How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

Business Impact: How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

Business Impact: How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

Using pro-social language, listening and praising are all included under behaviours for leaders to show and model in this guide from the author of Healthy Leadership, Anna Eliatamby

Organisational culture comprises attitudes that are linked to values, beliefs and associated cognitions, related emotions and behaviours. Creating a culture of kindness therefore requires that we clarify what we mean by ‘kindness’ and ensure that we support people to consider building their values, emotions and behaviours in a way that allows them to create and then maintain a culture of kindness.

What do we mean by kindness?

Collins’ English Dictionary defines it as “the quality of being gentle, caring and helpful” and this includes being kind to yourself as well as others.

Kindness helps us with social cohesion and can be very beneficial for mental and physical health. When it is present in an organisation, you are also likely to find openness, high levels of trust and a sense of feeling safe. These conditions then lead to greater productivity and effectiveness, alongside collective accountability with consideration. In addition, it creates an environment where people feel they can praise and be praised and can address any negativity and errors without retribution. That is when you will see kindness in their faces.

Values and beliefs for kindness

Being gentle, caring and helpful is something most people understand. In a 2022 kindness test conducted by the University of Sussex and BBC Radio 4, 43 per cent of 60,000 participants could provide daily examples of kindness. The underlying values and beliefs centre on how you see people and how you want to treat them, especially as a leader.

A kind and civil leader will see staff as those with potential and to be always respected. Their aim will be to enable and create a culture of kindness and considerateness. They will identify through observing and asking where it is already present and find ways (sometimes formally through, for example, a code of conduct) to encourage kindness and its use.

Such leaders ensure that their values and beliefs are at the centre of their thoughts and actions. They will double-check with colleagues and subordinates that their behaviours match their values and beliefs. Occasionally, everyone will err from their beliefs. The considerate leader will see these times as an opportunity to learn and grow and not something to be denied or ignored.

A considerate leader will also look at any opposing values and beliefs and address any inconsistencies. Overall, they ensure they are self-confident and secure in themselves. This usually means that they are likely to be liberal in how they lead and manage and will be less likely to want to control and dominate.


A leader’s verbal and non-verbal behaviours, for consistency, should match their values and intentions for kindness. Otherwise, people will ignore what they say and just focus on the contradictory behaviours they observe.

A respectful leader will, in small and large ways, use behaviours that show and indicate thoughtfulness and kindness with respect. The behaviours to show and model include the following:

  • Using pro-social language, eg “how can we?” instead of “do this”
  • Listening
  • Praising
  • Not taking credit for others’ ideas
  • Showing that you trust others
  • Being generous with time

Small gestures of kindness make a difference.

When a leader has kindness as a core value and their behaviour accompanies this, then you will find staff reciprocating. “You gave us vision; you led by respect” and “Thank you for your service” are, for example, statements made by staff on the retirement in 2018 of William Lacy Swing, a former US ambassador and director general of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

If you, as a leader, use these behaviours and ask others to do the same, then you will build a culture of kindness. You can also ask others to think about how they work together and support each other. What could be done with more kindness and consideration? For example, listening to each other without interruption and praising each other. Being willing to look at and address the negative openly, including admitting to mistakes, is also needed.

If there is any toxicity at all, then this must be handled with courage and kindness so that its impact decreases, thereby giving more space for kindness to enter. If this is not done, then any kindness intervention will not last.


Emotions are part of us as human beings, but we rarely consider them within the work environment. Yet we experience a vast variety of emotions in our workday. For there to be genuine kindness at the core of an organisation, we need to provide a psychological space for people to have and show the accompanying emotions.

We also need to know how to deal positively with any negative emotions that may arise. In some sectors, suppression is expected and often shown. While there will be times when it will be necessary to suppress, there also needs to be organisational permission for people to handle what has been suppressed later.

Gearshift to kindness

It is in our DNA, but tremendous efforts may still need to be made to increase kindness in self, colleagues and the organisation. Certainly, it is worth stopping and thinking about what the function of kindness is and should be.

How will people respond to your request to become kinder and more considerate? Remember, some may misinterpret this as asking them to be more open and emotional. Think about what you can do to reassure them and help them become more comfortable with kindness. Have discussions about kindness and ask people what they can all do to be more considerate and how you will remind each other of its importance.

Kindness for responsible management

Responsible management and leadership require a holistic focus on responsibility and sustainability for us and the generations to come. If we can achieve this while being considerate, kind and respectful, then we will provide a wonderful basis for the future. 

Anna Eliatamby is director of Healthy Leadership CIC and author of Healthy Leadership (Shilka Publishing, 2022).

Headline image credit: Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

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New to management? Seven steps to becoming a bold leader

Business Impact: New to management? Seven steps to becoming a bold leader

New to management? Seven steps to becoming a bold leader

Business Impact: New to management? Seven steps to becoming a bold leader
“If you are thirsty to learn and improve as a leader, you will inspire your team to do the same,” says Zana Goic Petricevic, author of Bold Reinvented, in just one of seven tips designed to unleash your management potential

A bold leader is a learner. It is someone who is consistent and dependable, who continuously works to be better, and helps others to reach their potential too.

A bold leader is someone who can build trusting, caring relationships and brings their passion and expertise to lead and inspire others, while always keeping an eye on the bigger picture and taking risks for the collective good.

Here are some tips to untap your potential and become a bold leader:

1. Active learning

Everything is a source of information and we can never learn enough. Whether it’s gaining a new coaching qualification, completing a course or team-building workshop, or taking the time to learn more about the people you work with, if you are thirsty to learn and improve as a leader, you will inspire your team to do the same, and build accountability and commitment into the foundations of your organisation.

Active learning also requires a great deal of critical self-reflection and belief. It demands that we ask important questions of our selves first, and others second, learning about yourself, your relationships, learning about who you are, what you want, and where you want to go by confronting yourself. If we can consciously build on all that we’ve learnt, and continue to ask how we can be better, we will be more likely to reach our potential as leaders.

2. Trust

Be aware of the dimension of trust. What is ‘trust’ for you? When do you trust? What are your relationships like when you put trust in them?

Being a bold leader depends heavily on flexing our trust muscles and empowering others to be their best selves as well. It also means trusting that other people’s greatness is part of the equation, and having the ability to let go of some of the control in order to work together.

If we surround ourselves with trustworthy people who are open to each other’s ideas and individual strengths, we can celebrate victories together without individual egos getting in the way.  

3. Take risks

Are we playing it safe or are we ‘all-in’ as leaders? To be bold leaders we need to stay awake to our environment, stay in service to it, and consistently ask what is required of us to make it better.

That means being responsive, taking personal risks for the collective good, even if it’s uncomfortable, and not shying away from responsibility.

4. Communicate

Listening and communicating is key to becoming a bold leader.

In order to get the best out of others and to find solutions as a team, we need to engage our power to listen and keep the conversation open so that we can welcome the diversity of opinions and perspectives that will make our organisations thrive.

We also need to speak up and be heard. Engaging in conversations can be very uncomfortable sometimes, especially when we don’t know if it can hurt other people, or if the outcomes are uncertain. However, as leaders we must learn to deal with that discomfort on a daily basis and be able to get the best out of confrontation. If we engage and communicate clearly, especially in critical moments or problem situations, our leadership will be honest and bold and our message will be received.

Leadership comes to life through your voice, so make sure that you are using it, and try to avoid detachment, or self-protective tendencies, that might confuse or stifle your voice.

5.  Passion

Sometimes acting with passion can feel irresponsible or make us feel vulnerable, but this is a misconception. If anything, it is our convictions and sensitivity that make us better people and can bring life to our leadership.

To be a bold leader you have to find your passion and have the courage to pursue it. If we can express passion in what we are doing, and bring all the confidence and expertise that comes along with it, we will be happier, more fulfilled, and more willing to serve because our work will have meaning.

The first step is to define what you are truly passionate about. The second step is to understand how this passion can serve your work. This will make you a better leader and role model, and allow others to bring their own passion to the table, unashamedly.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” US author and theologian, Howard Thurman.

