Are You Pursuing Your Vision of Career Success — or Someone Else’s?

by Laura Gassner Otting

You’ve checked all the boxes. You’ve graduated from the right college, held the right internship, flourished in the right graduate program, and landed the right job at the right company. You’ve followed the path that everyone else told you would be the one to lead to success — to your dream job — only to find that your dream job doesn’t feel so dreamy after all.

The good news is that you aren’t alone. Across each generation, the realization that success hasn’t brought with it the expected happiness has created a zeitgeist moment where conversations about purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction reign supreme. In fact, a 2015 study by Gallup showed that only one-third of the American workforce feels actively engaged in their work.

Each generation is experiencing its own work identity crisis, trying to determine why their work isn’t working for them. Millennials — social media natives who have never lived separate lives at work and at home  —  don’t look for work-life balance, but rather work-life alignment, where they can be the same person, with the same values, at home and in the office. Boomers are turning the standard retirement age of 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, but are not ready to put their hard-earned toolboxes on the shelf to gather dust. One-third of Americans over the age of fifty —nearly 34 million people — stated that they were seeking to fill their time with some professional (paid or unpaid) purpose beyond just the self. GenXers, finding themselves caught between raising children and nursing aging parents, are looking for work that contributes to managing these demands rather than working against them.

While these generations may differ in terms of what’s most meaningful to them, across each generation, meaning matters. Continue reading

The most underused asset at work: being human

By William Arruda

I was moderating a panel on leadership for a client of mine and received the bios of the three very accomplished executive panelists. All three bios were simply a list of credentials— impressive credentials, but that was it.

There was nothing human. Nothing personal. Nothing that gave the audience any understanding of their thoughts on leadership or success. This robotic resume in prose form is all too common, and it erases our most valuable asset: our humanity. Especially in our digital world, being yourself—your unique, human self—gives you a distinctive competitive edge.

Yet somehow we have been led to believe that at work, we must diminish our humanity, behaving (and appearing) like robots who are prized for their automation and conformity. When we get to the office, we leave our true selves at the door, ramp up our “work” mindset and keep our human traits muzzled until we leave for the evening. The belief that we need to be as efficient as an LED bulb and as knowledgeable as Wikipedia, as productive as an assembly line and as human as a doorknob, might have worked in the industrial age, but we have been in the relationship economy for decades.

Today, we can’t afford to forget the one ingredient that’s essential for business success— humanity. After all, relationships are the currency of business. More than ever, business is a truly human endeavor.

A recent Harvard Business Review article “Why Do So Many Managers Forget They’re Human Beings?” by global-leadership expert Rasmus Hougaard, says the problem is even more pronounced when it comes to leaders. “The problem is about 70% of leaders rate themselves as inspiring and motivating – much in the same way as we all rate ourselves as great drivers. But this stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A survey published by Forbes found that 65% of employees would forego a pay raise if it meant seeing their leader fired, and a 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82% of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. In our opinion, these two things are directly related.”

With the rise of AI and robots entering the workplace, human beings have an unprecedented opportunity to offer something different and compelling in the workplace. Irate customers have limited patience for automated assistance, and even the customers who aren’t irate will notice when your organization communicates with a human touch. It’s never been so easy to compete with your electronic co-workers. Ironically, technology is making people more human. When you are willing to be an empathetic, caring person, you’re able to connect on a deeper, more emotional level with stakeholders. What’s more, the principles of personal branding, paired with the tools of digital branding, help you broadcast your humanity and the traits that make you unique:

1. Know yourself. Understand what makes you, you. Be willing to bring your unique value to work. The first step in successful personal branding is becoming self-aware.

2. Be Curious. Being interested in others is much more important than being interesting. Make it a point to get to know—really know—the people you work with. Know what’s important to them, along with their quirks and their dreams.

3. Be Generous. That means putting others first and showing you genuinely care. It’s about acknowledging others, expressing gratitude and making sure those around you know you appreciate them for the value they deliver.

4. Exhibit modesty. No one likes a braggart. Don’t tell people that you’re smartest person in the room; show them your value through your actions. Humility is an attractive brand attribute.

5. Encourage individuality. Help others drop the robot mindset. Give them permission—or a mandate—to integrate more of what makes them human into everything they do every day.

6. Resist conformity. At work, there are times when conformity makes sense. When you’re adding the company logo to your PowerPoint deck, for example, you can’t make it purple because it’s your favorite color if your company logo is green. But when it comes to the aspects of your job that involve other people, being a conformist will work against you. Instead, be willing to stand out. Avoid tired jargon. Speak with your own brand of clarity.

Ultimately, the most important message of personal branding is “Be yourself.” There’s only one of you, and the world of work would be missing an important ingredient if you weren’t willing to proudly share who you are. So be human. Those around you will appreciate it, and you’ll actually enjoy work more.

Source: Forbes

Women Chairs: The Time Is Now

By Helen Pitcher OBE, Chair of Advanced Boardroom Solutions

 

With more women as board chairs, business can better serve society.

