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Make Purpose ‘Real,’ the Power of Empathy, & More – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Oct 31, 2023

At ConantLeadership, we’re committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. In service to your leadership growth, each month we curate the Leadership That Works Newsletter, a digest of timely resources from around the web. We prepare this resource in order to:

  • Share actionable advice from top leadership luminaries
  • Celebrate a range of viewpoints (inclusion is not an endorsement)
  • Contextualize workplace trends through a leadership lens
  • Illuminate cultural recalibrations in the world of work
  • Support your personal development in life, leadership, and beyond

In this month’s Leadership That Works Newsletter: How to make purpose ‘real,’ stop saying sorry, the power of empathy, practicing ‘transformational creativity,’ mastering the 15-minute meeting, and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the content from our newsletter here on our blog 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.

How to Make Purpose ‘Real’

In this Harvard Business Review piece, former CEO of Best Buy, Hubert Joly, explains why a corporate purpose “aimed at doing something good in the world,” must be realized through “inside out and bottom-up dialogue,” rather than “top-down messaging.” Drawing from his experience in the C-suite and from teaching at Harvard Business School, Joly recommends five key ways to bring company purpose to life with employees.

1. Go slow to go fast: Don’t rush to define a shared purpose. Instead, “consider prerequisites,” and “be rigorous and inclusive.”
2. Consider that actions speak louder than words: One of the most effective ways to ensure culture permeates an organization at all levels is to role model the expected mindset and behavior, starting at the very top.
3. Make it real: “The company purpose needs to be ‘translated’ from abstract to practical terms.”
4. Make it simple: “To be effective, a corporate purpose must speak to everyone,” and is best articulated in “simple, human terms.”
5. Have human conversations: Getting buy-in on purpose “doesn’t happen through one-off, top-down PowerPoint presentations,” but rather through human stories that show “what a company stands for, why it exists, and how it likes to operate.”

To make your company purpose real with all stakeholders, get the full story here.

**For more from Huberty Joly, explore our blog recap of his conversation with ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant at our spring 2022 Blueprint Leadership Summit: “You Don’t Need to Choose between Purpose & Profit—Hubert Joly and Doug Conant on Leadership in a Changing World”

Practice ‘Transformational Creativity’

Cornell Professor of Psychology Dr. Robert J. Sternberg has spent his career studying creativity. In this Greater Good post, he shares advice for practicing “transformational creativity,” which is what he calls “wise creativity” that is focused on improving the world and is “directed toward a common good.” The key lessons have deep resonance for leaders too:

  • Creativity is not an ability but “an attitude toward life.” And this attitude requires “the courage to go one’s own way, regardless of what others do.”
  • Creativity requires standing up to the crowd—and to yourself. Sternberg says “the hardest thing is not to stand up to others, but to stand up to one’s own entrenched ways of thinking.”
  • Creativity requires admitting when you’re wrong. “When the time comes, you have to be willing to move past your ideas that have passed their prime.”
  • Creativity requires integrity. Leaders should take care to orient their efforts towards the greater good and to ensure their “ideas correspond with reality—not a fantasy we imagine, or wish were true.”

Get the full story here.

Skills > Credentials

For decades, a college degree has been a mandatory prerequisite for many jobs, but as the world of work continues to evolve, that may be changing. In this edition of McKinsey Talks Talent, experts discuss a growing “shift from credential-based to skills-based hiring,” which could be key “to filling technical roles amid talent shortages.” This shift means more companies are assessing candidates differently and that specific technical skills could start to carry much more weight than “college degrees or other, more conventional, credentials.” Experts say there are two ideas driving the trend. One is “about creating access to opportunity,” which means removing superfluous barriers to hiring qualified candidates. And the other is about meeting a growing need, “because organizations in many technical roles are having trouble” attracting talent so, “if they can eliminate formal job requirements,” they may have more success. While this hiring trend does align with a recent “precipitous drop in the perception of the value of the college degree” in the USA specifically, the experts note that “skills-based hiring is a global phenomenon,” that can be observed worldwide. Get the full story here.