6. Legacy

Bold leadership requires us to think about our legacy and the impact we want to create. If we are to leave the legacy we wish for, we have to act in the present and be aware that everything matters. How are we honouring our purpose right now? Am I in the right place to do that? What is the best impact I can make? What will my legacy be? Am I working from a place of self-preservation or a place of growth, togetherness and optimism?

If we can ask these questions, it will help us to stay focused as leaders and retain meaning in our organisations. 

7. Be yourself

This kind of wisdom doesn’t always feel like the safest route. More often than not we try to please others, or adapt to slot into a gap, which doesn’t necessarily fit us, based on expectations of what we think the situation or other people are asking for. To be a bold leader, you need to believe that you – an authentic and unique person – are exactly what the situation needs.

If you can believe in yourself and what you are doing, you will be the role model that everybody needs and respects. When you find yourself and can be comfortable in your work and relationships, and if you can bring your passion to the table, you will find success as a leader and inspire your teams to be greater too.  

Ultimately, the best way to be a great leader is just to be you. Find what makes you feel alive, do it, and then see how the world reacts.


Zana Goic Petricevic is an internationally certified leadership coach, consultant and keynote speaker. She is the Founder of Bold Leadership Culture, and the author of Bold Reinvented: Next level leading with Courage, Consciousness and Conviction (2021).

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Six ways to dial down the ego and let humility lead the way

Business Impact: Six ways to dial down the ego and let humility lead the way

Six ways to dial down the ego and let humility lead the way

Business Impact: Six ways to dial down the ego and let humility lead the way
From exercising mindfulness and seeking feedback to nurturing a ‘servant leadership’ philosophy, Mike McLaughlin and Elaine Cox outline six ways in which leaders can moderate their ego and cultivate humility

It’s probably accurate to say that leaders who have no sense of awareness, who judge others negatively, and who never seek feedback cause considerable damage in an organisation.  And, although that damage may well be financial, it is almost always psychological. In Cy Wakeman’s 2017 book, No Ego, this damage is called the ‘ego-driven emotional waste’ that drains a team or organisation of time and energy.

In a leadership context, ego can be viewed as existing on a spectrum, with self-effacing behaviours at one end (potentially causing leaders to become invisible), and self-aggrandising behaviours at the other, which can truly stifle others. Both extremes are dangerous in their own ways.  Somewhere in the middle sits humility. Research led by David Wang at Biola University suggests that humility is important, particularly for leaders taking on more responsibility, since it involves self-awareness, being open to feedback and appreciating others’ contributions and strengths.

There are a number of strategies leaders can use to moderate or dial down their ‘ego presence’ and cultivate humility:

1. Reflect on where they are on the ‘humility scale’

The maxim that we can’t change what we don’t measure rings true here. To avoid falling into the habit of engaging in egotistical thinking and exhibiting egotistical behaviours, it can be useful to think of a scale of one to 10, where 10 is very high in egotism, and one equates to being overly submissive and self-effacing. Thinking about where we fit on that scale can greatly increase awareness and aid self-regulation.

While we may not always be able to shift from egotistical behaviour to humility in the middle of a single meeting, we can notice where our average position on the scale has been during particular days or over the course of a week. Time spent reflecting on our egotistical tendencies, as well as other aspects of development, is time well spent, and we advocate that leaders take regular time out for review.  

2. Exercise mindfulness

One of the main objectionable outputs of the egotist is judgmental thinking. In this regard, mindfulness is useful. It is described as paying attention on purpose, but without judgment, and although it has become something of a cliché recently, and is even shunned by some, focusing on the present through mindfulness brings benefits in terms of helping leaders become less judgemental. It also helps them gain clarity of thought, regulate emotions and reduce stress levels. Additionally, being mindful can assist ethical behaviours as it is when we are not mindful that our thoughts become polluted with worries and tactics, and we become pejorative.

Mindfulness takes time and practice. However, it is worth it because standing in judgement of others, seeing them as flawed, less than, inferior, or not as important, is dangerous territory for any leader.

3. Seek feedback

Feedback in its simplest form is data that provides information resulting in a change of course, or output. However, the thought of asking for feedback can often fill even experienced leaders with trepidation. This may be because the feedback process has previously been hijacked and used as a vehicle for attacks on character, rather than as a source of valuable information. Feedback is vitally important, and leaders who resist the feedback process are doing a disservice to everyone, especially themselves.

One way to make feedback more productive is to create an organisational environment that is truth-seeking and encourage feedback processes that focus on tangible behaviours or events. Facts should be separated from feelings and opinions to prevent feedback sessions plunging into an emotionally toxic maelstrom. Additionally, leaders should be receiving feedback. This not only helps them finetune their own activities, but also demonstrates to others that this is the cultural norm.

4. Lose yourself in flow

‘Flow’ is the state of becoming so engrossed in an activity that we lose all sense of time and ourselves. Worries, including those that are ego-driven, dissolve, and we become one with the task at hand, using our skills to explore or be immersed in something. Activities that provide opportunities to be in flow help us let go of any need to control people and realise our egos and our job titles are not important.

A 2019 article on Medium describes the value of being in flow and how it helps us become happier, healthier and less ego obsessed: flow, it describes, helps us ‘unwind, recalibrate, and tap into a higher state of mind above the mud of our ruminative ego chatter.’

5. Make sure you have critical friends

The importance of seeking feedback suggests that it is vitally important for leaders to have critical friends. Critical friends are usually people who have been known to the leader for some time and have a track record of transparency, trustworthiness and honesty. They have no political or competing agenda. Crucially however, they are not ‘yes people’.

Although the leader may not always agree with a critical friend’s point of view, that can be good since their role is to offer an honest perspective. In this way, they help us deflate the ‘ego balloon’. It should be remembered that a critical friend is not someone who is our critic, but someone who is critical to our success. 

6. Cultivate a ‘servant leadership’ philosophy

The leadership philosophy that most resonates with dialling down the ego and letting humility lead the way is ‘servant leadership’. This theory involves moving away from an opportunistic, or self-serving leadership style towards an emphasis on humility and the needs of followers. 

Additional characteristics of the servant leader include:

  • Understanding and accepting others as they are
  • Awareness
  • Building community and committing to the growth of others
  • Seeking to influence without the use of positional power

These are characteristics that are almost entirely absent when over-zealous egotistical psychology is at play. Above all, the egotist presumes knowledge and wants to show off, but the humble, servant leader has only questions in mind as they move from situation to situation. What might I learn here? Where can I find people who know more than I do? What do I need to understand before coming to any conclusions?

Mike McLaughlin (left) is the Founder of Braver Leadership.
Elaine Cox (right) is an Honorary Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University.

Mike McLaughlin and Elaine Cox are the co-authors of Braver Leaders in Action: Personal and Professional Development for Principled Leadership (Emerald Publishing, 2022).

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How to become a beautiful leader

Business Impact: How to become a beautiful leader

Beauty expresses the idea that we can seek the good and manifest it in all that we create in this world, says Alan Moore, author of Do Build. Discover how ‘beautiful’ leadership can be a frame for business

If you are a leader, you are a builder. And if you are building something, make sure you build well. Here are some reflections on how to become a ‘beautiful’ leader by instilling certain kinds of values, a positive mindset and good working practices.

What world do you want to make?

What gets you out of bed on a Monday morning when it is pouring with rain? When it hurts like hell, what keeps you going? What is the deep well you draw from that fuels your best creativity? ‘World-making’ is the reason, the fire that stokes the furnace. This is the north star on the path that takes you home to your true self, serving as a beacon to others. It is about being true to yourself. It’s not about money or reward, nor is it a theoretical exercise. Companies that care about the world they make create bonds and relationships with people who share those values and worldviews.

The coffee buyer, Falcon Coffees, wishes ‘to change the way coffee is traded for good’. This is no mean feat, as coffee is traded as a commodity. As a result, the 26 million people who make it their business to grow the world’s coffee, meeting people’s insatiable thirst for the stuff, are also often treated as commodities. Falcon Coffees challenges that exploitative way of working by building supply chains with rural farming communities for mutual profit and positive social impact.

