MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Management and Leadership

At the CHRO Summit, Hal Gregersen made people uncomfortable, and that's a good thing

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 days ago

Hal Gregersen at CHRO Summit

MIT Sloan's Hal Gregersen gave the morning keynote at the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) Summit in Boston on June 7. "Banish Your Blindspots by Asking the Right Questions" was the theme of his talk, and he asked attendees to examine not what they knew, but what they didn’t know. "What are the uncomfortable questions in your work and life that you are not asking yourself or others?" he asked.

Gregersen is the Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas.

His best-selling book, The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, flows from a path-breaking international research project (with Jeff Dyer & Clayton Christensen). They explored where disruptive innovations come from by interviewing founder entrepreneurs and CEOs at 200+ of the most innovative companies in the world.

You don't know what you don't know

Walt Bettinger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charles Schwab, said during his interview with Gregersen, "When you reach the upper echelons of management, people start telling you what they think you want to hear and are too afraid to tell you what you really need to know."

Of his 200+ interviews, Gregersen found this sentiment to be a common theme: many leaders reported that they found themselves precariously protected from "bad news" within their own companies. A "dangerous disconnect," Pixar Founder Ed Catmull called it. Being in this "isolated tower" prevented these leaders from getting a true sense of corporate performance, innovation, culture, morale, outcomes, and other critically important information.

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Industry leaders share wisdom on leading, innovating, and disrupting

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 19 days ago

Ray Wang speaking at MIT

What defines the path to success in today's business world? From lessons about embracing failure and passion to the importance of mentorship, top executives share their views on success and more as part of the Innovative Leadership (iLead) Series, presented by the MIT Leadership Center and MIT Sloan. The iLead Series was developed to give a platform to a diverse set of thought leaders in problem-focused leadership. The series celebrates innovators who make a difference by finding solutions to tough, edgy problems in a complex, fast-moving world.

The following talks from the 2016 and 2017 iLead Series can be viewed on the iLead website and on the MIT Leadership Center's YouTube channel.

Embracing digitization and mentors: When John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., was recovering from tumultuous times at his company in 2011, he looked for a mentor and found former General Electric Company chief Jack Welch, who told him that those tough times could be the best years of leadership. Today, he is an enthusiastic supporter of digitization, cautioning that the U.S. is the only major country without a strong digitization plan and is at risk of losing its economic power. "Either you disrupt or you get left behind. There’s no entitlement just because we led before." Watch the video.

Learning from failure: Andy Plump, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A. Inc., says whether you lead or follow it helps to embrace failure, and that partnerships with outside companies will make it easier to fail fruitfully. He calls it "honorable failure" and adds, "When we have a failure now, we bring it to a public setting and we learn from it." Watch the video.

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What makes MIT Sloan's Advanced Management Program different? Ask Joe Hartz.

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 26 days ago

If you're a senior executive seeking improved performance and confidence at managing organizations, then you may be exploring advanced management programs (AMPs). Why select MIT?

In 2016, Joe Hartz, then COO (now CEO) of UGI Energy Services, asked himself the same question. In pursuit of an exceptional advanced management program that would meet his needs and fit his schedule, he narrowed his choices to Columbia, Wharton, and MIT. "I felt that MIT was the most comprehensive offering in the time period that fit my schedule best," says Hartz.

Hartz was part of a succession plan for his company and preparing for the role of CEO at the time he began his AMP search. His executive management team thought it would be good for him to spend a few weeks away from the office to think about new trends in businesses and get an up-to-date, holistic, executive learning experience.

Smaller class size leads to big payoffs

When Hartz arrived at MIT, he realized that while several other participants were in similar transitions, each member of the cohort was unique, and that the class size was small and highly selective. "We were 20 extremely different people," said Hartz. "There were only a couple of Americans in the class. I met folks from different parts of the world, from different businesses and roles--it was a very diverse and talented group. That setting was an incredible experience for me."

The selective cohort of international participants is a differentiating factor for MIT Sloan's Advanced Management Program. Each year, AMP is limited to 35 participants and is often smaller, as it was for Hartz's 2016 program. This smaller size promotes interaction between faculty and participants and enables great collaboration and rapport to develop over the span of the month-long program. "Our conversations--both in the classroom and over beers after class--were extremely thought provoking." Says Hartz.

Seasoned executives hail from around the world, with the majority traveling from Europe, Asia, and South America. Also due in part to the small size of the group, participants develop meaningful friendships--and even successful business partnerships--with their global peers.

"On the weekends during the program, we stuck together. We went sailing, we took the catamaran to Cape Cod one Sunday. We had some long walks around Boston, and we did the museum tours," said Hartz.

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What makes a high-performing team? The answer may surprise you.

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 6 days ago

More women make teams smarter according to MIT's Thomas Malone

What sets high-performing teams apart? Strong leadership? Skilled team members? Shared goals? Maybe. But what if we told you that one of the key drivers of team performance was how many women were on the team?

Numerous studies continue to show the value that gender diversity has proven in boosting productivity and the bottom line within all levels of a company, from entry level to the boardroom, as well as the critical role women play in enhancing the collective intelligence of groups--as demonstrated by the research of MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone.

Malone, who is the head of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, says that when it comes to team performance, the more women the better. Research by Malone and his colleagues, Anita Woolley and Christopher Chabris, shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group. And in fact, the more women, the better.

"In our study, if there were more women in the group, the group performed better," says Malone. In their New York Times article, "Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others," Malone and his colleagues wrote of their study, "Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not 'diversity' (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at 'mindreading' than men."

By "mindreading," Malone is refering to the skill of social perception. Social perceptiveness is a kind of social intelligence; it's the ability to discern what someone is thinking through some means of human observation, especially if they are good at reading emotions from other people's eyes. Malone's research suggests that the performance of teams (and companies) can be dramatically improved when members can improve upon this skill, regardless of the industry.

