Blog > Category: Leadership

The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices like meditation have been in existence for thousands of years, but only now are they reaching the tipping point in the Western world. Today's pace and stress are so great that people are searching for new practices to find resilience in the midst of chaos, and mindfulness programs are helping them find better ways to live.

Mindfulness, the practice of self-observation without judgment, encompasses an array of activities in which we focus inward on our minds and our inner voices. New research studies are demonstrating conclusively that meditation and mindfulness are good for your health -- and for your soul. This is why each of us should consider balancing the fast-paced nature of our lives with individual practices that cultivate mindfulness.

Read full article on Huffington Post

Forbes - The Crucial Edge That Makes A Board Exceptional by Punit Renjen

Forbes - Online
The Crucial Edge That Makes A Board Exceptional
By Renjen, Punit
06/14/2013

Which of the following is the mark of a great board room, (a) an eyebrow raised, and then a hand, quickly followed by a challenging question, or (b) nodding heads and then smiles all around, quickly followed by the next item on the agenda? 

In exceptional boardrooms, the intellectual rigor generated by a challenging question is both an accepted norm and a precursor to reaching informed decisions. This is the crucial edge that sets apart boards that lead from boards that follow. Exceptional boards embrace creative tension fully and ensure its presence continually in engaging the management teams they govern. 

Creative tension is known by various names. Constructive discontent, respectful challenge, and “What if?” are just a few that describe its inquisitive and often skeptical nature. However, this key differentiator of exceptional boards is hardly meant to thwart management. Creative tension is constructive. Its purpose is to bring out the very best in management so that senior executives can generate the greatest value for shareholders, stakeholders, and society at large. 

Exceptional boards put creative tension into play many different ways: 

As brand guardians, for example, boards can initiate the debate on how short-term solutions could potentially impact their brands long-term. 

As risk and scenario planners, chairmen and directors can pose hypothetical situations that in today's fast-paced business environment can quickly become all too real. 

As succession stewards, boards can identify current leadership strengths that should be continued and new leadership attributes that should be sought. 

As bold strategists, boards can imagine the organization's vision on fast forward—and brainstorm with management about which actions will keep the trajectory of the organization straight and true beyond the horizon. 

Creative tension drives the journey. A director can begin that journey by asking a question that may defy convention or political correctness. I like inconvenient questions. They often lead to others and enable boards to use oversight and stewardship as catalysts for management's actions. 

The Power of Never, No, and Not Yet 

I grew up in India. From my childhood, I remember the great reverence that people held for our national hero, Mahatma Gandhi. He galvanized millions to march as one, disarmed the empire that had ruled his country for nearly a century, and enabled India to become a free and independent nation. 

As a board chairman years later, perhaps what I admire most about Gandhi is how this bespectacled, humble man of slight stature applied the enormous power of creative tension. Gandhi held no formal position of authority. Nor was there an organized army standing behind him. What he did have were his core beliefs and the audacity to speak truth to power. Gandhi knew that to remain silent would leave authority unchallenged and unchecked. He defied those who sought to silence him, by saying “never” and “no” countless times in a soft, calm voice—and with an iron will. He had to. His relationship with those who occupied his country was adversarial. 

Boards and management, however, have a decided advantage. They are on the same team in helping the enterprise excel. Boards foster creative tension through their responsibility to review and approve—or consider, table, or deny. When a board says “not yet” to a management proposal, the creative tension that results is intended not to undermine but to inspire. And if “not yet” or even an outright “no” escalates boardroom dialogue into full-throated debate, that's okay. Passion is good. Opposing views can collide, but they also can converge and yield exciting new ideas, especially when an organization's core beliefs unite everyone involved. 

