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Restoring the Soul of Business

Restoring the Soul of Business

DATA without soul is harmful. Science, math, and data do not excuse us from thinking. Instead, they make it imperative that we learn to think more critically and combine it with our humanness to come to more measured conclusions. The story we create with the data makes all the difference.

Rishad Tobaccowala is the chief growth officer at Publicis Group, a global advertising and communications firm. Flush with data, we risk losing something more valuable: what’s human.

Rishad writes in Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, that we can have too much math and too little meaning. “Successful individuals and firms can never forget the importance of people, their emotions, the culture of the organization, and what cannot be measured. Successful people and companies combine the story and the spreadsheet, and by doing so, restore the soul of business.” It’s a balance.

The 6-I Approach

Extracting meaning and accurate insights from data is made better by implementing what Rishad calls the 6-I Approach.

Interpret the Data

Not all data is alike. “Develop hypotheses, search for patterns, look for outliers, create alternative scenarios to explain the information you’re receiving. Through interpretation you can enrich the data with meaning; you can identify the story it’s telling.”

Involve Diverse People

“Expand the group that examines the data. When you involve people with various skills and perspectives, you’re likely to receive a richer interpretation.”

Interconnect to Larger Trends and Events

How does the data relate to what you’re doing or to an emerging trend or a competitor’s product launch? “Making these types of connections helps you take the data one step further, determining if it’s going to have a short-term or long-term impact, if it’s suggesting the end of a trend or the beginning of a new one.” Give it context.

Imagine and Inspire Solutions

What possibilities does the data ignite? “Rather than allowing the data to limit options and actions, explore the solutions it might inspire. If the numbers show that your product category isn’t doing as well as it once did in Market Z, is there an emerging opportunity because the market still has potential and competition will be reduced because of this data?”


“Data can spawn new and better data. Is there a test you might run based on the information you’ve gathered that can produce more insightful facts and figures?” Ask new questions of the data.

Investigate People’s Experiences

“In a given organization, you have hundreds or thousands of people with data-relevant insights because in the past—whether while part of your organization or with a previous employer—they experienced something applicable to the current information.” Sometimes new data is just an old story on a new context.

Seven Keys to Staying Human

Each of these sections is full of practices to help integrate them into our organizations—to make them more human.

Talk About the Inconvenient (Tough) Truths

Three of the most valuable assets in communicating are the following four-, five-, and six-letter words: data, trust, and intent. “Do you have good data that supports your point of view? Can you be or are you trusted? What is your intent? – i.e., why are you saying what you’re saying? Organizations must encourage trusted, well-intentioned, well-informed people to display this type of candor, no matter what their titles are?

Address the Reality That Change Sucks

People see change differently and are affected by change differently. “People won’t support and further change unless they perceive how they and their skills fit in. Employees need to see how the change strategy helps them grow, not just the organization.” When we are data-driven we see things in absolutes. Humans are more nuanced than that.

Unleash Creativity by Inserting Poetry into the PowerPoint

The spreadsheet “is not a clear window to view either the present or the future. Inherently, it’s backward-looking device that jails thinking within its cells. Within many organizations, highly innovative, potentially game-changing ideas are born regularly. Unfortunately, the left-brain environment of these organizations often starves these ideas of oxygen and they don’t survive.”

Introduce art into your organization. “Creativity is how we manage our own change.”

Recognize That Talent Does Not Work for Companies but Rather Companies Work for Talent

Data tends to favor the organization rather than the employee. “Working for talent translates into three developmental actions: helping people create their niche, voice, and story.”

Niche: In a connected world, a premium on expertise exists. Experts tend to be more productive, and hey tend to develop better solutions.

Voice: Niche focuses on the product while voice focuses on the process. If niche is a fact, voce is a feeling, and both are critical to building a personal brand.

Story: While niche is what someone is good at and voice is what makes someone special, story provides someone’s reason to behave.

