HBR: How Smart Managers Build Bridges

How do you manage conflict?  Are you improving your relationships with your directs? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

How Smart Managers Build Bridges

What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up. The information you get may well encourage you to moderate your own position and thus open the way for a mutually advantageous cooperation. Make them understand your constraints and get them to see what they have to gain by what you propose.

Of course, sometimes, no amount of understanding is going to get the other person to budge and you’re going to have to force progress. At this point, you have to work to bridge the gap in such a way that their main concerns are accommodated so that you can communicate and cooperate productively in spite of and within the limits of your differences. Typically, this involves talking responsibility for the action you wish to make while being prepared to share the payoff and the credit.

Once the gap is actually bridged and you move forward you will pretty soon see that your interactions generate change. Through the give and take of communication, all sides come to feel that at least some of the differences between them are actually smaller and easier to live with than they appeared to begin with.

I built perhaps my first managerial bridge when, fresh out of HBS, I joined our family’s business. Immediately on joining I realized that our warehouse constantly remained out-of-stock of at least five of the thirty-odd products our company carried. This not only caused a loss of sales of the items missing but also had negative repercussions on the sales of all of our products because it drove many customers into our competitors’ arms.

I went to our warehouse and met with the manager who was a very loyal, trustworthy person who had worked with us for many years. He was about 60 years old, knew all our clients personally and had a wide network of potential clients in the market. I asked him why he believed we faced this problem.

He answered that it was because our suppliers took a long time to deliver our orders and, given the global nature of our supply chain, there was nothing we could do about it. I talked to him a little about the notion of forecasting what amount of each product we would need to carry as minimum stock, in order to cover our sales during the time required between the date of placing our order and the date it would reach us.

His reaction was fierce: “If you want predictions go to the Oracle of Delphi,” he told me. “In Greece we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, so we cannot make predictions of how much of each product we will sell.” He would not budge.

Faced with this attitude, I stopped trying to get him to change. Instead, I asked for a worker, some red paint, a brush, and a wooden ladder. I obtained from the accountant the average monthly sales of each product, added a security margin of 20%, converted this quantity to the volume of space required for each product, and drew on the wall a thick red line at the point where the pile would probably be enough to cover sales of the product until our next order arrived.

I assured the manager that I respected his view that predictions in Greece were risky and — this was critical — assured him that the head office would take responsibility for whatever risks were entailed by my attempts to forecast “All you have to do is, whenever you see a red line appearing on the wall behind the stack of any product, is inform me”. Finally, I promised him a bonus for each day our warehouse carried stocks of all our products.

The immediate impact, of course, was fewer stock-outs. But the longer-term and more important benefit from the improvement was that the warehouse manager and I started talking more. He took to visiting me at my Athens office and to ask my opinion on other problems our Piraeus shop faced and to make useful suggestions on how best to address them. Thanks to my action in bridging I had been able to move from talking to the manager to talking with the manager.


HBR: 4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

Are you investing in the right people? Do you have people who are uncoachable? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Matt Brubaker and Chris Mitchell:

4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.

So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.

From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:

  1. They blame external factors for their problems.

When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.

When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.

One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.

Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.

Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.

  1. You can’t get on their calendar.

Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.

Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.

A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.

After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.

HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.

  1. They focus too much on tips and tactics.

Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.

The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)

Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.

One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.

However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.

To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.

  1. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”

To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.

Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.

Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.

When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable

After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.

Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Recently, I came across some notes from a book I read in 2011 that I’d like to share — What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential by Robert S. Kaplan:

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Vision and Priorities

In the press of day-to-day activities, leaders often fail to adequately communicate their vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t communicate it in a way that helps their subordinates determine where to focus their own efforts.

  • Have you developed a clear vision for your enterprise?
  • Have you identified three to five key priorities to achieve that vision?
  • Do you actively communicate this vision, and associated key priorities, to your organization?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down, in three to four sentences, a clear vision for your enterprise or business unit.
  • List the three to five key priorities that are most critical to achieving this vision. These should be tasks that you must do extraordinarily well in order for you to succeed based on where you are positioned today
  • Ask yourself whether the vision (with priorities) is sufficiently clear and understandable. In addition, ask yourself whether you communicate the vision and priorities frequently enough that your key stakeholders (e.g., direct reports and employees) could repeat them back to you. Interview key employees to see whether they understand and can clearly rearticulate the vision and priorities.
  • Identify venues and occasions for the regular communication, reiteration, and discussion of the vision and priorities. Create opportunities for questions and
  • Assemble your executive team off-site to debate the vision and priorities. In particular, consider whether the vision and priorities still fit the competitive environment, changes in the world, and the needs of the business. Use the off-site to update your vision and priorities and to ensure buy-in on the part of your senior leadership team.

Managing Your Time

Leaders need to know how they’re spending their time. They also need to ensure that their time allocation (and that of their subordinates) matches their key priorities.

  • Do you know how you spend your time?
  • Does it match your key priorities?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Track your time for two weeks and break down the results into major categories.
  • Compare how this breakdown matches or is mismatched versus your three to five key priorities. Make a list of the matches and mismatches. Regarding the mismatches, write down those time allocations that are 2s and 35 and could therefore be performed by others-or should not be performed at all.
  • Create an action plan for dealing with the mismatches.

For example, commit to delegating those tasks that could just as easily be performed by someone else. Decide, in advance, to say no to certain time requests that do not fit your key priorities.

  • After a few months, repeat the preceding three steps. Assess whether you are doing a better job of spending your time on critical priorities.
  • Encourage your subordinates to perform these same steps.


Giving and Getting Feedback


Leaders often fail to coach employees in a direct and timely fashion and, instead, wait until the year-end review. This approach may lead to unpleasant surprises and can undermine effective professional development. Just as important, leaders need to cultivate subordinates who can give them advice and feedback during the year.

