Jacob Morgan
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Jacob Morgan

Top 15 Leadership Lessons From 2020

This past year brought a lot of challenges for every single leader around the world. We had to learn how to adjust to a pandemic, how to address social injustices, how to lead virtually and much more. My guests shared a lot of inspiration, motivation, as well as realistic advice for listeners.

Even though all of the interviews were great and informative, I have a few favorites that I really enjoyed. And from those episodes I have compiled 15 leadership lessons that are crucial for leaders to learn in order to succeed in the future.

Click here to get the transcript or listen to your favorite player.

Leading by example: Arthur Blank, co-founder The Home Depot

In all of his businesses Arthur lends a hand when needed and there is no job he won’t do. He understands the importance of showing employees that what they do day to day is not beneath him as the leader. When you lead by example and let people know that you are not just sitting up in your office looking down on the employees who allow the business to succeed it makes people actually want to show up and work hard.

Creating your own luck: Shellye Archambeau, former CEO of MetricStream

In Shellye’s book one of the main topics she talks about is the importance of creating your own luck in your career.

You can’t just sit back and wait for something lucky to happen. Shellye explains that creating luck means positioning yourself so that when an opportunity shows up you actually have the ability to take advantage of it. Planning can improve your odds for good things to happen. After you set your goal, that’s when you get to work. Figure out what skills, experiences, and knowledge you will need in order to reach your goal and go after it.

What culture is and what it isn’t: Marc Randolph, co-founder and first CEO of Netflix

Marc was part of the team that helped to create the culture at Netflix which is still thriving all these years later.

Culture is not just what you say, it’s not something that you put up on posters around the office, or some catch phrases that you come up with in a meeting. Culture comes from how leaders act with each other, their employees, and their customers. It is something that is lived out each day inside the organization. As leaders you must know what your values are and what you want the company to look like and you have to show up with those in mind every single day.

It doesn’t have to be crazy at work: Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp

A lot of people these days feel that always being busy and working long hours means they are successful. But Jason disagrees with that. He is a big believer in capping a workweek at 40 hours. Anything that doesn’t get done in that time can wait.

Working 50–80 hour work weeks is not sustainable. In an emergency these long hours can be done, but to keep it up consistently doesn’t produce the best results. Just because you put in a lot of hours doesn’t mean you are producing good work, you can spend extra hours on bad work. Most of the time the best ideas and new innovations come after people come back to a problem refreshed. Working until you are beyond exhausted and stressed doesn’t usually lead to breakthroughs.

What to do if you feel stuck at work: David Cote, former Chairman and CEO of Honeywell

Most of us have had a time in our lives when we have felt stuck in our job. In those times it’s easy to feel hopeless. David has been there, and he gave some great advice about what to do.

First of all, you have to have performance, and your performance can’t just be okay. You’ve got to be in the top 10%. Be a standout in all you do. You also need visibility. If you are performing very well, but the person who can do something about your career can’t see it, nothing will happen. So make sure you have visibility. But you have to be careful with this one because you don’t want to go around tooting your own horn or wearing your ambition on your sleeve. It is a delicate balance.

Leadership is changing. What are the skills and mindsets you need to master in order to lead in the new world of work? According to over 140 of the world’s top CEOs there are 4 mindsets and 5 skills that leaders need to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF here.

How to lead with courage: Kate Johnson, President of Microsoft US

Kate is a huge believer and practitioner of leading with courage. Most people probably think about courageous leadership as guns blazing in the heat of the battle or a leader who is invincible and strong. But Kate’s definition is a bit different than that.

Kate says that courageous leadership is the willingness to activate your team and own the outcome. It’s about bringing all of your strengths and weaknesses to the table with total transparency and clarity and figuring out how to assemble a team to fill in wherever there are weaknesses.

Leaders have to try to get things right, instead of always trying to be right. They have to lead in the way that is best for employees, customers, and the community. And they cannot be afraid to address current issues impacting the world.

How Covid-19 has changed leadership forever: Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO of Genpact

Covid-19 changed the way we live and work. Tiger believes that after all of this passes some things will never go back to what they were before, but he does believe that offices will come back, at least in some form.

Tiger believes that post Covid there will be more flexibility in the way we work. He also suggests the idea of companies acquiring more office space than they have now. Instead of having one office building with 10,000 people, it makes more sense to have 10 offices with 1,000 people in each one. This could bring offices closer to people, bring down commute times, and potentially cut down on air pollution.

