April 2018 | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Sydney Finkelstein, PhD; Steven Roth Professor of Management, Dartmouth College; author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent
Create top-performing individuals and teams with a three-facet teaching approach.
During a 10-year study of “superbosses,” — leaders who inspire the best performance from their people and launch astounding numbers of them into their own high-powered careers — a number of specific, common practices of star managers emerged. One involves teaching: specifically, what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach. For these highly successful managers, teaching isn’t merely an “extra”; it’s a responsibility and an integral part of their leadership style. They treat their reports as apprentices, understanding that if they’re not teaching them, they’re not really leading.
Unlike some other leadership practices, teaching like superbosses doesn’t take special talent or training or even a lot of time. It also doesn’t have to mean changing everything else that you’re doing, including more formal training. Simply follow the Action Steps below, making minor adjustments in what, when, and how you teach.
Under CEO Michael Miles, Kraft’s image was transformed in the 1980s from a purveyor of unhealthy, fatty foods into one focused on healthier offerings. He oversaw the introduction of hundreds of new brands and made a number of key acquisitions. He also nurtured top-flight marketing talent: his protégés included the future CEOs of Mattel, Young & Rubicam, Gillette, Sears, and many more. Those team members described him as “unusually accessible.” He left his door open, ate lunch in the cafeteria with employees two and three rungs below him, and held impromptu morning conversations with younger staff. These hour-long meetings have been described as “like taking a final exam.”
An investment manager learned a thing or two about discipline one day while watching his boss, hedge fund mogul Julian Robertson, consider whether to buy a stock. Robertson had spent a lot of time researching before deciding to invest $100 million. He placed the order, but in the meantime, consulted with a few people about the company and its industry. The information he got suggested that the stock was perhaps not as attractive as it had seemed. Another manager might have rationalized staying in the deal, especially since the cost of pulling out was 10 percent, or $10 million. But Robertson pulled out. “He never looked back,” said the protégé. “What he taught me was that if the story changes, get out. You can always reevaluate.”
When he was making Star Wars, filmmaker George Lucas was acutely aware of and interested in innovating on every level. He hired newcomer Ben Burtt to develop the voice of robot R2D2, but instead of relying on the studio library for sounds as every other science fiction movie did, Lucas wanted him to record real-world noises and modify them. The character had to somehow express a humanlike personality. Burtt experimented with different types of sound, running each by Lucas. Eventually, they realized the ones they had vocalized themselves and then mixed with synthesized sounds were the best. Burtt says while Lucas encouraged him to innovate, it was always clear that the director had an uncompromising vision of what he wanted and would push his people hard to achieve it.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
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