  • Do you coach and actively develop your key people?
  • Is your feedback specific, timely, and actionable?
  • Do you solicit actionable feedback from your key subordinates?
  • Do you cultivate advisers who are able to confront you with criticisms that you may not want to hear?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • For each of your direct reports, write down three to five specific strengths. In addition, write down at least two or three specific skills or tasks that you believe they could improve on in order to improve their performance and advance their careers. Allocate time to directly observing their performance, and discreetly make inquiries to gather information and insights in order to prepare this analysis.
  • Schedule time with each subordinate, at least six months in advance of the year-end review, to discuss your observations and identify specific action steps that could help them improve and address their developmental needs and opportunities.
  • Write down a realistic list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of at least five subordinates from whom you could solicit feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Meet with each subordinate individually and explain that you need their help. In your meetings, make sure to ask them to give you advice regarding at least one or two tasks or skills they believe you could improve on. Thank them for their help.
  • Write down an action plan for addressing your own weaknesses and developmental needs. If you have a direct superior (or trusted peer), consider soliciting advice regarding your developmental needs and potential action steps. Depending on your situation and level in the organization, consider the option of hiring an outside coach.
  • Encourage each of your direct reports to follow these same steps regarding their direct reports and themselves.

Succession Planning and Delegation

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenged.

  • Do you have a succession-planning process for key positions?
  • Have you identified potential successors for your job?
  • If not, what is stopping you?
  • Do you delegate sufficiently-
  • Have you become a decision-making bottleneck?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Create a succession-planning depth chart for your business unit or organization. This document should include at least two or three potential successors for your own position.
  • For each potential successor, write down their key development needs and specific actions you might take in order to develop their capabilities in relation to potential future positions. Work to develop and shape these specific development plans.
  • For those key tasks that you have committed to finding a way to delegate, begin matching those tasks with specific candidates on the depth chart. Make assignments.
  • Categorize delegated tasks in terms of their levels of importance to your enterprise. Based on this analysis, note which tasks need to be done at extremely high levels of quality, and which can be done at “sufficient” levels of quality. Ask whether you have calibrated your level of involvement to this categorization, and remember that “involvement” should often take the form of coaching the subordinate, rather than a direct intervention. Make a commitment to “picking your spots,” to ensure that your direct interventions (beyond coaching) are justified by an appropriately high level of task importance.
  • Ask your business unit leaders to perform this same exercise with regard to their direct reports.

Evaluation and Alignment

The world is constantly changing, and leaders need to be able to adapt their businesses accordingly.

  • Is the design of your company still aligned with your vision and priorities?
  • If you had to design the enterprise today with a clean sheet of paper, how would you change the people, key tasks, organizational structure, culture, and your leadership style?
  • Why haven’t you made these changes?
  • Have you pushed yourself and your organization to do this clean-sheet-of-paper exercise?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Identify a key business unit or function to tryout the clean-sheet-of-paper exercise. Create a small task force based on the selected names from the succession-planning depth chart exercise. Attempt to draw professionals from at least two to three different business units and/or functional areas. Give the team a specific assignment, and emphasize that they should assume that there are no sacred cows to be protected. Make clear to them that while you may not follow every piece of their advice, you want their candid views and most likely will implement at least some of their suggestions.
  • Agree on an appropriate time frame. Take into account that this assignment is not in place for doing their day jobs. Make clear that you are available to answer questions or give guidance, but you plan to stay away from this process in order to avoid influencing their analysis and conclusions.
  • Debrief the group regarding their findings. Also, conduct a post mortem to determine what you and the task force learned from the process of doing this exercise.
  • Develop a specific action plan for implementing at least some (if not all) of the group’s recommendations.

The Leader as Role Model

Your actions are closely observed by those around you. They send a powerful message about what you believe and what you truly value.

  • Do you act as a role model?
  • Do your behaviors match your words?
  • How do you conduct yourself under pressure?
  • Is your conduct consistent with your stated values?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down two or three key messages you believe you send with your behavior (versus your speeches). Seek advice from key subordinates and advisers who directly observe your behavior, in order to answer this question: is there a disconnect between the messages you wish to send and those you are in fact sending?
  • Do this same exercise for your key direct reports. What messages is each of them sending about what is truly valued in your organization? Again, make discreet inquiries, if necessary, to do this analysis. Incorporate this work into your coaching of these executives.
  • Think of a situation in which you felt enormous stress at work and regretted your behavior. Write down the one or two issues that created the stress you were feeling- acknowledging that these issues may have had nothing to do with work. How would you behave differently if you could replay this situation? Write down one or two lessons you take away from this exercise.

Reaching Your Potential

Successful executives develop leadership styles that fit the needs of their business but also fit their own beliefs and personality.

  • Are you pursuing a path that is consistent with your assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions?
  • If not, what are you waiting for?
  • Have you developed your own style at work?
  • Do you speak up, express your opinions, and conduct yourself with confidence?
  • Do you encourage your people to be authentic and express their opinions?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Make a list of your three greatest strengths and your three greatest weaknesses. Get advice from your senior, peer, and junior coaches or advisers in order to make sure your list reflects “reality” in relation to your current job and aspirations.
  • Develop a specific action plan to work on your weaknesses. Action steps might include specific job assignments, seeking feedback within your organization, and/or getting an outside coach.
  • Encourage your subordinates to do this same analysis and action planning. Discuss these plans in your coaching sessions for subordinates.
  • Think of a situation in which you were at your best, when you performed extremely well and felt great about your impact. What were the elements of this situation? What tasks were you performing, what was your leadership approach, what was the context, and what other factors enhanced your performance? What lessons do you take from this, regarding your passions, values, and other key elements that help bring out your best performance?
  • Think of a time when you brought out the best in others. What was your motivational approach? What was your leadership style? What other elements allowed you to bring out the best in others? When you reflect on this situation, what lessons do you learn about yourself, including about your philosophy and values, as well as how you might best motivate others in the future?

BOS: How to turn your customers’ pain points into opportunities

Here is a blog post from Blue Ocean Shift:

How to turn your customers’ pain points into opportunities

Do you see what your customers see? Are you aware of the pain points your industry imposes on them?