The Japanese martial artist, Morihei Ueshiba, who created Aikido in the early 20th century, did so with the aim of protecting all life that exists on this planet. The computer mouse inventor, Doug Engelbart, who pioneered hypertext and video conferencing, wanted to help people to share knowledge, so they could collectively solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Consider your business’ mission. Ask yourself, what world do you want to make? How do you wish to live?

Generosity as leadership

Generosity and business do not always go hand in hand. However, Guido Bernardinelli, CEO of La Marzocco, founded in 1927 and still privately owned, has spoken of its merits. When asked how his company has managed to survive, thrive and innovate, he has simply replied: ‘total devotion to our people’. La Marzocco builds some of the best handmade espresso coffee machines in the world.

Approaching leadership with a sense of generosity taps into the greatest human qualities. In business, as in life, you should always strive to give back more than you take. Generosity is nurturing for people. Creating the right conditions for your staff to thrive is key to being the best and most effective leader that you can be.

The Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, opened my eyes to the possibility of generosity, by feeding around 100 of his staff every day with a freshly cooked vegetarian meal. Eliasson says: ‘Cooking is caring for others. It is a gesture of generosity.’ He states that eating together brings a connection between human beings, food and the sun.

Generosity begins with an invitation, and in capable hands brings a rich flow of information, so a deeper understanding of the world evolves. Eliasson has teams with specific functions, working on a range of projects. He wants them to feel that they are interwoven; he does so by showing he truly cares. As the South Korean Buddhist nun and cook, Jeong Kwan, says, with food what we are really eating is the ‘mindset of sharing’. This is generosity. In your own work, consider asking the question: How can you show generosity as a leader in a way that will feed the cultural fabric of your business?

The empathetic leader

A leader’s ability to be truly empathetic shows strength, not vulnerability. This is a nurturing quality. It allows one to see far deeper into the truth of people and to find their potential. If you show empathy, people will then reveal their potential to you. This courageous act means you have empowered and strengthened your organisation and its potential. Empathy is an investment that will repay you.

Ethical decision-making

There is no shortcut to creating worthwhile outcomes. I have seen too many decisions made for short-term gain, where constant growth in the service of profit becomes a sickness, which can be terminal. Look at a situation when you feel deadlines pressing so hard that there is no time or air to breathe. How do you as a leader deal with intense pressure, managing the expectations of investors, board members and those within the team?

Imagine a company at a board meeting. The firm is under pressure. Decisions must be made to counter its ailing financial performance. A number of board members have come up with a ruse to fabricate evidence, enabling the company to sell its products falsely. It’s a risky plan because if the deception were to be discovered, the consequences could be disastrous: a fall in market valuation; a loss of trust in the brand, which would impact sales; fatal damage to the leadership team; and the high costs of legal action.

This could be the legacy of making such a choice. But what if someone asks the question: ‘Is that the most ethical decision we can make?’ It’s a simple question but one that is packed with important frames for business decision-making: how to stand in truth, how to be guided instinctively to a better outcome, how to discover a path based on values, and how to retain the concept of legacy building. If you are a disruptive leader, this question encourages you to resist the urge to break things, and instead use the time to build. There is a saying that what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness. This question helps to illuminate an ambiguous world and to navigate to a better destination.

Beautiful decision-making

To build a business the world needs, we have to be prepared to create products or services that are both beautiful and profitable. The question, ‘is that the most beautiful decision we can make?’ asks you to be fully open with your mindset and to embrace challenges with optimism. It steers the imagination to find an alternative path, informing the right action. It provides and asks for crystal-clear clarity.

Consider asking, ‘is that the most beautiful decision we can make?’ within your own organisation. It does not have to be for a matter of high strategic importance. It could be about an everyday issue. Reflect on a situation that has happened or one that is upcoming, where decisions made will shape your future. This simple question reframes what a good outcome could be. Those who ask a more beautiful question could find a more beautiful answer.

This is an edited excerpt from Do Build: How to make and lead a business the world needs by Alan Moore, published by Do Books. 

BGA members can receive a 25% discount on a copy of Do Build. Please visit the BGA Book Club for details.

Discover more about making and leading a business the world needs – attend a webinar with the author of Do Build on 5 July 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 BST (UTC+01:00).

Alan Moore has collaborated with companies that include Microsoft, Coca-Cola and PayPal, and has taught at MIT Sloan School of Management and INSEAD. He is the author of four books on creativity and business transformation, including Do Design (Do Books, 2016).

Headline image credit: Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

Business Impact: How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

What makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour to make things better, for people and the planet? David Lewis and Jules Goddard, co-authors of Mavericks, look at leadership characteristics and other important aspects for Business Schools to focus on

Let us start with two observations. First, almost every executive and management team with which we’ve ever worked has had no difficulty in articulating numerous frustrations about how their organisation is run; and equally no difficulty in expressing their great ideas about how it should be run. Second, when we have had the opportunity to return to these organisations a year later and ask the same question – ‘what are your frustrations and thwarted ambitions?’ – we are met with the same list we heard a year earlier. 

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, refers to this as the ‘knowing-doing gap’ – most of us know that things should be and could be much better, but few of us do anything about it. The knowing-doing gap, coupled with the two observations above, provoked us to initiate a research project. Why? Because we also observed that while most of us simply moan about how bad things are, some of us actually do something about it. And the question we wanted to explore is, what differentiates those of us that recognise incompetence, inadequacy and lack of ambition, but do little about it, from those of us that dedicate our lives to making positive transformational change for the betterment of others?

Rik Vera is one such person. Rik started his career as a teacher, but after being made redundant because the school at which he taught was closed down, he started a career in carpet sales. In Rik’s own words, he saw sales as a competition: ‘How can I win against my competitors?’ 

The classic model of business competition. Then he was asked to take over and run the carpet manufacturing plant. On the first day, when he walked into the factory and saw the inefficiencies, the pollution and the inhumane working conditions, Rik was shocked. 

As a result of being asked to run the factory – the place where the product is made – his mindset changed from seeing the point of business as to win, to the point of business as being to create ‘a better world for people and planet’. This became Rik’s life philosophy. He asked a new and different question – instead of the question being, ‘how can I win?’, Rik asked himself, ‘how can I make carpets in a sustainable way in terms of the planet, the use of resources, and the way in which we work?’ 

In research, published in our book, Mavericks, we interviewed more than 30 people like Rik – people from all walks of life and from across the world, to discover what it takes to persist and succeed in making the world a better place.

Making better use of brains and technology 

There are no shortage of challenges that need our attention to make the world a better place: the World Bank has estimated that nearly half the world’s population live on less than $5.50 USD a day; 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization; and in a period of unprecedented wealth creation, prison populations have doubled, trebled and, in some countries, quintupled. We could go on. Yet, more than at any time in our history, we have the resources, the ingenuity and the technology to enable everyone to live a fulfilling and flourishing life. The question is, where are these resources and why are they not being fully deployed for the benefit of us all? Where are our best brains? Who owns the latest technology? To what extent is our human ingenuity, creativity and innovation being used? 

The answer is that the best brains are your brains, the best technology resides in your organisations. The question is how we can make better use of our brains and technology to make the world a better place. 

This is not a question to be outsourced to a supplier, the government, or shareholders… or whoever else you want to make responsible; it is a question for you. So, what are you doing to make best use of those resources? And the question we want to explore here is how can Business Schools help people to make best use of those resources and create more worthy value? 

Business Schools have traditionally taken an accountancy view of what we mean by ‘value’ and ‘cost’. The problem is accountancy does not take into ‘account’ many of the costs involved in creating value – the unintended negative value created for one group in pursuit of creating value for another, referred to by economists as externalities. Externalities are unpriced effects that arise from the production and sale of goods and services. Air pollution from vehicles, aircraft and container ships, is one example. The cost of this is not paid for by either the producers or the consumers of specific products and services, but is paid for by the rest of society, in the form of ill health and treatment for example. We are all made worse off by pollution, but are not compensated by the market for this damage. 

