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The Best Leadership Links to Read Right Now: Make a “To-Don’t” List, Stay Curious, Practice Metacognition, and More

by | Apr 30, 2022

Today we dispatched the April edition of our Leadership That Works Newslettera curated digest of the best leadership links from around the web, sent at the end of each month. In this month’s best leadership links to read right now: Make a ‘to-don’t’ list, stay curious, practice metacognition, and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the content from our newsletter here in case you’re not subscribed to our mailing list. If you find these links enriching, you can sign up to receive our newsletter right here.

Empathy Is Just the First Step

“Often, empathy is touted as the antidote” to cruel or impersonal business practices, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle, says this strategy+business piece on the topic of humane leadership. To take empathy from a soft-and-fuzzy ideal to a real-world practice, it’s important to, “connect with empathy, but lead with compassion,” because that makes it actionable: “Empathy plus action equals compassion.” Specifically, when engaging with people, the goal is to practice “wise compassion,” which combines “the ability to see reality clearly and act accordingly,” with “the intention to be of benefit to others.” There are five steps for pursuing “wise compassion” in your leadership interactions, the first of which is taking ample time to prepare for your next hard conversation: “No matter how difficult it is for you, it’s more difficult for that other person,” so show respect “by coming to the conversation well prepared and mentally in the right space.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our conversation with Brené Brown on why empathy is the secret source of connection.

Don’t Freak Out

Stories of rising emotional volatility in response to the many stressors of the pandemic era are on the rise—even as we begin to emerge from its two-year shadow. Many of us could benefit from the advice, issued in this The Atlantic piece, to not “freak out.” In more scientific terms, “freaking out,” can be better described as “emotional flooding,” or “an automatic physical and mental response” to any encounter our nervous system perceives as a threat. While emotional flooding is a hardwired survival response meant to protect us, it is “maladapted to most modern interactions,” and can be especially corrosive in leadership contexts, causing untold damage to relationships and “significantly impairing decision making.” So how can you stop a “freak out” in its tracks? “The secret is to manage your emotions so they don’t manage you,” using a tool called “metacognition” which requires becoming more “aware of your own feelings and observing them as impartially as you can.” The first step towards being metacognitive in times of turbulence is to learn how to make space between “the onset of your feelings and your expression of your feelings.” Start by counting to 30 before you respond and see how it transforms your behavior. Get the full story and additional tips here.


Women Are at the Heart of the Future of Work

“At the corporate level, studies show that opening up management ranks to those other than the male and white improves rather than harms performance,” explains this Financial Times article about the ways women leaders are changing the future of management. As the command-and-control style of management—once upheld by a predominantly male, previous generation of leaders—grows increasingly obsolete and “ingenuity, collaboration, and the ability to respond quickly to unexpected events,” become the most valuable leadership traits, conditions are aligned for more women to come into executive positions and shake up the old guard with a “fresh gender balance.” Experts quoted in the piece agree that recruiting and retaining women leaders is essential to any talent strategy. Ultimately: “When the rules of the game change, leaders must change too—or if they can’t, make way for those who can.” Get the full story here.


How to Be Curious

To become a better listener, “you have to value truth more than your own opinion, and you have to come in with a measure of humility,” writes Mónica Guzmán in this article inspired by her new book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. The key to having better conversations, especially with people who disagree with you, is to move away from certainty about your own positions in favor of “curiosity and understanding.” The most useful opinions are those that are “in curious conversation” with others. So how to be— and stay—curious in hard conversations? Guzmán offers eight tips including changing the question, listening longer before jumping in, admitting “‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know,” and more. Get the full story and all eight tips here.

**For more on this, explore our post from the archives on how to listen like a leader.

Guide, Don’t Tell

A fulfilling part of leadership can be paying your knowledge and expertise forward by acting as a mentor to aspiring leaders. This Kellogg Insightpost compiles the best advice from their business school’s faculty for creating a beneficial mentor-mentee relationship. Among the many tidbits of sage advice is the principle of allowing mentees to “own the relationship,” which means creating clarity upstream that the mentee is ultimately in charge of their own career and should be setting the agenda for the work. Keeping the mentee’s agenda front-and-center prevents junior leaders from “being swayed towards a career path they may not be interested in following,” and “takes pressure of the mentor to act as an all-knowing guru.” With the mentee empowered to dictate the direction of meetings, the expectation becomes less that a mentor prescribe a specific path forward and more that they act as a sounding board “offering nonjudgmental support.” The mentor’s role shouldn’t consist of telling people what to do but instead guiding problem-solving, “asking questions, and providing context for greater clarity.” Get the full story here.


