Category Archives: leadership development

The Long Lost Art of Listening at Work

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.

 

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Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

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Sizing Up Succession Management

successionIt’s a fact of corporate life, and it happens all the time: executives leave companies, just like employees at every other level do.

In fact, we’ve seen two CEOs depart from large, high-profile organizations in just the past nine days.

On Jan. 28, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. announced that CEO Don Thompson would retire at the end of February. That news came just two days after Mattel Inc.’s Bryan Stockton resigned from that company’s top post.

Both of those organizations looked within their own walls to replace erstwhile chief executives. Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook will take the reins at McDonald’s, while  longtime Mattel board member Christopher Sinclair was named the El Segundo, Calif.-based toymaker’s chairman and interim CEO.

Korn Ferry’s new Succession Matters report suggests that most executives favor such an approach to executive succession; one that relies more on “building” (developing from within) than “buying” (hiring from the outside) when sourcing leadership talent.

More specifically, the poll of 1,009 C-level respondents found most executives reckoning the right mix of “build” versus “buy” should be 2:1. Nevertheless, close to half of the survey’s respondents—from companies ranging in size from 500 to more than 50,000 employees—said their organizations depended more on outside hires to fill leadership positions.

And, looking more broadly at succession management, it seems many executives have issues with their companies’ efforts that go beyond where they’re looking for C-level talent.

Overall, just 36 percent of executives said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their company’s succession-management programs. Less than one-third (23 percent) reported having a solid pipeline of “ready now” candidates for leadership roles.

Part of the problem is that many succession-management programs “don’t go deep enough into an organization” in search of executive-caliber talent, says Jim Peters, lead for global succession management at Korn Ferry.

For example, the study finds 78 percent of executives saying their organization’s succession-management programs only include the title of “vice president” and above.

“I often say to CEOs: ‘There are several potential CEOs within your organization; you and many others at different levels in the leadership pipeline, with one being an individual contributor in Mumbai,’” says Peters. “[I ask these CEOs] ‘Do you know who she is? And if you know who she is, what would you do to ensure that she would have the skills and capabilities to lead the enterprise 15 or 20 years from now?’”

Building a “world-class” succession-management program requires integrating talent processes that make the whole “much greater than the sum of its parts,” adds RJ Heckman, president of Korn Ferry’s leadership and talent consulting business.

“Companies that do not have a ready supply of leaders leave talent processes separate and unintegrated,” says Heckman. “Recruiting is not related to performance, is not related to learning, is not related to succession … and lo and behold, you don’t have a ready slate of candidates when the proverbial emergency hits and you need candidates [for] senior positions.”

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When It’s OK to Fake It

grin“Be authentic!” today’s leaders are urged. But what if they don’t know how? Worse yet, what if — in being authentic — they bare their soul to their direct reports in a way that causes them to lose confidence in said leader?

Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, tackles this subject in the cover story of the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review, “The Authenticity Paradox.” Today’s leaders are under pressure to be “their true selves” as an antidote to the record-low levels of trust and engagement among employees today, she writes. However, new leaders also have a relatively short time frame in which to gain the trust and confidence of their direct reports — should they unwittingly alienate or lose the confidence of those employees within that time by failing to adapt their leadership style to the situational demands, then their goals will be that much harder to achieve.

Ibarra cites the examples of “Cynthia” and “George.” Promoted into a high-visibility role that included a 10-fold increase in the number of her direct reports, Cynthia sought to establish her role as a leader who valued transparency and collaboration by sharing with them her trepidation and need for their help.  But her candor backfired when she lost credibility with people who were looking for a strong leader. George, an executive at an auto-parts company where chain-of-command and consensus were paramount, felt conflicted when the company was acquired by a firm with a much more freewheeling culture: Urged by his supervisor to sell himself and his ideas more aggressively, George felt he was being pressured to be a “fake” by subsuming his modest nature.

Career advancement requires most of us to move beyond our comfort zones at some point, writes Ibarra. Yet, because going against our true inclinations can make us feel like impostors, “we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable,” she writes.