This is one of the main reasons why, in democracies at least, governments intervene to attempt to rebalance using, for example, carbon offsetting programmes, regulations around the percentage of components in production that must be recyclable, and so on. But while this intervention from government is helpful, if not critical to safeguard people and planet, what if businesses and Business Schools took on more responsibility for this rebalancing? What would this mean for Business School curricula? What would it mean for the kind of leadership executive programmes should promote?

Here are some thoughts that we believe could radically transform Business School curricula and create the leaders we need to create the world we all want to see and live in.  

What is ‘good’?

A few years ago, we were struck by the absence of philosophical thinking in shaping and informing our modern-day management and organisational practice. We had this image of a two-legged stool, an unbalanced situation – something was missing. As we thought about it, we realised our organisational thinking is derived from two very impressive bodies of knowledge: economics and psychology. Economics asks the question, ‘how can we make efficient use of scarce resources?’ Psychology asks the question, ‘how can we get other people to do what we want them to do?’ But neither of these two great disciplines contain an ethical point of view at their heart. This is what is missing.

You only have to think of some of the language used. Economics refers to people as factors of production, just like land and capital. And the human resources department? They refer to you and me as human resources. Management speak is punctuated with the words ‘buy-in’, ‘engagement’ and ‘motivation’. What does this mean? It means buying into what I think is right; it means being motivated to do what I want you to do, and it means being engaged with my agenda.

Economics and psychology have worked miracles. To take just one example, 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty in 30 years in China through capitalism, or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. We have the wonders of the internet, space travel and the robotic lawnmower. Yet in the west, in Asia and increasingly in Africa, as we become better off, we are left with the question, ‘how do we know if what we are doing is good?’ How do we know what is ethical? These are philosophical questions.

Philosophy is the discipline that asks the questions, ‘what is ‘good’?’ ‘what is the right thing to do?‘ and ‘what is the right way to do it?’ Philosophy is the third leg of the two-legged stool that can balance the incredible power of economics and psychology by asking the critical question, ‘what is the ethical dimension of business?’

In our 2019 book, What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being a Better Leader, we use philosophical thinking to challenge standard management practice and ask, ‘what do we mean by organisational values?’ ‘what do we mean by empowerment?’ ‘what do we mean by authority?’ and ‘how do we approach communication and change management?’ These are questions that should be at the centre of executive education in Business Schools – not because there is a clear formulaic answer that we can teach, but because these are the questions that define the paradoxes and dilemmas of leadership. 

How do you decide between options, all of which are part good and part bad, depending on the stakeholder perspective you take and how do you resolve conflicting values? 

The classic Business School approach is to insist on developing organisational values. And yet when you look at almost all organisations’ values, you’re struck by two things. One, they look exactly the same, and two, they seem to have been distilled into five statements, sometimes four, sometimes six. This is an impoverished view of values. There are many values that all of us hold dear, but we know that our values alone do not give us the answer, they generate the question. How do you reconcile the need for transparency with the need for confidentiality? How do you reconcile the need to be honest and the need to be sensitive? How do we square the circle? 

There is no prescriptive answer, there is no set of rules. It is a moral dilemma. It must be addressed in each instance in dialogue and conversation. It requires judgement and an answer to the question, ‘how do I decide between two competing goods?’ A decision you have to live with, to argue for, and to justify, in terms of your moral framework – that is a leadership decision. To make decisions and collaborate within a morally pluralistic world, to engage with others whose values may be different – not better or worse, but different. This is the job of leadership. This is where we need to place more emphasis in our Business School curricula.

The mindset and skillset of purposeful leaders

During our conversations with Rik Vera and others who have made a consistently positive impact on their organisation or community, what became clear was that despite their very different personalities and situations, they shared a common set of characteristics. We identified five core characteristics of these ‘Mavericks’, or individuals who persist and succeed in making positive change happen: 

1. A passionate belief that things should be better.

2. Resourcefulness to connect people and ideas to create momentum towards a better outcome.

3. Preparedness to challenge the status quo and act in unorthodox and nonconformist ways to get things done.

4. The ability to learn and make progress through trial and error, and through experimentation.

5. The ability to remain undeterred in the face of ridicule, resistance and sometimes outright hostility.

As part of our quantitated research, we asked a control group of executives from organisations across the world to rank themselves with respect to these five mindset/skillset characteristics. Then we compared the results to how our Maverick leaders ranked themselves against the same five characteristics. Both the Mavericks and the control group had strong beliefs that things should be better. This confirms our opening observation that almost everyone, Maverick and non-Maverick alike, believes that things could be better in their organisation or community. 

On the next characteristic, resourcefulness, a gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as more resourceful, 10% more resourceful than our control group. With respect to nonconformity, an even bigger gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as 20% more nonconformist. A still bigger gap emerged on the next characteristic, with Mavericks demonstrating themselves to be 25% more experimental. The biggest gap came in relation to the final characteristic of being undeterred – the Mavericks rated themselves as being 27% more undeterred than those in the control group. 

What differentiates the Maverick from the non-Maverick is the extent to which they are resourceful, nonconformist, experimental and undeterred. This is what makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour actively to make things better. So, what should Business Schools do to help more of their students become Maverick leaders? Our advice is that they should focus as much on the following as they do on strategy and finance.

Life philosophy

In our Schools, we should help executives to strengthen and articulate their life philosophy, their higher purpose of being. It was clear that each of the leaders we identified as being a Maverick had a philosophy of life that drove them, shaped their high-level goals and informed their day-to-day activity. Here are some examples:

I just want to help people feel better, and wanting people to know that they are cared for and loved… I always had a sense of fighting for the underdog and the importance of justice.’ Annmarie Lewis.

I have a real burning passion to stimulate brilliance in people, it’s as simple as that.’ Akin Thomas.

Giving back to my country [Mexico] my people, and all the wonderful things that I have received. It is my responsibility, my duty, to make a positive impact.’ Oscar Corona Lopez.

Diverse networks 

Maverick leaders do not work alone. Neither can they afford to be surrounded by people like them. Maverick leaders build open and diverse networks and engage with others with curiosity. We need to help executives develop the skills of curiosity and empathy. As one of our Mavericks, Annmarie, explained, it is about cultivating fertile ground by making connections with different stakeholder groups, in government, in business, in academia, in communities. Annmarie is going where she can get traction, where her nonconformity and her radical perspective can be taken up, developed and pushed forward with others.

Growth mindset and self-efficacy

These leaders embody the growth mindset, a term introduced by US psychologist, Carol Dweck, and reject the fixed mindset. They are adaptive but never defeatist. They judge by outcomes rather than just intent. Their optimism is often irrational. What they fear is not failure but fatalism. 

A growth mindset is not a genetically fixed characteristic, nor is it determined one way or another by early nurture. It can be, and needs to be, developed and strengthened in all of us, at every stage of our career. A growth mindset fuels self-efficacy. Unlike self-esteem, which is a judgement of one’s own self-worth, self-efficacy is an existential commitment to one’s own capacity to build a worthwhile life. It is a promise to oneself, not an assessment of oneself. Over the course of a well-lived life, it tends to strengthen as the sense of personal accountability also strengthens. 

In summary, Business Schools can do so much more to develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world by: helping leaders to understand, explain and manage paradox; develop and articulate their life philosophy; develop their curiosity and the diversity of their networks; adopt a more experimental mindset; adopt a growth mindset; and facilitate transformational conversations.

David Lewis (left) is a Guest Lecturer at London Business School and Hult International Business School.
Jules Goddard (right) is a Fellow of London Business School.
David Lewis and Jules Goddard are the co-authors of Mavericks: How Bold Leadership Changes the World (Kogan Page, 2022).

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: February 2022-April 2022).

How to practice conscious leadership

Business Impact: How to practice conscious leadership

A conscious leader is self-aware, radically responsible, and focuses on forging a positive impact while building a community of ‘we’ rather than a culture of ‘me’, says Marika Messager

What is ‘conscious leadership? Ultimately, it means honouring your potential in everything you do. Embodying the principles of conscious leadership means standing firm on three pillars that I believe are essential to achieving it: clarity, presence, and creation.