Pain points are aspects of a business, product, or service that buyers, knowingly or unknowingly, are forced to put up with or find so inconvenient that they turn to alternatives.

But what if you could identify these pain points and get a clear picture of how they limit the appeal and size of your industry?

Pain points: blocks to utility and hidden opportunities

Utility captures the satisfaction that buyers get out of a business, product or service. Blocks to utility have the opposite effect. These are the difficulties or pain points an industry imposes on buyers.

Pain points, which are often hidden, also represent opportunities to grow your business. However, most industries become blind to them, just as buyers often become numb to them, in the belief that these pain points are simply the way things are.

So how can you identify these pain points? And how do you know which ones are worth solving? To help you get a snapshot of how your industry is blocking utility for buyers, authors Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne developed the buyer utility map – the second in a series of market-creating tools that make up the blue ocean shift process.

Identify the pain points your customers and noncustomers face

The buyer utility map will give you and your team insights into how your industry – even if it’s a fiercely competitive one – limits its demand by creating pain points for current and potential buyers. The map will help you see where blue oceans of uncontested market space exist and how to create them.

The map outlines the full range of experiences buyers have (from purchase to disposal) and helps you identify all the ways an industry delivers utility to buyers. More importantly, it shows where the industry blocks utility and reveals hidden opportunities to break away from the competition and expand the size of the market.

Experience what customers experience

The buyer utility map.png

The buyer utility map © Kim & Mauborgne.

A customer’s experience can be broken down into six distinct stages, what we call the ‘buyer experience cycle’. These experiences run more or less in sequence from purchase to delivery, use, supplements (buying an add-on for example), maintenance and disposal. Interestingly, many industries focus on one or two stages of the buyer experience cycle and overlook all the opportunities offered by the remaining stages.

Each stage of the buyer experience cycle encompasses a variety of specific experiences. For example, in a store, the purchase stage may include searching for the product you want, lining up at the cash desk, and so on. The six stages present a generic template of the buyer experience cycle, but you might want to customize them to fit your industry.

Running down the vertical axis are the six utility levers, some of which you might pull to offer buyers greater utility.

  1. The first is productivity, that is, anything to do with efficiency – less time, effort, and/or money – in fulfilling buyers’ needs.
  2. Then we have simplicity, which is anything that eliminates or minimizes complexity or hassle.
  3. Convenience is about when and where you want something, like 24/7, 365 days a year.
  4. Risk reduction might include financial, physical and reputational risk.
  5. Fun and image are things like the look, feel and attitude the offering conveys.
  6. And last, environmental friendliness is about how green your product or service is, and what this might mean for buyers.

Combined with the six stages of the buyer cycle, the map produces 36 potential utility spaces. Where does your industry or target industry concentrate its efforts among these 36 possible spaces?

Few industries or organizations realize how many utility spaces they could explore or, on the flip side, the narrowness of their current focus.

You can discover blue ocean opportunities by widening your focus and exploring the map more fully. This is true for even the most commoditized and highly competitive industries.

From pain points to opportunities: ActiFry and the French-fry industry

A great example is the French multinational, Groupe SEB, whose electric French-fry makers were struggling to stand apart in a market that was shrinking 10% a year. Seeing the need to break out of this intense competition, Christian Grob, head of electric cooking, set out to challenge the industry’s most basic assumptions.

Using the buyer utility map, Grob and his team discovered two facts that the industry accepted without question. The first was that, to make French fries, you had to fry them. The second was that frying required a lot of oil.

These assumptions led the industry to overlook a host of problems. All that cooking oil was expensive, and dangerous when hot. Cleaning it up and disposing of it was difficult. Using so much oil was also unhealthy and fattening.

The buyer utility map Grob.png

Grob and his team challenged the accepted wisdom and redefined the problem. Rather than try to come up with the best-in-class fryer, they concentrated on how to make delicious, healthy fries without frying them in lots of oil.

The result was ActiFry, a new type of French-fry maker that used only one tablespoon of oil to make two pounds of fries, with roughly 40% fewer calories and 80% less fat. Not only that, but the appliance is easy to clean and has no safety or oil disposal issues.

The winning combination of low calories and delicious fries inspired Oprah Winfrey to tweet about how much she loves her ActiFry. Not only did demand outstrip supply across Europe, but after Oprah’s comments, Groupe SEB’s stock price jumped 5% based on this one product. To this day, more than ten years later, ActiFry remains the global market leader.

What Groupe SEB discovered was that, despite the intensity of the competition, the industry essentially focussed on only one of the 36 potential utility spaces – productivity in use, i.e., creating a reasonably priced electric French-fry maker that worked reliably.

By looking at other utility spaces, Groupe SEB discovered important pain points for buyers that had long slipped under the radar, pushed noncustomers away from the industry.

Now it’s your turn. Start filling in your own buyer utility map to turn the pain points of your industry into opportunities for growth. To go further, follow the step-by-step guide to plotting your buyer utility map in Blue Ocean Shift.

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks

I very much recommend reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. He offers a small handbook after each chapter. Below is an excerpt for the handbook:

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks: A MenuWhen.jpg

You now understand the science of breaks and why they’re so effective in both combatting the trough and boosting your mood and performance. You’ve even got a break list ready to go. But what sort of break should you take? There’s no right answer. Just choose one from the following menu or combine a few, see how they go, and design the breaks that work best for you:

  1. Micro-breaks — A replenishing break need not be lengthy. Even breaks that last a minute or less-what researchers call “microbreaks”-can pay dividends.’ Consider these:

The 20-20-20 rule — Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this microbreak will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.

Hydrate — You might already have a water bottle. Get a much smaller one. When it runs out-and of course it will, because of its size-walk to the water fountain and refill it. It’s a threefer: hydration, motion, and restoration.

Wiggle your body to reset your mind — One of the simplest breaks of all: Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.