How does management respond to creative tension? It depends on the executive. Exceptional leaders embrace it, whether they're in a conference room or the boardroom. Speaking of his C-suite experiences, former Medtronic Medtronic chairman and chief executive Bill George said, “Reward people who challenge you. I didn't promote people who didn't take me on.” Now a professor at Harvard Business School, he also supported that same attitude vigorously in Medtronic's boardroom. According to Mr. George, there were times when a single, compelling voice of dissent caused the board to reconsider and eventually pull back from a major decision. Otherwise, he recalls, those decisions would have probably been unanimous—and most likely disastrous. 

Good for the Gander 

Management shouldn't be the only recipient of creative tension. Board members can enrich their own discussions by challenging one another, including their chairman, and not just during executive sessions. Such openness in front of management can actually deepen trust. It helps convey the message that creative tension is designed to elevate the entire team, not pull management down. 

History tells us that fomenting dissent can lead to a more perfect union. That was the message shared by the biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who chronicled how one of the greatest CEOs this country has ever seen stacked his boardroom. Instead of creating his own personal cheering section, Abraham Lincoln purposefully brought together a cabinet that included many former opponents who had run against him for the presidency, and who had railed against his viewpoints along the way. The advisers Lincoln assembled agreed with his ultimate goals of abolishing slavery and preserving the union. Yet he wanted the clash of opposing perspectives to fully inform his own views on how best to achieve that vision.

The success of Lincoln's team of rivals holds a lesson for boards everywhere, that it's better to have tough questions asked by directors in the boardroom than by consumers in the marketplace. 

Challenge, Verify, Trust 

The art of creative tension has many facets. At times, it can leave some wondering if it's worth the effort. Creative tension is not for directors who are quick to judge or slow to envision. It takes both time and imagination. Creative tension is not for directors who crave order. It can alter alignment and disrupt the status quo. Creative tension is an act of professional exertion for board members, one that requires the courage to challenge, the tact to verify, and the confidence to trust.

Forbes - The Crucial Edge That Makes A Board Exceptional by Punit Renjen

Forbes - Online
The Crucial Edge That Makes A Board Exceptional
By Renjen, Punit
06/14/2013

Which of the following is the mark of a great board room, (a) an eyebrow raised, and then a hand, quickly followed by a challenging question, or (b) nodding heads and then smiles all around, quickly followed by the next item on the agenda? 

In exceptional boardrooms, the intellectual rigor generated by a challenging question is both an accepted norm and a precursor to reaching informed decisions. This is the crucial edge that sets apart boards that lead from boards that follow. Exceptional boards embrace creative tension fully and ensure its presence continually in engaging the management teams they govern. 

Creative tension is known by various names. Constructive discontent, respectful challenge, and “What if?” are just a few that describe its inquisitive and often skeptical nature. However, this key differentiator of exceptional boards is hardly meant to thwart management. Creative tension is constructive. Its purpose is to bring out the very best in management so that senior executives can generate the greatest value for shareholders, stakeholders, and society at large. 

Exceptional boards put creative tension into play many different ways: 

As brand guardians, for example, boards can initiate the debate on how short-term solutions could potentially impact their brands long-term. 

As risk and scenario planners, chairmen and directors can pose hypothetical situations that in today's fast-paced business environment can quickly become all too real. 

As succession stewards, boards can identify current leadership strengths that should be continued and new leadership attributes that should be sought. 

As bold strategists, boards can imagine the organization's vision on fast forward—and brainstorm with management about which actions will keep the trajectory of the organization straight and true beyond the horizon. 

Creative tension drives the journey. A director can begin that journey by asking a question that may defy convention or political correctness. I like inconvenient questions. They often lead to others and enable boards to use oversight and stewardship as catalysts for management's actions. 

The Power of Never, No, and Not Yet 

I grew up in India. From my childhood, I remember the great reverence that people held for our national hero, Mahatma Gandhi. He galvanized millions to march as one, disarmed the empire that had ruled his country for nearly a century, and enabled India to become a free and independent nation. 

