Monday, June 3, 2013

The Harvard Women's Leadership Forum Day 1: Change Your Thinking

Today has been nothing short of amazing at the Harvard Women's Leadership Forum.  I have the privilege of spending the week with 60 + women from 23 countries holding executive leadership positions in their companies.  True to Harvard Business School style, we are following the case method to learn key business principles.  We are also examining our personal career growth challenges through small group introspection and facilitated executive coaching sessions. Today the program kicked off with  a program overview by Professor Janice Hammond.  Then Professor Frances Frei took us through her research on how companies can be their best when they consciously decided what to be bad at.

Her research took us through how some top companies are creating loyal customers by understanding the trade-offs required to be exceptionally good at what their customers value most and not spending energy on the areas not relevant to their target market.  What customers value vary greatly from company to company.  We discussed case studies from Walmart, Southwest Airlines, Commerce Bank, Apple, and Starbucks.  Then Professor Frei drew a parallel to how this concept also applies to leaders - if we as individuals strive to be great at everything the only thing we'll gain is  mediocrity at most things.  To be a truly great leader, one must go toward things that energize us, that we have passion for, and that we fear.  Going toward energy, passion, and fear are the hallmarks of discovering our inner greatness.  She also provided a definition of leadership that should leave anyone striving to become a leader exhausted:

Leadership is creating the condition to make others better as a result of your presence and making it last in your absence.

The most courageous leaders have the courage to be bad at something.  They know how to prioritize where they spend their time and energy and how to influence others.  They take time to refuel their leadership tank.  Being a leader is an exhausting job.  It's not about the leader herself, it's about the people around her.  The tenets of a great leader are two-fold: having high standards of others and showing deep devotion to others.  Compassion plus pushing others to be their best is the formula that creates magic in others.

The central theme of Professor Frei's discussion was: to change behaviors - your own, your organization's - you must change your thinking (or your organization's thinking).  Think differently and the outcomes will be different.   Strong arm change management won't work.  Telling someone to change or drafting policies will not influence lasting meaningful behavioral change. Great leaders help people change their thinking through informal status. Small, quiet conversations that get to the heart of a matter and influence someone to change their thinking on a topic. Think of the behavior you want to change, reverse engineer it to get to the thinking that leads to that behavior's result.  If you change your thinking, you will get a different result.  Easily said, hard to practice.

Day two will explore the power of non-verbal communication.

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