Must-Read articles on Leadership from HBR

OK! I have to admit it right away: I am a devoted reader of the Harvard Business Review, although very critical when reading any theory or article. This post, however, has not been filtered by my critical brain – not yet anyway.

As I am a little disappointed by HBR (having a premium membership and all), and they are trying to sell me a compilation of articles that I can already read online or on paper. Why wouldn’t they provide the links as an “extra service”?  Therefore I decided to search for the articles myself and make the links to these “10 must-reads on LEADERSHIP” (according to HBR, that is) available. You will of course need an online subscription, or if you want, you can buy the set here




A collection of Tom Peters’ appearances

Here’s a collection of appearances with Tom Peters from YouTube:

Short and simple, not necessarily rocket science, but sometimes we need to be reminded even of the simplest of things:



Here’s what it takes to be a good CEO

(By JOSE RAMON PIN and GUIDO STEIN, From The New York Times Syndicate — 03.11.2009 09:06)

A lot of managers stretch for the position as the CEO, a position that they view as the peak of their carreer. But before they start climbing for the apex, leaders should ask themselves : Is it really worth it?

To answer this question, Spanish school of management, IESE’s International Research Center on Organization, in cooperation with the PR-agency Burston-Marsteller. The survey, included 1000 spanish managers, had a question searching for the pros and cons of becoming the “top dog”.

Based on the answers, you can identify two main reasons for becoming the CEO – not surprising:

The opportunity of putting your own ideas into action, and the challenge and responsibility that comes with the job.

When it comes to the negative sides, the respondents pointed out two disadvantages: Difficulties combining a private life and carreer, and the fact that executives sometimes have to make decision that are difficult from an interpersonal perspecitve, particularly when it comes to laying off people close to you. In the end, however, many say they think the pros outweigh the cons.

The achievement syndrome:

Potential CEO’s are characterized by what is often referred to as the “achievement syndrome”:

  • They accept reasonable challenges, i.e. challenges that are neither easy nor too difficult. Their goals have an acceptable chance of being achieved. They are not interrested in pursuing something that is too easy or totally out of reach.
  • They have their own view of reality, which sometimes creates discussion until they get their visions realized.
  • The work towards results – medium and long term, not just short term. Short term results are just a means for longer term ends.
  • They need indicators telling them whether or not they achieve planned results.
  • They want to change the environment in which they operate. This is more about chasing personal interrests: They aim to improve the working conditions of those around them.

The achievement syndrome, which in principle has positive effects, could easily end up becoming a power syndrome, particularly if you lose the broader motivation. When this happens, executives start pursuing their own interrests, and stop caring what is good for the organization.



Strategy formation is important – but implementation is key

A strategy is of course worthless if the only ones that care are the board of directors. While the board is responsible to ensure that your company has a strategy, it doesn’t really help  if your strategy stops there. Having a strategy isn’t even half the effort and IKEA knows this.

If the strategy is going to be executed, the company has to have resources enough to follow through and all employees have to know how. Make a few practical rules for your employees to live by – to tell your people how the strategy is going to be implemented. This is how IKEA is leading the way and Ingvar Kamprad (the IKEA founder) has 9 commandments:

1) Product ranges – IKEA’s identity is simple, bright. This is linked to the lifestyle you want to convey. Functional and good quality, but at a reasonable price.

2) The IKEA-spirit – strong vital reality. Enthusiasm. Countinous renewal. Helping one another doing an even better job. Humility.

3) Good profits – provide more resources and more oportunities. We need money to reach our goals. Everything has a price tag on it – e.g. the catalog. Saving money is a virtue – even small amounts.

4) Good results desipte limited resources. Reaching your goals with limited resources is a virtue. Waste is a mortal sin.

5) Simplicity is a virtue. Simple procedures and policies are powerful. Simplicity in our behavior gives us strength. Excessive planning is also waste. Concentrate on the execution.

6) Think – what can be done differently? Why are we doing it like this? Beware the curse of knowledge and experience. Prior experience can dampen your thirst for knowledge and willingness to experiment

7) Focus – is vital to all prosperity. You cannot do everything, everywhere all the time, all at once. Strategy is choice – choice is deciding what NOT to do.

8) Being responsible is an advantage – being accountable is taking action. Fight the fear of failing. Making mistakes is the privilege of the action oriented.

9) There is more to be done than has been done so far – there is a wonderful future. A company that has reached its goals, will stagnate and lose its life power. The sense of being done is the best remedy for sleeping.



How to build accountability or “Who’s got the monkey”

These key ideas in this post are taken from the Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s got the Monkey?”  by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass

How to identify the situation – “you have the monkey”:

Imagin the situation: You are racing down the hall. An employee stops you and says, “We’ve got a problem.” You assume you should get involved but can’t make an on-the-spot decision. You say, “Let me think about it.” You’ve just allowed a “monkey” to leap from your subordinate’s back to yours. You’re now working for your subordinate. Take on enough monkeys, and you won’t have time to handle your real job: fulfilling your own boss’s mandates and helping peers generate business results. How to avoid accumulating monkeys? Develop your subordinates’ initiative, say Oncken and Wass. For example, when an employee tries to hand you a problem, clarify whether he should: recommend and implement a solution, take action then brief you immediately, or act and report the outcome at a regular update. When you encourage employees to handle their own monkeys, they acquire new skills—and you liberate time to do your own job.