  1. Moving breaks — Most of us sit too much and move too little. So build more movement into your breaks. Some options:

Take a five-minute walk every hour –As we have learned, five- minute walk breaks are powerful. They’re feasible for most people.

Office yoga — You can do yoga poses right at your desk-chair rolls, wrist releases, forward folds-to relieve tension in your neck and lower back, limber up your typing fingers, and relax your shoulders. This may not be for everyone, but anyone can give it a try. Just stick “office yoga” into a search engine.

Push-ups — Yeah, push-ups. Do two a day for a week. Then four a day for the next week and six a day a week after that. You’ll boost your heart rate, shake off cognitive cobwebs, and maybe get a little stronger.

  1. Nature break — This might sound tree bugger-y, but study after study has shown the replenishing effects of nature. What’s more, people consistently underestimate how much better nature makes them feel. Choose:

Walk outside — If you’ve got a few minutes and are near a local park, take a lap through it. If you work at home and have a dog, take Fido for a walk.

Go outside — If there are trees and a bench behind your building, sit there instead of inside.

Pretend you’re outside — If the best you can do is look at some indoor plants or the trees outside your window-well, research suggests that will help, too.

  1. Social break-Don’t go it alone. At least not always. Social breaks are effective, especially when you decide the who and how. A few ideas:

Reach out and touch somebody — Call someone you haven’t talked to for a while and just catch up for five or ten minutes. Reawakening these “dormant ties” is also a great way to strengthen your network. Or use the moment to say thank you-via a note, an email, or a quick visit–to someone who’s helped you. Gratitude-with its mighty combination of meaning and social connection-is a mighty restorative.”

Schedule it — Plan a regular walk or visit to a coffee joint or weekly gossip session with colleagues you like. A fringe benefit of social breaks is that you’re more likely to take one if someone else is counting on you. Or go Swedish and try what Swedes call a fika-a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.’

Don’t schedule it –– If your schedule is too tight for something regular, buy someone a coffee one day this week. Bring it to her. Sit and talk about something other than work for five minutes.

  1. Mental gear-shifting break — Our brains suffer fatigue just as much as our bodies do-and that’s a big factor in the trough. Give your brain a break by trying these:

Meditate-Meditation is one of the most effective breaks-and micro-breaks-of all.” Check out material from UCLA (http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations), which offers guided meditations as short as three minutes.

Controlled breathing — Have forty-five seconds? Then, as the New York Times explains: “Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four rimes.”? It’s called controlled breathing, and it can tamp your stress hormones, sharpen your thinking, and maybe even boost your immune system — all in under a minute.

Lighten up — Listen to a comedy podcast. Read a joke book. If you can find a little privacy, put on your headphones and jam out for a song or two. There’s even evidence from one study on the replenishing effects of watching dog videos.” (No, really.)

HBR: The Death of Supply Chain Management

What’s going to happen with the building supply chain? Are you keeping up with technology? Are your suppliers keeping you from advancing in the new technology-driven supply chain? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Allan Lyall, Pierre Mercier, Stefan Gstettner:

The Death of Supply Chain Management

The supply chain is the heart of a company’s operations. To make the best decisions, managers need access to real-time data about their supply chain, but the limitations of legacy technologies can thwart the goal of end-to-end transparency. However, those days may soon be behind us. New digital technologies that have the potential to take over supply chain management entirely are disrupting traditional ways of working. Within 5-10 years, the supply chain function may be obsolete, replaced by a smoothly running, self-regulating utility that optimally manages end-to-end work flows and requires very little human intervention.

With a digital foundation in place, companies can capture, analyze, integrate, easily access, and interpret high quality, real-time data — data that fuels process automation, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and robotics, the technologies that will soon take over supply chain management.

Leading companies are already exploring the possibilities. Many have used robotics or artificial intelligence to digitize and automate labor-intensive, repetitive tasks and processes such as purchasing, invoicing, accounts payable, and parts of customer service. Predictive analytics are helping companies improve demand forecasting, so they can reduce or better manage volatility, increase asset utilization, and provide customer convenience at optimized cost.

Sensor data on machine use and maintenance are helping some manufacturers to better estimate when machines will break down, so downtime is minimized. Blockchains are beginning to revolutionize how parties collaborate in flexible supply networks. Robots are improving productivity and margins in retail warehouses and fulfillment centers. Delivery drones and self-driving vehicles aren’t far off. Rio Tinto, the global mining-and-metals company, is exploring how digital technologies can automate mine-to-port operations. Using driverless trains, robotic operators, cameras, lasers, and tracking sensors, the company will be able to manage the whole supply chain remotely — while improving safety and reducing the need for workers in remote locations.

A key concept that many of these companies are exploring is the “digital control tower” — a virtual decision center that provides real-time, end-to-end visibility into global supply chains. For a small number of leading retail companies’ control towers have become the nerve center of their operations. A typical “tower” is actually a physical room staffed with a team of data analysts that works full-time, 24/7, monitoring a wall of high definition screens. The screens provide real-time information and 3D graphics on every step of the supply chain, from order to delivery. Visual alerts warn of inventory shortfalls or process bottlenecks before they happen, so that teams on the front line can course correct quickly before potential problems become actual ones. Real-time data, unquestioned accuracy, relentless customer focus, process excellence, and analytical leadership underlie the control tower operations of these retail operations.

Industrial companies are also embracing the concept. One manufacturer’s complex network moves more than a million parts and components per day. The control tower flags potential supply issues as they arise, calculates the effects of the problem, and either automatically corrects the issue using pre-determined actions or flags it for the escalation team. Similarly, a steel company built a customized scenario-planning tool into its control tower platform that increases supply chain responsiveness and resilience. The tool simulates how major, unexpected equipment breakdowns — so called “big hits” — will affect the business and points to the best risk mitigation actions.

Reskilling implications

The trend is clear: Technology is replacing people in supply chain management — and doing a better job. It’s not hard to imagine a future in which automated processes, data governance, advanced analytics, sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and a continual learning loop will minimize the need for humans. But when planning, purchasing, manufacturing, order fulfillment, and logistics are largely automated, what’s left for supply chain professionals?

