Category: Management and Leadership

Success isn't comfortable: Lessons in leadership from the Human Capital Institute

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 23 days ago

confused executive

There is value in discomfort--business value. If you happened to attend the Human Capital Institute's Learning and Leadership Development Conference held in Boston last month (MIT Sloan Executive Education was a sponsor), you heard more than one session speaker tout the benefits of being squarely outside of one's comfort zone. According to speakers like MIT's own Hal Gregersen, who presented a keynote speech at the conference, business leaders need to get uncomfortable to be successful.

Three ways discomfort drives success

We generally think of people who enjoy uncomfortable situations as thrill seekers--or masochists. Most people don't take pleasure in being nervous, humbled, or overly challenged. We are conditioned to appear as confident and competent in front of our peers as humanly possible. And we avoid tasks that are out of our wheelhouse because, frankly, we don’t want to screw up. However, in the context of leadership development and business success, staying comfortable is actually a dangerous game. And, most importantly, a missed opportunity.

Here are three takeaways from the recent HCI conference that remind us of the value in discomfort.

Executives who learn to stretch their comfort levels and ask tough questions make better leaders and innovators.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan Executive Education, says it's all too easy for senior leaders to isolate themselves in a "good news cocoon" where everyone says things are fine and no one challenges your ideas or asks tough questions. It's comfy, and it's dangerous. Powerful organizational and industrial forces can keep any senior leader from asking (or hearing) uncomfortable questions, creating a perilous, answer-centric environment rife with blind spots. They lose sight of the big picture of how things really are, ultimately missing opportunities for innovation and increasing the risk of disruption.

"Executives who ask and invite probing questions are much better equipped to manage threats and spot opportunities," said Gregersen in his keynote speech, The Leader's Dilemma: Asking Tough Questions (Before Someone Else Does). Having interviewed hundreds of the world's most innovative CEOs as part of his ongoing leadership research, he finds that those who seek out uncomfortable, risky, and challenging situations in search of a line of inquiry have greater success at leading innovative products and process. By becoming better questioners, leaders unlock new solutions, innovations, and processes, ultimately creating greater business value.

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What's your company's rallying cry?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 3 days ago

get your executive team in synch, like the the U.S. women’s eight

Rowing is, perhaps, the ultimate team sport. Regardless of the number of oarsmen/oarswomen or the size of the boat, the way to win is to row together as a team. A team of weaker individuals rowing as a team will beat out a team of stronger athletes rowing out of synch. Without that commitment to work together, the boat has no "swing."

The world recently saw how a committed rowing team can achieve the nearly unthinkable: the U.S. women's eight, in capturing the Gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, won their 11th straight world and Olympic title. As Time pointed out, "The Cold War-era Soviet Union hockey team won 14 straight world titles from 1963-1976. No other national team run, really, is comparable."

What makes it even more remarkable is that unlike a sports dynasty that may lose one or two key players a year due to trades or retirement, rowing might only keep one or two team members from year to year. This year's US women's team in Rio consisted of two members who rowed and won the Gold medal at the London Olympics, and seven Olympic rookies. (An "eight" consists of eight oarswomen and one coxswain). When other crews threatened to pull away and win the Olympic gold medal in Rio last week, coxswain Katelin Snyder began her rallying cry: "This is the U.S. women’s eight." That simple phrase, chosen at the most critical moment in the push for gold (the boat was in third at the time), may not sound like much to us, but the women were charged by it. She was reminding her team that a legend was on the course. They were there to capture the gold, and their 11th championship.

The team that rows together, wins together

It takes hundreds of hours of training to row in synch, as a team, and experience the elusive swing of a boat. Somedays, practice can feel like eight individuals rowing one clunky boat. The others are magic. Organizations, in their pursuit of business success, can take insipiration from these Olympic efforts. After all, aren't all companies striving to cultivate a winning team that out performs the rest of the field, despite turnover or inherent weaknesses?

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A leadership skill you can't afford not to perfect

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 19 days ago

Quick. Name the top three leadership skills that define a good executive. If you didn’t mention negotiation, you’re missing a big one. Knowing how to negotiate is not only one of the most important leadership skills, it’s also one of the most empowering, according to MIT Sloan Professor Jared Curhan.


