating health consequences, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this at all costs. However, offering forgiveness doesn’t mean they’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Emotionally intelligent people will not be bogged down by mistreatment from others, so they quickly let things go and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.
6. They won’t let anyone limit their joy.
When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain—you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

7. They make things fun. Emotionally intelligent people know exactly what makes them happy, and they constantly work to bring this happiness into everything they do. They turn monotonous work into games, go the extra mile to make people they care about happy, and take breaks to enjoy the things they love no matter how busy they are. They know that injecting this fun into their lives fights off stress and builds lasting resilience.

8. They are difficult to offend. If you have a firm grasp of whom you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin.
9. They quash negative self-talk.
A big step in developing emotional intelligence involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. You can stop the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says by writing them down. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity. You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words such as “never,” “worst,” and “ever.” If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out.

Bringing It All Together

Unlike your IQ, your EQ is highly malleable. As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you will begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it. And as your brain reinforces the use of new behaviors, the connections supporting old, destructive behaviors will die off.

Linda Holroyds insight:

It seems to me that emotionally intelligent people are both more effective *and* more happy. May this article help you to be more emotionally intelligent.

Madrange's curator insight, December 10, 2016 2:08 PM
Si certains doutaient encore sur l'importance du management des emotions.
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Why the top entrepreneurs are seeking corporate venture money

Why the top entrepreneurs are seeking corporate venture money | Connection |
When NBCUniversal needed to get young viewers to tune into the 2016 Olympics in Rio this summer, it turned to BuzzFeed, the social media-driven media company in which it had invested $200 million a year earlier.

NBCUniversal knew the millennial audience — and the lucrative advertising dollars that follow them — would be key to achieving their aggressive advertising goals.

The challenge? NBCUniversal’s most popular shows draw viewers in their 30s, 40s and beyond. Conversely, more than half of BuzzFeed’s audience is 18-34 years old, according to industry tracking firm Comscore.

NBCUniversal knew they needed to connect with the most coveted audience where they were already consuming content on a daily basis — Snapchat. But instead of handling this content itself, NBC enlisted a team of producers from BuzzFeed to focus on the creation of videos covering this Olympics. Across both NBCUniversal and BuzzFeed channels on Snapchat, the content received 2.2 billion views and 230 million minutes of consumption in two weeks.

At the time of the investment, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti was quoted as saying that the funding would allow the company “to grow and invest without pressure to chase short-term revenue or rush an IPO.” NBCUniversal has proven able to leverage BuzzFeed’s attractiveness to advertisers and valuable audience data, while the startup gets financial security and connectivity to resources, scale and new business opportunities that spawn across NBCUniversal’s portfolio of brands.

This is just one example of the power of corporate venture capital and the mutual benefit it can generate for corporations and startups alike. The convergence and disruption that is driving these corporate venture capital (CVC) deals is not limited to the entertainment industry. As more corporate leaders realize the benefits of leveraging balance-sheet dollars to engage with emerging companies in their industries, there has been an explosion in the number of active corporate venture arms.

Large corporate incumbents recognize that engaging with the startup community is necessary to stay on top of the disruptive innovation around their core business and stay ahead of the curve with emerging technologies and new business models. This movement is taking place across all sectors and is driving competition to invest in the most sought-after startups more fiercely than ever.

VCs are uniquely positioned to provide compelling advantages that entrepreneurs don’t find with other investment options.
To gain access to the most prized deals, VCs universally pitch startups on the “value add” they can bring to bear, beyond simply the cold, hard cash on the table. The value highlighted typically is tied to an investor’s past entrepreneurial success, operating experience, industry Rolodex and co-investor relationships, as well as a range of other resources that may help drive the startup’s success.

At the same time, entrepreneurs are waking up to the many distinct strategic advantages that CVC investors are increasingly bringing to the deal table, including significant funding at all stages of the life cycle, strategic advisory and operating support, as well as scale and growth drivers; in other words — access to target customers, distribution channels and paths to exit for their startups.

The venture industry as a whole has continued to evolve in recent years, due in part to the advent of AngelList and myriad other crowdfunding and emerging alternative funding options for entrepreneurs. At the same time, CVCs have also matured, expanded and increased their share of total investment dollars deployed each year.

“Corporates are realizing that innovation and disruption is coming from outside of them,” says Mark Sherman, managing director at Telstra Ventures, the investment arm of Australia’s leading telco and diversified media company with a $50 billion market cap.

“The world is moving too fast to depend on organic innovation alone. Investing in and partnering with startups is one way to keep pace with change,” says Amy Banse, managing director and head of funds at Comcast Ventures, the venture capital affiliate for Comcast NBCUniversal.

As a result, more and more corporations are launching accelerators, incubators or venture arms, hiring “Chief Innovation Officers” and spinning up in internal labs — all in an effort to connect with startups and embed themselves more deeply in the global tech ecosystems. Because of the unique benefits they offer, CVCs have emerged as a powerful class of investors and competitors to traditional venture capital.

Funding across the life cycle

Historically, most CVCs have been followers and “deal takers not makers,” while also largely only active in later-staged fundings. More than ever, CVCs are increasingly getting involved in deals that span all different stages — from seed to growth and even post-IPO — as well as leading those rounds. According to the National Venture Capital Association, corporate venture groups have invested more than $1.2 billion in nearly 200 deals in the second quarter of 2016 alone, the vast majority of which were to seed-stage and early-stage companies.

Activity levels have skyrocketed by most measures, and over the last five years, the number of corporations making venture investments has risen to more than 800, as tracked by Global Corporate Venturing. CVCs deployed nearly $30 billion in funding across 1,300+ deals in 2015, according to CB Insights, topping 2014’s previous records of $16.7 billion in 1,245 deals. In fact, last year CVCs participated in 1 out of every 5 venture deals, and companies as diverse as JetBlue Airways and The Campbell Soup Company have launched new venture arms.

Strategic advisory and practical support

VCs are uniquely positioned to provide compelling advantages that entrepreneurs don’t find with other investment options. These advantages typically stem from their ability to drive growth and revenue for their portfolio companies by leveraging their parent companies’ scale, specific domain expertise, talent and customers.

“Our Members are some of the leading corporations in the world and we have seen firsthand how they unlock strategic value by leveraging their unique resources across portfolio networks,” says Tina Sharkey, senior partner of Sherpa Foundry.

Corporate VCs often work closely with the senior leadership of their parent companies’ core business units to stay on top of their expertise and interests and to share information on potential deals. At Salesforce, which is a founding member of Sherpa Foundry and one of the top five most active CVCs on the globe, each investment requires a business unit sponsor that commits to working with the startup. This ensures the startup receives specialized attention from company leadership and maintains a tight alignment with Salesforce goals.

The role of CVCs in the venture ecosystem has never been more visible or impactful than it is right now.
Condé Nast, another member of Sherpa Foundry, exercises a similar approach via Advance Vixeid Partners (AVP), a venture capital firm affiliated with Condé Nast’s parent company, Advance Publications.

“Through our strategic partnership with Advance Publications and its operating businesses, AVP has the unique the ability to tap into a broad range of operators with domain and/or functional expertise that can be deployed in our portfolio companies as consultants, advisors and members of boards of directors,” says David Ibnale, founding partner at AVP.

More and more entrepreneurs are opting to take strategic CVC investment because of the practical support they are able to provide.

“Entrepreneurs value the tactical assistance CVCs offer that most other institutional investors cannot — day to day operating insights, active industry connections and real-time deep domain guidance,” says Sharkey.

According to Matt Garratt, VP of Salesforce Ventures & Corporate Development, Salesforce Ventures leverages the company’s sheer scale and scope of its network of topical experts to provide applied support for immediate issues and day-to-day challenges that its portfolio companies face. “If a founder says, ‘I need help with pricing for my field service application,’ I can bring in someone who runs pricing for all our field services business lines. This is not a general high-level discussion,” says Garratt.

Ibnale agrees. “For each investment we make and for each issue — strategic or tactical — that we aim to address with a portfolio company, we have the ability to look within Advance business units to find the specific talent and capabilities that we need,” he says.

CVCs have the clear ability to connect their portfolio companies with relevant champions or partners from across their corporations. “Not all of our investments are strategic but often our best returns result from the promise of a strategic relationship,” says Banse of Comcast Ventures, which has been active since the late 1990s. For example, Comcast Ventures invested in EdgeConneX, an edge data center company, in 2010. Two years later, when Comcast was looking for an edge data center solution, Comcast Ventures introduced them to EdgeConneX and together they architected a solution. Today, EdgeConneX is one of the largest edge data center operators in the world and Comcast was their first major customer.

Scaling power locally and globally

CVCs can provide startups direct access to their own sizable customer bases. They’re able to do this because they know the specific problems their customers face and can assess fit with the solutions offered by companies in their portfolios. For example, Salesforce Ventures introduced their portfolio company ThousandEyes, a virtual network monitoring startup that solves performance management issues, to Salesforce’s customer base to improve user connectivity to their services.

Another examples is  Vidyard, a video marketing platform, which was made available to any Salesforce customer that used video content in their products. “They’re a fantastic partner,” Garratt says. “We don’t have video capability ourselves, so we’ve integrated Vidyard across virtually all our products.”

Tapping into the global depth and reach of in-house experts is another area where corporate VCs are often uniquely positioned to assist startups.
Telstra Ventures invests in companies that are strategically important to their parent company, and the investment team looks for startups whose products can work for their end customers and/or where Telstra itself may be a user — or both, as is the case with DocuSign.

“Entrepreneurs love that because it generates revenue,” Sherman says. “We’re very focused on driving revenues for our portfolio companies.” The group has invested in nearly 30 companies since starting four years ago, including Instant Logic, MATRIXX Software, Qiniu and Whispir.

Tapping into the global depth and reach of in-house experts is another area where corporate VCs are often uniquely positioned to assist startups, particularly those seeking to expand internationally. Qualcomm Ventures, for example, has nine offices globally, which allows them to help startups with everything from market intelligence to moving their headquarters. This happens frequently with European startups looking to move to the U.S., says Patrick Eggen, senior director at Qualcomm Ventures.

For example, Qualcomm initially discovered and bet on Waze when the founders were still solely based in Israel. When the company moved its headquarters to the United States, Qualcomm continued to work with the remaining team in Israel, while also supporting the new operations in the states. “Waze maintained the majority of their engineering and operations team in Israel so QCV provided support in both geographies seamlessly,” said Eggen.

The role of CVCs in the venture ecosystem has never been more visible or impactful than it is right now. Corporate venture leaders know they must leverage their native and distinct advantages to provide measurable value for startups in order to distinguish themselves from the proliferation of institutional and other capital options. For entrepreneurs, this evolution and increased competition in the venture funding landscape means more potential sources for backing and greater emphasis on what assistance each can bring to the table to help get their company to the next level.
Linda Holroyds insight:

Great thoughts on the evolving roles of venture and corporate funders

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"I'll Be Online Later"

"I'll Be Online Later" | Connection |
“I'll be online later,” you say, grabbing your laptop as you head out the door.

“Please don’t,” say a growing number of CEOs who are radically rethinking the modern workday. Prompted by Millennials who value work-life balance, an increasingly global workforce spanning time zones, and devices that allow us to connect anywhere, anytime, these CEOs recognize the value of redesigning business to accommodate life, and not the other way around.

18 months ago, I asked my team to do the unthinkable: stop emailing after 6 p.m. and on the weekends. Hailing from places such as McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Samsung, and Omnicom, staff was somewhat skeptical that everything could be done in a 40-hour work week. But these are clearly smart people, and so in short order we prioritized tasks, right-sized meetings, and modeled the behavior from the top down. Nothing broke, and to this day, I start the day off getting work done instead of answering email.

And yet no one quite believes me that this is true. In fact, they get flustered. Of all the human-friendly policies we have researched for the Human Company Playbook, those that deal with working hours are perhaps the most contentious.

In a world that is always on, when does work stop?

In one corner is the argument for flexible hours, the darling of the tech set. When executed well, this approach allows staff to work when they work best while navigating life events that don’t naturally fall before 9 a.m. or 6 p.m. However, probe a bit further and many employees admit that flexible hours often mean “always working,” with little or no ability to shut off. 

In the other corner is the 9-to-5 (or 6...or 7…) model, which can feel downright quaint in 2016. And yet it is making a comeback. At its best, a set hours policy has clearly defined and predictable boundaries, allowing staff to enjoy life outside of work. At its worst, this model can feel rigid, valuing “face time” over quality work.

So which working-hours policy—one that encourages quality work without burning out your staff—is right for your company? Here’s what four CEOs who participated in our ongoing Human Company Design research had to say.

Work When You Work Best

It should come as no surprise that Alexandra Cavoulacos, founder and COO of The Muse, promotes a thoroughly modern model. Informed by the 50 million (mostly Millennial) people who tap her company’s website to navigate their careers, Cavoulacos has codified a flexible work policy that encourages productivity while accommodating for life. “The human thing is to give people the chance to make the choices they need for their lives,” says Cavoulacos, a self-admitted night owl who arrives at work no earlier than 10 a.m.

In this model, each team member determines how, when, and where they work best. Many developers, for example, tend to come in later and work later. Other staff members come in at 8 a.m. and are done by 4 p.m. To manage such a wide variety of schedules, The Muse asks that all team members be transparent about their schedules and update their calendars accordingly. Cavoulacos says that core hours naturally emerged, with most people in the office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for meetings.

Work Can Wait™

When founding Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson was living in Copenhagen; Jason Fried was in Chicago. As a result, they only had three hours of overlapped working time that later served as the blueprint for a distributed model. “Most people work from home, on their own schedule. All we ask is that you have reasonable overlap with the people you work with,” says Hansson.

To avoid the “always working” trap, Hansson suggests a rough guideline of 40 hours a week. “The best workers are the ones who take vacation, are rested, and have fulfilling lives outside of work,” says Hansson. He and Fried openly buck the hero myth that dominates Silicon Valley. “We get plenty of sleep ourselves. We don’t send emails at 2 a.m. about work stuff. We built it into the software,” says Hansson. Released with Basecamp 3, the “work can wait” function allows users to set boundaries for work notifications. For example, a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule means Basecamp won’t tell you about messages received after 5 p.m. until the next morning.

Always on, But Not Always Answering

For service companies such as JDI, people are the product, which means that staff is often required to be highly available. And yet CEO Josh Dilworth-Jones makes it clear that always on does not have to mean always answering.

“Late-night email is a weird game of chicken,” says Dilworth-Jones. The challenge with email and other notifications is that human beings are designed to be responsive. “If a client sees me send an email at 9 p.m., they say ‘just call me,’ and all of a sudden, a condensed working period I have control of turns into an open-ended work session at 10 p.m. And I don’t think either of us really want to be doing that.” 

The same goes for employees. Dilworth-Jones eschews the “I’ll be online later” that precedes a staffer’s exit for the evening. Rather, he offers a clearly defined order for getting in touch with someone when they are not in the office. They use Slack to indicate status; if one is not on Slack, it is assumed that he/she is not working. Texting after hours means that an issue is being escalated. Last, but not least, is a call. “A phone call is a deathly serious thing,” adds Dilworth-Jones.

