Today we dispatched the December edition of our Leadership That Works Newsletter, a curated digest of the best leadership links from around the web, sent at the end of each month. Topics covered in this month’s best leadership links to welcome 2022 include: Don’t be nice (be kind), understanding ‘human magic,’ the year’s best books, chase excellence, and more. As always, we’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.
Right as we’d all adapted to Delta and adjusted our lives around it into a revised but passable semblance of normalcy, in swept Omicron, upending the status quo once again and reminding us that the one thing we can be certain of in the current climate is perpetual uncertainty. Rather than resigning ourselves to merely bemoaning the dips and swells (although venting is understandable), this New York Times piece suggests some actionable tips for handling the volatility that has become the baseline of our shared world. There are a few helpful pieces of advice in the article but one of the most compelling is the guidance to “focus on what you can control,” because “when the world feels unpredictable, we can create a sense of safety and security by following routines,” and finding the corners of our lives that we are empowered to influence. While this refers to health behaviors that protect you from illness it can also extend to the way you show up in your leadership—finding the areas in your organization or your community where you can make a difference, uncertainty be damned. Read the full article here.
**For more on examining the things you can control in the face of uncertainty, read our post that explores your “circle of control.”
“As counterintuitive as it may seem, nice just isn’t enough,” when it comes to building great teams, says this Fast Company piece on reimagining our work behaviors. Instead of pursuing niceness in ourselves and the people we hire, we should pursue “Nice’s wiser, more mature older sibling: Kindness.” While niceness and kindness may appear to be the same thing, there are key differences that leaders should consider: Nice people are overly concerned with being liked, whereas kind people are motivated by “what they can give, even if there’s no immediate payoff.” And nice people are conflict-avoidant and fearful of rocking the boat, whereas “kind people have the courage to respectfully speak the truth, even if they won’t be considered ‘nice’ for doing so.” Kind team members are more bold in promoting creative solutions and innovations that benefit the whole team because they’re not distracted by protecting their “nice” reputation. Read more about the benefits of kindness over niceness in the full post here.
The team at Greater Good Magazine solicited nominations from 350 researchers to compile this helpful end-of-year compendium of the top insights from 2021 that can guide us towards greater well-being. Findings from researchers that made the cut include: The discovery that uncertainty drives appreciation of “the little things in life,” the revelation that daydreaming is good for humans and spurs creativity, and many more. Perhaps the most relevant findings for leaders came from research around empathy: Studies showed that caring for others contributed to better resilience and also revealed that people who “saw more empathy opportunities and empathized more were happier.” Researchers found we have, on average, “about nine opportunities to empathize” per day and the more we seize those, the better off we’ll be. Explore all of the 2021 findings here.
**For more on seizing opportunities for empathy, read our advice for leaders to “declare that you care.”
In this Fortune feature, Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox and the first Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, reflects on her life and leadership, her new memoir, and the fight for racial parity in corporate America. If you ask Burns’s colleagues, and her interviewer, a defining characteristic of her prowess is her “astonishing candor,” marked by her “courage to tell you the truth in ugly times.” And in her post-CEO chapter, she continues her unflinching commitment to telling the truth about business and society. In September 2020, Burns helped launch the Board Diversity Action Alliance to increase Black representation on corporate boards in an environment where “the nearly 1,000 venture-backed companies that have gone public since 2000 have had about 4,700 available board seats during their life spans,” and only 49 of those seats were filled with Black directors. Why? Burns explains: “These organizations are started by white men,” who shape the corporate leadership in their own image, and “the structures in the world,” have been designed “around a white male ideal.” Now, she’s looking for people to help her reshape the world more inclusively to give everyone a seat at the table: “I want to join them; I want them to join me.” Read the full interview here. (This article may appear behind a paywall.)
While perfectionism might be useful in striving for ever-higher peaks of achievement, research covered in this British Psychological Society Research Digest piece shows chasing perfection has many downsides that overshadow its positives: burnout, depression, and decreased creativity. To harness the aspirational power of perfectionism while retaining your ability to think creatively, one recent study suggests it’s better to aim for “excellence” rather than perfection. When participants in the study held “excellence” as their ideal, they demonstrated greater “openness to experience” and “originality” whereas perfectionists lacked the flexibility to generate an abundance of original ideas. Read the full article here.
“Forget Perfection” is one of the central rallying cries in The Blueprint, a practical six-step process for transforming your leadership which includes prompts for reflection, a companion workbook, and a leadership manifesto for making an impact in a rapidly changing world.
In this Harvard Business Review interview, Hubert Joly, who led a turnaround of Best Buy over the last decade, explains that one of the secrets to his success was cultivating the conditions for “human magic.” Human magic is a phenomenon that occurs at scale when “you have employees that do things for each other and for customers that nobody has told them to do.” The magic lies in the fact that people are empowered to make decisions on-the-fly even if those choices may not comply with official policies. To achieve the magic, leaders must subvert their own ideas of how a company is run—including re-envisioning the meaning of “SOP” which usually stands for “standard operating procedure” but at Best Buy stood for “service over policy.” Joly recommends that leaders throw out the old “top-down” management style in favor of creating an environment defined by “genuine human connection,” so people feel safe to take action that aligns with their values. It’s about helping people feel known and understood. In order to alchemize human magic, colleagues must feel “my boss knows what drives me,” and “respects me as a human being and is interested in what my dreams are,” so the culture is conducive to positive change. Read the full interview here.
**For more from Hubert Joly, watch his conversation with ConantLeadership Founder & CEO Doug Conant at the fall BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit
One of the most engaging ways to reflect on each passing year is to explore the multitude of end-of-year lists that flood the web every December. “Best of” lists in fashion, TV, ideas, people—there are a glut of roundups to choose from that help us contextualize our particular moment in time. Personally, as a writer, I always flock to the book lists. But why choose just one book roundup when you can browse (almost) all of them? In this curated inventory of best-of-the-year book lists from Bruce Rosenstein, you can peruse 21 lists in one place. Find the best-of-2021 book recommendations from every major outlet, from Bloomberg to NPR to The Economist to The Smithsonian to Esquire, and many more, right here.
“The only way to achieve big goals is to become tolerant of the discomfort that comes with them,” says this Michael Hyatt piece on goal-setting for the new year. To achieve breakthrough, it’s important to consider “three truths” about discomfort: It’s normal, it’s necessary, and it’s good. So if you want to take the first step towards achieving your leadership dreams in 2022, it’s time to get uncomfortable. Read the full post here.
**For more on pushing forward, read our post on the growth mindset.
Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership
ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant has two wishes and a dare for leaders as we welcome 2022. The first wish? That you find ways to catch your proverbial breath and restore your energy for the year ahead so you have the capacity to make a difference in other people’s lives. Read the full post here.
This past fall, at our second bi-annual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit, Amy Edmondson, the scholar who coined the term “psychological safety,” joined Doug Conant in conversation and you can read a summary of their tips and advice for creating psychologically safe workplaces in this blog post.
Here is Doug’s 2020 end-of-year letter to leaders which still holds great resonance a year later as we transition from 2021 to 2022. In a time of uncertainty, these words remind you that you must be a “port in the storm,” and contains evergreen advice for leaders looking to empower people in a more enlightened way.
In last month’s newsletter: ‘Megatrends’ of the future, getting through the last few weeks of the year, challenging the status quo, and more.
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