2019: A new year calls for new questions – Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Psychology Today

The New Year is right around the corner and individuals and organizations alike are churning out new goals in a mass ritualized frenzy. The problem is that both on a company-wide level and on a personal level many of these new benchmarks will never be reached.

Ask yourself this: Did you really lose 10 pounds last year? Did you grow your business by 5 percent each quarter? So instead of making a list of brutal stretch goals and then beating yourself up for not achieving them, here’s a better plan for 2019. Ditch the goals and get to work on a list of compelling questions. Yes, questions.

Questions have a curious power to unlock new and positive behavior changes in every part of our lives. They can open up new directions for progress no matter what we are struggling with. My interviews with more than 200 of the world’s most creative leaders—including well-known business executives such as Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Marc Benioff at Salesforce.

Debbie Stirling at GoldieBlox, and Tony Hsieh from Zappos—show that when you are operating at the edge of uncertainty, trying to figure out a better question is a far more productive way forward than trying to figure out a better answer. The right questions can surface a false assumption and give us the energy to do something about it. My research has shown that the best questions, in whatever setting, turn out to have some fundamental things in common.

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Join the #MITSloanExperts “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life” Twitter chat, December 4

Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life

MIT Sloan’s Hal Gregersen and Rachel Botsman, lecturer at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, will discuss Gregersen’s new book, Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life, which challenges leaders and entrepreneurs to find and ask the questions that will solve problems, effect changes, and push their organizations in new directions and to new levels of success.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to realize those ideas, and ultimately deliver positive, powerful change.

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What Great Leaders Can Learn from Great Photographers–Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, Hal Gregersen

From Harvard Business Review 

Almost everyone on this planet is a worker in some way, but only a minority deserve to be called craftspeople. This is especially true of leaders. We don’t often think of leaders as artisans, but like good craftspeople, good leaders go about their work thoughtfully and purposefully.

These good leaders want every piece they produce to be the best it can be, and to bear their stamp. Some even go a step further. They reflect on their craft and articulate what they do that is special or distinctive. Doing this delivers the great benefit of making it, to at least some extent, teachable. They like to develop the skill in others.

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When was the last time you asked, “Why are we doing it this way?” — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Harvard Business Review

During a time when many retailers are struggling, business is booming at Target. But it wasn’t too long ago that the discount retailer’s future didn’t glow so bright. When CEO Brian Cornell took the reins two years ago, he inherited a company that had been struggling for years, taking far too few risks, and sticking too close to the core.

Since then the world has fallen in love with a far edgier Target, which has expanded its offerings through collaborations with such power brands as Lilly Pulitzer, Toms, Neiman Marcus, and SoulCycle, and updated product lines that break the status quo, like its latest gender-neutral kids home brand Pillowfort. But Cornell didn’t start right out of the gate making any big changes like these. Instead, he took time to carefully contemplate his approach, listen to his team, and ask questions.

At the MIT Leadership Center, I recently spoke with another leader, Guy Wollaert, chief exploration officer at Loggia Strategy & Design, about similar experiences he encountered at another highly visible brand, Coca-Cola. During his 20-plus year tenure with the global beverage brand, most recently serving as its chief technical and innovation officer, Wollaert made it a point to seek — and surround himself with — new ideas and people who challenged him to reflect and question first, then act later.

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The Power of Leaders Who Focus on Solving Problems – Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen

From Harvard Business Review

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

In front of a packed room of MIT students and alumni, Vivienne Ming is holding forth in a style all her own. “Embrace cyborgs,” she calls out, as she clicks to a slide that raises eyebrows even in this tech-smitten crowd. “Really. Fifteen to 25 years from now, cognitive neuroprosthetics will fundamentally change the definition of what it means to be human.”

She’s referring to the work that interests her most these days, as cofounder of machine learning company Socos and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. (“So — can I literally jam things in your brain and make you smarter? If you’re curious, the answer is unambiguously yes.”) But the talk has covered a lot more than this, as Ming has touched on many initiatives and startups she’s been involved with, all solving problems at the intersection of advanced technology, learning, and labor economics.

She’s an entrepreneur, a CEO, and a teacher — all leadership roles — but when we ask her about her leadership style, she demurs. “What I’ve learned about myself as a leader, as an executive, is — I’ll be blunt — I’m a pretty mediocre manager. I try to do the right things, but I’m much more focused on problems than I am on people, and that’s not always that healthy.” While she’s utterly confident in herself, she just doesn’t identify as top management. She’s happier to think of herself as a data scientist, a computer geek. She loves talking about hacks she’s pulled off — like the alterations she made to her diabetic son’s medical devices, so she could merge all their data to produce a predictive model. Now, she gets an alert an hour in advance if a spike or drop is coming in his blood glucose level. This is an unprecedented, and highly valuable, thing. “Turns out, it broke several federal laws,” she laughs.

Ming is a tech optimist, believing that all kinds of previously intractable problems will be able to be solved as the tool kit for addressing them is developed. And she’s decided her best way of contributing to that progress is to keep honing her individual-contributor skills. “For a long time, I tried to be the whole package. I put a lot of energy into making certain that I was shepherding everyone along, doing all the right things for my teams. Then I realized: You know what? If I can get some people that are really good at the things that I’m not, then I can focus on my strengths. And my strengths are in creative problem solving — all the way down to writing the code myself.” Read More »