Start with Your Value System

For Arjun Arora, a serial entrepreneur and venture partner at 500 Startups, working-hours policies should reflect an organization’s value system. In his companies, this means balancing responsiveness and the “hustle” (getting your work done) with intelligence, adaptability, and mutual respect.

This is in direct contrast to what he calls the “unspoken rules of killing it” in Silicon Valley. “Martyr capitalism is not good for the business long term,” he adds.

Arora’s preference is to create core working hours for meetings, typically 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then offer flexibility for employees to manage their life. Special requests, such as the employee who wanted to telecommute one day a month to help out his parents’ small business, are also honored. “Because the values are set and clear, he was probably even more responsive (when telecommuting),” says Arora.  

Arora’s best advice, however, is in the why. Backed by research and his own personal experience, “a team characterized by trust, respect, and admiration, working 40-hour work weeks, will outperform a similarly competent team characterized by fear, mistrust, and scarcity thinking, frantically ‘being productive’ 80 hours per week.” 

Linda Holroyds insight:

Marking your 'on' and your 'off time is that line in the sand. Make a stand for work-life balance.

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Powerful Habits of Truly Happy People

Powerful Habits of Truly Happy People | Connection |

Powerful Habits of Truly Happy People
Published on October 2, 2016

Dr. Travis Bradberry
Coauthor Emotional Intelligence 2.0 & President at TalentSmart

When we think of happiness, we typically think of things that bring us immediate pleasure—a decadent meal, a favorite book, or a relaxing day on the beach. These pleasures do bring happiness, but only temporarily. Recent studies have shown that true happiness, or life satisfaction, works a bit differently.

In one study, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman categorized hundreds of people into three groups based on how they pursued happiness:

The Pleasant Life: People in pursuit of the Pleasant Life seek happiness by looking for pleasure. They are good at savoring the moment and making their pleasures last. These people are often described as “thrill-seekers.”

The Engaged Life: People in pursuit of the Engaged Life seek happiness by working hard at their passions. They immerse themselves so deeply in these that they sometimes come across as cold and uncaring; but for them, time seems to melt away as they experience a state of total engagement.

The Meaningful Life: People in pursuit of the Meaningful Life use their strengths to work toward something they believe contributes to a greater good. This greater good motivates them deeply.

Seligman found that people who pursued the Pleasant Life experienced little happiness, while those who pursued the Meaningful Life and the Engaged Life were very happy.

While Seligman’s research is just a single study, it shows that where you focus your energy and attention has a big impact on your happiness. Those who pursued the Engaged Life and the Meaningful Life had something important in common—they were deeply passionate, and they used their strengths to better themselves and the world around them.

Indeed, happy people are highly intentional. If you want to follow in their footsteps, learn to incorporate the following habits into your repertoire. 

Create your own happiness (don’t sit back and wait for it). Every second you waste waiting for happiness is a second you could have been using to create it. The happiest people aren’t the luckiest, wealthiest, or best-looking; the happiest people are those who make an effort to be happy. If you want to create your own happiness, you have to start by making it a priority. We work so hard to avoid letting other people down, but we so often do so at the expense of our own happiness.  

Surround yourself with the right people. Happiness is contagious. Surrounding yourself with happy people builds confidence and stimulates creativity, and it’s flat-out fun. Hanging around negative people has the opposite effect—they want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke?

Get enough sleep. I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to improving your mood, focus, and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, removing toxic proteins that accumulate during the day as byproducts of normal neuronal activity. This ensures that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your energy, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation also raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Happy people make sleep a priority, because it makes them feel great and they know how lousy they feel when they’re sleep deprived.

Live in the moment. You can’t reach your full potential until you learn to live your life in the present. No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re constantly somewhere else, unable to fully embrace the reality (good or bad) of this very moment. To help yourself live in the moment, you must do two things: First, accept your past. If you don’t make peace with your past, it will never leave you and, in doing so, it will create your future. Second, accept the uncertainty of the future. Worry has no place in the here and now. As Mark Twain once said, “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”

Learn to love yourself. Most of us have no problem marveling at our friends’ good qualities, but it can be hard to appreciate our own. Learn to accept who you are, and appreciate your strengths. Studies have shown that practicing self-compassion increases the number of healthy choices you make, improves mental health, and decreases your tendency to procrastinate.  

Appreciate what you have. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23 percent. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.

Exercise. Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. Happy people schedule regular exercise and follow through on it because they know it pays huge dividends for their mood.

Forgive, but don’t forget. Happy people live by the motto “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” They forgive in order to prevent a grudge, but they never forget. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Holding on to that stress can have devastating consequences for your health and mood, and happy people know to avoid this at all costs. However, offering forgiveness doesn’t mean they’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Happy people will not be bogged down by mistreatment from others, so they quickly let things go and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.

Get in touch with your feelings. Attempting to repress your emotions doesn’t just feel bad; it’s bad for you. Learning to be open about your feelings decreases stress levels and improves your mood. One study even suggested that there was a relationship between how long you live and your ability to express your emotions. It found that people who lived to be at least 100 were significantly more emotionally expressive than the average person.  

Concentrate on what you can control. Rather than dwelling on the things you can’t control, try putting your effort into the things that you can. Have a long commute to work? Try listening to audiobooks. Hurt your leg jogging? Try swimming. More often than not, we take the bad and let it hold us back when it doesn’t have to. Happy people are happy because they take their failures in stride, not because they don’t fail.

Have a growth mindset. People’s core attitudes fall into one of two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. This creates problems when you’re challenged, because anything that appears to be more than you can handle is bound to make you feel hopeless and overwhelmed. People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. This makes them happier because they are better at handling difficulties. They also outperform those with a fixed mindset because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.

Bringing It All Together

These strategies won’t just improve your happiness; they’ll also make you a better person. Pick those that resonate with you and have fun with them.

What other habits can help make you happy? Please share in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Choose to be happy

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Level Up Your Listening

Level Up Your Listening | Connection |

I was commiserating with my mentor a couple of weeks back on how one trait separates true leaders from the rest of us - the ability to listen deeply enough so that the speaker feels heard. This post builds on a March 2015 blog I wrote entitled Listen Up, and is stimulated by a exceptional September 2016 HBR article entitled What Great Listeners Actually Do, and suggests ways on how to improve listening for leaders of all levels.

Safety First:

  • A relationship must be established so that people feel comfortable speaking. What you say, what you do, and who you are helps create such an environment. And how you show up under trying circumstances is the litmus test for the type of leader you are. Remember that people are watching, especially when the waters are murky and the circumstances are complex. Act with morality and competence, exercise grace under pressure, do the right thing even when it's painful in the short term.

Focus is Key:

  • It goes without saying that distractions such as phones, laptops and shiny objects should take second seat to someone sitting in front of you, wanting your full attention.
  • But beyond this obvious fact, remember that all your energy and focus should be on the person in front of you, so that she/he feels comfortable and safe communicating ANYTHING to you.

The Substance of the Message

  • Focusing on the speaker helps you capture the substance of the message in detail. Asking clarifying questions and restating what's communicated will help ensure that you have heard the full message, as intended, which is a foundational platform for listening.

The Implications of the Message

  • Beyond the message itself, listen for the implications of the message for themphysically, socially, emotionally, in the short term and for the long term.
  • Listen also for why the message is given to YOU and why the message is givenNOW. What is the understanding and the expectations and in what timeframe?

What's NOT Said

  • Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, perspiration, gestures, posture, as well as verbal cues like tone, emphasis, pace, and other factors may help you understand the message beyond the verbal message.
  • Being curious and asking the deeper questions based on these non verbal cues will help you better understand the given and the intended message.

The Feelings Beneath the Message

  • Often the emotions and feelings behind the message is more important than the message itself. Helping the speaker feel comfortable sharing the full and complete message along with the emotions and feelings beyond the message, even if it dredges up uncomfortable experiences and experiences, is the mark of a superior listener and an exceptional leader and friend for that matter!

Support Without Judgment

  • A true hallmark of the best listeners is the ability to help the speaker betterunderstand all aspects of what they are communicating, especially those around the emotions, without judgment, no matter how urgent, dire, emotional, distressing, confounding, annoying . . . it can be.

Looking Beyond Yourself and Your Circumstances

  • If there is trust beyond measure, support without judgment, and experience beyond the realm of the speaker, both the listener and the speaker can see the problem or issue in a new light, see new possibilities and opportunities and open up one more path.

We all have our hot spots and bad days, but may we all have good listeners around us to help us pick ourselves up, take a deep breath, pull our shoulders back and say 'What's Next?'

We hope that this post helps YOU level-up to see and hear what's next for yourself, and for all those who listen to you and speak to you.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Oh the places we could go, if we were listened to . . .

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Building Hope in a Time of Change

Building Hope in a Time of Change | Connection |

Change happens. It's a part of life, especially if you work in a Silicon Valley based tech company. I recently participated in an all-hands meeting for a company undergoing massive changes real-time.It's a testament to the leadership team that shares have soared amidst all this change. And it's a further testament to the leadership team that the all-hands panel discussion was planned to help address questions and fears of staff around the world. Featured on the panel were a wide range of leaders from different locations and roles. All these leaders were new to me, and as with any new leader, my first question is 'who are you' The response to that first question was resoundingly clear: they are each authentic, experienced and passionate leaders invested in the success of their people and their company. They have led and persevered during and beyond their time at with their company, and generously shared their wisdom and advice - see notes below.

Be the type of resilient leader anyone would want on their team.

  • Change is inevitable. Choose to bend but not break. See change as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Focus on the positive opportunities implicit with each change. It rarely goes as planned, but with the right mindset, it can go better than you could have imagined.
  • Whether you choose to focus on social, physical, spiritual or community activities outside work, find ways to stay centered during times of change.
  • Have a broader perspective so that you can navigate inevitable changes, whether that involves connecting with others outside work, focusing on others' realities which make work challenges seem small, or comparing your own challenges with those less fortunate.
  • Identify the facts and accept and focus on what you can change, and what needs to happen so that the change is effective.
  • Manage your perspectives and emotions throughout a change. It's a waste of energy to assume negative intent in times of change. Find out the facts, and assume positive or neutral intent so that you can proactively manage the change.
  • Accept that wherever you are is where you are meant to be. Be fully present in each moment.
  • Learn from your own mistakes and transfer those learnings on to others.
  • Build relationships wherever you go. Don't bucket someone as all-negative. Be open that she/he might change, or might be different in another context. And even if he/she is no better than you thought, she/he might wind up being your boss, so you have to make the best of it. Never burn a bridge. 


Support others as they navigate through change.

  • Model the way as a leader, no matter where you sit at the table, even if there's no table. Have confidence, faith and trust in the change at hand, and work hard to deliver to that shared commitment.
  • Regardless of who you're talking to, and what level they are at within the organization, communicate proactively, transparently and candidly. Don't sugar-coat it. Don't be vague. But do be as positive as you can be.
  • Proactively manage your emotions and coach others on how to do the same. Nobody wants complainers and naysayers. It's OK to be a safe haven for those who need to talk it out, but not OK if that turns into a grouse session. 
  • Stick to the facts. It's easy to make up stories or assume negative intent if you don't stick to the facts. Help others do the same, sifting out what actually happened from what the perception/interpretation is of what happened.
  • Privately call others out for their snarky remarks, their negative body language, their passive-aggressive actions, their deflating energy, etc. Be that mirror for them and show them how their behavior is affecting themselves, those around them, and the bottom line results.
  • Communicate the positive results created since the last change, and say that the current change offers a new opportunity to deliver beyond what anyone may be expecting.
  • Be that glass-half-full optimist. Even if things go the-way-not-preferred, consider what the best case scenario would be.  
  • Encourage and support those around you to understand and manage their stress during change, and to craft and own their plan for navigating through the change.
  • Appreciate the perspectives and backgrounds of others so that you can help them navigate through the change.
  • Assume that change will happen and develop pre-planned change-mitigation strategies. This will help you get through those layers of shock, denial, arguing, etc., which might naturally come with unexpected changes.
  • Paint a detailed picture of the worst-case scenario and talk through it, to help understand that it may not be as bad as you might think, especially if you're plan-fully aware of it.
  • Some people don't have the experience and background to know how to persevere through adversity. Consider it an opportunity to help them navigate a change, and help them see the up-side of that adversity/change.
  • Never say that your reality is worse than theirs.


In conclusion, I'll quote Shakespeare 'to thine own self be true'. Regardless of what change comes forth, know who you are, where you are going, and what can be learned with every change.

I follow the first question with a second one: 'where are we going from here and why'. The response I personally have to these leaders is 'anywhere you'd like to go, I trust you to lead the way.' May there be more leaders like these out there and may their company and all they touch continue to thrive.

Linda Holroyds insight:

May these leaders also inspire you as you navigate changes in your life.

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DO the Job vs KEEP the Job: Not a Choice for Senior Leaders.

DO the Job vs KEEP the Job: Not a Choice for Senior Leaders. | Connection |
Regina DarmoniSr. Director, Leadership Development & Technical Training at GLOBALFOUNDRIES 

None of us starts out aiming to merely keep our jobs. Don’t we all start a new assignment brimming with energy, ambition, and great intent? Ah, but the recipe for a leadership slippy-poo is simple…and while it takes some time to assemble its ingredients, they are easily found in the average office. When the going gets tough, when there’s a bit of a squeeze, when decisions suddenly seem as political as they are logical, then our foul pie can start to come together.  

A pinch of a “it’s easier to let them do what they want’, a morceau of ‘maybe I’ll say nothing’, a dash of ‘well, it’s not my team’, a splash of “better to keep my head down”, a soupcon of resentment, augmented by the scent memory of the big salary, and then there you are senior leader: keeping the job – not doing the job.

Not a question of work: life balance.  Employees face life-cycle decisions all the time; decisions which cause them to weigh how much time and focus they can dedicate to their work at a given phase of life. A new baby, a program of study toward an advanced degree, a requirement to be a caretaker at home, or one’s own poor health can all lead to a temporary change in career focus intensity. It’s very possible to make a strong contribution at work under these conditions, and thus, this is not the focus of this discussion. Instead, I am referring specifically to the requirements placed upon senior leaders in the performance of their roles. Their actions and inactions are theoretically of greater impact than those of regular employees, and I maintain that upon accepting the privilege of a larger role, their accountability to do the job is never diminished.

More than the mission.   Doing the job involves more than completing one’s own mission. It demands of us that we provide tough input when it’s necessary, that we call out inaction, unfairness and bad policy. It requires us to highlight and demand more from the ‘dealers in slideware’, who add to costs and drive limited results. It necessitates that we point to and spoil an environment that favors cronyism. It insists that we create a level playing field for our teams and provide good counsel for our own leaders. It mandates going to bat for an unpopular yet good idea and a valued employee. It obliges us to sometimes stand up when sitting would be easier.   It compels us toMake Some Noise.

In short, doing the job requires all the skills & traits we expect of a senior leader (competence, judgment, execution at the speed of the business, influence & selling, listening, fairness, trustworthiness, etc), and at least two more: doing the job requires fully owning the leadership mission and having the courage to deliver on it.