In the short term, supply chain executives will need to shift their focus from managing people doing mostly repetitive and transactional tasks, to designing and managing information and material flows with a limited set of highly specialized workers. In the near term, supply chain analysts who can analyze data, structure and validate data sets, use digital tools and algorithms, and forecast effectively will be in high demand.

Looking further out, a handful of specialists will be needed to design a technology-driven supply chain engine that seamlessly supports the ever-changing strategy, requirements, and priorities of the business. To keep that engine running, a small number of people must be recruited or trained in new skills at the intersection of operations and technology. Since the skills needed for these new roles are not readily available today, the biggest challenge for companies will be to create a supply chain vision for the future — and a strategy for filling those critical roles.

Clearly, the death of supply chain management as we know it is on the horizon. The managers and companies working to update their skills and processes today are the ones who will come out on top.


HBR: Stress Test Your Company’s Competitive Edge with These 4 Questions

“Competition is a multifaceted concept that plays out in different ways. Therefore, executives need to keep an eye on all four types of competition in order to remain competitive in an ever-changing world.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter:

Stress Test Your Company’s Competitive Edge with These 4 Questions

As uncertainty is increasing and competition is becoming more fierce, executives need to have a broader understanding of competition itself in order to sustain an edge. Executives should be thinking about four different types of competition to maintain relevance in a changing environment, which originate from our work on competitiveness, strategy, and strategic change.

In the figure below, these four competition types are positioned along two dimensions, which reflect two distinct questions: (1) “Are there customers for which to compete?” and (2) “Are we being outcompeted?” These questions will help you identify the type of competition that currently exposes you to the greatest existential threats. Executives who consider and discuss all four types of competition will uncover important insights, and such an analysis can help move your strategy forward.

The four types of competition.pngThe four types of competition

The table below provides an overview of the four types of competition and the four key questions that help identify important strategic issues:

Competition for relevance. The first, and most fundamental, level of competition relates to competition for relevance. Here, executives must ask: “Does our offering meet and satisfy actual consumer needs?”

Technological developments are often interesting to discuss in relation to relevance. For instance, numerous smartphone apps have been developed that do not solve any actual problems. A current example of uncertainty around relevance concerns blockchain, i.e. the technology behind virtual currencies such as bitcoin. On the one hand, it has been questioned whether blockchain is essentially hype, or whether it really fulfills an actual need among the mainstream public. On the other hand, if the blockchain technology really lives up to its promises of securing transparent and secure transmissions, then it will also challenge the relevance of intermediaries such as brokers and bankers who may no longer be needed. In other words, the technology can make brokers and bankers irrelevant. Consequently, the blockchain technology is a great example of the uncertainty that often accompanies new technological developments — it can either remove the relevance of established organizations or it can prove to be an unsustainable alternative without sufficient mainstream relevance.

Competition for dependence. When relevance is established, executives face another level of competition: competition for dependence. This refers to the notion that organizations also compete against consumers’ abilities to satisfy their own needs and their jobs-to-be-done. In other words, consumers can often create a solution for themselves, thereby making the organization’s offering obsolete.

An example of the difficulties of competing for dependence can be seen in the rise of the “DIY-economy,” which was particularly pronounced after the 2008 recession. At that time, many consumers adopted a new level of frugality, such that they took on previously outsourced tasks and became more self-reliant. For example, many consumers started to dye and cut their own hair; brew their own espressos; wash their own cars; clean their own houses; and walk their own dogs. This “insourcing” of household chores hurt many of the small, service-oriented businesses that had previously handled these tasks. However, some organizations have been able to capitalize on self-reliance. For instance, Target has run marketing campaigns that glorify do-it-yourself alternatives, while IKEA has become synonymous with enabling consumers to do the work themselves.

Competition for preference. Given relevance and dependence, the next battle is to compete for preference. Organizations compete to gain customers’ preference for their offerings over those of competitors.

An example of competition for preference is the retail industry, which has long been a battleground for customer preferences. Interestingly, customers have varied preferences for retailers depending on the product category. Therefore, the retail market is actually several markets. For example, customers may prefer Target for product category A, Walmart for product category B, Staples for product category C, and Amazon or Alibaba for product category D. Consequently, the battle with competitors for customer preference often takes place on the specific product-category level. Moreover, this form of competition can lead to price pressure, which may have a damaging effect on industry profits. However, the battle for customer preference is not solely fought in specific product and price categories — it is also fought in the domains of location and promotional expenditure.

Competition for excellence. After successfully competing for relevance, dependence, and preference, organizations must consider competition for excellence. At this level, the challenge is to sustain the organization’s advantage while continuously seeking renewal.

An example of a failure to compete for excellence is illustrated by how Nokia, in the midst of their success, failed to keep up with the competitive threats from Apple. Despite being a leader in the mobile phone market with a market share of over 40%, Nokia experienced a dramatic decline that led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft in 2013. The demise was partly caused by a competitive shift towards software and ecosystems rather than hardware — and Nokia did not appropriately adapt to this environment due to conservatism and a belief in their existing strengths. Put differently, Nokia’s past success acted as a blinder to peripheral threats coming from unexpected sides.

Which types of competition threaten your company.pngHow to use the four questions

How can executives actively ask these four questions and compete on all four levels to ensure renewal and sustain corporate performance? Executives can introduce three initiatives:

  • Put the questions on the agenda and regularly challenge your strategy: The four types of competition should be used as a checklist for regularly challenging the strategy. Asking questions about the strategic plan is necessary for stress-testing a strategy and for applying a moderate amount of stress to your strategy.
  • Let different employee types discuss the four questions: It can be beneficial to invite different types of employees to discuss the four questions, including employees at different hierarchical levels and different types of project managers.
  • Implement strategic projects for all four types: The four types of competition can provide a categorization tool for different types of projects from which an organization can compete. For instance, companies can have a project where they collaborate with users to develop or refine a specific product or feature. Such an approach would improve the “competing for relevance” and “competing for dependence” dimensions, as it would secure user relevance while proactively co-developing for dependence.