How to return monkeys to their proper owners:

  • Make appointments to deal with monkeys.
    Avoid discussing any monkey on an ad hoc basis—for example, when you pass a subordinate in the hallway. You won’t convey the proper seriousness. Instead, acknowledge the problem and schedule an appointment to discuss the issue.
  • Specify level of initiative.
    Your employees can exercise five levels of initiative in handling on-the-job problems. From lowest to highest, the levels are:
  1. Wait until told what to do.
  2. Ask what to do.
  3. Recommend an action, then with your approval, implement it.
  4. Take independent action but advise you at once.
  5. Take independent action and update you through routine procedure.

When an employee brings a problem to you, outlaw use of level 1 or 2. Agree on and assign level 3, 4, or 5 to the monkey. Take no more than 15 minutes to discuss the problem.

  • Agree on a status update.
    After deciding how to proceed, agree on a time and place when the employee will give you a progress report.
  • Examine your own motives.
    Some managers secretly worry that if they encourage subordinates to take more initiative, they’ll appear less strong, more vulnerable, and less useful. Instead, cultivate an inward sense of security that frees you to relinquish direct control and support employees’ growth.
  • Develop employees’ skills.
    Employees try to hand off monkeys when they lack the desire or ability to handle them. Help employees develop needed problem-solving skills. It’s initially more time consuming than tackling problems yourself—but it saves time in the long run.
  • Foster trust.
    Developing employees’ initiative requires a trusting relationship between you and your subordinates. If they’re afraid of failing, they’ll keep bringing their monkeys to you rather than working to solve their own problems. To promote trust, reassure them it’s safe to make mistakes.

As I’ve used this framework at work (yes, I have to admit I’ve even used in my personal life), I’ve found it both easy to apply and effective – it requires some effort but mostly simple behavioral change on your part.

However, what I’ve found equally valuable, is that this “process” over time reduces the amount of “monkeys” your employees give you.  At least that is my experience.



7 leadership skills I learned from my kids

A few weeks ago, I started realizing (yes, maybe I am a slow learner), that my relationship with my kids is dyadic in the sense that knowledge sharing and personal development goes both ways.

First of all – I get to try out my leadership skills – because being a parent is definitely a leadership skills. I’ve also come to believe that you can use some of the same tactics on both arenas. I know this sound kind of cynical, however, I take my role as a dad very seriously – and no doubt even more seriously than “just being a boss”. Secondly, I’ve come to believe that observing my kids have made me reflect on who I am as a person. Somtimes I see traits that I recognize as part of my own legacy – that reflect who I am, and some I see traits I don’t assiciate with (maybe will later realize that it IS me – I just haven’t seen it yet). Anyway, I’ve tried to summarize it below:

Always start with a smile

A real smile will get you far. The simplest way to demonstrate a positive attitude is to smile. This expression has so many benefits to both you and others around you. It is a marvellous way to show others that you are feeling good. Seeing someone smile makes others smile too! There is even research that shows positive effects mentally and physically. E.g. according to (Bernstein, et al., 2000) “feedback from facial expression affects emotional expression and behavior”. Put in simple terms, you may actually be able to improve your mood by simply “putting on a smile”! Besides, if a positive attitude doesn’t affect the outcome – well at least you were happy trying.

Be authentic

It is OK to be yourself – first of all you need accept that. Ask yoursel: If you’re not going to be yourself – who are you going to be? My best guess is “a blurred copy of someone else”. Besides, I am convinced no-one is better at being you than you are yourself. However, a small warning may be in order: Do yoursel a favor and don’t make this an excuse for complacency – NOT being self-aware and NOT trying to be the best you that you can  be. Explore who you truly are – then utilise your positive attributes.


Believe in yourself, believe in others, believe that what they tell you is the truth. At least acknowledge that what they are telling you is the truth to them. Belief is the strong cousin of determination, but as always – balancing it with adult realism doesn’t hurt either.


Allow your feelings to surface. If you’re mad – be mad – but then get it over with and get over it. Don’t hold a grudge and keep it burning at a low rate, just to take it out of your bag in your next confrontation.

Be resillient

Everything does not always go as planned. In fact, in my experience NOTHING goes exatly according to plan – ever. But, that’s not really a problem – is it. The important thing is how you cope with that. Of course we all try our best to get in control, use our experience and try to manage plans so . It is important to move on and bounce back – if you fail – try again. One thing some of the most successful people have in common is that they have failed several times – often miserably. Fail fast – fail often…


Laugh a lot! Laugh at the situation – laugh at yourself – then laugh at others. Laughing has some of the same positive effects as smiling. It is also contagious and helps bonding in more ways than I dare to imagine.

Say I’m sorry

Don’t be afraid to say what you mean, but beware that you may hurt people around you. And when you realise this – admit it to yourself – then apologize.

These were some initial thoughts on what I think I’ve learned – so far. Please note – this is definitely not finished – it is at best work in progress…


Positive thinking – in practice

Think Positively. Yes, Even in This Economy

With the economy in the state it’s in, encouraging your employees to think positively may make you look foolish and insensitive. Yet, focusing your employees on what they can do rather than what they cannot do will lead to better attitudes and results. Here are three ways to promote positivity in your people:

1. Treat employees as contributors, not costs.

Emphasize each employee’s role in contributing to the business. The minute you start talking about people as costs, negativity will take over.

2. Never sugarcoat reality.

Don’t hold back information. Talk frankly with employees about the economic realities your company is facing, while you also explain what they can do to help.

3. Challenge your people.

Slow economies provide time to reflect on and re-think your business. Ask your people to come up with ideas for improving processes, systems, and products.

Source: HBR