December 18, 2014
The 5 Leadership Stories Of 2014 We Can’t Stop Talking About

Here are the five leadership stories that colored our conversations about business and leadership in 2014.

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, TED

What qualities make for a compelling leader? In a recent TED talk, Simon Sinek suggests that leadership has nothing to do with rank and everything to do with how you treat your colleagues.

“I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders,” says Simon Sinek. “They have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.”

Leaders set the tone for the organization. If employees don’t feel as if management has their best interests at heart, then they will act out of fear. Sinek argues that great leaders create a circle of trust at work that allows employees to feel safe in their jobs.

How Female CEOs Actually Get To The Top, Harvard Business Review

Young women who are aiming for the C-suite are typically fed the same advice: get an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League, an MBA from a top-tier business school and then work at a prestigious firm and work your way up the corporate ladder.

New research published in HBR, however, suggests that women may need to revise their career playbooks. An in-depth analysis of the women of the Fortune 500 reveals that female CEOs have followed diverse professional paths. For instance, only two women at the helm of a Fortune 500 company have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school.

Here’s the bottom line: Women who have their sights set on leading large companies shouldn’t worry about their background and should instead focus on finding a good place to climb.

Why You Hate Work, The New York Times

In an eye-opening New York Times op-ed, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath argue that many top executives are having trouble staying engaged at work. A survey of 72 senior leaders, for instance, found that nearly all of them reported at least some signs of burnout.

The authors suggest that one reason for this burnout might be digital technology. Exposed to an endless torrent of information, we often feel compelled to respond to work emails and demands at all hours of the day.

So what can business leaders do to keep their employees engaged? A new study suggests that employees are vastly more productive when four of their core needs are met: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. To the extent that leadership can support employees in their core needs, job performance improves.

The Disruption Machine, The New Yorker

Jill Lepore ruffled more than a few feathers along the Charles River when she cast doubt on Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. In a takedown of his ideas in The New Yorker, Lepore argues that just because an idea is innovative and disruptive, it doesn’t necessarily translate into real-world industry change.

“The upstarts who work at startups are told that they should be reckless and ruthless,” she writes. “Their investors tell them that the world is a terrifying place, moving at a devastating pace…Disrupt or be disrupted.”

Whether or not you agree with Lepore’s polemics, her article is sparking conversations in the business world about how markets respond to disruptive technologies.

Is The Era Of The Neuromanager Upon Us? Forbes

Behavioral science offers up a number of insights into decision-making and management. New brain-scanning technology, for instance, helps us understand how individuals might function in a work environment. According to a Forbes article, a group of researchers has recently claimed to discover that brain structure is associated with a willingness to take risks.

Since people who are less risk-averse tend to make good leaders, could future job interviews require a brain scan? Could organizations ever hire on the basis of brain structure? There are a number of ethical questions that will need to be answered as we move into an age of neuromanagement.