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Purpose (Finally) Goes Mainstream, Be a Hero in Your Own Story, & More – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Nov 30, 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: Purpose (finally) goes mainstream, small gratitude habits, the virality of ‘collective emotions,’ be a hero in your own story, avoid ‘ bore out,’ 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.

Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest

“Climbing Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, is something only a few will accomplish,” but the journey “can also serve as a guide for leaders and teams to successfully scale their own mountains,” writes Steffan Heuer in this Think:Act Magazine coverage of mountaineers who have reached the summit. One climber, Alison Levine, a former Goldman Sachs executive who now teaches at West Point, has used her experience climbing Everest to prepare a “mental packing list” that climbers and business leaders alike can use to inspire people, create cohesive teams, and reach lofty goals.

The list is:

1. Define the big Why to center your purpose and attract people, ideas, and resources.
2. Seek out mentors and coaches.
3. Honestly assess your skills and address deficiencies.
4. Pick your mantra and keep it with you.
5. Assemble a team based on experience, expertise, and ego.
6. Build a network that goes beyond your inner circle.
7. Realize that progress will sometimes mean going backward.
8. Define your red flags to know when to turn around.
9. Don’t push the river and waste time and effort.
10. Consider your failures as lessons for the next attempt.

To explore the lessons in greater detail, get the full story here.

50 Leaders Shaping the Future of Work

The business world is at an inflection point, shaped by the pandemic, the burgeoning explosion of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and ever-shifting employee attitudes and expectations about hybrid and flexible work. “We are, at the end of 2023, still very much in the middle of the in-between,” writes Jena McGregor in the intro to this Forbes roundup of the 50 leaders shaping the future of work today. She explains: “Forbes’ second Future of Work 50 list highlights the leaders, companies, thinkers, and teams” who are determining what work will look like in the coming year and beyond. McGregor notes that the “list is eclectic by design,” featuring a whole range of leaders from “top executives of multinational corporations,” to “activists fighting for workers’ rights,” to “relatively unknown startup leaders with out-of-the-box ideas.” She acknowledges that “such a list is, by definition, a current snapshot, not a comprehensive catalog,” but, “in a year when the future of work feels less certain than ever, it offers a picture of those helping to bring it into view.” Explore the full list, organized alphabetically, here.

**To hear more from thought and business leaders who are shaping the future of work, explore our ConantLeadership video library featuring conversations with top leadership minds and luminaries like Bill George, Indra Nooyi, Susan Cain, Hubert Joly, Brené Brown, and many more.

Purpose (Finally) Goes Mainstream

There is much to explore in Brandpie‘s comprehensive “CEO Purpose Report for 2023” including a snapshot of current CEO attitudes and applications as well as a rich overview of how purpose has evolved over the past five years. One compelling theme is a dramatic shift in the perception of purpose in a short period of time: A vast majority of corporate leaders have moved from skepticism or misunderstanding in years past to now celebratingand even advocating forthe strategic power of a unifying corporate purpose. Brandpie‘s report finds that purpose is “no longer misconstrued as a question of marketing or CSR,” as it was as recently as 2019. Now, purpose is “finally recognized as a key strategic enabler,” having evolved “from a siloed concern, locked away in specific functions or stuck at the brand and product levels,” into “a cross-organizational endeavor that delivers value across the whole the business.”

The rise in CEO acceptance of purpose maps to an expanding idea of who a company serves. In 2019, a majority of CEOs said “creating shareholder value above all else” was their primary concern. Whereas in 2023, most surveyed leaders cite customers and employees as their most valued stakeholders amidst “a gradual broadening of the ‘stakeholder’ category, which was traditionally limited to investors, employees, customers, and suppliers,” and increasingly includes “society and future generations” as crucial to business success. To dig deeper into the insights and explore actionable takeaways, read the full report on purpose here.

**For more on purpose, access our LinkedIn Learning course, “Finding Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant,” which is FREE through the end of the year. Then read our blog coverage of purpose-focused conversations with Indra NooyiBill George, and Hubert Joly.

Cultivate Small Gratitude Habits

As November marked the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, many leaders felt called to reflect on the power of gratitude in both their personal and professional lives. Skip Prichard, in this timely blog post, remarks that gratitude in leadership is “more than a courtesy; it’s a cornerstone in building resilient, motivated teams.” He writes that even a simple “thank you” works wonders in “infusing life” into a workplace because it recognizes “worth, effort, and value.” And he adds that “gratitude is the currency of excellence in leadership.” To inspire leaders to incorporate gratitude into their daily routine, Prichard offers seven small gratitude habits anyone can use to “foster an atmosphere of appreciation at work.”

1. Start Meetings with ThanksSet a positive tone at the outset “by expressing gratitude for specific  contributions and achievements.”
2. Gratitude Journal. Keep a record of employee contributions and share them with your team.
3. Appreciation BoardCreate a space in a common area or online where team members can post notes of thanks.
4. Personal Notes. Send personal thank-you notes to team members when they “go the extra mile.”
5. Public Acknowledgement. “U
se company-wide meetings or newsletters to highlight individual or team successes.”
6. Gratitude Roundtable. “Dedicate 
a few minutes in meetings for team members to share what they are thankful for, whether work-related or personal.”
7. Random Acts of Kindness. Encourage random acts of kindness, like “bringing in coffee,” or “helping out with a small task.”

Get the full story here.

**For more on gratitude, read how ConantLeadership Founder Doug Conant sent 30,000 thank-you notes to transform company culture and performance as CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Then read his classic post from the archives on the ConantLeadership blog, “Lead with Gratitude.”

