A year for leadership in America – Deborah Ancona

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

From The Hill

Let’s face it: 2017 was truly frightening despite being a banner year for the economy. So as we approach the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inaugural it is worth pausing to reflect. His first year in office has been a difficult one for those seeking leadership role models. It is not just Trump’s inappropriate tweets, the rollback of environmental regulations, and the foreign policy gaffes that have posed a problem.

As a professor of leadership and a news junkie, I have been disappointed in the performances of our most visible leaders throughout the woebegone 2017. Given a never-ending array of unsettling headlines, including sometimes terrifying stories about Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, we have been witness to corruption and toxic leadership that distorts truth and intimidates followers and critics alike.

But let us focus on the United States, where leaders on both sides of the aisle have noted this dysfunction. Worse still the negativity cascades from the top throughout the government, business and society at large. Toxicity is catching.

The narcissistic tendencies and fear-mongering tactics of our leaders, plus a series of revelations of noted sexual misconduct in many fields, made the events of 2017 read like a leadership Greek tragedy. In the past year, our political and business leaders have been exposed as both out of touch, unable to act on major issues like global warming and drug addiction, and, too often, acting badly if not outright bizarrely in support of their own self interests.

Yet surprisingly, psychologists and political scientists alike have shown that in uncertain times we often gravitate toward these Trump-like authoritarian leaders who promise a better future. When the promise is not forthcoming, however, or the pain worse than we feared, we flip-flop between two states: paralysis and over-reactivity. In doing so, we become ineffective in solving problems where real solutions might be available. Read More »

Risking your life for corporate camaraderie – Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From the Huffington Post

Imagine being submerged inside a downed aircraft in icy water, knowing that to reach air and safety you have to work with fellow passengers. Of course, you understand this is only a training exercise, aimed at honing your capacity for trust, collaboration, and team building. Here’s the question: Will defying death succeed better than the rope courses, scavenger hunts, tug of wars and other standbys of traditional corporate team building?

The Groton, Conn.-based company Survival Systems USA is betting that undergoing realistic disaster training is the new trend in helping corporations enhance teamwork, improve leadership and build skills needed for 21st century workplaces. The company is adapting its aquatic survival training into a program for companies seeking to push the envelope in employee team building.

The Survival System training, which involves a mock plane or helicopter crash in nasty conditions, is but the latest in moves toward intensive team-building exercises that go far beyond the classic “trust fall.” Exercises may range from rock climbing, rappelling, wilderness camping and sailing to sophisticated “geo hunts” in which teams use GPS to follow clues.

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How to incubate innovation–Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

From MIT SMR Custom Studio

The first thing an organization can do to nurture innovation is to tap into its own human capital. At a high level, all organizations care about ideas, and more often than not, in corporate settings, people already have ideas. Staff have expertise, know the customers, and throughout the organization they can interface with interesting sources of data and information.  It’s just that their day-to-day requirements do not allow them to execute. Slack time can be an important lever for incubating creativity and a meaningful way for executing ideas employees have had in mind for some time.

But if you ask employees to be entrepreneurial, it’s not same – they may end up directing their own unit, but not building and scaling a multi-billion dollar start-up. It’s hard when you have the safety and surroundings of a large organization to act like entrepreneurs who have to attract capital from outside. The challenge is once you identify talent and the ideas inside to incentivize to execute an experiment as though it were a start-up. Perhaps the biggest organizational change is to think like a small start-up.

From an organizational perspective, firms can learn a great deal from university accelerators. At MIT, we have Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator, where we get students with good ideas to scale businesses. The interesting thing is that students who have no experience of entrepreneurship get feedback and advice from a set of seasoned entrepreneurs. Similarly, an enterprise may have skills and expertise on the tech side, but no track record of taking an idea and scaling it to a multi-billion project. The challenge is how to recruit entrepreneurs to train employees with the good ideas to take them to the next level.

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Can Uber evolve – quickly? – Court Chilton

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Court Chilton

From Entrepreneur

I’m a huge fan of Uber and use its services all the time. Still, I can’t deny it’s been a tough couple of weeks for Uber. A blog post by a woman employee who credibly seems to be claiming sexual harassment and retaliation for making those claims was widely covered in the media. Days later, a video that showed the CEO arguing vehemently with an Uber driver about rates went viral. Plus, revelations about “grey-balling” — preventing certain people from accessing the Uber system — put the company in an unfavorable light with a number of different stakeholders.

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How to Cultivate Leadership That Is Honed to Solve Problems – Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From strategy+business

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the terrorists responsible for that act took the life of a police officer, Sean Collier, who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Those who knew and loved him at MIT resolved to commemorate his memory. J. Meejin Yoon, head of MIT’s department of architecture, designed a memorial to honor Collier’s love of the outdoors and spirit of service, while reflecting the university community he served. The memorial is composed of massive interlocking granite blocks. Making them stand up required a feat of engineering that pushed the technical limits of the material. A multidisciplinary group assembled to figure out how to complete the project. The group included faculty, students, and staff with expertise in architecture, construction, engineering, and masonry, as well as consulting experts in structural and civil engineering, landscape architecture, and lighting design. No one person directed the project from start to finish; instead, teams stepped up and stepped out, forming for just as long as their expertise was needed. The Collier Memorial was unveiled on April 29, 2015, just a few days after the second anniversary of the officer’s death. It stands today on MIT’s campus as a tribute to a life given in service to a community that rises to meet challenges.

When a collaborative project like the Collier Memorial comes to fruition, it might seem to happen without leaders. But in reality, the many leaders involved were following a model of leadership that is hard to spot until you know how to look for it. We call this approach challenge-driven leadership. These leaders are propelled by the intrinsic desire to solve problems and meet challenges creatively. They are not motivated by the trappings of authority, status, or showmanship. They don’t particularly want to lead, and they certainly don’t want to be led. But they excel at choreographing and directing the work of others, because their expert knowledge enables them to spot opportunities to innovate in a way that cannot be done by working alone.

Challenge-driven leadership is not right for every situation. But where innovation and entrepreneurship are required — and in particular where developing a solution requires drawing together diverse talents and perspectives to discover novel approaches — it tends to work well. No wonder we find it in many places where people are dealing with “wicked problems,” a term coined in 1967 by design theorist Horst Rittel that refers to broad challenges with no obvious solutions. This is the kind of leadership that many companies, government agencies, and nonprofits would do well to recognize and cultivate.

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