As a board chairman years later, perhaps what I admire most about Gandhi is how this bespectacled, humble man of slight stature applied the enormous power of creative tension. Gandhi held no formal position of authority. Nor was there an organized army standing behind him. What he did have were his core beliefs and the audacity to speak truth to power. Gandhi knew that to remain silent would leave authority unchallenged and unchecked. He defied those who sought to silence him, by saying “never” and “no” countless times in a soft, calm voice—and with an iron will. He had to. His relationship with those who occupied his country was adversarial. 

Boards and management, however, have a decided advantage. They are on the same team in helping the enterprise excel. Boards foster creative tension through their responsibility to review and approve—or consider, table, or deny. When a board says “not yet” to a management proposal, the creative tension that results is intended not to undermine but to inspire. And if “not yet” or even an outright “no” escalates boardroom dialogue into full-throated debate, that's okay. Passion is good. Opposing views can collide, but they also can converge and yield exciting new ideas, especially when an organization's core beliefs unite everyone involved. 

How does management respond to creative tension? It depends on the executive. Exceptional leaders embrace it, whether they're in a conference room or the boardroom. Speaking of his C-suite experiences, former Medtronic Medtronic chairman and chief executive Bill George said, “Reward people who challenge you. I didn't promote people who didn't take me on.” Now a professor at Harvard Business School, he also supported that same attitude vigorously in Medtronic's boardroom. According to Mr. George, there were times when a single, compelling voice of dissent caused the board to reconsider and eventually pull back from a major decision. Otherwise, he recalls, those decisions would have probably been unanimous—and most likely disastrous. 

Good for the Gander 

Management shouldn't be the only recipient of creative tension. Board members can enrich their own discussions by challenging one another, including their chairman, and not just during executive sessions. Such openness in front of management can actually deepen trust. It helps convey the message that creative tension is designed to elevate the entire team, not pull management down. 

History tells us that fomenting dissent can lead to a more perfect union. That was the message shared by the biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who chronicled how one of the greatest CEOs this country has ever seen stacked his boardroom. Instead of creating his own personal cheering section, Abraham Lincoln purposefully brought together a cabinet that included many former opponents who had run against him for the presidency, and who had railed against his viewpoints along the way. The advisers Lincoln assembled agreed with his ultimate goals of abolishing slavery and preserving the union. Yet he wanted the clash of opposing perspectives to fully inform his own views on how best to achieve that vision.

The success of Lincoln's team of rivals holds a lesson for boards everywhere, that it's better to have tough questions asked by directors in the boardroom than by consumers in the marketplace. 

Challenge, Verify, Trust 

The art of creative tension has many facets. At times, it can leave some wondering if it's worth the effort. Creative tension is not for directors who are quick to judge or slow to envision. It takes both time and imagination. Creative tension is not for directors who crave order. It can alter alignment and disrupt the status quo. Creative tension is an act of professional exertion for board members, one that requires the courage to challenge, the tact to verify, and the confidence to trust.

Forbes: What Is Authentic Leadership?

In this Forbes Magazine article, Kevin Kruse succinctly defines what authentic leaders are and why they are so important to leading successful companies. Your feedback is welcome. 

“As a Servant Leader, You Can Change the World” Commencement Address

President Pribbenow, members of Augsburg College Board of Regents, and most importantly, 2013 graduates of this great institution, it is indeed a great honor and privilege for me to receive this treasured honorary degree and to have the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on your lives as servant leaders. 

Augsburg is a unique place that unites and inspires all of us with its sense of learning, stewardship, and servant leadership in a diverse student body in this urban setting, underpinned by the beliefs and values of Martin Luther. This morning I would like to speak with the graduating seniors as servant leaders who can change the world.

The world you’re entering is not the more predictable one of my growing up years. Rather, it is a volatile and unpredictable place, as we learned in Boston two weeks ago during the marathon and the events that followed. It is often chaotic and ambiguous, filled with conflicting forces pulling you in multiple directions. It is an easy world in which to criticize others and bemoan all that is wrong with it, as our media does so well. But taking that path will ultimately lead you into a cul-de-sac of despair and disappointment.