However, moments like these can help us grow into better leaders — if we take advantage of them, writes Ibarra:

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

Learning often begins with behaviors that may feel unnatural and fake to us, says Ibarra. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and to ultimately become better leaders “is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

 

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Who’s Leading the Way?

leadingIdentifying what makes for a great leader isn’t an exact science. But, each year since 2001, Aon Hewitt has done its best to pinpoint the traits shared by the best business leaders—and the companies that excel in cultivating them.

The Lincolnshire, Ill.-based consultancy recently unveiled its 2014 Global Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders list, a group of 25 organizations selected and ranked by a panel of independent judges, including experts from Wharton School of Business, the Indian School of Business, PUC Minas and Ivey School of Business.

The panel relied on a number of criteria, including strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leader development on a global scale, alignment of business and leadership strategy, business performance and company reputation to compile the list, headed by GE, IBM, Hindustan Unilever Limited, General Mills Inc. and ICICI Bank.

What got them there?

According to Aon Hewitt’s analysis, the top companies for leaders shared five key characteristics in their approach to leadership:

  • Assessment. Top companies assess the whole leader early in their careers, evaluating leaders’ experiences, competencies, values and organizational fit, which helps organizations “understand the unique needs of their talent pipeline to fuel the right development solutions that move people forward faster,” according to Aon Hewitt.
  • Awareness. These organizations have leaders who demonstrate tremendous self-awareness by understanding their personal strengths and weaknesses, and using this information to become more effective leaders.
  • Resilience. Those atop the 2014 list build resilience in their leaders by creating inclusive cultures “where multiple perspectives and ideas are expected and fostered to help the organization meet continued business challenges.”
  • Engaging leadership. Leading firms focus on identifying and building engaging leaders who “are stabilizers, demonstrate versatility and stay connected to people and events inside and outside their organization.
  • Sustainability. Top companies for leaders also concentrate on building talent programs “nimble enough to respond quickly to the market demands, yet sustainable [enough] to deliver superior business outcomes.”

This year’s top companies have shown a knack for nurturing talent in an ever-more competitive marketplace, says Michael Useem, professor of management and director of the Leadership Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in a statement.

The Top 25 firms are “especially notable for the detailed tracking and comprehensive building of their talent pipelines, with special emphasis on strategic thinking, broad engagement and personal resilience—all increasingly critical given the companies’ changing and complex markets,” says Useem, who also describes “the direct personal involvement of senior managers and even company directors in their leadership programs” at top companies as “striking.”

What it takes to be “striking” in terms of leadership has changed greatly in the 14 years Aon Hewitt has compiled its leader list, and “what was exceptional [just] two or three years ago … has now become table stakes for top organizations,” adds Lorraine Stomski, a partner and head of Aon Hewitt’s leadership consulting practice.

“Those companies that rest on their laurels and rely on practices that have previously brought them success will no longer thrive like top companies do,” says Stomski. “Change and innovation are a must.”

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Lutz on Leaders: Why So Nice?

happy leaderRetired automotive executive, former Marine and best-selling author Bob Lutz is also fluent in several languages. And he’s probably pretty outspoken in all of them.

Never known for holding his tongue, the former vice chairman of General Motors took part in a Q & A with the Washington Post earlier this week. And he offered up his usual, unvarnished take on subjects ranging from Mary Barra’s performance as GM’s chief executive so far (“too early to tell,” but “the early signs are outstanding”) to the increasingly guarded stance taken by executives when addressing the public (“nobody is speaking clearly anymore”).

Lutz also spoke at length about what makes for a great leader. While he praised the “quiet, somewhat low-key, persuasive and very effective” style that Barra has displayed at the helm of GM, Lutz seemed to suggest the leadership model prevailing at many organizations in 2014 is, well, a little soft.

When asked to name the best leader he’s ever worked for, Lutz went all the way back to his high school days in Switzerland, calling teacher—and future member of the Swiss National Council—Georges-Andre Chevallaz “an extremely effective individual” who could “convince intellectually, and … had the ability to motivate positively. You never wanted to let him down.”