The Virality of ‘Collective Emotions’

New research covered in this Harvard Business School Working Knowledge piece shows how quickly “collective emotions” can spread throughout a team or organization and offers insights for how to manage the contagion. HBS professor Amit Goldenberg says that “emotions intensify within groups,” and “negative emotions” in particular become amplified, leading to bad decision making and low morale. He says the key to managing collective emotions is to think about it like “controlling a fire,” meaning that you focus less on “the individual trees,” and more on whether the fire is spreading and at what rate. Goldenberg says that leaders can instill a sense of calm and mitigate the spread of negative collective emotions through a process called “reappraisal,” which reframes a negative situation and focuses on “the prospect of a positive outcome.” There are two kinds of reappraisal:

Repurposing. This “involves reframing the circumstances that are causing the negative emotions in a more positive light, also known as looking at the bright side.”

Reconstruing. This “involves broadening the perceived scope of the situation, either by looking back at a longer history, forward at a longer time horizon, or by contextualizing it more broadly.”

Research shows both types of reappraisal can be fast-acting: “Unlike other approaches to emotional regulation, such as avoidance, manipulation, or suppression, which are harmful,” collective reappraisal “is a good, quick solution to try to help a group face a challenge.” Get the full story here.

Be the Hero in Your Story

Could the key to leading a more meaningful life be found in the “hero’s journey”a timeless “storytelling blueprint” which maps a protagonist’s path through setbacks, transformation, and ultimately victorious redemption? The authors of this Scientific American piece say that new research shows “people who frame their own life as a hero’s journey find more meaning in it,” and, “when people start to see their own lives as heroic quests,” they report more happiness and resilience. Scientists observe that the “human brain seems hardwired to make sense of the world through stories,” so mapping one’s own journey to “an overarching narrative” can “help people define who they are and make the experience of life more coherent.” The good news is that with the right interventions and prompts, “anyone can frame their life as a hero’s journey,” and begin “taking small steps towards a more heroic life.” The way to start is “by identifying your values and keeping them top of mind,” as well as setting goals that resemble “quests,” and challenging yourself “to improve your skills.” Being more intentional about your beliefs and behaviors helps you to “become a hero in the context of your own life.” Get the full story here.
**For more on this, explore our 6-step Blueprint process which is anchored in the idea that “your life story IS your leadership story,” and offers a series of prompts for reflection to help you clarify your values, articulate your story, and envision your boldest dreams of heroic leadership success.

Some Things Never Change

In 2023, most of us are accustomed to reading widely about the unyielding pace of change and the ubiquitous swirl of volatility in the world. But what can we learn from the things that stay the same year after year? Ithis excerpt from his new book Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never ChangesMorgan Housel, an award-winning business writer, shares five timeless truths that have stood the test of time. These five insights can help leaders contextualize the past, present, and future to make wiser decisions.

1. Best story wins. “Whoever tells a story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads is the one who tends to be rewarded.”
2. Does not compute. “A lot of things don’t make any sense. The numbers don’t add up, the explanations are full of holes, and yet they keep happening,” because “most decisions aren’t made on a spreadsheet,” and there will always be “a human element that’s hard to quantify and explain.”
3. Expectations and reality. “Your happiness depends on your expectations more than anything else. So in a world that tends to get better for most people most of the time, an important life skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving. It’s also one of the hardest.”
4. Calm plants the seeds of crazy. The world exists in a never-ending cycle of calm and chaos. There is a “psychological process that basically goes like this: When an economy is stable, people get optimistic. When people get optimistic, they go into debt. When they go into debt, the economy becomes unstable.” Essentially, “stability is destabilizing.”
5. When the magic happens. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and a constant truth you see throughout history is that the biggest changes and the most important innovations don’t happen when everyone is happy and things are going well. They tend to occur during, and after, a terrible event.”

Dive into each of the timeless truths in greater depth in the full story here.

Meet Burnout’s Counterpart: ‘Bore Out’

Much has been written on the detrimental effects of burnout, a process of profound mental depletion due to overwork and lack of rest. But what happens in the opposite scenario, when you’re suffering from an idle mind instead of overwhelmed synapses? This New York Times coverage of the book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things by organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests leaders should be equally as wary of “bore out,” as they are of burnout. Bore out is “the emotional exhaustion we feel when we’re chronically under-stimulated.” To avoid bore out, you should work to “keep things interesting” by “incorporating play and novelty into your learning routines.” Grant says that variety helps people improve faster than rote repetition. And when you feel stuck on a certain task, rather than “hitting your head against the wall,” it’s better to “take a break and work on something else you enjoy.” By focusing your creative energy on something different “you can often discover new confidence and new skills, and that can give you momentum that will help you on the uphill climb.” Get the full story here.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

Step Into 2024 On Purpose

Our LinkedIn Learning course, “Finding Your Leadership Purpose with Doug Conant” is featured by LinkedIn as one of four key recommended courses in soft-skills. In celebration of the power of soft skills, LinkedIn is offering the course FREE and unlocked through the end of the year. Access the course this December to ensure you enter the new year with a strong sense of purpose.

A Leadership Legacy

recent piece in Forbes, “Working At These Companies May Be Your Stepping Stone to CEO,” tracks the Fortune 500 companies that have the highest percentage of ex-employees who are now CEOs. Campbell Soup Company is ranked in the top ten of all CEO-producing companies, continuing a legacy of best-in-class leadership development started by ConantLeadership founder Doug Conant during his tenure as CEO of Campbell Soup Company from 2001-2011.

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

In this 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.”

October’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletterStop saying sorry, the power of empathy, practicing ‘transformational creativity,’ mastering the 15-minute meeting, and 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 Gustavo Sánchez on Unsplash)

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