Three pillars of conscious leadership

1.* Clarity: knowing who you are, what you want, when to take action and how to go about it. Most leaders who lack self-awareness cannot bring their authentic self into situations and therefore either hide and manipulate, lack self-confidence, don’t feel good enough or suffer from impostor syndrome. When we come from a place of truth and authenticity, we come from a place of ‘soft power’; which means standing strong in our alignment while not needing to exert power over others, but rather, empower all to achieve our vision/mission.

2.* Presence: this refers to emotional intelligence and your ability to master your emotions; respond to challenges and opportunities in a way you’re proud of. A conscious leader practices emotional agility and has the capacity to maintain expansive emotions such as self-confidence, courage, trust, joy, and inner peace. All while minimising emotional triggers and outburst. Without presence it is extremely hard for any leader to truly level up.

3.* Creation: the strategic and execution plan (including the processes and systems) that you have designed from a place of clarity and presence. You will achieve more creative power when you have clear intentions and you have mastered your emotions.

Conscious leadership is a way of life, where one commits to living in the spirit of radical truth. Being aligned with one’s true self and therefore embodying that truth in every dimension of your life. In that process, a conscious leader is self-aware, radically responsible, and focuses on forging a positive impact while building a culture/family/community of ‘we’ rather than a culture of ‘me’.

How can conscious leadership help you create success?

Success is an inside job. The more conscious and self-aware you are, the more you understand that success is a perfect equilibrium between financial success, inner peace and making an impact.

Many people measure their effectiveness as a leader through the success that they’ve achieved. In my years of working with clients, I have observed two things. There are some who had a hard time attaining success and those who were able to grasp it in their hands easily. What is the difference between these two types of leaders?

  • People who have a hard time achieving their goals have a hard time making decisions and are sometimes so stuck that they are unable to make decisions at all. They often feel fear or frustration which freezes them and renders them useless and unable to make a choice. There is a large percentage of people who find it hard to find success because they see consciousness as an illusion and they refuse to embark on efforts that will make them more self-aware.
  • On the other hand, leaders who seem to find themselves celebrating one win after another have a very distinct characteristic. It is easy for them to make decisions. They seem to do everything the right way, at the right time. They always seem confident and always ‘in the flow’. They are in momentum, make accurate decisions and expand in all areas of their lives. The leaders who fall under this category see consciousness as a truth. They continually work on themselves to achieve higher levels of consciousness. They understand that in order to access or maintain higher levels of leadership, they have to embrace the ‘conscious path’ in order to stay ahead. These are conscious leaders.

Awareness and conscious leadership

Conscious leadership is having the awareness of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies. Without self-awareness and self-leadership, nothing happens: you have to work on yourself first.

Consciousness works on the persona of the ‘Healed Healer’. The four aspects of awareness are detailed below:

1.* On a mental level, you are aware of your thoughts and have the ability to choose what you want to focus on. You have mastered the power of intention.

2.* On an emotional level, you have the capacity to feel your emotions, both negative and positive, release what no longer serves and bring yourself back into emotional alignment once triggered. You are not operating from your wounds, but rather from a strong emotional core.

3.* On a physical level, you understand that taking care of your physical self is a pre-requirement to emotional and mental mastery. You have practices that support your potential and the ability to break free from unhealthy habits or addictions.

4.* On a spiritual level, you are strongly in tune with your purpose and operate from your personal vision of positive impact. You have learned to trust your intuition, developed a sound understanding of spiritual technologies and stepped into your creator power.

Conscious leadership in the organisation

In our business, we believe in the principle of ‘elevating humanity through business and elevating business through humanity.’ Through humanity, we raise consciousness in business and through business we raise consciousness in humanity.

In any organisation, conscious leaders want to be a force for good for the people they work with, the stakeholders, and the planet. They come from a place of innovation and a commitment to access market leadership with the understanding that a conscious business is based on the three pillars of profit, people and planet.

Our mission is to guide curious minds into the world of consciousness and its possibilities. We believe that as we create conscious success in all dimensions of our lives, we become human beings driven to foster a positive impact on the world and create a better future for all. Now more than ever, it is time for conscious leadership.

Main image credit: Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash

Marika Messager is the CEO and Founder of She has a background in the financial markets, where she was recognised as one of the industry’s most successful equity sales professionals, making it to a seven-figure annual compensation at the age of 31 and managing 40 people across Europe at 34. 

To grow a business you must also develop its leaders

Business Impact: to grow a business you must also develop its leaders

Leadership and business development must be designed in tandem within organisations – and Business Schools can provide the education to support this, writes Aalto University’s Pekka Mattila

Leadership development is crucial in creating competitive business advantage. It improves financial performance, helps attract and retain talent, drives strategy execution, and increases success in navigating change. Leadership development should be seen as part of overall business development. In short, leadership and business development are two sides of the same coin. 

But not all organisations have caught up with this view. This could be due to the fact that resources in both public and private organisations tend to fluctuate, and HR projects are the first to fall victim to cost-cutting. This causes the business to lose sight of the bigger picture. HR development and business development happen in parallel, but in silos – they are often very disconnected, even though they depend on each other. 

When running a business, ultimately the main goal is to make a profit, and HR can contribute to this, but during periods of economic instability, the main aim is to keep the business afloat. Anything that is not needed to keep the business running takes a backseat. Developing employees is important, but ensuring they keep their jobs is even more so. 

When an upturn eventually comes around, the business begins to address the maintenance backlog accrued during the cost-cutting period, and must start from scratch as HR projects were put on hold, or phased out. To avoid this chain of events, smart organisations will formulate an overarching trajectory for their leadership development objectives and activities. 

For this to succeed, they need leadership development and business development. 

Leadership development programmes offer external inputs as stimuli. However, growth does not take place in a classroom, it happens when leaders apply the skills they’ve learned in their work. By combining business development and leadership development, employees can apply these skills immediately. Only by combining leadership and business development will individuals be able to conduct experiments, implement experience and insights, and close the knowing-doing gap. It also allows them to validate what they’ve learned and see how it works in their own contexts. 

Develop the right leadership programmes

Leadership development programmes often offer a ‘buffet-style’ experience. These programmes dish out a spectrum of coaches and facilitators with many tools and concepts. However, the selection is so varied that it could lead to ‘overeating’, where participants end up with huge piles of literature and other materials, but lack the opportunity to apply their learning to their work. 

This approach can often overwhelm participants, but the goal is not for every individual to adopt every tool and concept on offer. Instead, a high-quality leadership development programme caters to many different skills and needs. 

Here at Aalto University Executive Education, we strive to integrate a live business case into each programme so that participants can test their new skills and knowledge and see what works for them.

Leadership training with a vision

Leadership development programmes are linked to organisations’ long-term visions. In the best-case scenario, the strategy is also still in the making and the strategy dialogue takes place, in part, on the leadership programme platform. This way, the programme provides an opportunity to validate hypotheses on the go. Programmes make it possible to facilitate these discussions in a structured manner. 

In strategy work, it is important to decide what we choose to believe as ‘truth’. All industries have become more challenging; they find competition in unexpected places, or notice their competitors innovating with revenue and business models. 

Smart organisations will view leadership development programmes as voyages of discovery to uncharted territories, or as an opportunity to validate assumptions. 

Support for strategy implementation

Many organisations will have already formed a strategy but not yet implemented it. In this scenario, a leadership development programme can provide outside support and guidance, or serve as a platform for launching projects. Having a programme means that projects don’t get buried under competing priorities. They have a structure, a timetable, a support system, and control points. 

The challenge most organisations face is that people get excited about ambitious new strategies and visions, but ask what’s going to happen next. This places pressure on management to show that the vision will lead to action, and that they are serious about implementing it, not just trying to be trendy. In this situation, a leadership development programme may serve to prove that things are changing. 

When implementing strategy, the timeline is important. It’s vital that the organisation gets moving in weeks, and achieves a concrete milestones within months. This may be as simple as announcing that a task force has been launched – another thing with which leadership programmes can help. 