How can you navigate this world to find the joy, fulfillment, and significance that we aspire to? My only truth is that each of us must seek and find our True North – our beliefs, our values, and the principles by which we lead our lives – and then strive to stay true to who we are at our core in spite of all the pressures and seductions attempting to pull us off course. This is not an easy task as the external forces in our lives attempt to influence us As Apple founder Steve Jobs once said, “Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Each of us has a unique place in this world of seven billion people – and a calling to make a difference. How will you find your calling? What truly inspires you? I believe we are all called to lead, but how? It starts with your desire to serve others through your leadership. Would-be leaders who feel people are there to serve them are not leaders at all. This means knowing yourself and engaging deeply in the world to seek and find the purpose of your leadership. It means following your heart, not just your head, with a deep sense of passion, compassion, and courage – which are all matters of the heart.

My journey to leadership was not an easy path. As the only child of older parents, I heard from my father from a young age that he wanted me to make up for his failures to lead by heading a major company. He even named the companies: Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, IBM. At age eight, this was a pretty heavy trip to lay on a little kid. In junior high and high school I joined many organizations but was never asked to lead. Finally, my senior year I ran for senior class president only to lose by a margin of 2-1. It seemed clear my classmates didn’t appreciate what a great leader I was! To get a fresh start – or perhaps try to escape myself – I went 800 miles from home to Georgia Tech and repeated my mistakes all over again – six times I ran for office and lost all six! My scorecard: 0 for 7! It was pretty clear I was more of a loser than a leader. Then some seniors took me aside and gave me some blunt feedback: “Bill, no one is ever going to want to work with you, much less be led by you, because you’re moving so fast and so focused on yourself that you don’t have time for anyone else. It’s all about you.” That was like a blow to the solar plexus. .  . I realized they were right. After that, I worked hard to change and was successful in leading many organizations in college and grad school. But in the back of my mind was this calling to values-centered leader of a major company that served others. In my forties I was en route to the top of Honeywell when one day I looked in the mirror and saw a miserable person – me. I was in the midst of a crucible, but didn’t even realize it. Once again, I was striving so hard to get ahead that I was losing sight of my True North, focused more on becoming CEO that on serving others. That led me to make the most important career change of my life when I joined Medtronic and found a mission-driven, values-centered group of people dedicated to restoring people to full life and health. My thirteen years there were the fulfillment of my professional career, as we grew from restoring 300,000 people per year to 10 million new patients every year.

What is your calling? How will you use your unique gifts to serve others? I hope you won’t take twenty years to find it, but you might as you rub up against the real world and find your unique place. To find your calling, I encourage you to dive into the world and have as many experiences as you can in a short period of time. Don’t do what others say you “should” do, but rather what your heart calls you to do. Travel or live in countries that are completely foreign to your experience. Find a service opportunity that makes you uncomfortable because you’re learning from people whose lives are so different from you. Take risks, learn to fail and pick yourself up after failing to come back and do it better the next time. Keep a journal of your experiences and your feelings and return to it often to learn from your inner wisdom as well as the wisdom of others. Take a job doing what you love, not one that earns the most money or that your family wants you to take. Most important of all, follow your heart, not just your head.

By honoring your roots and diving into life’s experiences, you will gain a deeper awareness of who you are, your passions, your motivations, your unique strengths. When you come to a vocation or avocation that highly motivates you and you are really good at, you have found your “sweet spot” – that place where you can find joy, fulfillment, and success through serving others. And you will have found the purpose of your leadership, as I did at Medtronic, by striving to be a servant leader.

As a servant leader, you can change the world. Not the whole world of course, but the world in which you live, work, and interact with others. You can make this world a better place through your character and your leadership.  As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” You, your classmates and your generation are the servant leaders who will make this world a better place for everyone.

When you are on your deathbed and your favorite granddaughter asks you what you did to make a difference in the world, you’ll have a clear answer for her that becomes her inspiration to go forth into this world that is filled with so much chaos, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity – yet has so much joy, awe, and beauty all around us and the opportunity to help others find it by serving them.