Diversify and Deepen Time Usage

It is a mistake to allocate and measure time only in economic terms or numeric ways. The quality of how people spend their time is as important as the quantity of what they produce during that time. To get the most out of time, organizations need to sanction doing less and open spaces to do nothing.

Schedule More Meetings

Too often meetings are about the spreadsheet side of the business. “The received wisdom of minimizing meetings and only going to ones that create value for you is wrong. More meetings create more opportunities for productive relationships.” Rishad five types of meeting we should be having that are meaningful and relationship-focused.

Upgrade Your Mental Operating System

Organizations need to put a priority on mental self-improvement. “Provide them with the means and the encouragement to learn continuously—or rather, to learn and unlearn.”

Rishad make this important point about balance. When there is balance between the spreadsheet and the story, people are more likely to form their own opinions and be creative.

First, there is a need to balance ends and means. If the goal is to achieve a numerical goal at all costs, balance is missing; people will ignore rules and even laws to achieve goals. A second form of balance is recognizing that people have different skills and the company should not force consistency and conformity.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a much-needed book. In a world awash in readily available data, we must never forget the story. The story is what makes the data so valuable. That will be the challenge of the future. Data is the commodity. The story differentiates. Rishad writes:

My point isn’t to beat up on algorithms—they obviously are crucial in a digital age—but to suggest that if we leave organizational employees to their own devices (pun intended), they will be reactive and biased in their thinking. They won’t consider options beyond their own narrow beliefs; they will see the trends they’re exposed to rather than explore ones on the periphery; and they will fail to consider that their ideas might be wrong or outdated since their screens are confirming their biases.

If we put too much trust in algorithms, we are faced with three big risks: “The first is when you forget that a human programmed an algorithm and so it has a built-in bias. Leaving it to itself means you are giving up agency. Second, no algorithm, which is about zeros and ones, can truly capture humans who are variable. Third, if you can add no value to an algorithm, you have no job.”

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Questions Are Answer Competing in the Age of AI

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:54 PM
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Leading Thoughts for March 26, 2020

Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:


Bill Welter and Jean Egmon on the difficulty on truly seeing the world as it is:

“Paradigms are wonderful shortcuts as we think about the world, but they are deadly if they are not attuned with reality. All of us are bombarded with increasing waves of data and sensory inputs, and whether we realize it or not, we have become increasingly resistant. It’s not so much a case of having to pay attention to the news of the world as it is a case of knowing when to change our filters so that the important stuff comes in.”

Source: The Prepared Mind of a Leader: Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems


The American entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman on persistence and luck:

“A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time—most people don’t even try, and just accept that things are the way that they are. People have an enormous capacity to make things happen. A combination of self-doubt, giving up too early, and not pushing hard enough prevents most people from ever reaching anywhere near their potential.

“Ask for what you want. You usually won’t get it, and often the rejection will be painful. But when this works, it works surprisingly well. Almost always, the people who say “I am going to keep going until this works, and no matter what the challenges are I’m going to figure them out”, and mean it, go on to succeed. They are persistent long enough to give themselves a chance for luck to go their way.”

Source: How To Be Successful

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:19 AM
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Why You Shouldn’t Go It Alone

Why You Shouldn’t Go It Alone

OUR INDIVIDUALISTIC narrative is strong. But it holds us back. Almost anything of importance was accomplished by connecting with others. We can leverage who we are by enlisting others.

Eric George, a renowned hand surgeon, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist, shares in We: Ditch the Me Mindset and Change the World that in his field, he frequently sees “a spirit of absolute independence. It’s a mindset that, for whatever reason, makes people ignore the help readily available to them and internalize challenges, headaches, and obstacles.” This also extends to entrepreneurs and aspiring professionals as they “strive to independently achieve while ignoring the crucial relationships and resources that can help them along the way.”

Connectedness is not only about us connecting with others but the connections we make for other people. “Connectedness means looking beyond the self and requires us to focus on others and consider how our connectedness can benefit everyone around us.”