The corporate community could use a few more like Georges-Andre Chevallaz, according to Lutz.

Today’s leaders “follow a politically correct line and listen to all the 1980s Total Quality Management consultants who say you should always respect everyone, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he told the Post. “Of course we all know that’s hogwash. Good leaders have to be able to criticize constructively. We just have too little of that in American business now. Everybody is way too nice to everybody.”

A dearth of constructive criticism aside, Lutz sees something else lacking in the workplace: Fear.

“I can’t tell you how essential that is: a fear of consequences, of messing up, of letting the team down, of doing something unauthorized,” said Lutz. “That fear has to be there; otherwise the place is out of control. All of the consultants who say you’ve got to take fear away in a corporation don’t know what they’re talking about.”

While he may espouse some old-school ideals when it comes to leadership style, Lutz also warned that too much of the same old, same old can actually damage an organization’s culture; a lesson he says he learned decades ago.

Looking back at his stint as head of product development with Chrysler in the 1970s and ’80s—when the company was integrating an influx of talent from Ford and GM to go along with “the old Chrysler guys”—the culture at Chrysler “was a ragtag bunch of misfits,” he said. “At Chrysler, everybody was from somewhere else. It made for a very interesting environment, because there was no dominant culture. What you rarely heard in meetings was, ‘You can’t do that, because we’ve always done it this way.’

“It was messy,” he continued. “But it was very effective and everybody had a lot of fun. The nice thing about an enduring culture is that you have stability. But stability in a rapidly changing environment can be a very bad thing.”

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You Can Keep the Corner Office

AA049404HR leaders are always on the lookout for the organization’s next generation of leaders. A new survey, however, finds the majority of workers aren’t particularly interested in ever taking the reins.

A recent poll of 3,625 workers age 18 and up, conducted by Harris on behalf of CareerBuilder, found just one-third (34 percent) of these employees aspire to leadership positions. Just 7 percent indicated an interest in shooting for senior- or C-level management.

Why are these workers indifferent toward reaching the top levels of the organization? Most (52 percent) said they are simply satisfied in their current positions. Another 34 percent of this group indicated they don’t want to sacrifice work/life balance at the expense of advancement, while 17 percent said they don’t have the necessary education.

The survey did find the desire for leadership roles to be greater among men than women, by an 11 percent margin (40 percent versus 29 percent). At 44 percent and 39 percent, respectively, African-Americans and LGBT workers were more likely to take aim at leadership positions than the national average. Thirty-two percent of workers with disabilities reported similar aspirations, as did 35 percent of Hispanics.

The poll also addressed the glass-ceiling issue, asking respondents to what extent they felt firms held female and minorities back in their career pursuits. Overall, 20 percent of those surveyed said they feel his or her organization has a glass ceiling preventing women and minorities from reaching higher job levels. Just 9 percent of non-diverse males said they think a glass ceiling is in place at their companies.

These figures spiked, however, among those with designs on management and senior management positions. For example, 33 percent of females in this category felt such barriers existed, while 34 percent of Hispanics, 50 percent of African-Americans and 59 percent of workers with disabilities said the same. Twenty-one percent of LGBT workers seeking leadership roles indicated as much, slightly less than the national average.

While it seems many employees are content to forego the executive career track, “it is important … to promote a culture of meritocracy in which all workers, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, are able to reach senior-level roles based on their skills and past contributions alone,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a statement. “The survey found that employees at companies that have initiatives to support aspiring female and minority leaders are far less likely to say a glass ceiling holds individuals back.”

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A Leadership Guru’s Legacy

As an infantry officer during World War II, leading a platoon of soldiers through harrowing combat during the Battle of the Bulge, Warren G. Bennis learned firsthand what it took to become an effective leader. Following his service (during which he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart), Bennis began his academic career, in which he became one of the world’s foremost authorities on leadership and organizational development. Late last week, Bennis passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 89.

