To see the future more clearly, find your blind spots

by Eric J. McNulty

After being bombarded with disruption in 2020, executives can better prepare for the next crisis by considering new perspectives.

It was the year we saw it all. And 2020 was also the year we didn’t see it all coming. Wildfires. Floods. So many storms in the Atlantic that meteorologists had to resort to the Greek alphabet to name them. Global protests over racial and economic inequality. And, of course, the pandemic.

What is surprising is that we were surprised. In a recent PwC study, 69 percent of responding organizations had experienced a crisis in the past five years and 95 percent expected to face one. We all watched Australia aflame in the months before the pandemic. California, too. It was only three years ago that multiple storms rattled the Gulf Coast in the United States in rapid succession. And climate watchers had been predicting that there will be more of these severe weather events in the future.

And the pandemic? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, H1N1 influenza in 2009–10, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first reported in 2012, and the Ebola outbreak in 2014–16 foreshadowed that a deadly, global, infectious disease outbreak was overdue. I warned about MERS, and public health risks in general, in this publication in 2013. It was not the most shared article of that year. Not by a long shot.

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How Companies Will Stand Out Post-Pandemic

by Ulrik Juul Christensen

(Hint: It’s Not AI.)

In a post-pandemic world, companies undoubtedly will turn increasingly to advanced technologies — artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and automation — to accelerate growth and improve profit margins. Such an arms race, however, will not be sustainable as even the latest technology will eventually become commoditized. Instead, the true point of differentiation will be well-educated human capital deployed dynamically to tackle challenges so complex that AI and automation will come up short.

To be clear, technology will be the foundation of digital transformation. As two experts from the World Bank wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Increases in efficiency brought about by digital technology can help businesses expand. Digital platforms can create entirely new occupations and jobs.”  Yet that opportunity will not be realized unless people are well-educated, not only when it comes to job-specific technical competencies, but also in 21st century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, as well as character traits of leadership, ethics, citizenship, and grit.

Based on conversations I’m having with business leaders across multiple industries, and even what I see in our own company, I believe the key to future success — through this decade and beyond — lies in learning engineering. Essentially, that means offering the right learning opportunities to build relevant skills and ensuring that people take advantage of learning and development (L&D). As a chief learning officer (CLO) told me recently, “The pandemic has exposed the fact that L&D is not a ‘nice to have’; it is a ‘need to have.’”

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5 tips for leading IT remotely

By Bob Violino

With WFH and hybrid workplace strategies stretching into 2021, IT leaders must settle in to new work habits to ensure success in leading IT from afar.

Many people have had to adapt to working from home and other remote locations — at least part of the time — in the hybrid workplace that’s emerging because of the pandemic. That includes CIOs and other IT executives.

Whether executives are working remotely for one or more days per week or full time, leading IT has change significantly — and perhaps permanently.

The new working model affects many facets of management, including developing IT strategies, maintaining culture, driving change, and collaborating with business colleagues. The situation presents challenges, but it also offers growth opportunities for technology leaders.

Here are some suggestions from home-working IT leaders on how to make the most of the new environment.

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How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted — and You Are, Too

by Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg

Summary.   

As we head into the second wave of Covid-19, you and your team may be feeling foggy, cranky, and fatigued. The adrenaline of the first wave is over and, while good news about a vaccine is on the horizon, getting through the winter may be the toughest leadership challenge of all. What should you do when assurances that “we’re all in it together” are met with skepticism and annoyance, and when you’d rather snuggle up in bed instead of strategize for the future? Leaders should focus on three areas: understanding the difference between urgency and importance, and focus on the latter; be compassionate while also driving your employees to action by channeling their feelings of defiance, anger, and frustration. Finally, change things up every single day with a focus on energizing your team.

“What happened to my resolve?” a leader remarked in the middle of a session.

We were discussing how he and his team were navigating the second wave of the pandemic and responding to the breaking news that a vaccine might be on the horizon. On the surface, everything was fine: The business was thriving and his company was in a good position.

Still, that remark captured his true concern: On a personal level he was experiencing a loss of agency, determination, and energy. The “steady hand” approach and rapid action mindset that had characterized his leadership during the first wave were becoming fuzzy, less ingenious, and much more volatile.

As we dug through the layers of the organization, it turned out that the feeling was widespread among other leaders and managers. Stress incidents were on the rise, people’s emotional reactions were becoming more polarized, and there were more team defections.

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12 Leadership Lessons from DocuSign CEO Dan Springer

by Jason Nazar

In Comparably’s ongoing series in partnership with Entrepreneur, If I Knew Then: , I host virtual fireside chats with high-profile CEOs of major brands from, Nextdoor and Blue Apron, to Waze and Warby Parker. As the host, I ask talented leaders to share some of the valuable lessons and practical career advice they learned during their career trajectory. These rare, candid insights into the lives of remarkable catalysts for success in the business world are accessible as a resource of inspiration for current and future entrepreneurs and are not to be missed. When CEOs get transparent, you can’t help but lean in.

For the latest episode, I sat down with Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign, who leads thousands of employees globally, allowing DocuSign to modernize organizations by making every agreement 100 percent digital. Driving and growth in technology and the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry exemplifies Springer’s executive leadership and experience for the past 25 years. Prior to DocuSign, the Harvard MBA graduate served as chairman and CEO at Responsys for a decade, where he revolutionized and grew the business from a private startup to a leading cross-channel global marketing automation platform — resulting in Oracle’s $1.6 billion purchase of Responsys in 2013.

As a veteran of , Springer holds honors as both the Bay Area’s Most Admired CEO and Best CEO. He is also a 2020 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award, sharing this accolade alongside top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, for his leadership on social change during these trying times. , , Bono, and the late Representative John Lewis have also received this award, catapulting Springer into the company of greatness.

Among other topics, this conversation covers Springer’s origin story — from “winning the ovarian lottery” to attending the famous Lakeside High School with alumni such as Bill Gates and Paul Allen — laying the foundation for his early life before becoming a serial entrepreneur. Here are the 12 essential takeaways from our chat:

1. Successful business leaders don’t all come from the same mold 

Everyone has a different background and path in life; use that to propel you forward. Springer shares that he grew up with a single mom in an affluent suburb, which might have given him a chip on his shoulder in the early part of his career at McKinsey. However, he turned that initial insecurity into something positive by excelling and overachieving. Continue reading