Goals provide focus 

Leadership programmes are not only a great way to make people feel included, but also a way to channel the organisation’s energies in the right direction. But this only works if the programme is directly linked to the organisation’s ambitions – so the more concrete objectives organisation can present, the better. Effective goals are always measurable because it helps identify what must happen to achieve results. 

Leadership skills impact the bottom line

As I’ve already stated, leadership development is proven to help organisations achieve their business development goals, but it also gives backing to the entire management team responsible for implementing the organisations strategy. 

Research carried out by McKinsey and Egon Zehnder in 2011 revealed that while talent is always important, only exceptional talent makes a real difference. According to the report, there was a high correlation between executives with ‘excellent’ capabilities and the organisations financial performance, while merely ‘good’ performance showed no correlation. 

In appraising leadership development, we should move from measuring intellection and cognitive skills to evaluating the concrete actions taken and the results achieved. 

The real impact of a leadership development programme should manifest itself in improved business development performance. 

What does this mean for Business Schools?

If more organisations adopt the idea that leadership development and business development go hand in hand, then they will start to rely on Business Schools more and more to provide them with the education to support this. 

Combining leadership and business development benefits both the organisation and the Business School. It benefits the organisation because, as I said earlier, leadership development and business development are two sides of the same coin. By using leadership programmes to develop the leaders within a business, you will help the business to succeed, because a good leader will implement vision and values, ensure effective communication, and motivate employees. 

It will benefit the Business School because more people will attend the School, but it also brings in a variety of different voices who have had experience in different industries. 

Working together with an organisation allows them to bring in real-world problems, discuss and come up with a solution – which will then benefit the individual when they face a similar problem in their job. By combining leadership and business development, you are truly enhancing their education. 

Pekka Mattila is the Group Managing Director of Aalto University Executive Education and serves as a Professor of Practice at the Aalto University School of Business.

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

How the world’s biggest societal changes will impact business


Inequality, climate change, values and technology. Alison Watson, Head of School of Leadership and Management at Arden University, delves into four global challenges and considers what they will ask of tomorrow’s business leaders

Society is constantly evolving. In the past two decades alone, there have been some remarkable feats that have inevitably changed the way we live and how society works.

Little changes can also cause big waves in our everyday lives, such as the shift to remote working and the emphasis on wellbeing brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

If we understand how the world is changing, we will know what problems to expect and can help prepare the next generation of leaders to deal with them. Here are four major trends to consider.

* 1. The great rise of technology

The pandemic has sped up the use of technology and inevitably shifted the skills future jobs will demand. Staying competitive in this changing business environment requires new strategies and practices, with findings suggesting that most executives recognise technology’s strategic importance as a critical component of the business, not just a source of cost efficiencies.

Despite worries that certain jobs will become obsolete, many future roles will be created by, and revolve around, the fourth industrial revolution and the digitisation of the workplace. These in-demand skills will result in business leaders needing a set of foundational skills: cognitive, digital, interpersonal and self-leadership (including self-awareness, self-management and entrepreneurship) skills. With AI, tech developments and automation assisting the labour market, the talents employees bring to the table need to complement digital advancements.

We are already seeing the benefits technology brings. Being able to work remotely has changed the way people view the working day; rightly so, there is now more importance on maintaining a good work-life balance and more freedom to apply for jobs that were once out of reach simply due to location and inability to commute. It has given those with disabilities more options and has allowed parents to progress in their careers without having to sacrifice precious time with their children.

Technology, among many other things, should be allowing businesses to welcome a more diverse team. It will allow business leaders of the future to engage with people from a range of specialisms and sectors, allowing them to broaden their horizons and continually inform their developing worldview.

This interaction will help leaders adjust their perspectives, enable them to build strong, long-lasting relationships with key stakeholders and reinforce an understanding of people across various cultures and backgrounds, allowing them to become a keen advocate of diversity and flexibility.

At the heart of this, therefore, the businesspeople of the future must have a deep understanding of people – they need to know how to empower and get the best from their teams and have a deep emotional and social intelligence which enables them to understand and gauge the impact of the decisions they make on the people around them.

* 2. Values matter

One change that has gathered pace throughout the pandemic and shows no signs of slowing down is that people want to be involved in something that matters, something that aligns with their values and something that fulfils them.

This ‘awakening’ that successive lockdowns brought on has resulted in society wanting more purpose behind their decisions – whether it is deciding to be more sustainable for the environment or changing jobs because they want to work at home full-time. This means businesses of the future will need a more holistic approach. There will be more emphasis on impact and inclusivity; it is not solely about profit.

Business leaders will need to keep this in mind. In order to survive, they will need to consider what people – consumers and workers alike – want. They will be held accountable for decisions that do not align with ethics, just as we have seen with some fast fashion brands, for example, in recent years.

As technology allows us to connect more easily, it will become simpler and more feasible for consumers and employees to go elsewhere if a business does not meet their needs. Things will become more competitive, so the business students of today need to prepare and think about how they will conduct strategies with people’s needs in mind.

*3. Climate change

A change we cannot ignore is climate change and its impact on society. It will undoubtedly cause colossal changes that span different areas, including business. For example, as the effects of climate change become more prominent, more and more consumers are looking to buy goods and services from businesses that operate in ethical and sustainable ways.

According to McKinsey, companies need to take climate considerations into account when looking at capital allocation, development of products or services, and supply-chain management, among other things. This will require a change in mindset, new operating models, and tools and processes to integrate climate risk into decision-making.

So, what does this mean for the business leaders of tomorrow? As mentioned earlier, they’ll be expected to be holistic leaders who make decisions based on sound moral and ethical principles. They’ll need to empower their teams and be innovative in order to revolutionise business strategies that will maximise sustainable and ethical practices.

The future business leader will be a sustainable leader – someone who will drive change by addressing the core social, environmental and economic issues affecting our planet. Instead of getting caught up on ‘everyday’ business matters, the leaders of tomorrow that have sustainability at their core will need to be able to ally short-term business objectives with longer-term, strategic plans that consider objectives relating to economic health, the environment, people and society.

They will need to have a comprehensive worldview that contemplates and understands humanity’s place as part of a global ecosystem and will need to be able to lead and influence others.

*4. The widening gaps in the workforce

Disparity in the workplace remains a big topic with many conferences dedicated to closing the gender gap, for example, and many movements trying to showcase the importance of a diverse workplace.

This final trend is continually evolving and impacting businesses and, as such, is also one that is influenced by the aforementioned points. As climate change takes its toll on Earth’s physical planet, for example, it will cause social, economic, and political chaos as refugees flee areas that can no longer sustain them.

Society is likely to become more polarised due to the impacts of climate change. With some areas losing natural resources, such as drinking water, and conditions either too hot and dry, or too cold and wet, livelihoods will be threatened and citizens will be displaced, causing a rise in people seeking asylum. A rise in floods and increased pollution will also cause public health concerns. Research has shown that social inequality is characterised by a vicious cycle, whereby disadvantaged groups suffer a disproportionate loss of their income and assets from the effects of climate change, resulting in greater, subsequent inequality.

With the rise of technology, we will again see disadvantaged groups missing out on key developments due to financial constraints. As life expectancy rates grow, many will continue to work long past the traditional age of retirement and yet they may fall behind if not included in the rapid developments that allow economies and businesses to thrive.

All of this will result in disparities if development and inclusion aren’t key aspects for businesses. Business leaders will need to consider how best to deploy this older, more experienced workforce, how to react to the movement of asylum seekers and disadvantaged groups, and how they can close the inequality gap.

What traits do you need to be a ‘sustainable leader’? Alison Watson, Head of the School of Leadership and Management at Arden University, looks at qualities to embrace and develop, and outlines why businesses will need them

Alison Watson is Head of School of Leadership and Management at Arden University. Alison has a wealth of experience in business and management having worked for a number of large retailers as an operations and project manager. Her recent research interests focus on inclusion and encouraging wider access to higher education.

