Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center
From Harvard Business Review
Earlier this spring I had the chance to witness two of the “farewell talks” that Ed Catmull gave to the people of Pixar. Catmull, the company’s cofounder and long-time leader (and also president of Disney Animation Studios since the Disney acquisition of Pixar over a decade ago) had announced his retirement in late 2018. He chose to spend his last day on Pixar’s Emeryville campus not being celebrated by his colleagues but, instead, sharing thoughts about the challenges they would face in the years to come.
Each “farewell talk” was a separate, hour-long session with a different team in the company, but the content wasn’t tailored to specific departments. Catmull shared — over and over again — what he believed the whole company should be thinking about as it looks ahead.
Catmull has always been unusually reflective about the challenges of leading creative organizations, and generous in sharing the practices he finds effective. In his 2014 book Creativity, Inc. (which he’s now updating with new learnings), for example, he shares useful insights and learnings aimed at helping other leaders succeed. In his farewell talks, he showed the same level of thoughtfulness. He decided to:
Make the sessions inclusive. It’s not uncommon for departing CEOs to have transitional talks with their top teams. But how many consider it important to talk with every team in the company? Catmull talked to everyone, including hundreds of people who had never sat in meetings focused on high-level strategic issues — but whose efforts make Pixar films possible. As a result, his parting act was immensely unifying.
Bill Fischer, Visiting Professor, Operations Management
No, it hasn’t gotten to this just yet, but we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.
The SEC’s decision to sue Tesla CEO Elon Musk, with the intention of barring him from serving as an executive or director not only of Tesla, but of any corporation under the jurisdiction of the SEC, was the height of folly. Do any of us, including the SEC commissioners involved, really believe that our society would have been better off with Elon Musk on the sidelines? Do they really think that anyone else could do the job of representing Tesla, or the future, better than Elon Musk?
Let’s be clear, there are a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley. But, most of them are not named “Elon Musk.” What we discovered over the weekend was that that name was worth at least $6 billion in value, and possibly a lot more, based on the fall in market capitalization on the day following the announcement of the SEC action. It’s hard to imagine very many other people whose suspension from work life would bring such a hit on the very next day. Yet, I suspect that very few of us are actually surprised. In our minds, Tesla is Musk, and without Musk, what is Tesla?
MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona
From Insead Knowledge
Effective leaders need to know whether their ‘people hat’ or ‘P&L hat’ fits most comfortably.
A leading supermarket chain in an eastern European Union country feared an 8 percent drop in sales as discounting giant Lidl was about to enter its market. So, in collaboration with researchers, it decided to run a randomised controlled experiment. The goal was to reduce its costly personnel turnover problem, in a bid to improve quality and operational efficiency. Selected store managers received a letter from top management, encouraging them to do something about the 90 percent yearly staff turnover. It worked: Over the next three quarters, the monthly quit rate fell by 20 to 30 percent. However, surprisingly, this vast improvement led to no discernible effect on the predefined performance metrics (sales and value of perished food). In interviews, the researchers found the explanation. As store managers focused more on HR issues, they spent less time interacting with customers (to increase sales) and dealing with the flow of goods (to reduce food wastage).
Of course, the firm still benefitted through a reduction in hiring and training costs (estimated at a minimum of 400 euros per head). But at the store level, the data showed a remarkable truth: It is rather difficult – perhaps even impossible – for a single manager to wear all hats equally well. This confirms what we have been saying for years: Organisations with distributed leadership are more innovative and more adaptable. They are permeated by a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer
Something has shifted over the past few weeks and months. Not just since the recent US midterm elections or the climate deal in Katowice last week. There’s some real change in the air. In fact, it’s been there for a while. But we might not have noticed it…
…due to that other series of events. Brexit. Trump. Bolsonaro. Orban. Salvini. Erdogan. Duterte. The list goes on. It’s like standing in the boxing ring, encountering punches left and right. We’re still absorbing one blow as the next is already being launched. That’s how the past two-plus years have felt to me — and I assume to many. But now, as 2018 draws to a close, for the first time in a while I feel that we’re getting back on our feet; we’re beginning to shift our mode of operating from reactive to generative.
Maura Herson, Assistant Dean of the MBA Program at MIT Sloan
From Financial Times
The benefits of providing women with mentors are clear. A 2016 study by Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University found that when employers introduced such programmes, “managerial echelons [were] significantly more diverse”. And companies with diverse perspectives on their leadership teams have better results.
According to Iris Bohnet in her 2016 book What Works: Gender Equality by Design, mentorship for women leads to increases in salaries as well as promotions and higher career satisfaction. She also notes that such programmes are associated with an increase in diversity in management.
Through its clubs, its leadership centre and its alumni, MIT’s Sloan School of Management offers its female MBA students many opportunities to both have and be mentors. After graduation, they can use these relationships as models to seek out and structure additional mentor/mentee relationships.
What should women who are finishing MBAs and preparing to start work consider when seeking a mentor?