Let me close with a favorite quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, who said: I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

As you journey through life, may you find that true happiness and deep sense of fulfillment by serving others through your leadership. As a servant leader, you can indeed change the world in which you live.

Harvard Business School Launches New Executive Education Program On Building Global Leadership

BOSTON – May 6, 2013 – Harvard Business School (HBS) announces the launch of Leading a Global Enterprise (http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/gel/), a course scheduled to take place from July 28–August 2, 2013, on the HBS campus. The program is intended to teach business leaders how to operate effectively in a global corporate world and work seamlessly with multicultural organizations.

Leading a Global Enterprise was created in part to expand on HBS faculty member Bill George's principles of leaders following their authentic True North and cochair Krishna Palepu's deep insights into Winning in Emerging Markets. The program focuses on global intelligence, examining studies of companies like Siemens, Tata and IBM that have developed a strong presence within their global business networks. Participants will work closely with HBS leadership faculty to study how these companies have achieved worldwide success, understand the traits of prosperous global leaders and collaborate on ways to incorporate these skills in their own businesses.

“We developed this program to give established leaders an opportunity to step back and explore their development as global influencers in the business community, building the confidence they need to work with like-minded companies around the world,” said Professor Das Narayandas, Senior Associate Dean and Chair of Executive Education and Publishing.  “In an era of industrial globalization, it is crucial to understand how to successfully work with other cultures.”

Senior executives who lead established global businesses, marketing executives running global product and marketing groups, or senior regional executives and country heads preparing for greater global responsibilities are encouraged to take this course. Alongside Bill George, Krishna Palepu and other senior HBS faculty members, participants will follow an intensive one-week program, resulting in the development of a customized global plan.

Leading a Global Enterprise will provide valuable insights for global executives looking to increase their ability to lead global organizations,” said Bill George, Professor of Management Practice. “In order to win in competitive global markets, leaders need to expand their global intelligence, collaborate cross-culturally and align their people with common missions and values that lead to superior long-term performance.”

For more information, please contact:

Jim Aisner, jaisner@hbs.edu, +1-617-495-6157

Program Details:

Leading a Global Enterprise will run from July 28–August 2, 2013, and will take place at Harvard Business School.  Please visit http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/gel for complete curriculum details and to apply.

Leading a Global Enterprise

(July 28August 2, 2013, Harvard Business School)

Faculty:

William W. George, Professor of Management Practice

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Administration

Nitin Nohria, George F. Baker Professor of Administration, Dean of the Faculty

Krishna G. Palepu, Professor of Business Administration, Senior Advisor to Harvard's President on Global Strategy

About Harvard Business School:

Harvard Business School Executive Education, a division of Harvard Business School, is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston, Massachusetts. HBS faculty develop and deliver over  80 open-enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs for leading organizations worldwide. Last year, more than 9,000 business executives attended programs in classrooms across the globe, including Boston, London, Mumbai, and Shanghai. With global research centers in seven key regions, HBS faculty continue to develop groundbreaking research, forge powerful alliances with global organizations, and fulfill the mission of educating leaders who shape the practice of business and innovation.

Resilience through Mindful Leadership

Please check out my Huffington Post article on Mindful Leadership. I had a great opportunity to discuss this subject on CNBC last week with Arianna Huffington, and I followed up with this article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-george/resilience-through-mindfu_b_2932269.html

Book Recommendation: Leadership and the Art of Struggle by Steven Snyder

First-time author Steven Snyder has just published a remarkably deep and insightful book about how exceptional leaders learn from their struggles and their failures and have resilience to overcome adversity. Snyder takes many of the ideas from True North to a much deeper level with richer insights. He focuses on staying grounded, becoming resilient in the face of failure, making sense of a chaotic world, and illuminating your blind spots. Snyder demonstrates how you can discover your purpose and meaning through struggle and ultimately by deepening your adaptive energy in order to sustain your leadership throughout your life.