Leading with trust


Business isn’t capitalising on the benefits trust can bring, say HBS Professor, Sandra Sucher, and HBS Research Associate, Shalene Gupta. But students of management must be made aware of how trust relates to power and how leaders must govern themselves to retain it

Leaders have powers other people don’t. They get to decide (or lead a process of deciding) what products or services a company will offer, how many people to employ and what kinds of jobs they will have, which suppliers to partner with, and even how to interpret laws and regulations. On the flip side, this also means leaders have to make difficult decisions that may mean causing harm in order to preserve the greater good. One senior executive told us that, ‘the fair decisions are easy. My job is to make the difficult decisions.’

Leaders have the responsibility of making decisions which also means in order to keep this responsibility they must be trusted. ‘Trust’ refers to our ability to be vulnerable to an organisation or person that may have power over us. For example, customers are vulnerable to an organisation because they have no window into how a product or service is created, they must trust that the product or service will work as it is supposed to and that it is ethically created. Similarly, when employees agree to work for an organisation, they are trusting that they will not be abused and that they will have a reasonable amount of job security. 

The benefits of trust 

Research shows that teams that trust their leaders perform better. In a study of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball teams in the US, researchers found that trust in a leader was more important to winning than trust in one’s teammates.  Teams that trusted their coaches won 7% more of their games than teams that didn’t. And the team with the highest trust in its coach won the national championship, while the team with the lowest trust in their coach only won 10% of their games. As one player commented: ‘Once we developed trust in Coach___, the progress we made increased tremendously because we were no longer asking questions or were apprehensive. Instead, we were buying in and believing that if we worked our hardest, we were going to get there.’

The importance of trust translates to a company’s bottom line as well. In a 2002 study of Holiday Inns, 6,500 employees rated their trust in their managers on a scale from 1-5. An increase in trust of 1/8th of a point was correlated with a 2.5% increase in revenues. And at a macro level, this all scales up: a 1997 study of 29 market economies showed that a 10% increase in trust in the population was correlated with a 0.8% increase in GDP.

But as a community, business isn’t capitalising on the benefits trust can bring. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, CEO credibility is at an all-time low in several countries, including Japan at 18% and France at 23% (in terms of the proportion of people who rate a CEO as a very or extremely credible source of information about a company) making the challenge for CEOs even more critical as they try to manage today’s issues.

Earning trust 

Because leaders have the responsibility of making decisions, leaders earn trust differently than organisations. Followers want first to know that a leader has earned her power legitimately, and second that she will use it well because she has the power to make decisions that will impact their careers and even the ways that they live their lives. They rely on their leader to make these difficult decisions with compassion and fairness.
A leader who is not trusted will not hold on to their position for long as we can see in the case of companies, such as Boeing, that have suffered a major scandal where the CEO is later dismissed, or in the case of Harvey Weinstein, who was ousted after his multiple abuses
were uncovered. 

The American philosopher, John Rawls, calls that first act of earning trust by acquiring power legitimately at the beginning of a leader’s tenure (or the first exposure that you might have with her in her role) ‘originating consent’. There is then what he calls ‘joining consent’ – the fact that people continuously assess whether they want to keep trusting a leader with power.

Even if you come to your role through the right process, fairly carried out, people still want to know how it originated – on what basis you were selected. In other words, how, exactly, did you come into your role and get the power that comes with it? In democratic societies, we recognise the result of an election by consenting to allow the winning candidate to assume the job of mayor, governor, or president as our leader. In corporations, the process is less visible: boards of directors appoint CEOs, who we in turn, consent to allow to lead our organisations.

The process of earning trust, however, does not end with originating consent. Earning trust does not just happen when a leader first acquires power. It’s a status that is always being reassessed through joining consent, that is, trust needs to be earned over and over, throughout time. 

However, leaders face an uphill battle when it comes to joining consent because it turns out that the very qualities that cause you to earn people’s trust in the first place are easily destroyed by acquiring power. Business students need to be keenly aware that part of retaining trust as a leader is governing yourself to resist the heady side-effects power can create, which paradoxically cause leaders to lose trust. The lexicon of business history is filled with stories of CEOs like Travis Kalanick, who created large companies and then got ousted due to losing touch with the public. But why does this happen?

The paradox of power

Dacher Keltner, a Professor of Psychology who heads up the University of California, Berkeley Social Interaction Lab has, for decades, studied power, which he defines as ‘one’s capacity to alter another person’s condition or state of mind by providing or withholding resources… or administering punishments.’ In his book, The Power Paradox (2016) Keltner describes his research and that of other leading scholars of power.

Power is a paradox in the following sense: the very behaviours that lead others to trust you with a position of power are (or can be) horribly transformed (think Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) into behaviours that are the opposite of what people esteemed in you before. For instance, leaders often gain their power because of their willingness to listen to others, but once attaining it, they frequently downplay or even refuse to listen to dissenting voices. That is because being in a position of power affects both the way you see yourself and how others perceive you and the way you act. 

Now, the second half of this paradox is not exactly new news. There’s a reason why you have probably heard some version of the quote: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ – the famous opinion of the British historian, Lord Acton. 

Let’s start with the first half of the paradox and Keltner’s description of the behaviours that lead others to trust you with a position of power. In this view, the road to earning and maintaining power and, ultimately, trust is paved by actions that show a caring focus on others. Groups create leaders. They ‘give power to those who advance the greater good, construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence, reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem, and punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.’ Keltner’s leaders demonstrate empathy, they give to others, and they show gratitude.

Characteristics of those who rise to power

Keltner conducted the research that first introduced him to these ideas 20 years ago. He wanted to understand why some people rise to power in a group, while others don’t. To get at this question, he designed a natural state experiment, which means an experiment that would allow him to interact with participants as they were living their lives and at home, as it were, in their own spaces. He got permission to study the students who lived together in one hall within a first-year dormitory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a public university with a heterogeneous student body. 

At the beginning of the year, he met students and asked them to rate the amount of influence of each person on the hall. Students also completed a questionnaire that asked them to assess the extent to which their own personalities were defined by five social tendencies – a group that psychologists refer to as the ‘Big Five’: kindness, enthusiasm (reaching out to others) focus on shared goals, calmness, and openness to others’ ideas and feelings. He came back at the middle of the academic year, and then at the end, asking students to rate the power held by each of their dorm-mates each time.  

He tallied the power ratings given to each student. He found that as early as two weeks into the year, some students already had more perceived power than others. He also found that each student’s power fluctuated throughout the year. He found that those who rose to power had the most enthusiasm, and that the other Big Five traits mattered as well for retaining power. Researchers replicated these results across 70 other studies, finding that all the people who rose to power had all of the Big Five personality traits. The studies were in settings as varied as hospitals, financial firms, manufacturing facilities, schools, and the military. This is overwhelming evidence that if you want to get power, you need to be someone who values others, who cares about the greater good, and who can help a group succeed.

The reason why Keltner’s book is called The Power Paradox, however, is that he goes on to describe how the actions that might lead one to be chosen to have power can disappear under the neurological and psychological effects that being in a position of power can have on individuals. Keltner calls power a ‘dopamine high’. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in our brains when we expect a reward. Keltner found that when people feel more powerful, they get dopamine highs. However, this makes them less aware of the risks associated with an action. 

Perspective-taking and priming 

This transformation from a focus on others to a focus on yourself is also a concern of Adam Galinsky, Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School, who is a renowned social psychologist. He and some colleagues conducted a deceptively easy-looking experiment to illustrate one of the worst effects of power on individuals, which is how it interferes with a person’s ability to take the perspective of others. A key component of empathy, perspective-taking, is the proverbial ability to walk in another person’s shoes, which means to be able to see, feel, and imagine how someone else experiences the world. 