Companies should benefit all their stakeholders. This is increasingly on the minds of regulators, activists, politicians, pension investors and individuals of this world. As Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, wrote in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, “society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues”.

If we want boards to deliver benefits for a wider stakeholder group – and stop focusing on short-term profits – we need to shift the dial on women becoming chair of these boards. Failing that, the corporate landscape won’t change.

While there are excellent male chairs, too many are products of the old boys’ network. These men pay scant attention to their increasing accountability towards stakeholders beyond their shareholders. In the United Kingdom, the days of the Financial Reporting Council (the watchdog for auditors, accountants and actuaries) are now numbered after it was embroiled in one controversy too many.

Why more women chairs is a game changer

McKinsey & Company has a long history of published reports that have established the business case for diversity. Organisations with greater gender diversity outperform others, typically have a healthier risk profile and make better investment decisions. All of this generates greater client and customer satisfaction.

Based on peer-reviewed research, surveys and anecdotal evidence, we now know what makes an effective board chair. Beyond the obvious group of traits including integrity, personal strength, courage and intelligence, the critical skills are:

  • an ability to influence others without dominating
  • an engaged vision of the future
  • strong emotional intelligence
  • coaching skills.

If we schematise the skills of an effective chairperson, it may look like this:

At the base of the pyramid lie the rules-based, measurable hard skills. While they are necessary, they can be taught and learnt.

At the top of the pyramid, we find the intuition-based soft skills that require a high emotional quotient (EQ). Those skills can only be developed through experience, practice and internal focus.

EQ & soft skills are more often associated with women than men. Though differences between ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits have little bearing on the attributes of individual men and women, research does not support the notion that men are somehow better suited to the chairperson role.

It should be clear that women are just as capable as men in directing and chairing our companies. Furthermore, they have as much right to succeed, and fail, as their male counterparts do. Our reservoir of chair talent is not so great that we can afford to ignore 50 percent of the potential candidates.

Time to accelerate the pace of change

As the leaders of our companies are called upon to strengthen their engagement with society and all stakeholders, we need to better understand and articulate what a chair role entails. The “job description” must move beyond the domineering CEO stereotype, with its descriptors of drive, ambition and ruthlessness.

The soft skills of facilitation, collaboration, listening, synthesising, defusing conflict and ensuring consensus are the hallmarks of a successful chair. At the other end of the spectrum, directive, overly assertive and antagonistic are the traits of an ineffective chair.

By acting as role models, women chairs can provide additional societal benefits. For instance, they can act as a driving force for empowerment and to promote the inclusion of a broader talent pool. In the UK, advocates of increased acceleration of women in chair roles are multiplying. They include existing female directors, the Women on Boards network, the International Women’s Forum (IWF), Men as Change Agents (MACA), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the 30% Club.

While the positive pressure for more diverse boards does show results, the action on women chairs is far behind. Too many active resistors – including old-style chairmen and nomination committees – continue to reinforce the false idea that chairs must have at least a decade of board work under their belt. Head hunters tend to say that female chairs are difficult to find, repeating a narrative they used before national targets were established for women on boards. The statistics show this is not true.

Stopping the erosion of trust in business

We need a strong push to free boards held hostage by reductionist thinking. According to research by INSEAD Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, only 20 percent of boards in the UK will be women-led by 2027. This is not enough. It is time to take action to accelerate the acquisition of more female chairs, right across the public and private corporate environment.

In the UK, the new Combined Code with its cap of nine years of service on a single board will create more churn. Investment companies must start asking mediocre chairmen to step down. Women need a greater number of enthusiastic sponsors and more board-level development. I challenge more female directors to aim for the top role.

Having more women chairs will help rebuild the trust in our corporate environment and foster businesses that deliver performance mixed with social and environmental benefits. It may just be the key to a new era of sustainable long-term profit.

Helen Pitcher OBE (IDP-C) is the chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, which works with board effectiveness, board evaluation reviews and coaching chairs, CEOs and NEDs. She is a graduate of INSEAD’s International Director’s Programme.

Source: INSEAD

Will You End Up as Digital Roadkill?

by Caroline Rook, Lecturer at Henley Business School, and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change |

Most of us are so digitally connected that we have become utterly disconnected.

Michelle, the COO of a multinational corporation, was one of the most respected executives in her industry. A true workhorse, she was famous for her ability to multitask and constant online presence. While her staff admired the way she worked, they felt pressured to do the same. Recently, several of them were signed off from work, citing burnout, and two others had handed in their resignation.

During a session with her executive coach, Michelle described how she exercised every day before going to the office and used that time to discuss work with colleagues over the phone. Similarly, she optimised every minute of her travel time in her car or on planes. Any spare time was devoted to maintaining a strong presence on LinkedIn and other social media. She took pride in replying to all the messages and comments she received.

Michelle wondered whether this busyness had begun to hurt her ability to concentrate and think for the long term. She found it hard to sleep at night and had a creeping sense of feeling overwhelmed. She believed this caused her to make more mistakes and be less productive than usual. “Could mindfulness training be of help?”, she asked.