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Three perspectives on organizational change: more answers from MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 11 days ago

John Van Maanen

Over 3,500 registrants signed up for our most recent webinar, Three Perspectives on Organizational Change. During the event, MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen discussed innovative approaches to change management and delved into three different perspectives embraced by most organizations: strategic, political, and cultural. In this post, Professor Van Maanen responds to some questions from webinar attendees that were not addressed during the live event.


With the rapid pace of technological advancement, as well as increasing globalization with its accompanying challenges, which lens is the most undervalued or most challenging to get right? Which lenses most commonly contribute to failures for organizations to execute well on change management strategies?

The cultural lens is the most difficult to "get right" in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.

Can organizations survive if there are competing perspectives between workgroups? E.g., if one department is politically powerful and another is strategically powerful, is it best to lean towards one or the other method?

To some extent this on-going battle for power and control of strategic moves is built into organizational life. It contributes motivation, ambition, innovation, and drama, and works at the individual and group levels. One fights for what one thinks is best for the organization (strategy) and marshals all the evidence one can collect in its support. The loyal opposition does the same. If power--the ability to get things done--is not so imbalanced, things generally work out and adjustments can be made. Tinkering is continual.

Over time, culture usually helps select which groups have power, and those groups select strategic designs that support their position. When the lack of fit with the environment is apparent to all (falling revenues, unmet goals, customer abandonment, etc.), a change movement (from outside or inside or both) typically forms to shift the power balance. If successful, strategic design changes usually follow in its wake. To cling to one lens or the other is a recipe for failure.

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Calling all Boston-area professionals: The Greater Boston Executive Program

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 months and 6 days ago

If you're a Boston-area professional seeking to make a big impact on your organization and your career, here is your chance. This spring, MIT Sloan Executive Education offers an eight-week intensive program designed for high-potential professionals interested in enhancing their management skills, leadership capabilities, and ability to manifest change.

The popular Greater Boston Executive Program (GBEP) was developed nearly six decades ago in response to the unique management development needs of Boston-area companies. These firms recognized that continuing education in management principles was essential for developing managers who could assume additional responsibilities in their organizations. They wanted to expose their people to current thinking in management philosophy--without taking them away from work for long periods.

With the help of MIT's then president Howard W. Johnson, the sponsoring Greater Boston companies set up the first session of the Greater Boston Executive Program in Business Management in the spring of 1958. From the beginning, participating companies have contributed to the success of the program by their selection of managers, vice presidents, assistant treasurers, controllers, and senior research personnel to attend.

After a one-year hiatus in 2015, the Greater Boston Executive Program was updated and relaunched as part of the MIT Sloan Executive Education portfolio.

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Sleeping your way to the top

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 6 months and 26 days ago

Contributed by Tara Swart, MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer, neuroscientist, and executive leadership coach.

What makes a good leader?

Senior executives, managers, and business leaders are paid to use their brains. So it is surprising how little emphasis many put on this vital organ.

In a fast-paced world that is constantly changing, the brain's executive functions, such as creative and flexible thinking, task-switching, bias suppression, and emotional regulation, are becoming increasingly important. But our ability to perform well at these outputs will be enhanced only if fed the right inputs. These include nourishing, hydrating, and oxygenating the brain appropriately, simplifying tasks to give the brain mindful time, and resting it.

That final element—rest—is one of the most crucial. We often hear stories about famous leaders such as Margaret Thatcher surviving and even thriving on very little sleep (Thatcher did suffer from dementia in her later life). It is true that an extremely limited number of people (1-2% of the population) have a genetic mutation that reduces the amount of sleep they truly require for optimal functioning to 4-5 hours a night. But for the rest of us, getting seven to nine hours of good, quality sleep every night is vital for staying on top of our game.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep deprivation will negatively impact your cognitive performance. Getting less sleep than the recommended amount can cause an apparent IQ loss of five to eight points the next day, and population norm studies have shown that losing an entire night’s sleep can lead to up to one standard deviation loss on your IQ. In other words, you're effectively operating with the equivalent of a learning disability.

Shorting your sleep can have longer-term effects as well. Our glymphatic system requires 7-8 hours to clean our brains, a process which flushes out protein plaques and beta amyloid tangles that can lead to dementing diseases if allowed to accumulate. Not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep (which includes sleeping after drinking alcohol) inhibits this process and can therefore increase the risk of developing these types of disease.

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Leading in a world of uncertainty

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 7 months and 24 days ago

Leadership skills for an uncertain world

Digitization, globalization, political turmoil—most executives today feel like they are leading in a world of uncertainty. The imminent threat that does (or should) keep leaders awake at night is disruption. Uber, Airbnb, and before them, Amazon, all disrupted their industries. Who will be disrupting your industry next? How should you lead amidst all this uncertainty? How do you compete—and win—in a world where change is constant?

Deborah Ancona, Professor of Organization Studies at MIT Sloan, discussed this topic in a recent webinar, "Leading in a World of Uncertainty." Ancona covered several skills leaders should be adopting, one of which is referred to as sense-making. As Ancona previously told Forbes, sens-making is to "make sense of the context in which an organization or a team is operating ... how can we map what is going on out there so we can act in this environment that is changing."

One great example of sensemaking, according to Ancona, is a product development team at Bose. They were working on new technology and recognized the market trend towards smaller speakers. However, this trend was counter to Bose's corporate mentality that smaller products did not have the ability to project the audio quality for which Bose is known. But, through sense-making, the team was able to prove there would be market demand for the product. Yes, they had to fight for their cause, and push against an entrenched corporate philosophy, but in the end, they secured the resources to develop a mini speaker. And that mini speaker is now a best-selling product.

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