The current situation is also impacting the speed at which organizations go through digital transformation. Companies who have just talked about digital transformation for years, have been forced into acting on it quickly. Companies who were resisting change in the past, can no longer wait, even if they wanted to.

How leaders can serve their employees: Carrie Birkhofer, President & CEO of Bay Federal Credit Union

Carrie believes leaders should serve their people, their people should not be there just to serve them. She genuinely cares about her people and she wants to make sure that every single one of them is heard and respected.

As the CEO she makes sure to meet every single employee on their first day. Once the employees have had time to settle in and get used to their roles, Carrie and her Vice Presidents follow up with them, take them out to lunch and let them ask anything they may have been too nervous to ask on the first day. Now more than ever leaders must put people first if they want to succeed in the future.

Creating a mission that resonates with employees: Steve Bilt, CEO of Smile Brands

Anyone can come up with a mission statement or a company purpose that sounds good. But it can’t be something that just lives on a wall or in the company handbook. It has to be something that is infused into every aspect of the business.

Steve believes a company mission needs to be something short and catchy that people can remember. It needs to be something that you can evaluate and check in on to see how well the company is living up to it. It has to be something that is living and breathing inside your company.

People are the solution, not the problem: Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy

A lot of leaders first starting at a struggling organization probably would think about cutting back on the headcount first to save money. But Hubert not only didn’t take that route, he actually put more money into training, incentives, and wellness.

Hubert truly believes that leaders should treat humans as a solution to the problem, not as a source of the problem. And we should use headcount reduction only as a last resort.

This episode is brought to you by my friends at ServiceNow, a software company that makes the world of work, work better for people by delivering digital workflows that create great employee experiences, and unlock productivity. If you or your company is looking to transform old, manual ways of working into digital workflows, then you need ServiceNow. They are trusted by over 6,200 enterprises customers, Check them out here.

Why leaders need a short attention span: Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC

There’s always been this traditional mentality that leaders need to have a long term plan and stick to it. But Jim believes that leaders actually need to have short attention spans if they want to thrive in today’s rapidly changing world. Why? Because Jim says the biggest problem with CEOs at his level of tenure is they have become entrenched in old thinking.

Jim is always looking for the next round of changes that make PTC better, or that protect them from a new threat headed their way. This is a quality that he believes all CEOs should have. Always looking to the next thing, not just riding current success.

The best leadership lessons can come from those around you: Chris McCann, CEO of 1–800-Flowers

Chris McCann didn’t learn leadership skills by attending a top tier University, Chris learned how to lead by those he surrounded himself with.

Sometimes the best leadership lessons can come from those around you. Later on he did take some leadership courses at Cornell University, but in the early part of his career he had no formal training. Mostly he learned from other leaders he came to know, including the CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, the former CEO of AXA Financial, Ed Miller, and his own brother Jim McCann.

How to think like an entrepreneur: Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square

Lots of people are going through a time of reinvention. And having the mindset of an entrepreneur can be an invaluable asset.

Jim says true entrepreneurs solve problems that haven’t been solved before, they don’t just start a business, they do something that has never been done before. The first rule of being an entrepreneur is you can’t be an expert. When you do something no one else has, no one is qualified to do what you are doing. So don’t be discouraged when you have to experiment and fail at times. When you pave the way to something new, you are going to have to learn as you go.

Putting people ahead of profits: Pehr Gyllenhammar, former CEO of Volvo

As a leader Pehr understands that the most important thing is appreciating all of the people who work for you. And remembering that it’s oftentimes the people on the front lines who make your business successful.

There are very few leaders today who are actively putting the well-being of their people ahead of profits. Pehr understood that if he didn’t have good people working for him, he wouldn’t have productivity and he wouldn’t be able to achieve the big goals the company had. Profit is important, but it’s people who do great work who allow you to be profitable. Pehr made it a priority to take care of his people and to protect the most vulnerable. Because of that his employees trusted him, they were more motivated, and they felt safe.

Creating culture for a remote workforce: Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners

Robert shares that the key to having a successful remote team is by starting with the core values of the organization. Once you know your core values you can intentionally attract and hire the right people. Contrary to what happens in most organizations, Robert and his team understand that not every person will feel like the company is right for them.

A lot of organizations try to be the best place to work for everyone. But just as not everyone will like the same food, or the same music — not everyone is going to be a good fit for your company, and that is okay. Robert says staying consistent in your core values is very important for building a sustainable culture for a remote workforce.

You can check out the full episode below or click here to get the transcript or listen to your favorite player.

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Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work