Yesterday the University of Southern California, where Bennis spent 35 years on the faculty of its Marshall School of Business, released a statement from USC President C.L. Max Niklas commemorating his many accomplishments:

Warren Bennis was a visionary whose transformational contributions to the business world have shaped the fundamental concepts of effective leadership. Professor Bennis was one of a rare and esteemed group of pioneers, able not only to anticipate the demands of a changing world, but also guide the direction of this change through his exceptional scholarship, teaching and mentoring.”

Bennis wrote nearly 30 books during his career, the most famous of which was On Becoming a Leader, a bestseller that is considered a veritable bible among leadership-development experts. His memoir, An Invented Life, was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Bennis was notable for his belief that leaders are made, not born, writing that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.”

Leaders, he wrote, must be passionate, intensely curious, honest with themselves and be able to inspire hope and passion in others. They must have a guiding vision for the mission they’re responsible for and be willing to take risks and learn from mistakes. From On Becoming a Leader:

The leader never lies to himself, especially about himself, knows his flaws as well as his assets, and deals with them directly. … The leader wonders about everything, wants to learn as much as he can, is willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. He does not worry about his failures but embraces errors, knowing he will learn from them.”

Bennis was an adviser and mentor to many CEOs and U.S. Presidents, including Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz, according to the New York Times. He was well known for the adage that “leadership cannot be taught, but it can be ‘caught.’ ”

Although Bennis expressed dismay in On Becoming a Leader that corporate leadership appeared to be weakening due to extravagant executive compensation and a focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, he expressed more optimism in a piece he later wrote for Forbes in which he described the next generation of business leaders as “the Crucible Generation” who are less arrogant and more respectful than their predecessors:

The truth may be that history, in its kindness, gave this new generation a grand crucible challenge, as it did my own. … There are reasons enough for optimism. In just the past several years I have seen my classes of aspiring leaders move from an interest in endeavors characterized by self-interest toward a sense of shared responsibility for our society and world.”

 

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‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan

I just came across an advance copy of a book due on shelves Sept. 15 that takes a pretty interesting stab at itemizing and enumerating every key challenge a manager will face in his or her profession. I’m sharing it here — “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” — because I’ve found the author, Bruce Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., to be pretty authoritative and sound over the years when it comes to manager-employee relationships.

HRE clearly concurs, as it will be featuring Tulgan in a webinar on Aug. 13, titled “Building a Better Boss: Engaging Managers to Inspire and Engage Workers.” In the webinar, he’ll discuss his latest research that finds “The Under-Management Epidemic,” first revealed in his company’s 2004 study, rages on 10 years later. According to the study, nine out of 10 leaders and managers are not providing their direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching today. 

In his latest book, already listed on Amazon, Tulgan reiterates and underscores that fact, bringing together what he says are the 27 — not 26 or 28, mind you — challenges he’s heard repeatedly from managers over his 20 years of research. During that time, he says, he’s asked “hundreds of thousands of managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes, ‘What are the most difficult challenges you face when it comes to managing people?’ ” His finding:

Regardless of industry or job title, managers cite the same core issues — more than 90 percent of responses over the years refer to the same 27 challenges. The same cases come up over and over again — maybe it’s the superstar [who] the manager is afraid of losing, the slacker [who] the manager cannot figure out how to motivate or the two employees who cannot get along.”

As Tulgan says in a Q&A at the end of this link about the book, including excerpts:

It turns out that when things are going wrong in a management relationship, almost always, the common denominator is unstructured, low-substance, hit-or-miss communication. … Almost always, the ad-hoc manner in which most managers talk to their direct reports every day actually makes inevitable the most difficult employee situations that tend to vex managers. What is the key to avoiding most of these problems and the key to solving them quickly and with relative ease as soon as they appear? High-structure high-substance one-on-one dialogues with every direct report.”

For what it’s worth, I have talked to numerous experts over the years who have corroborated this need for more effective and authentic one-on-one business leadership, including folks at Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, whose recent study finds a sorry lack of interactive-conversational skills among business leaders and managers worldwide. (I wrote about that study in this recent news analysis.)