I had the privilege of writing the Foreword for this book. Here are some excerpts from the Foreword:

Do your struggles make you a better leader? Is it necessary to overcome severe challenges to become an outstanding leader? Yes, emphatically, says Steven Snyder in this remarkable book. “Clearly, struggle and leadership are intertwined,” he writes. “Great leaders use failure as a wake-up call.”

That’s a conclusion many would-be leaders are reluctant to accept. In today’s world, society often searches for perfect leaders. When their actions reveal their weaknesses and shortcomings, the general public turns away from them and continues the impossible search for perfection. Media pundits, eager to condemn our leaders, pile on the criticism. Like the two tramps in playwright Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” who are hoping for the savior to lead them out of their misery, the public is still searching for the perfect leader. Instead of stepping up to leadership themselves, many people continue to drift through life and fail to realize their full potential as human beings and as leaders.

In Leadership and the Art of Struggle, Snyder takes an entirely different tack. He believes, as I do, that failure is a great teacher. To learn from it, you must be prepared to face its painful realities and use failure as a learning experience. That’s what Steve Jobs did after getting fired from the company he founded. Had he not been forced to face his own shortcomings, he never could have returned to create the success that led Apple to become the most highly valued company of all time. The same is true of Oprah Winfrey, who had to face the pain of the sexual abuse she encountered as a young girl. When she did so, she changed her message to empowering people and became the most successful media star of her era.

In a room filled with 125 powerful large company CEOs, I once asked Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s chairman and CEO, what his defining experience was. Rather than citing his great success at JP Morgan, he replied instantly, “I got fired ... by my mentor of 22 years.” Learning from that experience, Dimon bounced back and become the world’s leading financial services CEO. Forced to face the reality of his bank’s $6 billion in trading losses, he took immediate responsibility. He went on “Meet the Press,” and said, "We made a terrible egregious mistake. We were stupid. There’s almost no excuse for it.”

The realities that Snyder addresses represent a fundamental building block required to develop healthy, effective leaders who are committed to building a society devoted to the well-being of all. Only in acknowledging our own flaws and vulnerabilities can we become authentic leaders who empower people to perform to the best of their abilities.

Shortly after joining the Harvard Business School faculty in 2004, I initiated a research project to determine the characteristics of authentic leaders and the ways they developed their leadership. My HBS colleagues encouraged me to discover the traits, characteristics and styles of these successful leaders. Then my HBS research associate presented me with discouraging news: 1,400 previous studies had been unsuccessful in determining these definitive characteristics, as all failed to establish statistical validity or replicability. Nevertheless, we went ahead with our project. Two skilled researchers and I interviewed 125 leaders ages 23 to 93, generating 3,000 pages of transcripts. To our disappointment, nothing definitive emerged about the leaders’ characteristics. Rather, many leaders said, “Let me just talk about what’s important to me.”

In reviewing the transcripts with our research team, I had a sickening feeling that the inputs might just turn out to be mush. But in rereading the deeply honest and personal stories these leaders told us about themselves, the conclusions literally jumped off the pages at us. It was the life stories of these leaders that shaped their leadership. Their challenging times and crucibles stoked their passion to make a difference through leading. Some of their failures – and nearly all had experienced setbacks and/or great hardships – had resulted from abandoning their roots and not staying grounded in who they were. We labeled these periods as “losing their way.” Others faced challenges not of their own making which nonetheless were life changing. Those who went on to greater success as leaders maintained fidelity to their life stories and who they were – their True North.

When we published these results in my 2007 book, True North, they had great resonance with business and non-profit leaders – from younger managers and middle managers up to senior executives. I was especially surprised that the ideas struck a vital chord with very powerful CEOs as they were so much at variance with what was being written and taught at the time.