George identifies and examines six benefits or outcomes of connectedness:

Outcome#1: Discovering Our Purpose

Discovering how and where to channel our passions, interests, and talents to create shared value that we and others find meaningful. By embracing a wide breadth of diverse people, ideas, and perspectives, we become exposed to many avenues in life, which ultimately help us find where we can succeed and help others do the same.

Discovering our purpose (or purposes) in life is sometimes difficult. “Yet by embracing a mindset of connectedness, we can, at the very least, accelerate and improve the process. Rather than passively wait for our purpose to emerge, we uncover the opportunities that lay hidden in the potential connections surrounding us.”

Outcome#2: Create Partnerships

Connectedness helps us to create partnerships now and opens the door to more connections in the future. “Embracing this mindset helps us find and cultivate truly rewarding and sustainable partnerships from our sincere commitment to learning about, investing in, and survive the interests of others.” Successful people don’t just see others as a means to get things done, but the relationships as an end in themselves.

Outcome#3: Supports Perseverance

We rarely become successful without resolve and resourcefulness. Connectedness “allows us to recognize the full potential of the opportunities afforded to us and recognize that we can always surmount any obstacle with hard work, the right approach, and access to people who can support us along the way.”

Outcome#4: Cultivate Support

We don’t know everything, and we don’t know what we don’t know. We need to connect with others who we can trust and “who share our passion and contribute to our purpose. The more connected we become, the more we can find the right people to support our mission in life, and the more we can help nurture their goals and needs.”

Truthfully, we never accomplish anything of importance without people helping us along the way. No matter how difficult a surgery or miraculous its outcome, or how smart a business decision, success does not depend on “Me” but on the collective contributions of everyone supporting the organization.

Outcome#5: Gain Perspective

Perspective expands our minds with the experiences of others. It informs us and connects us with reality. We see the world from a “more informed, objective, and comprehensive point of view. Perspective enables us to fully appreciate life and the people surrounding us.” As a surgeon, connectedness allows him to “cross boundaries my patients self-construct against the external world. It allows me to help them see a world unrestricted by their injury and value what they didn’t lose.” Illuminating other perspectives is a significant part of a leader’s job.

Outcome#6: Build Trust

When it comes to medical care, trust is vital. George explains that he “must actively build trust through a process that draws heavily on connectedness and the many actions and behaviors that support it.” He continues:

Connectedness enhances my ability to establish a trusting relationship with my patients who come from a variety of backgrounds and each bring unique circumstances that often complicate the interaction.

In my experience, connectedness enhances our ability to build and sustain trust. It makes us more attentive to the needs and concerns of those around us. We become better listeners, more patient, and more inquisitive when it comes to the experiences of those with whom we meet. It also enables us to help others, By understanding people’s context—including the reasoning behind their actions or inactions, decisions or indecisions—we truly begin to understand how we can help them. As a result, we improve our chances of actually helping them, which only further strengthens their trust in us.

With a mindset of We versus Me, we can see beyond what might divide us and change the world.

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Lifes Great Question Leaders Make Connections

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:45 PM
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Life's Great Question

Lifes Great Question

WE ALL want to leave a legacy. We all crave meaning in our lives. It’s not just a millennial thing.

Meaning in life comes from the contributions we make beyond the self. Those contributions become your legacy.

All of this leads to life’s greatest question: What are you doing for others? Tom Rath addresses this question head-on and presents a path for contribution—a map for creating meaning—in Life’s Greatest Question.

While your talents are nature’s best building blocks, they serve the world best when your efforts are directed outward—not inward. Being “anything you want” or “more of who you already are” doesn’t add value to society unless it provides something others need. Simply put, your strengths and efforts must be focused on specific contributions you can make to other people’s lives.

Work can be fun and improve our health if we can reframe what we do to how do I help. Reorient your thinking about what you do to how am I serving others—the “humanity of what we do.” But rather than relying on your company to determine your contribution, “figuring out how you can make a greater contribution through your work has to be driven by you.” In other words, “Great jobs are made, not found.”