The heavy toll of tech-enabled productivity

Given Michelle’s work habits, what is happening to her and her team should come as no surprise. They suffer from technostress, the inability to cope with the digital world in a healthy manner. Digital technology was supposed to make us more productive – and it has to some extent – but those benefits have not come without costs.

The combined pressure of constant virtual presence and continuous information bombardment have had negative consequences on our health. Aside from creating potential work overload, technostress has paved the way to anxiety, feelings of frustration, job dissatisfaction, poor job performance, absenteeism and retention problems. Burnout and mental health problems, including digital addiction, always lurk in the shadows.

When RescueTime (a time management software company) ran a survey on the use of digital technology in the workplace, only 10 percent of respondents said they felt in control of how they spend their days. Data from more than 50,000 RescueTime users showed that people have only 1 hour and 12 minutes a day when they aren’t using communication tools or being distracted by them. The survey also found that 70 percent of employees keep their inbox open all day and only 20 percent have a deliberate strategy for dealing with their e-mails.

The tricks our brains play on us

Why are we obsessed with being constantly connected? Why do we find it so hard to resist the beeps and alerts of incoming messages and notifications? Obvious explanations include the fear of missing out, the need to feel (or be perceived as) productive, procrastination and the compulsion to feel connected in an increasingly virtual world. The latter is especially true for senior executives who often suffer from the loneliness of command.

Underlying these motivations are deeper biochemical and psychological forces which bear a strong resemblance to those seen in gambling addiction. Just like compulsive gamblers who live for the thrill of the occasional win, we feel compelled to constantly check our inbox as it may contain a message we are eagerly awaiting or some other “nice surprise”. In both cases, random rewards stimulate the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that motivates us to repeat the triggering behaviour.

In the corporate world, there is a growing awareness that people must disconnect in order to carve out time for reflection. This shift is great news, but we must guard against quick-fix solutions. For example, a high performer like Michelle cannot work manically and then expect a few mindfulness sessions to save her from impending burnout.

Learning to self-manage

The challenge for people like Michelle is to learn how to keep technostress at bay. This requires self-control. Leaders must create environments that satisfy the human need for connection while also enabling their people to disconnect at times. It is about recapturing what was once a sacred space – the one reserved for reflection and creative thinking.

To free themselves and their staff from the prison of technostress, executives must define clear boundaries for how and when to use digital communication tools. This could include guidelines about appropriate response time to different types of contact. Some suggestions are:

  • As a rule, e-mails should not require an immediate response. Truly urgent issues should be resolved through a phone call.
  • Staff should refrain from accessing e-mail outside of working hours or whilst on holidays.
  • People should not stay in the office outside normal hours unless absolutely necessary. The same applies to virtual meetings out of hours.

Another measure to combat technostress consists of a brief, automated e-mail response indicating that the message has been received but will only be addressed within a particular time frame (e.g. at a specific hour in the morning and in the afternoon).

There is a difference between a lightning-fast response and one that really adds value.  In this context, it is also worthwhile to clarify that nobody in the office is expected to know everything.

Working smart

It is up to leaders to promote a “work-smart” mindset that advocates taking breaks for reflection. Even when it seems that we are not doing anything, our brains are often working on important issues surreptitiously.

Considering this reality, is your commute really the time to check messages or call team members and clients? Or should it be ‘news’ time, a space to disconnect from work while staying abreast of political and economic developments? Could you use this time to read some fiction or just look out the window and enjoy the scenery?

If you can’t block time alone for reflection when you’re in the office, why not step outside to get some fresh air and have a stroll? A short nap can also be very helpful, as it is a proven way to restore our alertness, memory and decision-making ability.

There are many ways to disconnect from the virtual world to create the headspace needed to engage in truly important activities, such as rethinking corporate strategy or creating a vision for the future. These moments of deliberate disconnect are a countervailing force against dopamine-driven, compulsive behaviours.

Executives should do everything in their power to avoid becoming digital roadkill. They would do well to realise that the more digitally connected they are, the more they disconnect from their fellow human beings. Although communication tools have their uses, face-to-face interactions have the most potential for meaningful and durable impact.

Source: INSEAD

The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women

by Linda Brimm

To tap the full potential of these agents for change, organisations must listen and push beyond assumptions.

Carolyn was thrilled when she was offered a role in China. A high flyer in her Dutch organisation and fluent in Mandarin, she believed this was the perfect opportunity to get the international experience that she wanted. However, her boss suggested that it would be difficult for a woman to lead a team for this particular project in China. While his intentions might have been good, his comments left her feeling vulnerable to concerns about gender bias and her ability to handle it.

She knew that the decisions she would have to make in an unfamiliar context would be scrutinised. Carolyn could run into difficulties related to language. While these factors risked eroding some of her self-confidence, she was determined to enter this complex negotiation and decision-making arena. Due to her gender and culture, Carolyn was used to standing out and knew how to benefit from different perspectives. She would probably need to be much better than the men who had previously held the same position to be appreciated. Continue reading