As executives and leaders, we are called upon to negotiate every day. Sometimes a negotiation is necessary to resolve a critical issue like hiring or firing a team member. Other times, it might be as mundane as deciding who will make the coffee run. Regardless of the scope of the negotiation, knowing how to negotiate is a core leadership skill and one that executives can benefit from honing. Professor Curhan says negotiation is “how we achieve things in the world. Negotiation is a potentially powerful and transformative tool. It’s something all of us do all of the time. And for many, it’s a source of control.”

What defines a successful negotiation experience?

Although we negotiate often, it might not be something we enjoy. In fact, for many people negotiating is difficult and uncomfortable. Professor Curhan explains there are several behaviors that can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful negotiation. One of the first steps in any negotiation process is to ask the right questions. Curhan says the most important question is “What don’t I know?” or, what is it that I am most worried the other person will ask? Preparing answers to these kinds of questions is a good place to start. Furthermore, Professor Curhan says the preparation for a negotiation “is 90% of the determinant of whether you will be successful in the negotiation.”

Next, says Professor Curhan, it’s important to find some common ground from which you can both begin. If there are areas where you and the other person are in agreement, you’ll be starting from a positive position and also conveying a cooperative attitude. Balance is key. “The challenge is to balance the tension between empathy and assertiveness … there are certain things you want to accomplish, but you also want to maintain the relationship.”

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Could a scandal like Volkswagen's happen to your organization?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 10 days ago


Just over seven months ago, MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer wrote in the Huffington Post about one of the top headline-grabbing stories: Volkswagen's diesel deception scandal. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, the scandal shows no signs of going away any time soon. It was only recently that a federal court in San Francisco announced a settlement where Volkswagon would fix or buy back nearly 500,000 diesel cars in the U.S.

There are still more components to settling the issue. According to the New York Times, "Lawyers in the case are still negotiating the fines that Volkswagen must pay, as well as the compensation that owners will receive." The same article cites Kelley Blue Book as estimating the "cost of buying back all the cars in the U.S. at $7 billion." Then, of course, Volkswagen has to address the same diesel emissions issue in Europe.

One might wonder how a highly respected automobile manufacturer and global brand could intentionally deceive its customers and the public to this extent. According to Scharmer, "The VW disaster is a leadership failure of epic proportion. It's connected to a leadership style and culture that, until now, was the source of incredible pride and success." As Scharmer points out in his Huffington Post article, that culture "prevented leaders from reading and recognizing information that, in a culture of fear and control, no one ever wants to communicate upwards--thereby preventing the company from learning as a system."

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Productivity tips that keep us efficient and productive every day

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 12 days ago


Often it's the small tasks that wreak havoc in an already overscheduled day at the office. How can we, as business professionals with never enough time to complete the tasks at hand, better utilize the time we have to get things done?

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and productivity management guru Robert Pozen says there are some simple things we can do every day to make ourselves more productive and make our work day more efficient. In his short course, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive, he identifies culprits of an unproductive day, some of which may come as a surprise and others all too familiar.

  • As a manager, one of the best ways to make good use of your time is to delegate the tasks that can be completed by your direct reports. As an executive, it's important to focus on the tasks that you do well--usually the "bigger picture," more strategic items. Learn to delegate the rest.
  • Most executives have annual goals they are working towards. Focusing on long-term goals and connecting them to your daily schedule is an efficient way to reach those goals. Breaking them down into smaller, more reachable goals that can be tackled every day helps.
  • We all know email can be the stealth time killer. How often has each of us intended to check our email for just a few minutes and discovered we are still at it 45 minutes later?
  • By all means, take care of email, but don't get overruled by it. Pozen uses the 80/20 and the OHIO rules. Respond to only 20 percent of all of our emails. Deal with those immediately and forget the rest. In addition, only open each email once--the old “Only Handle it Once (OHIO) rule.

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A personal story of accomplishment: Jackie Caniza

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 5 months and 5 days ago

By Colleen Berger, Program Director, MIT Sloan Executive Education

Jackie Caniza MIT Sloan ACE

As a Program Director at MIT Sloan Executive Education, I have the good fortune of meeting many interesting, successful people from a variety of industries. I truly enjoy getting to know our participants and hearing their stories, and I would like to share a recent one with you.
Jackie Caniza is a Success Coach and HR Consultant at Business Hat, Inc. in the Philippines. After a 15-year career in corporate HR roles, she took a calculated risk and decided to start her own consulting business. Realizing she needed two separate educational tracks in order to succeed, she pursued her coaching certification while simultaneously evaluating executive education programs that would teach her the necessary business skills for starting and sustaining a business.