Snyder’s book takes these same themes to a much deeper and richer level, as he pushes the limits much farther than I did.  He asserts that struggle is an “art to be mastered,” an intrinsic aspect of leadership and an opportunity for leaders to realize their potential. That runs directly contrary to the macho image cultivated by many powerful leaders who deny their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. With that denial, they rob themselves of opportunities for deep introspection and a clearer understanding of themselves. Small wonder that many high-level leaders feel like imposters. One Stanford professor has discovered that the number one fear of top leaders is “being found out.” Thus, it is not surprising that many leaders fail, most often because they cannot face reality and deny they are at risk of causing their own failures.

Snyder takes these fundamental truths of human nature and converts them into a set of well-conceived strategies and practices that enable leaders to become grounded – a phrase that I was too timid to use in True North in 2007 because it sounded soft. Of course, the real work of leaders of getting grounded in their authenticity, their humanity, and their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well as their strengths, is exceptionally hard work.

On a personal level, it took me many years to openly acknowledge my shortcomings, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For that reason, I wound up withholding “the real me” from colleagues at work, coming across as super-confident, aggressive, and completely focused on business results. When I began sharing my weaknesses – being impatient, lacking tact, and often coming across as intimidating – as well as the failures and difficulties I had experienced in my lifetime, I learned that people opened up about themselves and resonated more with my leadership. I accepted that I wasn’t expected to have all the answers and could more frequently admit, “I don’t know.” In being willing to be vulnerable, I found I could acknowledge the fears of being rejected as a leader that went back to high school and college when I lost seven consecutive elections because others didn’t want to work with me.

For many years I tried to deny my weaknesses and blame them on my father, as if I inherited them from him. It didn’t work. When I finally acknowledged that these were my weaknesses, not his, and this was who I was, I felt the burden lifting from me. Only then could I feel comfortable in being myself. These shortcomings are still part of me, but they are far less prominent, and they no longer own me as they once did. As a result, my relations with colleagues, family members and friends have steadily improved.

In understanding how much more people were willing to trust me after that, I recognized that “vulnerability is power,” a favorite saying of author John Hope Bryant in Love Leadership. The paradox is that by acknowledging your vulnerabilities, you retain the power because others are unable to take advantage of you when you try to cover up your shortcomings and fears. At the same time you empower others to become more authentic by acknowledging their vulnerabilities.

In teaching these ideas to senior executives, I often get puzzled looks because they have steeled themselves not to reveal their vulnerabilities out of fear that others might take advantage of them. Of course, the truth is precisely the opposite. In refusing to acknowledge their roles in contributing to the problems around them, many leaders repeat their mistakes rather than learning from them. They may move to another job without ever facing themselves, thinking a fresh start will obviate their difficulties.

As mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” In other words, we can change venue but our shortcomings are with us until we acknowledge them to ourselves as well as others. When we do so, our weaknesses steadily diminish and our strengths become more powerful. That’s also the message of the positive psychology movement initiated by Dr. Martin Seligman, which is often falsely construed as burying your past difficulties rather than growing from them.

In this book, Snyder provides specific strategies to deal with these issues. He pairs his strategies with a series of techniques and exercises that enable us to stay grounded and explore new pathways to grow from our experiences. In the end he shows us how to develop the adaptive energy required to prepare for the greater challenges we will face in leadership. Through this rigorous process, we can develop the focus and discipline to work through our issues and, ultimately, to celebrate what really matters in our lives.

Having worked with many leaders who are earnestly embarking on the journey that Snyder takes us on, my advice is not to expect instant results. Being authentically self-aware and mindful of our feelings, emotions and reactions can take many years of hard work as we peel back the layers of that unique person we are. It often takes that much time to learn how to grasp the power we have within us to be the very best we can be.

This is a journey that can be difficult if not impossible to take on your own. We all need a team of fellow pilgrims to help us on the journey as we in turn help them along their paths. As the famous Hindu philosopher J. Krishnamurti wrote, “Relationship is the mirror through which we see ourselves as we really are.” How many people do you have truly open and enduring relationships with?  How many of them are willing to hold a mirror up to you?