As it is, and as Tulgan’s book lays them out — grouped in chapters according to stages of one’s management career and types of problems — here they are, all 27 of them:

1, when going from peer to leader; 2, when coming from the outside to take over leadership of an existing team; 3, when bringing together an entirely new team; 4, when you are welcoming a new member to your existing team; 5, when employees have a hard time managing time; 6, when an employee needs help with interpersonal communication; 7, when an employee needs to get organized; 8, when an employee needs to get better at problem-solving; 9, when you have an employee who needs to increase productivity; 10, when you have an employee who needs to improve quality; 11, when you need an employee to start “going the extra mile”; 12, when your employees are doing “creative” work; 13, when the employee you are managing knows more about the work than you do (I, Kris Frasch, suspect that might be something managers are experiencing more frequently these days, given our demographic shifts in the workplace); 14, when an employee needs an attitude adjustment; 15, when there is conflict between and among individuals on your team …

Breath …

16, when an employee has personal issues at home; 17, when there is a superstar you need to keep engaged; 18, when you have a superstar you really want to retain; 19, when you have a superstar you are going to lose for sure: how to lose that superstar very well; 20, when you need to move a superstar to the next level to develop as a new leader; 21, when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty; 22, when managing under resource constraints; 23, when managing through interdependency management challenges; 24, when managing around logistical hurdles; 25, when managing across differences in language and culture; 26, when you need to renew your management relationship with a disengaged employee; and 27, when you need to renew your own commitment to being a strong, highly engaged manager.

As Rainmaker puts it in one promotional, “The 27 Challenges are enumerated not in order of frequency or difficulty, but rather according to the bigger-picture human capital issues in which [they] fall. Like a guidebook through the real life of a manager — from the ‘new-manager’ challenges, through performance management, retention, and all the way to the latter career stage when so many managers face the challenges of ‘renewal.’ ”

Tulgan says he hopes readers will use this book like reference material, referring to the specific challenge one is encountering and his solution for overcoming it, maybe reading others to prepare a little, but then shelving it until it’s needed again.

Personally, I can’t imagine many other challenges than the ones listed above, but Tulgan assures me there are hundreds more. Solve these ones, he says, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on how to apply “the fundamentals of management to gain control of any situation.” People managing managers, he adds, should keep it on hand, too.

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Being a Better Boss

There’s been no shortages of stories about CEOs who have run amok. Business leaders who couldn’t care less what others think. Who believe they have all the answers — and fail to listen to what those much closer to the front lines are seeing and hearing.

475752015(1)At the same time, there’s been no shortage of books, written by the countless experts out there, on the key ingredients that go into what it takes to be great boss. I’m sure you’ve read a few.

But what do the masses think?

Posted yesterday afternoon are the results of a recent CNNMoney poll, in which the website asked its readers to weigh in on what they think characterizes the best bosses. According to the site, the traits showing up most frequently in the responses were ….

1) Respect and appreciate their employees

They respect what you do, they respect your expertise and they respect the fact that you may have your own work style.

‘Great bosses earn respect by giving respect,’ said one reader.

Bosses who say ‘thank you’ came up a lot, too, as did bosses who publicly give credit where it’s due, who welcome employees’ input and feedback, and who recognize that employees are humans, not just ‘resources,’ as another reader put it.

2) Create trust and support

An excellent boss trusts you to do your job, has faith in your team, encourages your success, goes to bat for you and is always approachable.

Great bosses are also consistently ethical and fair, and they hire good people, readers said.

3) Give employees the backing and resources to do their jobs

A great boss provides clear guidance, coaching and structure, but also the leeway to develop a sense of ownership over your work.

And when something goes wrong … great bosses assess what happened and help you fix the situation rather than assign blame.”

There’s obviously much more to being a great boss than the items listed above. Just a few others that come to mind include first-rate listening skills, an extraordinary ability to inspire your workforce and one’s ability to lead by example.

But while the findings from the CNNMoney poll certainly just scratch the surface of what it takes to be a great boss in today’s environment, I would think the three most cited reasons — even though they’re not coming from the so-called “experts” — might be as good a place to start as any as we (both personally, as HR leaders, and as organizations) evaluate and further build on our ability to lead.

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