How You Help

To that end, Rath introduces the Contribify inventory. It is “designed to help you gain a better understanding of who you are—for the sake of doing more for other people.” Upon taking the inventory, you will come away with the top three areas that have the most potential for your contribution from a list of 12 primary Contributions: Initiating, Challenging, Teaching, Visioning, Connecting, Energizing, Perceiving, Influencing, Organizing, Achieving, Adapting, and Scaling.

Teams ContributionEach of these 12 primary Contributions is categorized within the three basic needs of all teams: Create, Operate, and Relate. “If a team is lacking in any one of these three major functions, it is almost impossible for the group to be effective, let alone thrive.” Each of us has definite contributions we can make to the teams we serve. Understanding group contributions in this way helps us in at least three ways. First, it allows you to more effectively match who you are with what your team needs. Second, it helps to map out how diverse the team is an what the needs are who might need to be brought into fill in gaps. And third, individually we can see where we better see how we might maximize our efforts as we contribute to the team.

Rath makes a very good point regarding the obsession with passion. “Instead of following your passion, find your greatest contribution.”

This is one of the critiques of the “follow your passion” advice—that it presumes you are the center of the world, and pursuing your own joy (not service of others) is he objective. I have found that those who leave a lasting mark on the world, in contrast, are always asking what they can give.

Life’s Great Question leaves you with a lot to think about and a structured way to go about it. It provides language to what is often a very nebulous exercise.

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Vital Friends Strengths Based Leadership

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:33 PM
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Leading Thoughts for March 19, 2020

Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:


Erik Larson commenting on Winston Churchill’s belief that leaders should make people feel “loftier, stronger, and, above all, more courageous:”

“Recognizing that confidence and fearlessness were attitudes that could be adopted and taught by example, Churchill issued a directive to all ministers to put on a strong positive front. ‘In these dark days the Prime minister would be grateful if all his colleagues in the Government, as well as high officials, would maintain a high moral in their circles; not minimizing the gravity of events, but showing confidence in our ability and inflexible resolve to continue the war till we have broken the will of the enemy to bring all Europe under his domination.’”

Source: The Splendid and the Vile


Jared Diamond on dealing with a crisis:

“Typically when one is first plunged into a state of crisis, one feels overwhelmed by the sense that everything in one’s life has gone wrong. As long as one remains thus paralyzed, it’s difficult to make progress dealing with one thing at a time. Hence a therapist’s immediate goal in the first session—or else the first step if one is dealing with an acknowledgment crisis by oneself or with the help of friends—is to overcome that paralysis by means of what is termed ‘building a fence.’ That means identifying the specific things that really have gone wrong during the crisis, so that one can say, ‘Here, inside the fence, are the particular problems in my life, but everything else outside the fence is normal and OK.’ Often, a person in crisis feels relieved as soon as he or she starts to formulate the problem and to build a fence around it. The therapist can then help the client to explore alternative ways of coping with the specific problem inside the fence. The client thereby embarks on a process of selective change, which is possible, rather then remaining paralyzed by the seeming necessity of total change, which would be impossible.”

Source: Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:49 AM
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Leading with Gratitude

Leading with Gratitude

GRATITUDE increases our leadership effectiveness as drives out fear and blame, gives meaning and confidence to all, and boosts productivity. We all know this, yet still, we don’t place as much emphasis on gratitude as we should. We withhold gratitude when we should be expressing it not just for their good but for our own good as well.

Gratitude is more than saying thank you. It goes beyond nice. It is an approach to life.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton say gratitude is “one of the most misunderstood and misapplied skills in business.” When it is genuine and specific, it is the “easiest, fastest, and cheapest way that managers can boost performance and employee engagement.” In Leading with Gratitude, the authors uncover what holds us back from showing gratitude and what we can do about it.

They begin by taking a look at the seven most common reasons we avoid showing gratitude. They call them the Ingratutide Myths: fear is the best motivator, people want way too much praise these days, there’s just no time, I’m not wired to feel it, I save my praise for those who deserve it, it’s all about the benjamins, and they’ll think I’m bogus. They debunk each of these with stories and studies.