We need a support team that helps us through the most challenging times of our lives. My team starts with my wife Penny, my faithful companion of 43 years, who has helped an engineer learn about psychology, human nature, and most importantly, myself. I have also learned a great deal from the wisdom of our two sons, Jeff and Jon, my close friends and my colleagues at Harvard Business School.

Other than Penny, nothing has been more constant and helpful than my two True North Groups – my men’s group that has met weekly for 39 years and our couple’s group that has met monthly for 30 years and travelled the world together. We have learned from our personal and professional challenges and helped each other along the way, through good times and especially in difficult times. Do you have a True North Group taking this remarkable journey with you?

Leadership and the Art of Struggle provides you the opportunity to learn from Steven Snyder’s remarkable wisdom and the experiences of his interviewees. It is also a living guide you can return to time after time when new situations arise. You may want to undertake this journey with your support team. That will give you the opportunity to share in each other’s struggles and gain the authenticity and the mastery that characterizes wise leaders.

By going through this process, you will feel more alive, energized and resilient than you ever believed was possible. You will become a better and more authentic leader, your relationships will become stronger and richer, and you will be able to accomplish more.

What more could you ask for in life?

Peer or Expert?

By Leo Bottary for Vistage.com, published February 10, 2013

Last summer, I wrote a post titled: What Does It Take to be a Great Chair?  I wasn’t talking about a piece of furniture and the requirements of four strong legs and a comfortable seat.  I was referring of course to Vistage Chairs who professionally facilitate CEO and key executive peer advisory boards here in the U.S. and around the world.  (Seems it doesn’t matter where you’re from; everyone can benefit from joining a peer group).  Having never been a Chair, the content for that post was developed largely with the help of our Vistage community’s Best Practice Chairs.   These are the Chairs who make all of our other Chairs even better.  They share their wisdom, experiences, and techniques to help Vistage Chairs deliver the best possible value to their members.

My interest in the topic of peer advisory groups comes in part from my work at Seton Hall University, where I don’t lecture so much as facilitate learning teams for two of its graduate programs.  These students are peers, yet they come from different backgrounds, experiences and vocations.  Together, we create an environment of trust, and the students soon discover they learn as much from one another as they do from their instructor/facilitator.   They also develop a culture of shared responsibility and accountability which only elevates the quality of the learning experience.   It’s a dynamic setting that creates true abundance.  That said, because of the new material we introduce to the students, we tend to lead these student learning teams as more expert than peer.

All of this made me think about Bill George’s book, True North Groups.  Bill George reminds us that the word facilitate means “to make easier.”  The more I’ve talked to our Chairs, the more I’ve come to realize that we have to consider what are we making easier and for whom?  At Vistage, we essentially lead two types of CEO groups.  One is comprised of CEOs leading companies $5 million and higher (CE Groups) while the other consists of business owners who lead companies in the $1 million – $5 million range (SB Groups).  So if you ask the question about whether our Vistage Chairs lead as peers or experts, one quickly comes to conclusion that it depends on the needs of the group.

To generalize a bit, the Vistage Chair who leads an SB group is more likely to facilitate that group in a manner that leans toward expert.  Many of these business leaders are either trying to stabilize their businesses or take them to the next level of size and sophistication.  To do so, they not only depend on their fellow members, but also on the expertise of their Chair.  In the CE Group, Chairs lead CEOs who are far more experienced, so they are faced with a different set of complex challenges.  Here, Chairs tend to lead more as peer.  In either situation it’s always a balance. It’s never 100% one or the other, but striking that balance and getting every drop of value for the members based on their needs and expectations is one of the key the differences between a garden variety facilitator and a Vistage Chair.  Our Chairs are what make Vistage, Vistage.

*Note:  After spending a great deal of time with about 450 Vistage Chairs from all over the world at our International Conference in Dallas, it’s hard not to be inspired to write about the great work they do.  I hope some of our Chairs read this post and offer their comments on this topic – a topic about which I can only scratch the surface without their help.

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