Not “going along to get along”. Not the in-office-resignation of “Nobody listens to me”. Not hiding. Not whining. Not playing it safe. Doing.

 Anybody can keep a job. Real leaders must have the courage to do a job… the WHOLE job, and not merely what’s written in their mission statements and job descriptions. These are our great expectations. 

Senior leaders who are merely keeping their jobs are not serving the organization and are a blockage in the talent pipeline.

Who are you relying on at work?

Linda Holroyds insight:

Here's to the leaders with the judgment, execution and trustworthiness to do well at today's speed of business

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Entrepreneurial Success? Yes, There's a Test for That

Entrepreneurial Success? Yes, There's a Test for That | Connection |

The Founder Institute's mission is to "Globalize Silicon Valley" and help promising entrepreneurs launch companies. It is arguably one of the world's premier startup launch program (FI has chapters across 60 countries as well as in Silicon Valley, and has graduated 2400+ founders and 2100+ companies). And with all those graduates, FI knows a lot about the traits of successful entrepreneurs and now it has a study to back up an early hypothesis: when FI started in 2009, Adeo Ressi (Co-Founder & CEO) and Jonathan Greechan (Co-Founder) hypothesized that by implementing a short, objective test during the application process for their program, they would be able to predict the likelihood of someone building a successful technology company. FI conducted a seven-year study on the traits as well as trait combinations that make up successful entrepreneurs. They dub these "Entrepreneur DNA Profiles." FI worked closely with social scientists to identify 6 groups of personality combinations (FI conducted a proprietary Predictive Admissions Test on nearly 23,000 applicants (over 30,000 people apply to FI programs worldwide) and continues its research on traits of successful entrepreneurs with its graduates).

The six entrepreneurial profiles FI identified: The Hustler; The Innovator; The Machine; The Prodigy; The Strategist, and The Visionary. Hustlers are described in the study as "expert sales people equipped with very high levels of extraversion and conscientiousness, who identify with the likes of Mary Kay Ash and Zig Ziglar." Prodigies are more likely to relate to Elon Musk or Larry Page, as they have "very high fluid intelligence and emotional stability, but lower extroversion".

The tests identified a number of interesting traits in successful entrepreneurs, which interestingly, include these two takeaways:

IQ is not a factor that directly correlates with entrepreneurial success
Older age has shown in the data to correlate with more successful entrepreneurs up to the age of 40, after which it has limited or no impact.
Equally fascinating (when we consider the status certain founders and startups are elevated to), the traits with a negative correlation to entrepreneurial success include predatory aggressiveness, deceit, emotional instability, narcissism, and permanent excuses.

As for "success" (since the whole point of the test and 7-year study was to find success traits), FI defines the success of "early-stage" entrepreneurs by their "ability to quickly execute defined strategy and short-term goals". These short-terms goals may relate to startup metrics around revenue, market adoption, profitability, capital raised, recruitment of top talent, product milestones etc. In other words, the traction investors expect to see from an early-stage company.

There is one obvious upside of implementing an objective test in the application process for programs such as Founder Institute: it eliminates selection bias based on location, profession, race, gender or demographic. And no further explanation is required as to why more diversity in tech and the startup ecosystem (generally) is needed. Now as to whether the study will have a broader impact for diverse early-stage entrepreneurs seeking funding from the VC community, no predictions on the outcome of that one.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Be: The Hustler; The Innovator; The Machine; The Prodigy; The Strategist, or The Visionary.

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The One Ingredient You Must Demonstrate in Your Leadership

The One Ingredient You Must Demonstrate in Your Leadership | Connection |

Perry Noble suggests that there is one ingredient that would make a lot of leadership issues go away. In The Most Excellent Way to Lead, he turns to the advice of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul had a lot to say about leadership and rightly so. Leadership comes to us naturally but without some guidance it’s not just easy to get it wrong, it's highly probable. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he is discussing – in chapter 12 – how people should work together and points out that we all have roles but that none is more important or better than another. Just different.

And then at the end of chapter 12 he lists some of the roles needed in the church, but then he says in chapter 13 that no matter who you think you are or how gifted you think you are, if you can’t do it in love—outgoing concern for others—then you are nothing. Your leadership doesn't matter. You aren’t doing it right.

It sounds like Paul is just saying play nicer, but he’s talking about serving others in some of the most difficult ways possible.
“The most excellent way to lead is also the most difficult. It goes against our natural tendencies and the culture we live in, and it highlights the fact that leadership is ultimately about the leader.”
Paul is taking about being patient with others when your patience has run out.

Being kind when they don’t deserve it.

Being supportive of other people’s success and helpful when they stumble.

Looking out for the best interests of other’s before yourself.

Never keeping a tally of other people’s failures and wrong behaviors.

Always seeking the truth even when gossip is more believable.

Choosing to trust others when it would be easier to be suspicious of them.

Being optimistic even when circumstances compel you to do otherwise.

And never giving up on people even when you are discouraged.

Noble does a good job explaining each of these and more both on a personal level and organizationally. “The way we look at other people is important,” writes Noble, “and when we see them through the lens of love, our capacity to lead significantly increases.” Without love, as Simon Sinek has pointed out, “people are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other.”

Mark Sanborn adds, “when we allow love to define who we are as we work, we become irresistible leaders with a contagious passion for what we do.”

This is how we get things done through others. This is how we develop others and allow them to flourish under our leadership. It’s how we build more leaders to carry on after we are gone.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Thank you Perry Noble, for helping us reflect on what it takes to lead.

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Breaking down the gender challenge | McKinsey & Company

Breaking down the gender challenge | McKinsey & Company | Connection |

To make meaningful progress on gender diversity, companies must move beyond the averages and focus on the biggest pain points.

Corporate ambitions to achieve gender parity often produce scattershot initiatives. It’s easy to see why: gender parity is a huge undertaking, with many dimensions—a challenge akin to urban planning—in which executives must reimagine their “city” and culture, put in place multiyear building plans, add infrastructure, and improve services. Our latest research suggests that leaders can cut through the complexity of the task by first establishing priorities linked with their organizations’ most pervasive talent-pipeline problems.

More specifically, data we collected during 2015 (in collaboration with, from 30,000 employees at 118 North American companies across nine industries, show that many organizations are afflicted by one of three common pipeline pain points: women are unable to enter, stuck at the middle, or locked out of the top (exhibit). Our hope is that if companies can recognize themselves in one of these patterns, they will be better able to target their gender initiatives. (For detailed data on industry pipeline patterns, see the downloadable PDF for this article. For more on the overall research effort, see “Women in the workplace,” which revealed that women are less likely to advance than men, hold fewer roles leading to top management positions, and are a century away from gender parity in the C-suite if progress continues at the pace that prevailed between 2012 and 2015.)

Unable to enter

A number of sectors—especially automotive and industrial manufacturing, energy and basic materials, and technology—are unable to attract women for entry-level positions, so women are poorly represented throughout the talent pipeline. This problem usually arises from recruiting challenges or pre-pipeline problems, particularly the low graduation rates of women in industry feeder programs such as engineering, where they receive about 20 percent, 24 percent, and 23 percent of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees, respectively
The technology sector typifies these challenges. Women hold 37 percent of entry-level roles, versus 45 percent for our overall sample, and underrepresentation continues at each stage of the pipeline. Not surprisingly, 38 percent of women in technology feel that their gender will make it difficult for them to advance in the future. Sixty percent of women in technology also cite stress and pressure as their primary reason for not wanting to be a top executive. These figures are among the highest across all sectors surveyed.

Companies confronting entry-level hiring challenges can improve the health of their pipelines by making an up-front investment in the ecosystem of qualified female candidates and by focusing their efforts on achieving greater diversity in their recruitment processes. To expose the root causes of gender disparity at the pipeline’s start and to suggest solutions, companies should start by asking themselves questions such as these:

What would it take to improve pre-pipeline gender diversity, and how might we play a constructive role in that effort?
What quantitative targets could we track to improve the gender diversity of our recruiting pipeline in a meaningful way?
How can we maintain objective recruitment criteria while empowering hiring managers to spot and interrupt unconscious bias? As we do so, how do we make sure our lateral- and experienced-hiring programs are also gender balanced?
Leading companies today are partnering with universities to cultivate talent early. Organizations such as Girls Who Code2 or initiatives such as TechPrep3 (launched by Facebook) nurture talent in early education, often at points where girls abandon paths leading to STEM4 degrees. One technology company struggling with diversity in recruiting used advanced analytics in its résumé-screening process to identify and remove gender bias. This resulted not only in a more diverse pool of talent but also in higher-quality candidates overall. Another company focused on bias training for all managers involved in recruiting, and as a result a larger proportion of women received offers.

Stuck at the middle

Failing to advance women into middle-management roles is a common problem. Many organizations focus considerable time and energy on achieving greater diversity in the recruiting process, perhaps starting at or close to parity for men and women in entry-level positions. Such gains, however, are often quickly eroded within the first few promotion cycles. The sectors experiencing these challenges most frequently include logistics and transportation, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and hospitality.

Consider healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, for example. They start out with more women in their pipelines than companies in many other sectors do—59 percent versus 45 percent for the average in entry-level jobs—but look quite similar at the vice-presidential level. This drop-off reflects below-average middle-management promotion rates. In our sample as a whole, women were 85 percent as likely as their male counterparts to make the jump from senior manager or director to vice president, while in healthcare and pharmaceuticals the odds were just 64 percent. Of note, just 37 percent of women in healthcare and pharmaceutical companies feel they have fewer opportunities than their male coworkers do, versus 49 percent for other industries. Clearly, the middle-management cliff cannot be explained by simple causes—for instance, biased promotion practices. Questions such as the following can help companies struggling with middle-management promotions to understand why their pipeline abruptly narrows and how to unclog it:

Which of our gender programs, if any, specifically focus on support for early-tenure women? What is the utilization rate for these programs?
How do we ensure that we are drawing on the organization’s full range of talent when making promotion decisions at the middle-management level?
How can we avoid incorporating biases into promotion decisions and thereby ensure a level playing field?
Innovative approaches are emerging to address middle-management pipeline stoppages. With the aim of ensuring greater gender balance in the slate of candidates put up for promotion, one company we know has reworked its job descriptions and advertising approaches. Another invited third-party experts into its reviews to observe how it made promotion decisions. By cataloging readily identifiable biases, these experts were able to work with HR and managers to make promotion processes more inclusive. Simple things can make an enormous difference—for instance, ensuring that women are considered for midlevel promotions, receive feedback if they don’t get the jobs, and have sponsorship and action plans helping them to build the skills needed to grow into leaders.

Locked out of the top

Companies in the third group are adept at attracting women for entry-level roles and advancing them into middle management but struggle to promote them to top-level executive positions. Sectors that suffer from this challenge most seriously include retail and consumer goods, media and telecom, and financial and professional services.

The retail and consumer-goods sector, which has a higher percentage of women in all entry- and midlevel roles than our overall sample does, is an interesting case in point. The proportion of women at the top falls sharply—to 13 percent, as compared with 18 percent for our overall sample. This drop-off reflects below-average top-level promotion rates. In our sample as a whole, women were 92 percent as likely as their male counterparts to make the jump from senior vice president to the C-Suite, while in retail and consumer goods the odds were far lower, at 45 percent. Not surprisingly, only 23 percent of women in this sector feel that gender is a priority for their CEOs, compared with 35 percent for the overall sample. Questions for companies struggling to land more women in top jobs include the following:

How can we counteract trends causing women to move away disproportionately from line roles and P&L responsibility?
How do senior, external, and lateral hires affect our pipeline? Are they diluting gender gains?
Which executive men and women are using—and publicly supporting—work-flexibility programs? If none have done so, which leaders would be the most effective work-flexibility champions?
Who is sponsoring and mentoring our senior high-potential women?
We’ve seen leaders grapple successfully with these questions. When the top team at one company took a hard look at the numbers, executives realized they were blocking their high-potential senior women from advancing into top roles, by importing a high percentage of lateral hires, almost always men, for leadership roles. A course correction—simply applying the company’s core recruiting principles and targets to external hires—helped clear the way for talented senior women.

In another recent case, a business-unit head required his entire leadership team—men and women alike—to role-model flexible-work programs visibly, even if that meant working from home only periodically. He also helped women on his management team to craft flexible work arrangements, going so far as to lure back a senior woman who had quit as a result of family concerns. And to encourage accountability, he carefully tracked and evaluated his team’s progress against gender-balance goals. Within five years, the division had improved its performance in gender equality significantly more than the rest of the company had.

Targeting pipeline blockages isn’t a panacea but can be a valuable means of jump-starting progress. We hope the patterns we’ve described here will help companies to focus their efforts, make meaningful changes, and build momentum to deal with less visible barriers. Tackling gender issues should not be a firefighting exercise—jumping, every year, to the next thing. It takes a strategic eye to find the root causes of gender inequality and build a new kind of organization.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Great stats on the number of women leaders across industries - women are unable to enter leadership ranks in some industries, stuck in the middle for others, and locked out others

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20 Priceless Lessons Everyone Should Learn in Their 20s

20 Priceless Lessons Everyone Should Learn in Their 20s | Connection |

20 Priceless Lessons Everyone Should Learn in Their 20s
15-minute meetings can be ultra productive.



IMAGE: Getty Images

What are the most difficult and useful things people have to learn in their 20s? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Nelson Wang, entrepreneur, writer, and founder of, on Quora:

Here are the top 20 things I learned in my twenties:

1. Marry your ideas with execution. Ideas are good. An idea married to execution is better. So you came up with 100 good ideas. That's great. Can you actually make any of them a success?
2. Being able to focus is a skill. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a writer, a producer, an actor, a financial analyst, a salesperson, and an entrepreneur. And that was just in the category of careers. Imagine what that list looked like for multitasking my daily activities. As I got older, I realized that our time and energy is incredibly limited each day. Being able to focus is absolutely critical if you want to make a big impact.
3. Perseverance is the most important skill you can learn. You will fail, sometimes over and over again. It's human. No one's perfect. It's not about you fall, but how you get up each time. Did you learn? Did you quit when it made sense? Did you try again? Learn to persevere. I wanted to quit after writing my first book because it was such a flop. Guess what? I continued writing for years and eventually I got published in Forbes, Time, Fortune, Inc and Business Insider. #StayTheCourse.
4. Working hard doesn't guarantee success, but it makes it more likely. Working hard does ensure a few things: you'll learn a lot, you'll develop discipline, and you'll typically see more opportunities. Combine working hard with working smart, and you've got a recipe for success.
5. Work is very personal. You spend about 24% of your time at work your entire life. Bring your whole, authentic self every single day. (This is Sheryl Sandberg's idea). Do you think people say, "Gosh, I love working with Nelson because he's so robotic and shows no emotion or personality." Nope, didn't think so.
6. You don't know everything; learn from others. According to Socrates, "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." Okay, I think Socrates is kind of right here. Just kind of. I think you know something. But none of us know everything. Leverage the intellectual power of your network and always be insanely curious to learn from others. You never know what incredible knowledge they can share with you. For example, the other day I sat down with a friend for a coffee and learned how he built a business that generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales in a few months with only a few hours of work a week. #MindBlown.
7. An important part of business is setting proper expectations. Learn to let people know in advance what to expect when they work with you. This is half the battle.
8. 15-minute meetings can be ultra productive. Hour-long meetings are almost always too long. Seriously, when's the last time you really had to have a meeting that long to be productive? Try aiming for 15 minutes. It forces you to be concise.
9. You can lead, with or without a title. When I worked at a huge technology company in Silicon Valley, I was an individual contributor. I came up with an innovative idea for generating sales and new customers on my own and soon the word spread about its success. Before you knew it, I was asked by the executive leadership team to present it nationally to the entire team. That's when I realized, leaders lead by inspiring, coaching, and empowering people to be great. You can lead with or without the title.
10. First impressions make a difference. I flew to over 70 cities in 2 years for business. When I wore a hoodie and fell asleep once, the stewardess woke me up and said, "It's time to wake up, teddy bear." I was 29 years old at the time. When I wore a suit (because I had business meetings that same day), people would treat me differently and call me "sir." First impressions make a difference.
11. Time is the most valuable currency. In college I spent an inordinate amount of time playing Mario Kart and partying. Yes, it was fun, but as I've gotten older I realize now how valuable that time was. If I could go back in time, I would spend that time pushing myself to learn, to grow as a person, to spend more quality time with my friends and family, and to even start a business. Also, when I was in my early 20s, I often thought about how to make more money. Money is important. We need it for food, shelter, and clothing. It's absolutely necessary in life. But the most valuable currency is time. Time with our loved ones. Time to live a life we can be proud of. Time is finite. Spend it wisely.
12. Most arguments don't matter. Choose your battles wisely. 13. Most people have a limited amount of social currency.
Sometimes only you can motivate yourself to be great. Sometimes one of your idols can inspire you. Sometimes a family member can get you amped up. Sometimes a love interest can drive you. And sometimes, only you can motivate yourself.
14. Figure out your why. Your purpose will fuel your drive. This is the strongest motivator of all.
15. Have strong opinions, weakly held. I love hearing people talk about their ideas and opinions in a passionate way. It shows they care. I also love it when people realize that there's a better way to do things (even when it's different from their own opinion). Be passionate and be open to changing if there's a better way.
16. Data-driven decisions are powerful. "I think the "subscribe" button on the site should be blue," said the executive. "Why?" replied the marketing manager. "Because, I just think blue will do better." Instead of simply making decisions based on opinion, consider leveraging data to arrive at an answer. For example, an A/B test is a common and great way to find out which variations perform better on a webpage. Embrace testing.
17. Intuition can be just as powerful. Sometimes, though, intuition can be really powerful. When Steve Jobs created the iPhone, he had an incredible sense of what he thought people would want. It reminds me of the quote from Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
18. Your most important investment is in your health. Treat your body well and it will thank you many years later. Eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly. Your energy, focus, and general happiness will improve. My secret to how I got on track with my health? Eating a green smoothie daily for 30 days.
19. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. But no one will ever know, you think to yourself. Yes, but you always will. And you'll have to live with it. Do the right thing.
20. Love is what really matters. At the end of the day, love is what matters. Love more.
This question originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Wise and practical advice I wish someone told me when I was in my 20s

Linda Holroyd's curator insight, March 15, 2016 2:27 PM

Wise and practical advice I wish someone told me when I was in my 20s

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The Missing Link of Digital, Business and Leadership

The Missing Link of Digital, Business and Leadership | Connection |

Although it has some tilt toward IT and the Chief Information Officer role, it does a good job in driving a broader perspective based on the much needed alignment between IT/digital, business and leadership in general.

Just consider this snippet from the conclusion:

“Understanding new technology capabilities is no longer the exclusive purview of the IT organization. Leaders across the business must learn about and stay abreast of digital trends, the implica- tions of those trends for their business, and how to leverage the new technologies. That doesn’t mean they have to know how the technology works but rather why it’s important and how to use it.”

…and this piece from the introduction:

“To us, this research is a call to arms for CIOs to be proactive about educating and empowering business leaders with quality digital learning support. CIOs at companies the report calls Digital Leaders are significantly more likely to mentor business leaders to improve their digital skills. These are the business-minded CIOs Red Hat calls “Enterprisers.” They consider it their job to inspire and educate their C-level peers and the business at large on what is possible with digital technology. Conversely, CIOs who do not embrace this role—turf protectors who regard IT as their exclusive domain—are preventing their organizations from using technology to adopt better business processes and seize opportunities.”

The executive summary mentions this key challenge:

“The global survey found that while CEOs generally understand the strategic opportunities and threats of digital business, many have yet to build and communicate a vision for their companies or to develop a strategy to make that vision a reality. And most organizations’ functional leaders lack the skills and knowledge they need to execute a digital strategy, even if there’s one in place.”

…and here you get some suggested actions:


Digital Leaders do a number of things that other companies can learn from. Given that more than 80% of respondents are either Followers or Laggards, there’s plenty of room for improvement. CEOs should personally lead this charge from a vision and strategy perspective, going on the road and sharing the message with leaders in all markets. And there’s a lot that CIOs, often in partnership with other company leaders, can do as well.


Create a digital advisory board with both internal and outside experts to advise the executive team.
Learn to paint a picture of the digital future, and use examples from companies in similar industries to make that real.
Embed IT staff in the lines of business so that learning happens during the course of work, not just in special meetings or training sessions.
Create a common lexicon to increase understanding, communicating in language that makes sense from the perspective of business activities and outcomes, not IT. It helps to start from the customer’s perspective.
Partner closely with key business leaders—especially the CMO and the head of product development—to bring together the best from both domains. Identify and make clear which digital knowledge and skills need to reside in the lines of business and which should reside in IT.
Work with the training and development organization to establish both formal and informal learning forums.
Embrace a coaching framework across the organization, with KPIs built into individual managers’ performance reviews.
Identify and bring in outside experts to address specific trends for different parts of the business.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Excel at digital leadership and management

Sebastián Muñoz's curator insight, March 10, 2016 5:44 AM

Excel at digital leadership and management

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Unmistakable Habits of Irresistible People

Unmistakable Habits of Irresistible People | Connection |
Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likeable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception.

Some people, regardless of what they lack—money, looks, or social connections—always radiate with energy and confidence. Even the most skeptical individuals find themselves enamored with these charming individuals.

These people are the life of every party. They're the ones you turn to for help, advice, and companionship.

You just can't get enough of them, and they leave you asking yourself, "What do they have that I don't? What makes them so irresistible?"

The difference? Their sense of self-worth comes from within.

Irresistible people aren’t constantly searching for validation, because they’re confident enough to find it in themselves. There are certain habits they pursue every day to maintain this healthy perspective.

Since being irresistible isn’t the result of dumb luck, it’s time to study the habits of irresistible people so that you can use them to your benefit.

Get ready to say “hello” to a new, more irresistible you.

They focus on people more than anything else. Irresistible people possess an authentic interest in those around them. As a result, they don’t spend much time thinking about themselves. They don’t obsess over how well they’re liked, because they’re too busy focusing on the people they’re with. It’s what makes their irresistibility seem so effortless.

To put this habit to work for you, try putting down the smart phone and focusing on the people you’re with. Focus on what they’re saying, not what your response will be, or how what they’re saying will affect you. When people tell you something about themselves, follow up with open-ended questions to draw them out even more.

They are authentic. Irresistible people are who they are. Nobody has to burn up energy or brainpower trying to guess their agenda or predict what they’ll do next. They do this because they know that no one likes a fake.

People gravitate toward authentic individuals because they know they can trust them. It’s easy to resist someone when you don’t know who they really are and how they really feel.

They find reasons to love life. Irresistible people are positive and passionate. They’re never bored, because they see life as an amazing adventure and approach it with a joy that other people want to be a part of.

It’s not that irresistible people don’t have problems—even big ones—but they approach problems as temporary obstacles, not inescapable fate. When things go wrong, they remind themselves that a bad day is just one day, and they keep hope that tomorrow or next week or next month will be better.

They ditch the small talk. There’s no surer way to prevent an emotional connection from forming during a conversation than by sticking to small talk. When you robotically approach people with small talk this puts their brains on autopilot and prevents them from having any real affinity for you. Irresistible people create connection and find depth even in short, every day conversations. Their genuine interest in other people makes it easy for them to ask good questions and relate what they’re told to other important facets of the speaker’s life.

They treat EVERYONE with respect. Whether interacting with their biggest client or a server taking their drink order, irresistible people are unfailingly polite and respectful. They understand that—no matter how nice they are to the person they’re having lunch with—it’s all for naught if that person witnesses them behaving badly toward someone else. Irresistible people treat everyone with respect because they believe they’re no better than anyone else.

They have integrity. People with high integrity are irresistible because they walk their talk, plain and simple. Integrity is a simple concept but a difficult thing to practice. To demonstrate integrity every day, irresistible people follow through, they avoid talking bad about other people, and they do the right thing, even when it hurts.

They don’t try too hard. Irresistible people don’t dominate the conversation with stories about how smart and successful they are. It’s not that they’re resisting the urge to brag. The thought doesn’t even occur to them because they know how unlikeable people are who try too hard to get others to like them.

They smile. People naturally (and unconsciously) mirror the body language of the person they’re talking to. If you want people to find you irresistible, smile at them during conversations and they will unconsciously return the favor and feel good as a result.

They make an effort to look their best (just not too much of an effort) There’s a massive difference between being presentable and being vain. Irresistible people understand that making an effort to look your best is comparable to cleaning your house before company comes—it’s a sign of respect for others. But once they’ve made themselves presentable, they stop thinking about it.

They recognize the difference between fact and opinion. Irresistible people handle controversial topics and touchy subjects with grace and poise. They don’t shrink from sharing their opinions, but they make it clear that they’re opinions, not facts. Whether discussing global warming, politics, vaccine schedules, or GMO foods, irresistible people recognize that many people who are just as intelligent as they are see things differently.

Bringing It All Together

Irresistible people did not have fairy godmothers hovering over their cribs. They’ve simply perfected certain appealing qualities and habits that anyone can adopt as their own.

They think about other people more than they think about themselves, and they make other people feel liked, respected, understood, and seen. Just remember: the more you focus on others, the more irresistible you’ll be.
Linda Holroyds insight:

Be that irresistible person you always wanted to be

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Digital innovation in Asia: What the world can learn | McKinsey & Company

Digital innovation in Asia: What the world can learn | McKinsey & Company | Connection |

Digital innovation in Asia: What the world can learn
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Companies in the region are transforming their digital operations to great effect and building some of the world’s most successful tech giants.
In Asia, a few factors make the impact of digital more pronounced than in other markets, including social penetration, consumers’ openness to new technologies and the mobile Internet, and willingness by companies to innovate. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey senior partners Alan Lau and Gregor Theisen talk with Cecilia Ma Zecha about what makes Asia’s technological advances different from the rest of the world and the lessons other regions can learn from Asia’s innovations.
Cecilia Ma Zecha: Welcome to this edition of the McKinsey Podcast. I’m Cecilia Ma Zecha, an editor with McKinsey Publishing, based in Singapore. Today we’re talking about digital trends in Asia, arguably the hottest region in the world for e-commerce, search, social networking, gaming, and ride sharing, just to name a few.

Digital innovation in Asia: What the world can learn
Asia has its own tech giants, such as China’s Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu; Japan’s Rakuten and SoftBank, among others. Here to tell us more about Asia’s digital landscape and how companies in the region are transforming their digital operations are Alan Lau and Gregor Theisen, senior partners and coleaders of Digital McKinsey in Asia, based in Hong Kong. Alan and Gregor, welcome.
Alan Lau: Thank you.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Can you start with some level setting on the similarities and the differences between the advance of digitization in Asia and the rest of the world?

Alan Lau: First, there is no one Asia. Economies are vastly different between Japan, Korea versus China, Indonesia, and India. One of the common myths is people think that developing Asia is behind in digital, and I think it’s, in fact, the other way around.

The poor legacy in these developing Asian markets, whether it is IT or digital penetration, or the traditional retail and banking infrastructure, often means that digital is a great opportunity for the country to leapfrog. The most interesting digital market in Asia is actually not the likes of Korea and Japan, but is more China, Indonesia, and India. These are the markets that are really pushing the boundary and innovating the most.

Digital Asia: Understanding the competitive landscape
Alan Lau, senior partner, shares a common misconception about digital growth in developing Asia.
Gregor Theisen: As a Western European, Asia is the most fascinating market I’ve seen so far, and that’s for three major reasons. First of all, it’s around innovation. That’s not only China—we mentioned all those the companies already—but that’s also happening in all the other markets like India or Indonesia.

The second thing is about how they leapfrog technologies. Most of these markets, even though e-commerce or Internet-banking penetration might be low, like in Thailand and Vietnam, social-network penetration is very, very high. It’s much higher than in some of the developed markets. In these markets, you find unique business systems and ecosystems, which exploit these opportunities.

The third reason is that the people in these countries, they’re open to new technology and mobile Internet. That makes it much easier for businesses to capture the opportunities.

Alan Lau: As Gregor said, these users do not have traditionally great services provided, whether it is in retail, banking, or telecom. When digital tech comes up with new business models, it’s often new to these consumers. Therefore, they’re more open-minded.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: India has a population of over 1.2 billion, but there’s still a lot of potential for growth in broadband usage. There is a call for greater digital infrastructure. So there’s still room for digitization to develop in India. Why do you think that that market is leading in innovation?

Alan Lau: If I try to compare India with China, as you said, the digital broadband penetration is still lower, which means that even at this lower level, if we already see this amount of innovation, we definitely can expect more. The other point is, with the attackers in India, they had the opportunity to try something that many Western peers didn’t have the need to try before.

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For example, look at e-commerce. You have leading companies like Flipkart and Snapdeal. The logistic challenge that they have to deal with is completely different than the UK, Germany, or the US. A lot of times the last-mile delivery is done by people going around on bike, and that really leverages the cheap labor in the country. That’s also another reason why markets like India would have the chance to innovate because they have to innovate. There isn’t a lot that they can copy from.

Gregor Theisen: Let me add two points, Alan, regarding what you said about India. My first point is that India has most of the digital talent in the world. It’s not only the home of the Internet service providers. These companies focused early on developing digital talent. I would argue we are talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of talents in that market.

They are driving not only the innovation in India, but they are also the backbone for global innovation. My second point there is, and you touched upon it, yes, of course, there is significant room for improvement regarding the infrastructure side. Broadband Internet access, high-speed mobile phone, or even reliable mobile-phone networks. However, they are moving very fast at least in the key centers and major cities. These markets alone are significant.

A lot of people look at unicorns. Unicorns are defined as privately owned companies with valuations above $1 billion. If you look at the global unicorn landscape, 50–60 percent are based in the US.