But if you literally can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can’t take their perspective into account. In Galinsky’s study of 57 undergraduates, he divided the students into ‘high-power’ and ‘low-power’ groups. Students in the high-power group were asked to write about a personal incident when they had power. In the low-power group, students wrote about a personal situation in which another person had power over them. The students were then taken into a separate room and given a series of tasks: high-power participants were asked to allocate seven lottery tickets to themselves and another participant; low-power participants were asked to guess how many of the seven lottery tickets they would receive from another participant. Students were then given the following instructions: Task 1: with your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, snap your fingers five times. Task 2: with your dominant hand, as quickly as you can, draw a capital ‘E’ on your forehead with the marker provided.

Here is the amazing thing that happened. The participants in the high-power position wrote the letter E on their foreheads as if they were reading it themselves, which meant that the E would be backwards from the perspective of someone looking at them and trying to read it. And the participants in the low-power position wrote the letter so that a person looking at them would be able to read it easily. In other words, they wrote it considering the perspective of the other person, whereas the high-power group wrote it from their own perspective. 

The experimental process used by Galinsky is called ‘priming’. It refers to the common and well-validated research technique that finds that giving individuals tasks, like writing about a personal experience, will put them in a frame of mind to think of themselves in a particular way, in this case, as either a person of high power or someone with low power. So, just by being primed to think of yourself as high-power, you look at the world from your own perspective. 

Preparing leaders for an internal battle 

CEOs like Travis Kalanick from Uber (he of the toxic culture, never-ending scandals, and bad-boy fame) and Tony Hayward from BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (Mr ‘I’d like my life back’) are first-rate examples of what leadership looks like under conditions of power-laced self-focus, an inability to empathise, and indifference to harm imposed on others.  

What this comes down to is that leaders at any level in an organisation, or even in their personal life, must be prepared for the internal battle that awaits. On one side is the focus on others and the good of the group – the actions and beliefs that enable people to gain power and the respect and admiration of others. On the other side is the well-documented finding that being in a leadership role will pull you towards a focus on yourself and replace attention to others with an inability to care, understand or even be curious about the conditions of other people or groups, except those who serve your interests. 

Describe, analyse and judge: notes on teaching trust and leadership

I’ve [Sandra J Sucher] taught at Harvard Business School for 23 years, including courses on moral leadership, and leadership and corporate accountability. Trust is a skill and therefore when teaching it, it’s important to use examples instead of lectures.  

In the classroom, I draw on a mixture of cases (I recommend Dave Cote at Honeywell to illustrate a trusted leader balancing different stakeholder needs: ‘Honeywell and the Great Recession (A)’ and ‘Honeywell and the Great Recession: The Economic Recovery (B)’) and examples from real life and great literature to stimulate discussions (William Langewiesche’s American Ground (2002) is a fabulous example of how a group earned originating consent,
for example). 

Then using a line of rigorous questioning, I get students to put themselves in a leader’s position. First, we start with observation; I call that step, ‘Describe’. What is the incident that’s happened? What are the leadership challenges? Then we take it deeper; I call that step, ‘Analyse’. Why did it happen? What factors contributed to the present? What do we know and what don’t we know? And finally, I have the students assess and debate the right course of action; I call that step, ‘Judge’. The reality is that in the midst of a crisis or a scandal it’s difficult to know what to do and sometimes there are no clear answers, just tough choices. Students often come into class hoping for right answers – what I hope to give them is a process for thinking through difficult dilemmas. 

Sandra J Sucher (left) is a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, where she has taught for the last 20 years. At Harvard, Sucher has studied how organisations can change and improve while retaining stakeholder trust and the vital role that leaders can play in the process. She is also an advisor to the Edelman Trust Barometer

Shalene Gupta (right) is a Research Associate at Harvard Business School. She is a former Fortune reporter, writing about diversity in Silicon Valley, big data, and smart cities, before which she worked at the US Department of Treasury and had a Fulbright grant in Malaysia. 

Sandra J Sucher and Shalene Gupta are the authors of The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It (PublicAffairs, 2021).

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: August-October 2021).

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group

Business Impact article image for Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group

Retail Marketing Group CEO, Lysa Campbell, on the importance for leaders of reflection, gaining trust, and having open conversations that ‘encourage people to have a better understanding of one another and the world around them’

‘Understanding how what you did yesterday will impact today and tomorrow is an important evaluation for any leader or entrepreneur,’ says Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group and a firm believer in the power of reflection. Innovation and reflection are often key in my role,’ she affirms. ‘Adopting an approach of reflection means that as a wider company we are always learning…’

A leader with a background as the founder of a high-growth field marketing agency, Campbell covers the importance of gaining your team’s trust, and of diversity of thought facilitated by having open conversations, in this interview with Business Impact.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

As an experienced agency leader with a successful background in creating business growth and diversification, I’m currently leading Retail Marketing Group (RMG) as CEO for the UK, having joined the agency in 2018.

Innovation and reflection are often key in my role. RMG’s aim is to provide forward-focused solutions that meet our clients’ needs. Adopting an approach of reflection means that as a wider company we are always learning, refining how we operate to be at the top of our game, and making sure we are adapting to the changes happening around us.

My role specifically spans a wide range of departments and responsibilities. RMG offers field marketing and brand experience solutions as well as Storey, our newly launched video chat shopping service. I oversee all these propositions, manage the sales and marketing teams, and make sure every one of our clients gets the best possible service.

Did your Business School/university experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

People are often surprised when they learn that not only did I not attend university, but I also don’t have A-level qualifications. After I finished my formal education, I had to decide on the path I wanted to take and drive it forward myself. I am a firm believer that how far you get in life is all about mindset and making the most of opportunities, coupled with a steely determination to achieve more.

During my career, however, I have sought and undertaken courses that have contributed to my success, delivering a combination of immediate and long-term impact. Added to that, I have been fortunate enough to have benefited from having some brilliant role models and mentors from whom I learned a huge amount that I took into setting up my own business.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

My experiences have taught me to stick to my principles regardless of how difficult the decision is. No matter what, you must believe in yourself and trust that the principles that have carried you so far will continue to help you make the right decisions.

The eight years I spent building and growing my first business were not easy. Through many mistakes and moments of doubt, I learnt that the most important thing that I could do was to make time for reflection. We can only learn in hindsight, so understanding how what you did yesterday will impact today and tomorrow is an important evaluation for any leader or entrepreneur.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

As a leader, one of the best things I can offer my team is bravery, showing my team that I am prepared to make difficult decisions. I had to prove this trait to my team early on, when I had to make the choice to fire a client because they weren’t the right fit. My team had raised their concerns with me, and it was my responsibility to listen, understand and act to show my loyalty to the team. At that stage, our agency was dependent on [that client’s] revenue, however I was grateful to recognise the potential long-term impact my inaction would have, including a negative work culture or losing the trust of my employees.

Being vulnerable, open and honest with your team goes a long way to earning their trust, respect and loyalty.

Do you feel that leading a company has enabled you to make a positive impact? If so, how?

Without a doubt, yes. I hold strong to the fact that the most positive impact a leader can make is with the next generation of the workforce. An employee’s success – from their perspective of an industry and the decisions they make, to how they navigate their careers –  are all heavily influenced by the types of leaders they can observe and learn from.

I take pride in leading a company that welcomes people from all walks of life, with a heavy focus on diversity and inclusion in our corporate strategy. We mostly do this through diversity of thought, bringing varying, diverse viewpoints to the table. Discussions that come from these open conversations encourage people to have a better understanding of one another and the world around them. Tech companies need to prompt these conversations wherever possible, starting with visible representation in leadership roles.

Outline the importance of diversity to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Over the last few years, diversity in the tech industry has slowly been improving. It is clear that companies are trying to take steps in the right direction to become more inclusive through various initiatives, although there is a lot more for us all to do.

At RMG, we are trying to ensure diversity is at the core of everything we do. We know we have a long way to go but are seeing positive results from ensuring our push for diverse thinking runs right through from the recruitment process, to offering individually personalised development plans and opportunities to grow. We treat everyone as an individual and provide the support and opportunities we feel enable everyone to develop at their own pace and be the best version of themselves.

Lysa Campbell is currently CEO for the UK at Retail Marketing Group. She started her own agency in 2008 with only two staff. Seven years later, that agency had a turnover of £9 million GBP, with more than 2,000 staff.

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