Competition is a multifaceted concept that plays out in different ways. Therefore, executives need to keep an eye on all four types of competition in order to remain competitive in an ever-changing world.


McK: The Leadership Journey of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was made into an effective leader—first from the inside out and then from the outside in—as he developed and changed throughout his life. That, as president, he refused to ignore the larger consequences of his actions on men and women who had little or no agency, that he saw beyond the immediate moment and owned the responsibility of affecting a vast future, and that he rejected an ethical callousness about the choices he made are demonstrations of leadership that we yearn for today. May all who aspire to lead with worth and dignity learn from the life and leadership of Abraham Lincoln.”” Are you ready to hear the call to action contained in his story?” Below is a blog from the McKinsey by Nancy Koehn: (Reading Time 21min)

The leadership journey of Abraham Lincoln

Hear the call to action contained in Abraham Lincoln’s story, and get to work. The world has never needed you and other real leaders more than it does now.

Many years ago, I made a short film for the Harvard Business School about the lessons that Abraham Lincoln’s life offered for modern leaders. I interviewed a range of CEOs, asking them what they’d learned from the 16th president. Their responses were wide-ranging and profound; many continue to influence my work on leadership.

I was particularly struck by what A. G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble at the time, said about how leaders are made. He pointed to three main ingredients. The first is an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and the cumulative experience a person acquires walking his or her path. The second is that an individual recognizes a moment has arrived that demands his or her leadership. The third is that the individual has to consciously decide “to embrace the cause and get in the game.”

Making oneself into a courageous leader, in the way Lafley describes, is perilous, compelling, and exhausting work. It also is some of the most satisfying one can do, and it could not be more important today. Like the turbulent Civil War that Lincoln found himself at the center of, the early 21st century cries out for effective, decent leaders. People of purpose and commitment who want to make a positive difference and who choose to rise: first within themselves, by claiming their better selves, and then on the larger stage, by staking out the higher ground.

Abraham Lincoln has something to offer each of us right now as we try to craft lives of purpose, dignity, and impact. Are you ready to hear the call to action contained in his story?


Lincoln had humble roots and no formal education. By age 25, he also had a growing interest in politics, and needed a career to feed that interest while helping him improve his lot. Lincoln began borrowing the law books of a mentor from the Illinois state militia who was an accomplished attorney and state legislator. He studied by himself. A neighbor remembered Lincoln “was so absorbed that people said he was crazy. Sometimes [while he was studying he] did not notice people when he met them.”

We do not know exactly how Lincoln sustained his determination to succeed. What we do know is that from an early age he practiced great discipline in relation to the things that mattered. Some of the discipline was focused on practical ends: toward preparing himself to be a lawyer or bettering himself intellectually. Some of it was directed at managing his emotions. As his prospects expanded, he worked to comport himself with greater dignity and forbearance.

He earned a reputation as an attorney who was skilled before a jury. Not because he mastered the laws of evidence or finer points of precedents; he did neither. Instead, this reputation rested on his ability to concentrate a jury’s attention on the few essential points of a case while conceding the less important issues to his opponent.

Lincoln’s ability to relate to juries provides a useful lesson about discernment. Leaders trying to accomplish a worthy mission have to cultivate the ability to identify the one, two, or three essential issues facing them at a given moment. It is never five or ten. It is always one or two—maybe three—issues that really matter. Having identified these, leaders must let the remaining concerns go, either by giving themselves permission to turn their attention away from all that is not central to their purpose or by handing peripheral issues to others, including an adversary. Being able to do this—to concentrate on the most important issues while relinquishing the rest—depends on a leader’s willingness to recognize two things: first, he or she cannot do it all, and second, by saying no to that which is not mission critical, one is actually saying yes to that which is.


Lincoln, like many other leaders, didn’t blaze onto the larger stage at a young age. And even when he began to build a legal and political career, his path was marked by as many failures as successes. The making of courageous leaders is rarely swift and smooth. Indeed, the setbacks and the times that Lincoln spent not being able to gratify his ambitions were important ingredients in the wisdom, resilience, and empathy that he nurtured and then used so successfully.

In 1846, for example, Lincoln was elected to the US House of Representatives by a large majority. During his first year in Washington, he devoted most of his attention to attacking Democratic president James Polk’s prosecution of the Mexican-American War. When his term in office ended in March 1849, Lincoln returned to Illinois. There, he discovered that his political stock was lower than when he had left. His party had failed to elect its candidate to the congressional seat that Lincoln was vacating, and many of his supporters blamed him and his unpopular position on the Mexican-American War for the defeat. Lincoln fell into a depression.

Although he returned to the practice of law, Lincoln found the allure of politics irresistible and set about helping to organize the young Republican Party in the state of Illinois. The central element of the Republican platform was opposition to slavery’s extension. Within Illinois, Lincoln became a leading spokesman for this position (while accepting its legality where it already existed). In contrast, many Democrats, such as the US senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas, supported slavery’s expansion.

In 1858, Lincoln challenged Douglas for his US Senate seat. The race attracted national interest, partly because Illinois was regarded as a battleground state—not only in skirmishes between Democrats and Republicans, but also between supporters and opponents of slavery. Lincoln lost, and was deeply disappointed.

Triumph and tragedy

Late in 1859, newspapers began mentioning Lincoln as a potential presidential candidate in the 1860 election. At the Republican Convention in Chicago, no candidate won a majority of the votes on the first ballot. Support for Lincoln grew as the convention progressed, and on the third ballot, cast on May 18, he won 364 of 466 possible votes, becoming the Republican nominee for president. A month later, the Democrats met to select a nominee. Party delegates split, with Northern members backing Stephen Douglas and Southern delegates supporting John Breckinridge. This splintering of the Democratic party greatly increased the odds of a Republican victory in the general election on November 6.