The second market then, like Alan said before, is China. The third market is more or less India. You have innovative companies where people believe the valuation justifies their business system and what they are doing. India already has these kind of unicorns there. There are seven, eight, nine of them already, and much more emerging. So I would say, yes, e-commerce penetration is low, around 10 percent. However, Internet banking penetration, at least according to our surveys, is around 18 percent. If you multiply that with the population, it is already a significant market.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Alan, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at China. Speaking of a very exceptional entrepreneurial class being an important factor in driving innovation, that certainly is one of the key points of success for the Chinese market. Can you talk more about that?

Alan Lau: The first thing to understand about China is that you don’t have the same global names that you see everywhere else. Google, Facebook, Instagram, by and large, are still the leaders in many of the Asian markets. For example the number of Facebook users in Indonesia is larger than the number in the US.

But I think China is the exception. It’s a very well-known fact that there is the great firewall, which means that many of these companies’ servers are blocked in China. As a result, it has created the environment for the likes of Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba to rise, starting from about ten years ago. A common myth is people think that these are quick copycat companies that looked to Silicon Valley to import their business model.

Indeed, it may have started that way, but if you look at the past, I would say six, seven years, the market has gone through, and these leaders have done a lot more than just copying. Take Tencent, for example. They have a very popular service called WeChat, which is very similar to a combination of WhatsApp and Facebook. Now they have 700 million users in China. In China, you’ve also got WhatsApp freely available. But it is WeChat that is, by far, the dominant player.

The Internet leaders in China, like Tencent and Alibaba have really innovated. Yes, they may have drawn the initial inspiration from outside about ten years ago, but certainly in the past couple of years, they’ve really developed a product and adapted it very much to the local market, to the extent that now a lot of people from outside have been looking to China for inspiration.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Gregor, the retort is that government protection enables local Chinese firms to thrive, blocks out competition, therefore, Chinese firms don’t have to innovate, but instead they copy business models in the West. Is that, like Alan is saying, not giving Chinese tech leaders enough credit?

Gregor Theisen: I fully agree with what Alan said. I’m intrigued by the degree of innovation that is happening in China. These are not only the leaders like Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba, who have innovated around existing social networks. But it’s much more about the businesses around them, for example like in the banking or financial services world.
There are offerings out there in China that are purely based on WeChat. I’m not aware of any other market where we have a WhatsApp bank that is entirely operating in that ecosystem. And that’s not only limited to financial services. How people sell and interact via these social networks is also unique. Lastly, what I would love to add is, if they innovate, they innovate at scale. It is rapidly not only a small start-up, it is rapidly an entire business system, with real revenues, real impact, and real clients.
Cecilia Ma Zecha: How has WeChat been able to succeed the way that it has? Essentially turning one app into a full-scale mobile-payment service, whereas many people in the West, for instance, are used to using different apps for different things.
Alan Lau: First, we need to look at WeChat as not just one app. Of course it has a very sticky high-frequency service, which is messaging. But that is just a starting point. It is a super app because it is a portal to many other services that are being offered.
For example, on the main page, you would see the usual messaging interface. It’s very similar to WhatsApp. But if you swipe right, then you see many other services that are offered. As Gregor was saying, you can do your banking there. You can shop online. You can get a cab. You can do online payments.

The global discussion and narrative has been around app fatigue. That people have way too many apps on their smartphone. They don’t want to be bounced off from one app or one website to another to complete a set of services. In China, it’s the opposite. You can get a lot of stuff done on WeChat or Alipay.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: What about the other leaders from China such as Alibaba or Baidu? Anything that they could teach the rest of the world?

Alan Lau: It’s also around the theme of ecosystems. Of course, Taobao and Tmall is the traffic driver. Everyone’s shopped on it. In fact, the average number of transactions people had on Alibaba is 50 times a year, which means people buy something every week. On top of that, what really facilitates those transactions is Alipay, the payment platform. Alipay is the anchor for Alibaba. They’ve also developed a whole bunch of services. Very similar to WeChat, you can also shop online. You can get a cab. You can order other local services.

But they are also diversifying from that as well. One of the most fascinating services that I’ve seen recently is something called Sesame Credit. In China, most people don’t have a credit history. What Alibaba has done with Sesame Credit is to say, “Based on your previous transaction history or borrowing history, I can automatically generate a score for you.” If you had a high enough score, that allows you to do things in a more convenient way. So, for example, if you have a score that is above 700, you can book a hotel without making a deposit. If you have a score over 800, you can get a visa to go to Europe without producing income proof. I think if you have a score also around 800, you can get a priority listing on the most popular dating sites in China. They’re creating all kinds of new cases, and other new ecosystems.

Gregor Theisen: I always learn when I look into the Chinese market. Every day, every second, there’s some innovation happening. I want to step back, and say, yes, of course, these are leading innovators, and they’re brilliant ecosystems. They also benefit from the Chinese consumer because they spend more time on the mobile Internet with their smartphone compared to many other markets. In some other markets like Indonesia, they spend even more time. But compared to Western Europe or North America, Chinese consumers spend more time, and they love conveniences like one-stop shopping. We talked about WeChat, Alibaba, all the ecosystems that drive that. But also, the willingness of the consumer. Of course we can learn a lot in the other markets around the ecosystems, what they are offering, and the integration, and the boldness of integrating new business systems.

However, one always has to take into consideration the consumer in the different markets: How will they react? And what will they do? Having said that, there’s lots of room for improvement for many other markets and many other players in the other markets. Because even though the consumers don’t behave like the Chinese one, they behave in a way that the demand is much higher than the current supply in these markets.

How organizations in Asia can transform for the digital age
Gregor Theisen describes the challenges Asian organizations must face to undertake successful digital transformations.
Alan Lau: I really like that point about the open-minded consumer, and I do think it is a key part to the success that we’ve seen in China. Let’s take another service, as an example. Qzone is the equivalent of MySpace, I would say, or of Facebook.

They also have close to 700 million users. There was a lot of debate early on to say, “I just want people to post more photos. How do I do that?” One of the ideas within the company was to say, “I’m just going to auto load the photo and pull it from the photo album into the top of the app, so people can see it.” They can just click, and then they can post.

I think many Western counterparts might also come up with the same idea, but it requires someone like a Chinese player to push the boundary. It also required consumers that are open-minded who said, “You’re not intruding in my privacy,” for that to take off.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: So Korea and Japan are the tech leaders in the minds of many. How are they doing in the advance of digitization in today’s world?

Gregor Theisen: Korea and Japan, they have leading tech companies, both of them. Most of the innovation happening there is within the companies, especially on the tech side; they are leading innovators. However, they don’t have this kind of start-up community ecosystem, vibrant community, where lots of innovations are happening.

That is happening much more in the boundaries of existing companies. However, if you look into these markets, they benefit a lot from great infrastructure. They benefit a lot from investments over a certain period of time, because both of these cultures, they are behind new ideas, and they go after these new ideas for multiple years. It’s not that you get one year, if it doesn’t work, we stop it.

Alan Lau: Korea and Japan are both very interesting markets. Very, very different when it comes to digital because Korea does have a lot of innovation, as Gregor said. Both in a traditional tech site, in hardware, leaders like Samsung and LG. But also in digital.

If you look at some of the global services that they’ve taken global, like Line, Kakao, these are messaging, but also gaming services that are popular not just in Korea but also outside. In fact, in many parts of Asia their e-commerce penetration is also very high. They just haven’t got the same scale as China, as Gregor said. That makes it quite different. I think Japan is a completely different market, and one that I think many people still struggle to understand.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: How is it different?

Alan Lau: It does have major tech companies, admired companies that people have known for decades: Sony, Mitsubishi, Toshiba. But when it comes to digital and IT, and maybe Gregor can add to that, they have been very slow to move.

Legacy IT issues in Japan are probably one of the most challenging as we look across Asian markets. The idea that they need to be disrupting their own businesses and making a lot of changes to the legacy has been slow to catch on.

That doesn’t mean that things would not happen. For example, when the iPhone was launched, people also said that it would never take off in Japan because they’ve got a different system. They’ve got Docomo. It’s a completely different industry environment. But it did take off. When you have a fantastic service, and when you have an innovator that’s really pushing a boundary, it will happen. It hasn’t happened yet.

Gregor Theisen: And we have another industry, the gaming industry, and especially mobile, online gaming. I would argue that Japan is one of the leading players in that global industry. They are innovating a lot. You see that in certain subsegments of industries, they are able to innovate.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Increasingly, companies around the world must experiment with digital technology, and, in some cases, reinvent themselves at the core to create new value. Talk about the transformational opportunities and challenges that organizations in Asia face.

Gregor Theisen: First of all, I would separate out emerging Asia from mature Asia because if you talk about the mature Asian markets and these corporations, at the end, they face exactly the same challenges as American or European companies. They have traditional legacy IT systems. They are in the business for 50 or hundreds of years. They have an existing customer base. They are used to a growth of 2–5 percent per year. These are all very stable environments.

To embark on a digital transformation requires top-down leadership. All functions need to be involved. IT architecture needs to be redesigned. Data architecture needs to be redesigned. But at the end, it is more or less the same as what you do to invest in Europe or in North America with these kind of companies.

Empowering Asia’s digital leaders
Alan Lau reveals two important factors business leaders in Asia should consider when planning a digital overhaul of their companies.
If you move to emerging Asia or to conglomerates, which have only a recent history of significant growth, they have one key advantage. The key advantage is no legacy IT. That helps them significantly to leapfrog and embark on a digital transformation journey. The second key advantage most of these companies have is very strong top-down leadership. Some of them are privately owned. They have very visionary leaders. If you embark on an entire transformation of the entire corporation, a visionary leader is extremely helpful, because they inject the entrepreneurial mind-set, exactly what you need to have in order to be successful. So they have an advantage on the legacy IT side, and they have visionary leaders. The third point I would add: there is that you have digital talent available. Even though everybody is looking for digital talent out there, the educational systems, university graduates, they are more and more interested.

They are intrigued. And in my view, they are trained much better to be active and good contributors to a digital transformation than their peers in many other markets. So they have access to a talent pool. They have visionary leaders, and in some markets or some corporations, they don’t have legacy IT.

Alan Lau: That’s right. There are more similarities than differences when it comes to a digital transformation between Asia and the rest of the world. You still need to recognize that digital is not just having a website or having a social-network account. But it’s about digitizing the entire enterprise, as Gregor was saying.

It’s digitizing the process, and the customer experience, modernizing your IT, injecting big data analytics and also AI into your core operations. All of that needs to happen. Having visionary leaders, as many Asian companies have, helps tremendously. Many of these are founder-owned companies. They’re first-generation entrepreneurs, and they have the skills, and the commitment, to drive through digital transformation.

That’s super important. The bottom-up involvement is also critical. Maybe that’s where Asian companies are a little bit more different than their Western peers. Because there is still the traditional Asian culture, which is more hierarchical.

Which is, “This is my division. How do I work with them? And do I break the boundary?” One of the terms that we use is you need dragon slayers in the company. The visionary boss needs to empower the digital leader to say, “You need to go work across functions to do things in a different way and be empowered to do so.” This may not always come naturally to Asian cultures. The top-down support would help. But you also need to create that bottom-up culture, and people feel empowered to make changes happen.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Finally, given everything that we discussed, what would you tell CEOs who are listening to this conversation are the key takeaways when it comes to understanding the digital landscape in this region, and what’s distinctive about some of the transformational journeys that are happening within organizations in Asia?

Gregor Theisen: I would say four points. My point number one is if you are a non-Asian CEO or leader, have a close look into Asia and really spend time on the ground. And not only in China. We discussed some other markets like Indonesia and so on, because lots of innovation at scale is happening here.

My second point is, the degree of change and the speed of change is significant. We talked about, we want to be paperless in three years. These are corporations who have 100,000-plus employees. We talked about, I want to reduce my cost base by 90 percent. Again, in three to four years, some significant players. The speed is significant. Learning how they do that, but also thinking about, we think, and I think, they will not only focus on Asia but they will be in Europe and in North America shortly with these kind of offerings.

My third point is how radical some of the players in Asia are. But also for Asian players. If you embark on a digital transformation, go all in. It is not, “Oh, I stop at a certain point in time.” You either improve your customer satisfaction and the journeys or you don’t. If you just embark on the journey and then stop, because you have traditional channels, sales channels, you have legacy IT, whatever might stop you, then you might be in a worse position.

It is a multiyear journey. It is a top-down journey. But if you embark on it with the entire organization, you will be successful. And the fourth point is, early on, think about the talent, cultural, and organizational implications. What are the new talents I want to integrate? Which ecosystem do I want to be part of? And what are the implications for my organization?

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Alan?

Alan Lau: Gregor covered it very well. I’ll just add one point for CEOs, which is, think about your digital board. In a survey that McKinsey did, only about 15 percent of companies said that they actually had a digital-ready board. Only 5 percent of them said they have a technology board. In a rapidly changing environment and paradigm, it is very important to have challenges, to help management stay alert and be updated on what’s happening.

That doesn’t mean just bring in a token digital native ex-CEO to be on the board, because you wouldn’t typically have 11, 15 board members, and just having 1 or 2 is not enough. By all means, bring people in with the relevant experience, but the rest of the board members also need to get upgraded and be aware of the challenges and the opportunity that digital brings. It’s important to see Asia as a market where a lot of innovation is happening. People need to come see it. On top of that, don’t treat the large Internet companies here, if I take China as an example, as just competitors. They are your partners.

Cecilia Ma Zecha: Well, thank you, Alan and Gregor, for your insights. And thank you for listening to this conversation. If you’d like to find out more about our research and knowledge, please head over to

About the author(s)

Alan Lau and Gregor Theisen are senior partners in McKinsey’s Hong Kong office. Cecilia Ma Zecha is the head of digital communications for Asia and is based in the Singapore office.

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15 things that may be hard to do, but could change your life forever

15 things that may be hard to do, but could change your life forever | Connection |

What makes someone uncomfortable depends on the person, but what's universally true is the value of recognizing boundaries and continually pushing them.

As Quora user Joos Meyer explains in response to the question, "What uncomfortable things such as cold showers can improve your life?" pushing your comfort zone is the key to self-improvement.

"I think the best methodology is to every day or week set a task or find a situation that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Do that thing. This will incorporate the experience into your model of 'normality' and hence expand your 'comfort zone,'" he writes.

Here are some uncomfortable things that other Quora users say have helped them grow:

1. Question everything
"The most uncomfortable thing one can do is to question everything that is taken for granted and seek answers," writes Malli Gurram. "Try to see the other side of the norm."

2. Be 100% honest
Being the most honest you've ever been with someone in your life will be one of the most uncomfortable things you can do, Ryan Brown says, but it could also be the most valuable.

To do this, he suggests writing a list of all the people to whom you have something — good or bad — to say, writing down the honest feelings you need to convey to them in a letter, handing the person the letter, and writing down what happened and how the experience affected you and the other person.

"If you're being really honest, each letter you write should make you quite emotional as you are writing it," Brown writes. "That is how you know you have tapped into your actual emotions and feelings — that it actually means something to you."

"Don't forget what you have learned from the experience," he suggests. "Let it be with you forever."