I’m Not Wired That Way

We’ve all probably had a few of these myths run through our minds from time to time, but I want to call out one of the myths: I’m not wired to feel it. While we are born with predispositions—warmer or colder, more sensitive to positive or negative circumstances—they are not life sentences. Gratitude, like other character traits, is a matter of choice. We should have developed it from example in our youth, but as we know, that doesn’t always happen. But it is learned. Through practice, we can wire our brains to express gratitude. It becomes a matter of choosing to move beyond our comfortable predisposition towards an approach to life that better serves us as leaders.

Seeing and Expressing

The last two sections of the book focus on four ways of seeing and four ways of expressing gratitude.

Seeing is about awareness. The best leaders know how people contribute and actively look for reasons to express gratitude.

It is about seeing good things happening and then expressing heartfelt appreciation for the right behaviors. On the flip side, managers who lack gratitude suffer, first and foremost, from a problem of cognition—a failure to perceive how hard their people are trying to do good work—and, if they’re encountering problems, what they are. These ungrateful leaders suffer from information deficit.

Other practices for seeing include assuming positive intent (seeing people as trying to do well), walking in their shoes (understanding the challenges your people are experiencing), and looking for small wins (motivates us for the next step).

Expressing, of course, is how to express gratitude. We all need regular feedback. “Timeliness of gratitude communicates that a leader is paying attention, and that giving credit when it’s due is a priority in his busy world.”

Like ripe bananas, gratitude does not keep. The closer to an achievement a leader expresses her appreciation, the better.

When it comes to expressing, tailor it to the individual. People have different motivators. Giving gratitude helps reinforce the organization's core values. “Gratitude offers an opportunity to put the flesh of specificity on the bones of core values.

Encourage peer-to-peer gratitude. It demonstrates support and builds bonds. “When employees are grateful to each other, they affirm positive concepts typically values in their colleagues, such as trustworthiness, dependability, and talent.”

Living Gratefully

When we begin to practice gratitude, the goal is to live gratefully—to make it part of who we are. Gratitude then extends to everyone in our lives. It is not just something we do at work to increase productivity, but we take it home and express it to those people that mean the most to us.

If we practice gratitude with all the people in our lives, we’ll find that they respond just as well as our employees. When we give our family, friends, and all those we encounter a lift, we also give ourselves more moments of joy. One of the great ironies of personal relationships is that we so often take those who mean the most to us for granted.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton share example after example of the often creative ways that leaders and organizations that are doing it right show gratitude. We can all begin to live life more gratefully and receive positive results that exceed our efforts.

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Unconditional Gratitude Gratitude Is Good

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:44 PM
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How to Find Your Edge


WE’VE HEARD that hard work is the secret to success. But all too often we see that hard work is not enough. What then?

We need an edge.

Laura Huang explains just how to gain that advantage in her insightful and encouraging book, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. “Certain people seem to be endowed with a unique advantage in which they can execute faster and better and get the things they need, because they are positioned in such a way that others help them move forward. You can create your own edge and open doors—wide-open doors—for yourself.”

Having an edge makes hard work go further. Those that have an edge, Enrich, Delight, and Guide to make their Effort go further.

We must put in the work, but “when you create an edge, you create tailwinds that help you capitalize on your hard work more effectively.” We all face biases, prejudice, and harmful (to us) perceptions and attributions. But these can be the key to overcoming the adversity and roadblocks we face. “For most of you,” she writes, “it will be about positioning yourselves as an antidote to stereotypes, which will allow you to guide the perceptions of others, delight others, and ultimately will result in others seeing the unique value you can provide.”


Huang begins with Enrich because it is the foundation of our edge. To do this, we begin by finding our “basic goods.” Those basic things that make you, you. “Creating an edge starts with pinpointing your basic goods and defining your circle of competence, and operating inside that perimeter.” It’s how you enrich.

Your history and your story are part of your basic goods. Don’t underestimate where you’ve been planted—grow there.