At about two in the morning on November 7, Lincoln learned that he’d been elected president. As he walked back home in the wee hours, Lincoln did not exult. Recalling the moment two years later, he said he slept little before dawn. “I then felt, as I never had before, the responsibility that was upon me.”

Lincoln’s election precipitated a national crisis. Convinced that the president-elect would try to abolish slavery, many Southern leaders believed the only way to protect the institution—and the way of life that rested on it—was to leave the United States and establish their own country. In early February 1861, representatives of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new nation, the Confederate States of America, and adopt a constitution.

On March 4, 1861, before a crowd of 50,000, Lincoln delivered his inaugural address on the steps of the US Capitol. He knew the fate of the upper Southern states of Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, which had not yet seceded, might depend on what he said, and he took pains to reassure Southerners that he would leave slavery alone in the states where it already existed.

In spite of Lincoln’s efforts, tensions between North and South escalated. These came to a head with the president’s decision on Fort Sumter, a federal garrison in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Government soldiers inside the fort were running out of food. But sending provisions into what was now hostile territory risked Confederate attack. For weeks, Lincoln agonized over what to do. He did not want his administration to appear weak by not resupplying the fort and thus effectively surrendering it. But he also did not want to initiate open warfare.

After many sleepless nights and conversations with his cabinet, Lincoln ordered government forces to sail for Charleston Harbor with food, but no arms. On April 12, 1861, with the federal fleet nearby, Confederates bombarded the garrison with shells and gunfire. Within 36 hours, the commanding officer of the fort surrendered to Southern forces. The Civil War had begun.


From the start, the Civil War defied Americans’ expectations. Following Fort Sumter, for example, many Northerners and Southerners believed that victory was imminent for their respective side, and that few lives would be lost. But after the Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia, in July 1861, in which almost 5,000 Union (northern) and Confederate troops were killed or wounded, it became clear that the war would be longer and bloodier than most had anticipated. The day after the battle, Lincoln called for 500,000 volunteers; within days, Congress authorized an additional half million troops.

By late 1861, the Union’s general in chief, George McClellan, had reorganized troops around Washington, but then refused to move them south to attack Confederate forces. His Army of the Potomac—some 120,000-men strong—remained in and near the capital without seeing any kind of battle.

Worried about the general’s inaction, Lincoln began visiting McClellan at home during the evenings. On November 13, the president and one of his secretaries, John Hay, called at the general’s house. McClellan was not in, and the two decided to wait. When the general arrived an hour later, he hurried upstairs, ignoring his visitors. The president and his secretary remained where they were for 30 minutes before Lincoln sent word up that he was still downstairs. McClellan sent his own message back, saying he had gone to bed. Hay was appalled at the general’s insolence, voicing this to the president as they walked back to the White House. “It was better at this time,” Lincoln responded, “not to be making points of etiquette & personal dignity.” As he came to understand, not all issues—including personal slights and insults—that came before him were of equal importance. Lincoln realized he had to keep his eye (not to mention his emotional energy) on what was central to his mission and not become distracted by what we would today label “sweating the small stuff.”

The president began to teach himself military strategy, borrowing textbooks from the Library of Congress, poring over field reports, and conferring with military officers. As he did this, it became clear to him that a Union victory depended on the North’s ability to exploit its greater resources—human and economic—in a series of interrelated attacks on the Confederacy. But how could he make his generals execute this strategy? McClellan effectively ignored Lincoln’s orders. Other commanders, often acting without top-level coordination, followed their own plans or simply waited.

It was a lonely time. Some of Lincoln’s loneliness flowed from the authority and responsibility he carried. The president knew that saving the Union rested critically on his shoulders—on ability to simultaneously lead on many fronts against many obstacles. This heavy realization isolated Lincoln from family, friends, and colleagues. Not only could these people not fully grasp what he was dealing with; not only did he have to be careful about entrusting his thoughts and feelings to others; but Lincoln also likely understood that no one else could travel the internal path he was taking as a leader. None could see the things he was discovering about himself and his impact, see the ways he was changing as the war stretched on, or, finally, experience his doubts and fears. These were essential aspects of his leadership, and they were his alone.

Virtually every leader will know real loneliness. This is intrinsic to the work; it can rarely be avoided or wiped away by specific action. Instead, effective leaders learn to accept such moments of isolation, using them in service to their larger mission by keeping their own counsel, reflecting carefully on a particular issue, or grappling with their thoughts and feelings.


In early July 1863, the Army of the Potomac, now under the leadership of General George Meade, won a decisive battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, repulsing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as it attempted to invade the North. It was a critical victory that came at a fearsome cost. At the opening of the confrontation, a total of 160,000 troops from both sides had poured into the Pennsylvania hamlet. When the smoke cleared three days later, 51,000 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing; 23,000 of these men were federal soldiers, 28,000 were Confederates.

Audio The Gettysburg Address, performed by Tom Amandes from the film Saving Lincoln

Nonetheless, peace did not come. The war raged on—with seemingly no end in sight. Why, the president asked himself, could he not bring the conflict to a close? Why was it proving so violent? In early November, when he received an invitation to deliver “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of a new national cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln saw an opportunity to give voice to the larger issues he’d been wrestling with. His remarks totaled only 272 words. It took him less than three minutes to deliver them:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s speech is a first-rate example of a leader framing the stakes of the change. In hindsight, we can see that he used the dedication ceremony to connect the continuing turbulence—the Civil War—with the history and mission of the enterprise—the American polity and its central proposition. He then led his audience to the present moment, relating their action to “the unfinished work” in which they and all other Americans were involved. He laid down the gauntlet for every citizen who supported the Union: “it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

In saying this, Lincoln presented the trade-offs of committing to the mission: a great civil war, a testing struggle, and thousands of deaths. He concluded by stating that as formidable as these costs were, they were the price of a mighty end, one with lasting significance: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Every modern leader navigating through a crisis can learn from the Gettysburg Address. We are unlikely to approach the eloquence and power of Lincoln’s language. But we can take from his leadership the critical importance of framing the stakes of a particular moment. This means connecting current change efforts to the history and future of the enterprise, locating these efforts in the arc of ongoing events, explaining each stakeholder’s role in the process, identifying the specific trade-offs of making the change, and understanding these costs in relation to the ultimate goal. The more turbulent the world becomes in the early 21st century, the more vital it is for leaders to interpret and frame this volatility in relation to a worthy purpose.