3. Meditate
Oftentimes, slowing down and finding inner calm can be especially difficult for those of us who are constantly on the go and thinking of the next things we need to do.

But as Nathan Hershey points out, the benefits can include enhancing your cognitive capacity, emotional intelligence, and overall self-discipline.

4. Wake up extremely early
Ekin Öcalan loves to wake up before sunrise because it provides the perfect study-and-work environment. Waking at 5 a.m., while everyone else sleeps, is the perfect, albeit challenging, way to begin the day in silence, he writes.

5. Do something creative
"Many people say they want to be creative. Then they go home and binge watch TV episodes on Netflix while drinking red wine," Mark Toole writes.

While fear of rejection and failure are powerful demotivators, having a creative outlet can do wonders for our bodies and minds. What's more, "keeping your work to yourself also guarantees that nobody else will ever love it," Toole notes.

6. Watch your pennies
Keep track of every penny you spend, from auto repairs and life insurance to coffee and french fries, for several months, suggests Bruce A McIntyre.

And try paying for everything you can with cash. "If you have to reach in your wallet and pull out cash, you will often think twice about how much you need something."

You'd be surprised how much debt you can pay off when you literally watch your pennies.

7. Volunteer
Gurram suggests volunteering for a nonprofit or doing selfless deeds. Volunteering can make you feel like you're part of something big, Gurram says, using volunteer experience with TEDx as an example.

"It was such an overwhelming feeling I had on the big day, being part of the community," Gurram says.

8. Track what you eat
Keeping track of all the food you eat and all the exercise you do in a day can be challenging, butTina Marshall says using her MyFitnessPal app helped her see the harm she was doing to her body.

"I didn't realize how little of some nutrients I was getting and how much sugar and fat I was getting daily until I started to do this regularly," she writes.

9. Eat only nutritious food
After you track your food, start eating only what is truly nutritious — Doug Whitney says this will change your life forever.

"The short answer here is to prepare your own food, eat organic as much as possible — yes, it's expensive, but it's cheaper than the medical bills and lost performance — focus on lean meats and veggies, avoid grains (they're disastrous for most of us), and when you do eat something that isn't good for you, notice the difference in how you feel. This is key!"

He says this will be uncomfortable for a number of reasons: It's hard; it's socially limiting; it can be more expensive if you are used to eating off the dollar menu; it's not as tasty when you start, and it takes more time.

But he says the outcome is 100% worth the effort. "Being a weird health nut and outperforming everyone else is so much more fun than blending in — and that's not just athletically. It's mentally as well."

10. Practice public speaking
It may be scary to think about, but you never know when you may be called upon to speak in public. Practice, while daunting, is the key to improving your communication skills.

Gurram recommends joining a nearby Toastmasters group or an improv group in your city: "It's scary as hell until you realize that everyone around you feels the same."

11. Talk to someone new
"See someone you're interested in? Go talk to them," Toole suggests. "The worst that can happen is an epically catastrophic rejection, which gives you something funny to talk about. That and increased confidence in your abilities next time."

12. Leave your phone in your pocket
"How many times have you checked your phone while reading this? The last time you were at a restaurant or bar, how many times did you pull out your phone to look something up?" Toole asks.

There's something to be said of taking a digital detox and allowing our minds to wander. Rather than reaching for our phones when we're bored, research suggests that leaning into boredom can help make us more productive, goal-oriented, and creative.

Plus, it's just good manners when you're in social settings.

13. Pick just one thing to master at a time
Your approach to self-betterment might be trying as many things as possible and seeing what works. But Rob Hanna says using the opposite tactic, though uncomfortable, is key.

"Intention is the key to mastery," Hanna writes. He explains this requires calling your shots and hitting them.

"The problem with most improvement seekers in life is that they really don't know what they're looking for, and then they keep casting about capriciously for the next new thing."

If you're constantly changing interests, he says, you're never going to discover your own internal progress. "So pick one thing and become progressively committed to mastering it. It doesn't matter what it is, anything will do, as long as you do."

14. Accomplish an almost impossible goal
The most uncomfortable thing you can do, according to Rizwan Aseem, is to set and achieve a goal that's harder than something you've ever done before.

To do that, he suggests you think about a thing you're comfortable doing every day and amplify it until you get to a point where you become really scared of doing it. If you run a mile every day, the idea of running seven might terrify you. Set this as your one-year goal.

"The hardest part is to actually go out there and take the actions steps that will help you achieve this goal," he writes.

"You will have to use all your mental and physical strength to actually get yourself to achieve this goal. But here's the thing: Something very cool happens in your mind, your physiology, your internal makeup when you actually do this. You become invincible. You will be able to set any goal for yourself and then achieve it."

15. Seek help
"I think the most uncomfortable yet healthy thing you can do is go to therapy," writes Sam Ham. "There, those defenses you've been utilizing for years, or perhaps decades, may be exposed, and it can be incredibly difficult to realize that you (and those you love or hate) are not necessarily who you thought."

As Business Insider previously reported, roughly one in every five Americans, or about 43 million people, suffers from mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 60% of us received no treatment in the past. With cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), people start to change their thoughts, which in turn can cause behavior changes.

"Learning that you, and those around you, are not so black and white and absolute can be, at the very least, uncomfortable and disorienting. And practicing awareness, acceptance, and forgiveness can be a rigorous and exhausting chore," Ham writes. "But damn, it's so worth it."

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Do something uncomfortable

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Women in the Workplace 2016 | McKinsey & Company

In corporate America, women fall behind early and keep losing ground with every step.

More than 75 percent of CEOs include gender equality in their top ten business priorities, but gender outcomes across the largest companies are not changing. Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager—so far fewer end up on the path to leadership—and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.

Women in the Workplace 2016, a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, elaborates on these patterns, provides some explanations for them, and suggests priorities for leaders seeking to speed the rate of progress. Key findings, based on data from more than 130 companies and over 34,000 men and women, include the following:

Women remain underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline. Corporate America promotes men at 30 percent higher rates than women during their early career stages, and entry-level women are significantly more likely than men to have spent five or more years in the same role.
Women negotiate for promotions and raises as often as men but face more pushback when they do. Women also receive informal feedback less frequently than men—despite asking for it as often—and have less access to senior-level sponsors. Not surprisingly, women are almost three times more likely than men to think their gender will make it harder to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.
The challenge is even more pronounced for women of color. Our research finds that, compared with white women, women of color face the most barriers and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority despite having higher aspirations for becoming a top executive. Women of color also report they get less access to opportunities and see a workplace that is less fair and inclusive.

The report suggests that we are falling short in translating top-level commitment into a truly inclusive work environment. Even when top executives say the right things, employees don’t think they have a plan for making progress toward gender equality, don’t see those words backed up with action, don’t feel confident calling out gender bias when they see it, and don’t think frontline managers have gotten the message. Only 45 percent of employees, for example, think their companies are doing what it takes to improve diversity outcomes. And even though more than 70 percent of companies say they are committed to diversity, less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes. Faced with these challenges, it’s time to rewrite our gender playbooks so that they do more to change the fabric of everyday work life by encouraging relentless execution, fresh ideas, and courageous personal actions.

This is an edited extract from Women in the Workplace 2016, a study undertaken by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey. It builds on the Women in the Workplace 2015 report, as well as similar research conducted by McKinsey in 2012. For more information, visit
Linda Holroyds insight:

The statistics are said. But it also means that leaders and companies who actually deliver improved numbers and value will surely stand out!

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The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two

The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two | Connection |
Ross McCammon Editor/Author

You suck.

Also: I suck.

I don’t know what it is that you suck at, but you suck at something very important. You suck at things you will someday not suck at. But for now, you are not good at these things. In fact, you suck at them.

This must be accepted.

It might take a while. So I’ll wait.

You know what? I’ll do it too.

While we’re both accepting that we suck, let’s talk about failure.

Failure is huge right now. It’s being studied. It’s being written about. It’s being blogged about. “Fail early and often,” we’re told. “Surrender to the pain of failure.” “Failure is fundamental.” The latest key to success is to fail but to fail in the right way.

But is there a right way to fail? Is there a right way to submit work you know is half-baked, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to stumble through a presentation to the sales staff, like I did during my first few months atEsquire? Is there a right way to indiscreetly talk about another magazine at a party and then turn around and two editors from that magazine are right behind you, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to have a story killed? Is there a right way to do shit work?

I don’t think actual failure is what’s being discussed. “Failure” is just the word that makes the books and articles seem more intriguing than they actually are. Actual failure is awful and expensive. It’s devastating. Failure teaches you nothing. You should not consider “failure” a positive outcome. Not early. Not often. Not ever, if you can help it. Really, what’s being discussed is: mistakes.

All of the studies that the books and blog posts cite basically boil down to two messages. 1. Humans hate to make mistakes. 2. A key determinant of success is both accepting that you will make mistakes and paying attention to the mistakes that you make.

One of the most cited experts on this topic is Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who pioneered the idea of “mind-sets.” People with “fixed mind-sets,” she says, believe their abilities are unchangeable—a belief that causes them to shy away from situations in which they might fail. By contrast, people with “growth mind-sets” embrace challenges because they believe they can become smarter and more capable even if they don’t succeed. They’re willing to get things wrong, but more important, they’re ready to listen to the feedback. Screwing up is not a defining thing. This is such a useful attitude to have. I’ve been at my current job for 10 years and I’ve only just recently adopted this mentality. It’s made my work better. It’s made the process more efficient. And I have a lot more time to spend with my family.

What people with a growth mind-set know is that mistakes are useful when you’re willing to have a conversation about them, when you’re willing to be corrected.

But actual failure? Humiliating, devastating failure?

Aside from teaching us that certain decisions are bad decisions and that we should not make them twice, failure totally blows. But mistakes are amazing.

The main failure of my first couple of years in New York was the shame I felt at making mistakes. If I have a regret, this is it. I was too caught up in the fear of making mistakes. I sometimes acted timidly. In the short term, I probably did “better” work, but in the long term I did worse work because I didn’t allow myself to get my mistakes over with early. I would stay at work until midnight working on a headline. I would refine a single joke over two or three days. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the details. But focusing on the details at the expense of your personal life is not a good idea.

Now that I’m a manager, if I see someone hanging on to something for what I think is too long, I will tell them to give it to me. As is. Just turn it over. Doing work too fast is a bad idea. But doing work too slow is a terrible idea. The last thing a boss wants is to be left without any options if the work isn’t good enough. Being fastidious is possibly the worst thing a young worker can do. The work is probably not going to get to where it needs to be no matter how long you hang on to it. So turn it in early and then make corrections. You’re supposed to do bad work.

Everyone wants you to do bad work.


Your boss wants you to get it out of your system and learn what not to do. He’s certainly expecting it.

And your peers want you to make mistakes too. Either they understand the value of a fearless colleague or they just want to feel superior...if they even notice. Loads of studies have shown that we tend to think people pay attention to us twice as much as they actually do. This is the spotlight effect. (Turns out my mom was right about this, which she repeated to me on a weekly basis during my adolescence.)

And you don’t realize it, but you want to do bad work too. Because in every bit of bad work, there is always a kernel of something good. Bad work is 2 to 13 percent good. Your job is to pick through the mess you create and find that good. Other people will help you find it. Let them.

Ross McCammon is the author of Works Well With Others

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Have the growth mindset where you welcome mistakes

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What Great Listeners Actually Do

What Great Listeners Actually Do
Jack ZengerJoseph Folkman
JULY 14, 2016

Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

Not talking when others are speaking
Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:


Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.


Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)


Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.

Level 4: The listener observes nonbverbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.


Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.


Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.


Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.

We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.

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What Kind of Leader Are You?

What Kind of Leader Are You? | Connection |

Everyone wants to be a leader, and in a perfect world, we are all great leaders. The best leaders know what type of leadership is needed for any circumstance, and she/he knows how and when to best excel, and who can complement his/her own leadership style. I find it helpful to understand the types leaders I most respect, especially as I notice that each one shines under different circumstances.

1. The Beacon is the leader that shines the way. She/he doesn't get into the details but inspires because of a vision described or an impossible task performed, or both.

2. The Cheerleader is the leader that believes unconditionally in the person, the team or the cause. He/she is ever the person to pick up everyone after a failure, a set-back, an unintended result. The resilience and optimism is contagious and necessary for the success of any project.

3. The Anchor keeps everyone focused on the values and the goals of relevance to the team. She/he carries that moral compass and measures and communicates the results generated. 

4. The Devil's Advocate helps vet new ideas to help ensure that they fit the mission and vision of the project or organization and that they are practical, considering the resources available.

5. The Mediator resolves issues between team members by smoothing feathers, by clarifying communications, by facilitating compromises and re-focusing everyone on the shared mission and vision. 

6. The Negotiator is the leader who works with those outside the group to gather more energy and resources so that results can be realized. 

7. The Translator helps ensure that people from different backgrounds and perspectives are speaking a common language and working toward a common purpose.

8. The Ambassador advocates for the project or cause to ensure that there are sufficient resources and time so that results can be generated. 

9. The Prodigy is the learner and next-generation leader who will carry the torch for future projects. He or she is curious and energetic, open-minded and multi-faceted.  

10. The Leader of Leaders have a touch of each of the above, and knows which facet to turn on when to make things happen. 

What type of leader are you? Which circumstances require what type of leadership?

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Know what type of leadership you need for each circumstance

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Here’s to the Heroes

Here’s to the Heroes | Connection |

In this time of graduations, weddings and celebrations, on this day when we honor those who have served/are serving/will be serving our country, I would like to humbly acknowledge  the heroes amongst us. (See also the inspiring and patriotic article behind the photo.)

1. Here’s to those leaders who were the glue who held us together, the oil who kept us running smoothly, and the lighthouse that led the way, especially when the possibilities seemed bleak. Most notable amongst them to me is John F Kennedy, who he challenged us as a nation to “Go to the Moon” in his speech to Congress on May 25, 1961.
2. Here’s to the persistent visionaries who overcame insurmountable odds to define a new world of possibilities. Notable amongst them is Christopher Columbus, who defied those who feared falling off the end of the earth, who overcame the reservations of his backers, Queen Isabel and King Ferndinand – Isabel and Fernando, los Reyes Católicos – (who in the end didn’t think he would succeed, but didn’t want to lose out on the benefits if he did), and who overcame a near mutiny of his sailors, before sighting the white sands of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.
3. Here’s to those who have inspired and challenged us to question and change the status quo. Notable amongst them is Mahatma Gandhi. inspired others to change their world through nonviolent civil disobedience, not just to help India gain independence from Britain, but also to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
4. Here’s to scientists like Albert Einstein and Madame Curie whose research changed the way the world works and opens up new possibilities for all of us.
5. Here’s to those like Pocahontas who have bravely bridged two worlds, opening up the possibility of understanding and collaboration.
6. Here’s to the explorers of new frontiers including Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Neil Armstrong and their funders. The world is a better, broader place because you’ve done so.
7. Here’s to the selfless givers amongst us, who put others in front of themselves. Notable amongst them is Mother Theresa.
8. Here’s to those who have stretched our perceptions about what’s ‘normal and acceptable’, to the creatives and un-structureds, and hyper-normals who stretch our comfort and reality zones. People like the Beatles, Jackie Robinson, and of course Picasso and Dali have changed and opened up our thinking.
9. Here’s to the leaders who accepted criticism, injustice and adversity with grace and humor and fortitude. I stand behind our President Barack Obama and his numbers to date, but don’t want to get political. I appreciate his humor and wit in his ‘Obama Out‘ speech at a White House correspondence dinner.
10. Lastly, here’s to the everyday, unnamed heroes who are humbled and inspired by the trust and faith of others, overwhelmed and inspired by the possibilities ahead, and resilient, ethical and competent enough to continue leading the way.
Who are YOUR heroes and what do they stand for?