**For more on the talent wars, explore our blog post which reveals why Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t want to hear where job candidates went to college.

The ‘Soft’ Stuff Is the ‘Hard’ Stuff

ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant has celebrated the power of “soft skills” throughout his leadership career and is often quoted as saying, “The ‘soft’ stuff is the ‘hard’ stuff.” Increasingly, other corporate leaders agree. In this Business Insider Africa coverage of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s recent acceptance speech for the Axel Springer Award, the power of empathy is celebrated as “crucial in both personal and professional life,” and particularly in leadership. Nadella says “empathy is not a soft skill,” and, “in fact, it’s the hardest skill we learn—to relate to the world,” and “to relate to people that matter the most to us.” He shares how his experience raising a disabled son shaped his understanding of the power of empathy and led to breakthroughs in his own leadership behaviors. And Nadella has championed empathy as a way to get better organizational outcomes too: “If you have empathy for your people, they will do their best work and you’ll make progress.” Research backs him up: 90% of US workers say an empathetic manager improves their performance while over half have left jobs “because their boss wasn’t empathetic enough about issues at work or in their personal life.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore LinkedIn’s top four recommended online courses in soft skills including our course, “Finding Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant.” Then, explore our blog recap of Doug’s conversation with Brené Brown, “Empathy Is the Secret Source of Connection.” Finally, read “Why Psychological Safety Is Crucial for Mental Health” in The Scotsman.

Trust Means Treating People Like Adults

In this Fortune coverage of Dropbox’s ongoing commitment to a “virtual-first” workplace, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston shares a message for leaders: Employees are people, “not resources to control.” Rather than mandating when and how often workers should come into the office, or monitoring their every move, Houston continues to champion a “trust over surveillance” approach, arguing “you need a different social contract, and to let go of control.” He says to “trust people, and treat people like adults, and they’ll behave like adults.” As his approach has evolved, he now finds that a few in-person off-sites per quarter “provides the oft-referenced cultural connect and brainstorming time that pro-office zealots insist upon, without exhausting workers with a commute grind or needless hours in drab conference rooms.” And the strategy has paid dividends in increasing productivity and efficiency as well as “sending recruitment stats through the roof.” Houston says putting trust and flexibility at the heart of Dropbox’s workplace culture has been “a huge superpower and unlock for us,” attracting executives from across the country. Get the full story here.

*For more on this, read one Stanford professor’s New York Times op-ed arguing “The Five-Day Office Week Is Dead,” and then explore this Forbes piece on the benefits of flexibility.

Embrace the 15-Minute Meeting

“Meetings can be the workday’s quicksand,” writes Anne Marie Chaker in this Wall Street Journal coverage of the growing trend of shorter meetings in the workplace. While the 30-minute meeting has long reigned as the corporate standard, too many half hour increments can dominate the workday, which also interrupts “the flow when there is focused work to get done.” Now, a consensus may be growing that 15-minute meetings are sufficient in many cases. Chaker writes that these abbreviated meetings “now make up 60% of calendered gatherings, proving that executives and employees alike have grown more ruthless with their time.” Ready to embrace the shortened time slot for your next meeting? There’s an art and a science with four components.

1. Keep the circle tight: “Having too many people in the meeting wastes everyone else’s time.”
2. Stay on topic: “Clarify the meeting’s purpose well ahead of its start time. The tighter the topic, the easier it is to meet the objective.”
3. Read up: “Send around reading materials ahead of the meeting, otherwise known as ‘pre-work,’ so participants can come prepared.”
4. Stack them: Book them back-to-back. “Three 15-minute meetings, one after the other, often work better than having them sprinkled through the day.”

Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore our resource, “A CEO Manifesto for Better Meetings.