Jackie's father, a steadfast proponent of engineering and technology, had always aspired to spend time at MIT and suggested Jackie consider a program at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Given the considerable costs associated with starting a new business, Jackie was skeptical about being able to take on an additional commitment. But her father persisted, even offering to split the cost with her because he felt so strongly about the opportunity and the results it would produce.

In the fall of 2012, Jackie enrolled in four MIT Sloan Executive Education programs and earned an Executive Certificate in Management and Leadership. She was thrilled with her experience and the value of the education which could be immediately applied to her new business. End of story ... or so she thought.

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The Greater Boston Executive Program is back!

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 8 months and 11 days ago

After a brief hiatus, the Greater Boston Executive Program (GBEP) is back. Now in the hands of MIT Sloan Executive Education, this popular course was developed almost six decades ago by a partnership formed among MIT and various companies in the Greater Boston area. The program remains supported and guided by a Board of Governors made up of representatives from several Boston based firms, including the Federal Reserve Bank and Raytheon BBN Technologies.

The original goal was to create a management development program for mid-level managers who wanted to move into executive leadership roles. These forward-thinking companies recognized that fostering continuing education in management principles was essential for those who wanted to move up in their firms. Although many of the initial organizations were already participating in in-house management programs, they found there was something missing: a supplementary program that would expose participants to current thinking in management philosophy without taking them away from their respective workplaces for long periods. With the help of MIT's Howard W. Johnson, then President of MIT, the GBEP was established and held its first course in the spring of 1958. 

While the current program has its roots in the original one, it has been shortened, refreshed, and relaunched as part of the MIT Sloan Executive Education portfolio. Today, as before, the program offers the benefits of seminar discussions among participants--representatives from companies based in Greater Boston--while providing managers with current, research-based frameworks for understanding and improving leadership capabilities, the implementation of organization changes, and the management of human resources. 

According to MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen, who is Faculty Director of GBEP and one of three faculty members who teach in it, the program's frameworks and modules are complemented by the small class size and close student-faculty interaction, as well as the diversity of topics and participant backgrounds.

"I know of no other open enrollment executive course that fosters the amount of mutual learning over an extended period of time as the Greater Boston program," says Van Maanen. "The local character ensures relevance and uniqueness across a variety of companies and industries."

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Embodied leadership: Is neuroscience the next frontier in management?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 8 months and 10 days ago

Contributed by Peter Hirst, Associate Dean, MIT Sloan Executive Education


There has been much excitement in the media lately about how breakthroughs in neuroscience can be applied to improve our daily lives. From brain-boosting juices and snacks, to game apps designed to keep our brains agile, to marketing techniques promising more effective selling--neuroscience has captured public imagination.

While it's important to separate the hype from actual science, the fact that advances in brain-imaging technology have finally given researchers the tools to see with greater accuracy what's going on in our brains is full of promise. Long-held beliefs about how the brain works are now turning out to be if not exactly untrue, then at least up for debate. It's understandable that people are excited by the potential implications of these new possibilities. 

Applying Neuroscience Insights to Leadership Education

As Associate Dean of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management, a big part of my job is to champion scientific knowledge as it applies to management and leadership education. So, needless to say, I was quite excited to learn what brain-based insights can teach business leaders.

My first glimpse of the tremendous potential that advances in neuroscience can bring to business leadership happened at the UNICON 2013 conference--a meeting of executive education providers from the world's leading business schools. It was there that I met Dr. Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and executive leadership coach who gave a compelling presentation on how brain science can be applied in management and leadership education.

Her presentation posed a number of thought-provoking questions. How can our understanding of the agility and diversity of thinking affect our leadership effectiveness? Is it actually possible to create a whole new mindset and to disrupt deeply embedded leadership patterns? Can we truly overcome what Harvard Graduate School of Education professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey call our "immunity to change"? Can leaders truly be transformed and, in turn, transform their organizations? I was so impressed by what I saw that I immediately started thinking of ways to bring her knowledge to MIT Sloan

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