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Recruitment and Retention Best Practices

Recruitment and Retention Best Practices | Connection |

FountainBlue's May 6 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Recruitment and Retention Best Practices in a time of Change! Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at Symantec. Below are notes from the conversation.

Change is an inevitable part of the business world, particularly when you're leading a tech company in Silicon Valley! Leaders from our Recruitment and Retention VIP roundtable represent companies that are at various stages of M&A activities, divestitures, rapid-growth and fundings. They are challenged with identifying, recruiting, developing and retaining their key talent and high potentials, and have provided the following pearls of wisdom.

Change creates tension and uncertainty for everyone. Communication is key to the retention and recruitment objectives for all organizations.

  • Leaders managing through change must collaborate with key stakeholders to strategically communicate what they're doing, why it's being done, what the process will be, what success looks like, etc., as this will help key talent make decisions to remain engaged and help others to make the same choice.
  • Change may take months to happen, and people potentially affected by the change will be uneasy, so periodic, proactive, and candid communications, delivered by charismatic, genuine and leaders will help everyone through the process.
  • When there's an acquisition, don't settle on just getting the bodies from the acquired companies, but seek also to sell to the minds and hearts of those people, so that they stay engaged, committed and connected.
  • Leaders need to take the high road and message what's right for the company in the long term, (even if they feel like they've been wronged). This will help them leave the kind of legacy they want, after serving for so long at a company, plus it will help those who stay remain successful and committed.
  • Be purposefully inclusive in your communications, independent of roles, levels, locations, etc., This will help build that sense of teamwork and common mission during times of change.
  • Say and model an 'all-hands-on-deck' model of leadership, with a common, constructive, positive and productive message.

Communicating intent and direction is not enough. Leaders must also plan-fully make it easy for key talent and high potentials to navigate changes *and* remain engaged and successful. 

  • Have a clear and planned framework for governance, operations, integration etc., so that people undergoing change can be quickly productive and engaged and connected.
  • Connect people with each other and with resources so that they can be more immediately successful.
  • Provide as much sameness and stability wherever possible, especially when much is happening. 

Clear, collaborative leadership is essential for recruiting and retaining key talent.

  • Good leaders make the right strategic decision for a company in the short term and for the long term. Great leaders communicate and engage all stakeholders throughout the change process so that vision becomes reality.
  • Great leaders know it's about getting key people on-board and engaged, and they will ensure that those people (generally starting with the customer-facing people first), get the support, encouragement, reward and confidence they need so they can represent the company well to customers. They know how to build success from that foundation of strength.

Below are some suggestions for recruiting and retaining key talent.

  • Adopt a measurement-based standard for success that's objective - whether it's looking at revenues or market growth or retention numbers. From those measurement-based outcomes, figure out how to change recruitment and retention strategies so that you get the results you're seeking.
  • Improve the success of your recruitment efforts by following up with new-hires and hiring managers and proactively facilitating their success.
  • Know the culture of your company and hire those people who would fit that culture, rather than focusing on that 'top talent' who's not quite a cultural fit now, but who might later get integrated into that culture.
  • Consider encouraging a healthy competition with performance metrics where possible.
  • Adopt a 'what's-in-it-for-me' (WIIFM) attitude of the prospective employee and speak to what's important to them.
  • Whether you're choosing the rapid-integration or the longer term, staged integration approach, adopt a strategy that matches your culture, and provide the communication and infrastructure support so that the plan can be well implemented.
  • Hire an exceptional talent management team, and let them use their passion and abilities to find and recruit the right people for the company. This will in turn propagate the right energy, message and culture, feeding a virtuous circle so that more people want to work at the company, better products and services are delivered, thereby further growing the customer base and staff.
  • Consider using a panel discussion as part of your interview process, asking questions such as 'why YOU'? 'why NOW?' and 'why US? It's also helpful to have each panelist evaluate on specific criteria, including cultural fit, functional fit, experience and technology. 
  • Give candidates the opportunity to think on their feet to test their intelligence, their communication ability, their comfort level with ambiguity, etc.,
  • Encourage referrals for key positions.
  • Message the merits of joining the company to the interviewees.
  • Look for four key criteria when hiring: Intelligence, Coachability, Experience and Character. You don't necessarily have to have direct experience, provided that you're intelligent and coach-able enough, but if you don't have the right character, it may never work, and it's expensive to hire the wrong person.
  • Choose to join a fast-growing company (unicorns, pre-IPO companies) in a hot space (mobile, security, platform for example) and potential hires will show up. From there, it's a question of setting the bar high so that only the best get hired and stay.

Below are suggestions for building a diverse team and robust leadership pipeline.

  • Consider hiring new-grads and growing them into key positions.
  • Encourage senior executives to sponsor high-potentials so that you can fill that leadership pipeline.
  • Request diversity for your candidate pool and support the HR team in delivering that diverse candidate pool for consideration.
  • Hire a qualified woman candidate where appropriate and advocate for pay equity. Retaining that female leader will increase the likelihood that more women and minorities will stay and desire leadership roles.

Below are predictions for the future of work.

  • Some entitled millennials may get that wake-up call, and learn that it will take commitment and hard work to remain successful at work. Leaders who manage them may be able to work with them from their perspective, on their terms.
  • There may be a back-firing on the work flexibility trend. Companies big and small may be expecting more in-office time to facilitate more collaboration and communication and perhaps increase productivity. 


The bottom line is that leaders are chartered with recruiting and retaining key people despite inevitable changes. Keys to success in managing change include a standard for clear communication, an emphasis on seamless execution, a track record of measured outcomes, all delivered by a principled and collaborative leadership team. 

Linda Holroyds insight:

Thank you to execs from our community for participating in our roundtable and to our hosts at Symantec!

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23 different ways to conceptualize leadership

23 different ways to conceptualize leadership | Connection |

Leadership is an interesting concept. At one level, it's massively complex. There are entire sections of the publishing industry devoted to it, and we fly people all over the world to discuss it. It's probably a multi-billion dollar industry onto itself.

At another level, it's deceptively simple. You work for an organization. "It" (the org) has goals. You work with, and manage, other people. They have goals. How do you align "A" (org goals) and "B" (individual goals) in such a way that tangible, measurable results are driven?

There are a lot of different ways to think about and conceptualize leadership. Here are a few.

Leadership is about building something great together: This idea comes from Mark Leslie, who took a company with 12 employees and $95K in revenue and made it a company with 6,000 employees and $1.5 billion in revenue. In short, he's someone to listen to. His basic advice is simple: invest others in your process. If everything is coming from a top-down vacuum, there will never be any real buy-in. In short: if you want to build trust, you need to demonstrate trust.

Leadership is really just about managing negative thoughts: According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, humans experience about 60,000 thoughts per day. 95 percent of those thoughts are habituated, and 80 percent of the habituated thoughts are negative. If you do the math on that, we walk around all day with a lot of negative baggage -- so maybe leaders should be thinking about how to motivate people towards a place of positive self-efficacy.

To be a better leader, "fire yourself." I don't mean this literally. I mean sit down every quarter with your team and talk about what everyone did wrong -- believe me, everyone did something wrong -- and "fire" yourself for that. Then come up with an action plan to prevent it from happening in the next quarter. Firing yourself is a strategy akin to just openly discussing failure at work. Everybody fails, and oftentimes more than once per hour. We need to discuss and re-contextualize that more, so that people can grow.

Leadership is not about buzzwords: People in "the modern age" or "the digital age" have a neo-centric focus, which means they always want to embrace the newest thing, be that a Netflix show, a podcast, a business model, or what have you. One idea around leadership that's cropped up in the last couple of years is the concept of "authentic leadership," so many people speak and discuss and pursue that avenue. "Authentic leadership" is complete bullshit. It's a buzzword. It doesn't mean anything. Leadership is about relationships between people and goals; it's not found in the latest buzzword.

Leadership is about giving a voice to many options, but knowing when to call it quits: Here's what a lot of people do -- they claim to care about everything within their silo or department, which is impossible. At a certain level, your responsibility is the bottom line -- and as such, you care about the things that impact the bottom line. Many leaders will claim to care about every project, but then transparently show they only care about 3-4 revenue-generating items, and that makes everyone working on the other projects feel like an also-ran. Don't be so transparent about what actually matters. Same vein: if you think something is a good idea but you just don't have the resources for it right then, kill it off. Kill off good ideas, because otherwise you overwhelm your team.

Leadership is about telling others what you're struggling with. There is sometimes an attitude that big, important decisions can only come from higher levels of an organization, which makes no sense. An organization exists to make money typically, right? They part with some of that money -- which they would rather have -- in order to pay salaries to staff. If they're parting with a key resource, shouldn't the recipient of that resource (the staff) be allowed to contribute ideas and feel like they're a part of it? If you lead a team, sit down every month and explain your biggest problem -- i.e. what your boss is on you for. See what ideas they come up with.

Leadership is about storytelling: Our brains seriously love stories. Almost nothing resonates more. Many leaders think 'storytelling' is a term that 'marketing should be dealing with,' but there are ways to bring storytelling into your leadership -- and you can do it in less than 5 minutes per week.

Leadership is about creating an environment where your employees want to go the extra mile: Zenger-Folkman calls this "bold leadership," which is a little bit buzzword-heavy (see above). In reality, you want your employees to want to work hard for you, which is represented in this chart by Z-F:

Leadership is about thinking about the next generation of leaders: Rather than being threatened by someone down the chain with good ideas, embrace them and develop them -- and create a true leadership pipeline for your organization. This is valuable in times of financial downturn, unexpected churn, or even a ton of new business.

Leadership is about knowing how to generate novel solutions: To best understand this, consider the parable of the roofer, the carpenter, and the inline skater -- represented visually below.

Leadership is about listening: Richard Branson has made this a priority, and in all likelihood he has a bunch more money than you do.

Leadership is about being a doer, seeking new opinions, showing support, and solving problems: That's from nobody less than McKinsey, which is a fairly trusted brand when it comes to leadership research. It's a little buzzword-heavy, yes, but you can't argue with the results.

Leadership is about accomplishing a goal, not advocating for your way to the goal: The latter is essentially "micro-managing," which shouldn't be confused with "leadership" in any capacity or context. You want to help people get to a specific place or target; you don't want to tell them every single step to take.

Leadership is about knowing you still need to grow: Just like having a kid isn't the top of the mountain -- you still need to raise the kid -- so too is the process of becoming a senior leader at a company. Leadership, or a title, itself isn't the destination; you still need to grow and learn and become curious and get better at your new responsibilities.

Leadership is actually about making as few decisions as possible: This one comes from Reed Hastings and Netflix, who have done pretty well the last few years.

Leadership is about investing in training: Here's an incredible stat on how we train leaders. Most leaders get their first leadership position at 30, and receive their first leadership training at 42. There's over a decade in between those averages. So, the first 12 years you're a leader of other people, you've probably been to no official trainings? That needs to be reconsidered.

Leadership is about being a spitfire. Wait, what? Well, spitfires are animals -- bugs, essentially -- and in their communities, leaders and followers co-decide on everything related to the group. It's a powerful model for getting things done.

Leadership is about soft skills: We all love the Type-A hard-chargers in a sales/revenue context, but leadership is actually about soft skills such as empathy, listening, understanding motivation, communicating, and the like.

Picking leadership isn't all about experience: ... and that's backed up by research.

Leadership is about finding the new strategy or approach: Like I said above, don't chase buzzwords. But just as you apply 'Blue Ocean' strategies to marketing and customer acquisition, apply them to how you think about leadership.

Leadership is about communication: This probably should have been the first thing I listed, because in many ways it's the most important. How do you communicate with employees better? Here are some approaches to consider.

Leadership is about asking questions, not just giving orders or assigning tasks: Consider the '10-to-1 ratio' as a golden rule here. When asked properly -- instead of people screaming and confusing that with true accountability -- questions can be extremely powerful workplace drivers.

Leadership is about respect: Hard to sugarcoat this one. There's evidence here, here, here, and here. Oftentimes, people become 'managers' -- not the same as 'leaders,' but often confused -- because of their skill around making money or hitting specific targets. They assume the next step of their career arc involves making others do what they just did. That's where a lot of companies collapse people-wise: management and leadership are not intuitive. It's about developing new skills and thinking about concepts in new ways, such as outlined above.

I've written about this topic a ton, and you can find a few more ideas and approaches to leadership here. What else would you add?

My name's Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Embrace opportunities to lead boldly

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These Are the Two Original Sins of the Internet—And Now's the Time to Fix Them

These Are the Two Original Sins of the Internet—And Now's the Time to Fix Them | Connection |

I was recently given a career achievement award – which was a little unnerving since I’ve still not decided what I want to be when I grow up – and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the intersection of technology and journalism. Because of the disruptions caused by digital technology, journalism is completely different that it was when I became a reporter more than three decades ago. Most of the changes are good, but there are two big things that I think we need to fix.
Before we get to them, we should pause to recognize that the disruption of media by technology is nothing new. It goes back at least 500 years to when Gutenberg’s movable-type printing presses wrested control over the flow of information from the scriveners and scribes that worked for the church and other authorities. This permitted people to have direct access to information, and thus helped enable both the Reformation and the Renaissance.
I’m writing now about Leonardo Da Vinci, who was born in 1452, the same year that Gutenberg printed his first bibles. Leonardo never went to a university and knew little Latin, but the new technology allowed him to teach himself everything from anatomy to zoology by reading books.
Leonardo left more than 7,000 notebook pages of drawings, thoughts, and ideas. They’re all on paper, which makes them extraordinarily easy to access even after five centuries. Indeed, Leonardo's notes are far easier to access than our e-mails, tweets, blog posts, and Facebook pages will be five centuries from now. When I was meeting with Steve Jobs and we were trying to get the emails he had sent in the 1990s, they were impossible to retrieve, even by his tech people. When I asked a university librarian recently the best way to preserve some interesting e-mails I had, she said I should print them out on paper and put them in a box.

So amid technological change, we should remember what a good technology paper is. It’s superb at the storage and distribution and retrieval of information. It’s got an incredible battery life, and it doesn’t have to have backwards compatible operating systems.

In fact, I’ve often pondered what would happen if for 500 years we had been getting all of our information on electronic screens and some latter-day Gutenberg came along and said, “I can take that information and I can put it on paper and I can deliver it to your porch and you can take on the bus or to the bathtub or backyard.” We’d say, “Wow, paper is a wonderful technology. Someday it’s going to replace the internet.”