When You Shouldn’t Say Sorry

“Researchers have found that women apologize significantly more than men,” and “it hurts how we are perceived and diminishes our power” writes Lisa Sun in this Fast Company piece about how to “redirect apologetic responses to make them more productive.” Sun identifies three core situations in which all professionals, particularly women, should stop saying sorry.

1. Stop apologizing for normal interactions. Women often say sorry when asking for a raise or advocating for themselves. Sun says “apologizing for engaging in reasonable workplace conversation reinforces the idea that we are not worthy of the discussion,” and she adds that “engaging in a conversation about compensation is absolutely necessary in any healthy work environment.”
2. Stop apologizing for not being perfect. Sun says, “saying sorry for situations that are not our fault is a symptom of the mindset that holds women back from applying for jobs until we can check off all—and more—of the skills listed in a job description. We are taught to focus on what we don’t have instead of asking if we have enough of what is required.”
3. Stop apologizing for not fitting the mold. Although “confidence is multifaceted and based on eight different strengths, the business world often celebrates only two of them: leading and performing,” which excludes roughly 80% of the population who are more skilled in other forms of confidence like “knowing, giving, and achieving.” There is no need to apologize for not conforming to a rigid box.

In all three scenarios, Sun says it is helpful to reframe your “sorry” into a “thank you” e.g., thanking a colleague for their time rather than apologizing for taking up too much of it. Get the full story here.

‘Boomeranging’ Is All the Rage

Leaders struggling to fill gaps in their teams may want to look for “boomerang” staff says this edition of the Financial Times Working It newsletter: “The trend known as ‘boomeranging’—when workers rejoin a former employer—is suddenly everywhere,” as busy hiring managers realize, “who better to recruit than someone you know already?” Whereas once upon a time, “employers would often cry ‘betrayal’ when staff left,” now that’s widely considered an “outdated and short-sighted attitude.” In fact, “big employers now cultivate alumni networks and stay in touch with their former staff—forming a ready-made pool of potential returners (as well as a great source of new clients and contacts).” “Boomerang” (re)hires are attractive to recruiters as their pre-existing familiarity with the business means they can contribute meaningfully almost immediately. And early-career boomerangers “may also find that leaving and gaining experience elsewhere before returning to their original workplace can be a good way to leapfrog ‘blocked’ internal career paths.” Get the full story on the “boomeranging” trend here.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

‘Lead for Good’  Jean-Philippe Courtois & Doug Conant on the Power of Courageous Leadership

In this new blog resource from ConantLeadership, learn why a top Microsoft executive says that leaders must be courageous in order to innovate in the modern age, and get tips for strengthening your “courage muscle.”

Elevate Your Team with These 4 Free Soft-Skills Courses

Our LinkedIn Learning course, “Finding Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant” is featured in this new LinkedIn blog as one of four key recommended courses in soft-skills. In celebration of the power of soft skills, the course is FREE and unlocked through the end of the year.

Making a Difference: Leadership That Works

In this interview in LEADERS Magazine, Doug Conant shares why a philanthropic spirit is central to his leadership work and reminds other leaders that “it’s all about the people.”

‘Courage Is the Mother Skill’—Why Leaders Must Learn to Be Brave

In this recent blog, learn why courage is the most essential leadership competency for the modern age and get tips for becoming more brave.

September’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletterRead the air,’ tap into the ‘moveable middle,’ hone your ‘narrative intelligence,’ align your work with your values, and more.

The Blueprint Leadership Summit Sep 2023Did You Miss The BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit?

Last month, ConantLeadership hosted the 6th biannual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit, a week-long special event bringing together the top leadership minds and luminaries in the business space.

If you missed it, no worries—we’ve made all the recordings available in our video library, which also includes an archive of every previous summit session including conversations with Brené Brown, Susan Cain, Dan Pink, Bill George,
 Indra Nooyi, Amy Edmondson, and many more.

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.

(Cover photo by Luis Tosta on Unsplash)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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