Make a ‘To-Don’t’ List

Wellbeing at work is a buzzy topic today as employees and leaders alike are reporting record levels of burnout and dissatisfaction in the wake of the pandemic. While mindfulness exercises and yoga classes are nice perks, they’re merely “icing on the cake,” not “the cake itself,” and are insufficient to tackle the larger issue, says this actionable Suzi McAlpine post on improving team wellbeing. McAlpine says the top thing leaders can do to beat back burnout is to “get better at prioritizing and organizing work,” and she offers seven tips that can help. One counterintuitive way to better manage tasks? Make a “to-don’t” list. Odds are, “you and your team simply can’t do it all—especially not right now,” so a crucial part of your strategic planning should be identifying things that the organization “can ditch or delay.” Look at your top 3-5 priorities and “resist any ideas or initiatives that don’t match up.” You can always table great ideas to add back into the mix later. Exercising this kind of discipline can be a challenge but also “powerful and freeing” and takes some of the pressure off you and your team’s back so you can all focus on what matters most. Get the full story here.

The ‘YOLO’ Job Market

You’ve likely heard of the ‘Great Resignation,’ or the ‘Great Reshuffle,’ wherein unprecedented millions left their jobs over the last eighteen months—but now there’s a term to capture the ethos that’s driving the mass exodus: Call it the “YOLO,” or, “You Only Live Once economy,” explain experts cited in this interesting TIME article on the future of work. Employees, faced with the pandemic era’s many reminders that life is fleeting (e.g., wars, a climate crisis, a dwindling but ubiquitous plague), are now “soul-searching” and seeking conditions that are more “personally rewarding.” In a world replete with stark reminders that tomorrow is never promised, workers are newly committed to making their remaining todays better. This has created a job market where “65% of workers nationwide say they are seeking new employment,” causing the dynamics of talent acquisition and retention to shift dramatically: “It’s not employees that have to prove their loyalty anymore—it’s the employers.”  Lessons abound for leaders looking to attract and retain talent: Today’s ‘YOLO’ job-seekers value salary transparency, “flexibility,” remote and hybrid work, employers that “care about them,” and “organizations that align to their values.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our resources for leading with a ‘people first’ approach.


Your Zoom Screen Might Be Hindering Brainstorming

While the proliferation of remote work has conferred many benefits, including increased flexibility, productivity, and job satisfaction—one area where it may not be ideal is in brainstorming, explains this piece in Scientific American. A new study suggests the reason that ideating in a group on zoom might be less effective than in-person is because there’s pressure in a virtual meeting to keep your eyes focused straight ahead. An attentive gaze doesn’t sound problematic, but research suggests that “daydreaming and gazing around a conference room might enhance thinking during creative pursuits.” The ability to engage with something other than your screen has positive effects on a brainstorm, but a zoom screen gets in the way because it “monopolizes our interactions,” and “looking away might come across as rude.” One solution for “improving virtual idea generation,” could be as simple as turning off your camera to facilitate a “freer,” and more creative exchange. Get the full story here.


Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

‘Empathy Is the Secret Source of Connection’Brené Brown and Doug Conant on Leadership in the Pandemic Era

At the third bi-annual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit earlier this month, Doug Conant was joined in conversation by Brené Brown, beloved researcher, author, and bestselling author. Read their smart tips for leading with empathy in this new blog post.


Liz Wiseman and Doug Conant on Leadership in Ambiguous Times

At the third bi-annual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit earlier this month,  Doug Conant was joined in conversation by Liz Wiseman, celebrated CEO of The Wiseman Group and bestselling author.  Read their smart tips for leading with courage and becoming an ‘Impact Player’ in this new blog post.


Creating a Better World Through Business

In this LEADERS Magazine interview, Sara Appleyard Adams, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at CECP, sat down with Doug Conant, Founder & CEO of ConantLeadership and Chairman of CECP, to explore how corporate leaders can more effectively lead with purpose.


Hubert Joly and Doug Conant on Leadership in a Changing World

At last fall’s BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit,  Doug Conant was joined in conversation by Hubert Joly, former chairman and CEO of Best Buy, and author of the recent WSJ bestseller, The Heart of Business. Read their smart tips for leading with purpose and engaging employees in this recent blog post. 


March’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletter: Battling ‘brain fog,’ beating burnout at the top, the 5-million-person experiment, and more.

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Amy FedermanAbout the Author: Amy Federman is ConantLeadership’s Director of Content and Editor in Chief, and co-author with Doug Conant of the WSJ bestseller, The Blueprint.

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