Transformational change

Lincoln had no silver bullets to save the Union. This was difficult to accept. But as the war stretched on, he began to understand that the complexity of the conflict and the magnitude of its stakes made a single, clear-cut way to end it virtually impossible.

This is an insight for today’s leaders. We are under pressure to move fast, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and make a big impact. But the reality of trying to accomplish something real and good gives lie to the seductive notion that there is one simple solution. Almost anything along our life journeys that is worth investing in, worth fighting for, and worth summoning our best selves for has no silver bullet. The bigger the issue, the less likely it is that a leader can resolve it in one or two swift strokes. Understanding this means abandoning the quest for the single definitive answer. Letting go of this quest frees leaders—emotionally and practically—to focus on the many possible approaches and actions needed to make a meaningful difference.

In the aftermath of the battle at Gettysburg, appalled by the human carnage, many Northerners thought the government should stop fighting and seek a settlement with the rebel states, one that recognized the legality of slavery. Against this backdrop, in mid-1863, Lincoln accepted an invitation from his old friend James Conkling to address a large meeting of Union supporters in Springfield, Illinois. As the speech grew closer, pressing responsibilities prevented the president from leaving Washington. So instead of returning to his hometown, he wrote a letter for Conkling to present at the gathering.

The letter, which was published in newspapers across the country, laid out the principal arguments of the peace faction and Lincoln’s careful response to these. Looking back, we can see that Lincoln was doing more than making the case for his policies. As any serious leader engaged in large-scale change must, he was also trying to keep the relevant lines of communication open. He understood that widespread transformation always unleashes waves of collective fear, discontent, and doubt—emotions that often translate into vocal, and potentially more destructive, opposition. He also knew that if left unacknowledged, adversaries have the power to derail even the worthiest attempts at reform, and thus it is a leader’s responsibility to identify and, when necessary, neutralize his or her most powerful critics.

But how is the person at the center of the change to do this without appearing weak, creating additional enemies, or potentially legitimating the very attacks he or she is trying to mitigate? These are complicated issues, so it is not surprising that leaders often avoid head-on engagement with their challengers, hoping instead that the rallying cry of the mission and the enthusiasm of supporters will overwhelm naysayers.

This is a risky strategy, especially when the stakes are high. It was to Lincoln’s credit that he understood the power of Northern elites, who did not want to fight a war to end slavery. The president also realized that to defuse this “fire in the rear,” he had to speak directly to the American public, and he had to do this by addressing the specific arguments his opponents were making against him. Finally, he had to explain his actions in terms of his larger purpose. Lincoln did all of this in the speech for James Conkling. Seen from the perspective of a change leader effectively communicating with relevant stakeholders and trying to alleviate serious threats to the broader transformation, the president’s letter was a tour de force.


As the summer of 1864 wore on, without a Union military victory in sight, Northern morale collapsed. Politicians and journalists called for an immediate end to the war, with many predicting that Lincoln would lose the upcoming presidential election. “The people are wild for Peace,” said New York politician Thurlow Weed. They won’t support the president, he added, because they are told he “will only listen to terms of peace on condition [that] slavery be abandoned.”

The commander in chief began to waver. Perhaps, he told himself as he paced the White House hallway late at night, he should enter into peace talks with Southern leaders. On August 19, he drafted a potentially momentous letter to a Democratic politician and newspaper editor, ending the communication with this proposition: “If Jefferson Davis wishes . . . to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and re-union, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.”

Having written these words, Lincoln paused. He did not send the letter; instead, he stored it in his desk while he thought about what to do. Two days later, when the escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass visited Lincoln at the White House to discuss helping slaves reach Union military lines, the president read the letter aloud to him. The black activist strongly urged the chief executive to keep it to himself. If he sent it, Douglass said, the missive would be interpreted “as a complete surrender of your anti-slavery policy, and do you serious damage.”

Lincoln returned the letter to his files. With renewed confidence, the president decided emancipation would remain an essential condition of any negotiations with the Confederacy. For a few days during the long, hot summer of 1864, Lincoln had considered backing away from his mission. But in the end—at the moment it really mattered—he did not. He held the line.

Historians and biographers have pointed to a number of Lincoln’s strengths and their role in his leadership. But one of the most significant of these strengths is not often mentioned, and this is that Lincoln simply kept going. Once he made a crucial decision, he saw it through, even when virtually everything around him seemed stacked against such a commitment. This adherence was not the result of stubbornness or self-righteousness. Rather, it came from the care that Lincoln exercised in making choices, including the slowness with which he acted when the stakes were high; from his growing depth as a moral actor; and from his sheer will to get up each morning and do what he could in service of his mission.

The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago. But we, it seems, are not finished with the man who led the country through it. Not by a long shot. Lincoln’s journey was one of learning by doing, ongoing commitment to bettering himself, keen intelligence harnessed to equally acute emotional awareness, and the moral seriousness into which he grew as he attained immense power. It was also an all-too-human path marked by setbacks, derailments, and disappointments.

Abraham Lincoln was made into an effective leader—first from the inside out and then from the outside in—as he developed and changed throughout his life. That, as president, he refused to ignore the larger consequences of his actions on men and women who had little or no agency, that he saw beyond the immediate moment and owned the responsibility of affecting a vast future, and that he rejected an ethical callousness about the choices he made are demonstrations of leadership that we yearn for today. May all who aspire to lead with worth and dignity learn from the life and leadership of Abraham Lincoln.