Our constraints provide us with a unique way to enrich when we own them—when we use them to see differently. “Don’t let the constraints that others create prevent you from identifying the problem for you, and hence the solution for you.”


Getting the door to enrich is made possible by our ability to Delight. Delight opens the door, so we can enrich. It’s how we deliver our value.

What is delight? It is the unexpected. “When we delight, we violate perceptions, but in a benign way. Delight unsettles and challenges beliefs about your context, grabbing the attention of gatekeepers and making way for you to show how you enrich.”

There is value in planning to delight, but it is important that you stay flexible and be looking for opportunities to delight. “Authentically delighting in situ requires you to be constantly fine-tuning, as well as constantly attuned to how you can shape situations to present the opportunity for your talents and core competencies to become apparent.”

Delighting requires you to have an opinion or point of view—being authentic while having the audacity, or the stomach, you might say, to take a bold, surprising stance.

We all have the capacity to enrich. But when you are able to also delight, that is where the real magic happens. That is how you allow them to let you in, and how you build your edge.

(As an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, Huang offers a great section on the advice she gives the students and entrepreneurs she coaches on the high-concept pitch, the two-sentence pitch, and the extended pitch. She states that “no pitch should be longer than one minute—after that, you should be in full conversation mode.”)


Once in, we Guide how others perceive our work and our worth. “It is inevitable that we will be affected by how other people view us and how they perceive us when we are merely trying to ‘be ourselves.’” We should keep in mind too that other's perceptions of us are to a large extent about them.

Huang says we should look for patterns in our life—what rhymes. “Don’t go for absolutes go for directionality.” This is very helpful. Rather than adopt labels, we should identify directions for three reasons:

Going for directionality, rather than absolutes, helps you manage the impressions of others and guide their perceptions. You can be more fluid and adaptive.

If you go for general directionality, you’ll be more likely to avoid striving for goals that don’t leverage your strengths and that make it harder for you to create advantages. Self-awareness, in and of itself, is an elusive goal. We never really know ourselves, the best we can do is to find general directionality.

And finally, going for directionality allows you to simply move toward something that feels right, while already finding ways to cultivate an edge.

Self-awareness is knowing what we put out there and how it will be perceived by others. “Guiding entails being purposeful in helping others frame the attribution that they make about us.”

Don’t let them make assumptions. Give them the data points so that they can draw the trend line that you want them to see. Tell them, rather than allowing them to guess, about your future potential.

By providing directionality, you determine what is meaningful for them to know.


Effort works with the edge you are creating to inform you of the things you should be putting your effort into—things that you can enrich, delight, and guide. It’s in this combination that your effort then works harder for you. “Effort reinforces your edge.”

The optimal conditions for creating an edge are those in which bitterness and regret do not restrain you; they embolden you. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. Acknowledge and accept this, and you have already begun to create your edge. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, and that life is not fair. But you put in hard work plus, regardless. Don’t let success define you, but don’t let failure define you either. Play the long game, not the short one.

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Teaching By Heart Contagious You

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:22 PM
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Leading Thoughts for March 12, 2020

Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:


Erich Bühler on the persistence of old mental models:

“We generally stick to old mental models until new ways of thinking appear. During the change process, however, we tend to see the new only through the old lens. When the first motorized vehicles were built in the nineteenth century, cars looked more like carriages than automobiles. This was because people imagined them as an extension of horse-drawn transport. New ideas, concepts, and words were introduced, but old ways of thinking continued to be used to analyze and solve problems.”

Source: Leading Exponential Change: Go Beyond Agile and Scrum to Run Even Better Business Transformations


Betsy Myers on leadership is self-knowledge:

“Leadership is self-knowledge. Successful leaders are those who are conscious about their behavior and he impact it has on the people around them. They are willing to examine what behaviors of their own may be getting in the way. Successful leaders understand that it we don’t lead consciously, it’s easy to repeat patterns that could be keeping us from achieving the results we are hoping for. The toughest person you will ever lead is yourself. We can’t effectively lead others unless we can lead ourselves.”

Source: Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:11 AM
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