During the time of Benjamin Franklin, the declining cost of printing presses helped enable the foundation of the United States both by preventing the British authorities from controlling the flow of information (their attempts to force newspaper to publish only with a “by authority” seal did not work, nor did their Stamp Act) and by allowing people up and down the coast to connect and network. The committees of correspondence were our first Twitter feed, and pamphleteers such as Thomas Paine were our first bloggers; they spurred the Revolution.
When Franklin stitched together the colonial postal system, he made it an open network. Actually, at first he tried to favor his own content – the newspapers, magazines, and almanacs that he and his partners up and down the coats printed – like a modern media conglomerate. But he soon realize that the system would work best if there was net neutrality.
When the Internet was devised fifty years ago, its underlying technology, known as packet switching, tended to decentralize the control of information flows. Instead of central hubs that authorities could control, each node of the Internet had the power to originate, forward, and receive information. If censors or an enemy was able to restrict some of the nodes, the network would just route around them.
When I was at Time magazine in the 1990s, we reported that the Pentagon had funded this design so that it could withstand a Russian attack. One of the graduate students who had helped devise the network wrote a letter saying that was untrue. After all, he pointed out, one reason they were graduate students in the 1960s was to avoid the draft; they weren’t trying to help the Pentagon. Time didn’t print the letter, because the person who headed the Pentagon office said that it was indeed designed to survive an enemy attack, but of course they hadn’t told the graduate students that. He later said to tell the former graduate students that he was on top and they were on the bottom, so they didn’t know what was happening. One of them responded, when I told him this, that the Pentagon official was on the top and they were on the bottom, so he was the one who didn’t know what was happening. That describes the Internet well: it’s built and controlled from the bottom up, not top down.
Networks transform everything they touch. Because of the Internet’s architecture, gatekeepers get disintermediated.
I saw how that affected world politics when I was at Time. I was in Bratislava covering the fall of communism in 1989, and I was put in the hotel where they put foreigners, which meant it was one of the few places there that had satellite television. A person who worked in the hotel said, “the student like to come in here and watch the music channel.” I said they could use my room, and I came back early one afternoon so that I could meet some of them. But when I got there, they weren’t watching MTV. They were watching CNN and what was happening in the Gdansk shipyards with the revolt against the Polish communist leaders. It became clear to me that the lack of control of information was always going to lead to the demise of authoritarian regimes.
I saw this again a few years later being in a town called Kashgar in the western part of China. I went to a coffee shop, and there were three kids on a computer. I asked what they were doing and they said they were on the Internet. I asked if I could try something, and I typed in and it was blocked. And I typed in, it was blocked. At which point one of them elbowed me aside and… boom, Time came up and CNN came up. I said, “What did you do?” “Well, we know how to go through proxy servers in Hong Kong that the censors are clueless about.” Again I could see how this lack of ability to control information was going to change our politics.
The good thing, especially with the advent of the web, was that anybody, anywhere got to publish anything they wanted and had access to any information anybody else published.
But for all of its wonders, I think that the birth of the Internet was accompanied by two original sins. First, we allowed and even indulged anonymity. I know that anonymity protects people’s privacy and allows them to say what they want. But the Internet could have been built differently, and at some point maybe it will be, so that users would have a choice. You should be able to go to the part of the Internet that’s anonymous. But you should also have the option to go to a secure layer of the network that has verified identity and authentication. That would allow you to engage in discussions and read the comments of people who are willing to take responsibility for what they say. It would make for more civil discussions. It would also permit more secure banking, easy financial transactions, fewer cyberattacks, less spam and phishing, and reduce the number of times you get emails from friends say they’ve lost their wallet in Malaysia so could you please wire them some money via a bank in Nigeria. In the real world we spend most of our time in places where we know who we are talking to and dealing with; we should have that same option on the Internet.
There’s a tale that Plato tells in The Republic involving the Ring of Gyges. If you put on the ring, nobody knows what you’ve done, nobody knows what you said, nobody knows it was you who did something. He and Socrates discuss whether you could have a civil system and morality if people could put on the Ring of Gyges. Today’s Internet shows us that the answer is no.
I was talking to Madeline Conway, who’s been the managing editor of the Harvard Crimson. She said she spends her days trying to keep anonymous quotes out of news stories, then spends the evening reading the anonymous postings in the comments section, which are frightening.
Internet anonymity is one of many reasons that civility has been drained from our public dialogue. In fact, we have a leading presidential contender who seems like the embodiment of an online comments section.
We have lost the notion of community that was existent in the early days of the internet with services like the WELL, started by Stewart Brand. When you logged on to the WELL, the first thing you saw was, “you own your own words.” In another words, you had to take responsibility for what you said, even if you were using a pseudonym (which you knew could be traced to your true identity). The result was that a trusted community was formed there, and it had wonderful discussions.
The other original sin of the Internet was that most journalistic organizations made their content free when they put it online, and they thought they could survive on advertising revenue alone. I was in charge of new media at Time Inc., and when we first put our content on websites we thought we would charge users, either through subscriptions or a pay-per-drink model. But as soon as we went online, you could look out the window of the TIME-LIFE building and see people from Madison Avenue running toward us with bags of cash to buy banner ads. Ad revenue was so addictive that we began to focus only on aggregating eyeballs for advertisers, and we gave up trying to get revenue from consumers.
That was an unsustainable business model. The amount of advertising dollars rises each year in a small way, but the number of websites goes up exponentially. So, the CPMs you can get from advertisers declines inexorably.
But it was worse than just being an economic problem. It meant that we were no longer directly beholden to our readers.
Henry Luce, a co-founder of Time in 1923, said that a business model for journalism that was solely reliant on advertising revenue was not only morally abhorrent but also economically self-defeating. As a Presbyterian missionary’s son, I don’t know which of those two things he thought was worse.
So, I think we now have to look at the difficult task of trying to put these two genies back in a bottle. I think we need to offer communities that are less anonymous and more curated. Obviously there should be places that indulge anonymity, and if people want to go there, fine. But we should also create places where people can be part of communities that aren’t susceptible to trolling and anonymity – places where people take responsibility for their own words.
I think journalism is healthy these days, indeed it is vibrant. I see that every morning when I can hop around from Vox and the Atlantic and Politico to the New Orleans Advocate and the Huffington Post as well as all sorts of blogs and Twitter feeds I now rely upon.
Journalism isn’t broken. What’s broken is the business model for journalism.
So, I think we need to find ways to get revenue from users that are simpler and easier than the subscription models that some newspapers have begun to make work. That’s a good line of revenue, but it’s not easy for everybody to do that.
There are times when I want an article from some obscure magazine or newspaper, but I don’t want to subscribe. I’m certainly willing to pay a dime or even a dollar for that article or that issue. It’s not the cost but the mental transaction cost that gets in the way. We need to have easy small payment systems. We need simple transactions, without passwords or PayPal rigmarole, perhaps based on bitcoins or some other digital coin wallets embedded in our browsers.
For 500 years, technology has increased the spread of ideas and the empowerment of individuals. This has bent the arc of history towards freedom, individual empowerment, and democracy. I’m convinced that this will also be true for the next 500 years. But it’ll be up to those in journalism today to rectify some of the mistakes made by people in my generation.

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, is the author of The Innovators and biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger. He was the editor of Time and the CEO of CNN. This piece is adapted from a talk he gave at the Shorenstein Center’s Goldsmith awards at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Internet original sins: Anonymity for users and free content

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Things Science Says Will Make You Much Happier

Things Science Says Will Make You Much Happier | Connection |

It’s no secret that we’re obsessed with happiness. After all, the “pursuit of happiness” is even enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. But happiness is fleeting. How can we find it and keep it alive?

Psychologists at the University of California have discovered some fascinating things about happiness that could change your life.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at the Riverside campus who is known among her peers as “the queen of happiness.” She began studying happiness as a grad student and never stopped, devoting her career to the subject.

One of her main discoveries is that we all have a happiness “set point.” When extremely positive or negative events happen—such as buying a bigger house or losing a job—they temporarily increase or decrease our happiness, but we eventually drift back to our set point.

The breakthrough in Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research is that you can make yourself happier—permanently. Lyubomirsky and others have found that our genetic set point is responsible for only about 50% of our happiness, life circumstances affect about 10%, and a whopping 40% is completely up to us. The large portion of your happiness that you control is determined by your habits, attitude, and outlook on life.

"Happiness depends upon ourselves." -Aristotle

Even when you accomplish something great, that high won’t last. It won’t make you happy on its own; you have to work to make and keep yourself happy.

Your happiness, or lack thereof, is rooted in your habits. Permanently adopting new habits—especially those that involve intangibles, such as how you see the world—is hard, but breaking the habits that make you unhappy is much easier.

There are numerous bad habits that tend to make us unhappy. Eradicating these bad habits can move your happiness set point in short order.

Immunity to awe. Amazing things happen around you every day if you only know where to look. Technology has exposed us to so much and made the world so much smaller. Yet, there’s a downside that isn’t spoken of much: exposure raises the bar on what it takes to be awestricken. And that’s a shame, because few things are as uplifting as experiencing true awe. True awe is humbling. It reminds us that we’re not the center of the universe. Awe is also inspiring and full of wonder, underscoring the richness of life and our ability to both contribute to it and be captivated by it. It’s hard to be happy when you just shrug your shoulders every time you see something new.

Isolating yourself. Isolating yourself from social contact is a pretty common response to feeling unhappy, but there’s a large body of research that says it’s the worst thing you can do. This is a huge mistake, as socializing, even when you don’t enjoy it, is great for your mood. We all have those days when we just want to pull the covers over our heads and refuse to talk to anybody, but the moment this becomes a tendency, it destroys your mood. Recognize that when unhappiness is making you antisocial, you need to force yourself to get out there and mingle. You’ll notice the difference right away.

Blaming. We need to feel in control of our lives in order to be happy, which is why blaming is so incompatible with happiness. When you blame other people or circumstances for the bad things that happen to you, you’ve decided that you have no control over your life, which is terrible for your mood.

Controlling. It’s hard to be happy without feeling in control of your life, but you can take this too far in the other direction by making yourself unhappy through trying to control too much. This is especially true with people. The only person you can control in your life is you. When you feel that nagging desire to dictate other people’s behavior, this will inevitably blow up in your face and make you unhappy. Even if you can control someone in the short term, it usually requires pressure in the form of force or fear, and treating people this way won’t leave you feeling good about yourself.

Criticizing. Judging other people and speaking poorly of them is a lot like overindulging in a decadent dessert; it feels good while you’re doing it, but afterwards, you feel guilty and sick. Sociopaths find real pleasure in being mean. For the rest of us, criticizing other people (even privately or to ourselves) is just a bad habit that’s intended to make us feel better about ourselves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It just creates a spiral of negativity.

Complaining. Complaining is troubling, as well as the attitude that precedes it. Complaining is a self-reinforcing behavior. By constantly talking—and therefore thinking—about how bad things are, you reaffirm your negative beliefs. While talking about what bothers you can help you feel better, there’s a fine line between complaining being therapeutic and it fueling unhappiness. Beyond making you unhappy, complaining drives other people away.

Impressing. People will like your clothes, your car, and your fancy job, but that doesn’t mean they like you. Trying to impress other people is a source of unhappiness, because it doesn’t get to the source of what makes you happy—finding people who like you and accept you for who you are. All the things you acquire in the quest to impress people won’t make you happy either. There’s an ocean of research that shows that material things don’t make you happy. When you make a habit of chasing things, you are likely to become unhappy because, beyond the disappointment you experience once you get them, you discover that you’ve gained them at the expense of the real things that can make you happy, such as friends, family, and taking good care of yourself.

Negativity. Life won’t always go the way you want it to, but when it comes down to it, you have the same 24 hours in the day as everyone else. Happy people make their time count. Instead of complaining about how things could have been or should have been, they reflect on everything they have to be grateful for. Then they find the best solution available to the problem, tackle it, and move on. Nothing fuels unhappiness quite like pessimism. The problem with a pessimistic attitude, apart from the damage it does to your mood, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you expect bad things, you’re more likely to get bad things. Pessimistic thoughts are hard to shake off until you recognize how illogical they are. Force yourself to look at the facts, and you’ll see that things are not nearly as bad as they seem.

Hanging around negative people. Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spirals. You can avoid getting drawn in only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with negative people. A great way to set limits is to ask them how they intend to fix their problems. The complainer will then either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.

You should strive to surround yourself with people who inspire you, people who make you want to be better, and you probably do. But what about the people who drag you down? Why do you allow them to be a part of your life? Anyone who makes you feel worthless, anxious, or uninspired is wasting your time and, quite possibly, making you more like them. Life is too short to associate with people like this. Cut them loose.

Comparing your own life to the lives people portray on social media.The Happiness Research Institute conducted the Facebook Experiment to find out how our social media habits affect our happiness. Half of the study’s participants kept using Facebook as they normally would, while the other half stayed off Facebook for a week. The results were striking. At the end of the week, the participants who stayed off Facebook reported a significantly higher degree of satisfaction with their lives and lower levels of sadness and loneliness. The researchers also concluded that people on Facebook were 55% more likely to feel stress as a result.

The thing to remember about Facebook and social media in general is that they rarely represent reality. Social media provides an airbrushed, color-enhanced look at the lives people want to portray. I’m not suggesting that you give up social media; just take it sparingly and with a grain of salt.

Neglecting to set goals. Having goals gives you hope and the ability to look forward to a better future, and working towards those goals makes you feel good about yourself and your abilities. It’s important to set goals that are challenging, specific (and measurable), and driven by your personal values. Without goals, instead of learning and improving yourself, you just plod along wondering why things never change.

Giving in to fear. Fear is nothing more than a lingering emotion that’s fueled by your imagination. Danger is real. It’s the uncomfortable rush of adrenaline you get when you almost step in front of a bus. Fear is a choice. Happy people know this better than anyone does, so they flip fear on its head. They are addicted to the euphoric feeling they get from conquering their fears.

When all is said and done, you will lament the chances you didn’t take far more than you will your failures. Don’t be afraid to take risks. I often hear people say, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to you? Will it kill you?” Yet, death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. The worst thing that can happen to you is allowing yourself to die inside while you’re still alive.

Leaving the present. Like fear, the past and the future are products of your mind. No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future. Happy people know this, so they focus on living in the present moment. It’s impossible to reach your full potential if you’re constantly somewhere else, unable to fully embrace the reality (good or bad) of the very moment. To live in the moment, you must do two things:

1) Accept your past. If you don’t make peace with your past, it will never leave you and it will create your future. Happy people know that the only good reason to look at the past is to see how far you’ve come.

2) Accept the uncertainty of the future, and don’t place unnecessary expectations upon yourself. Worry has no place in the here and now. As Mark Twain once said,

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.”
Bringing It All Together

We can’t control our genes, and we can’t control all of our circumstances, but we can rid ourselves of habits that serve no purpose other than to make us miserable.

Linda Holroyds insight:

Choose happiness!

Linda Holroyd's curator insight, March 16, 2016 11:52 AM

Choose happiness!