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Leadership During Challenging Times

Leadership During Challenging Times
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Not long ago, a friend of mine by the name of Robert “Bo” Brabo asked to interview me for a book he was writing on values-based leadership. As a co-founder of JetBlue Airways, a company known for its values-based culture, he thought some JetBlue insight might be worthy of mention in this text. As it turned out, he enjoyed our conversation so much that not only did he share a number of JetBlue lessons in his book, but he also asked me to write the forward. The name of the book is From the Battlefield to the White House to the Boardroom, leading organizations to values-based results.
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I think it’s a pretty good read, and if you’ve enjoyed the lessons in this course, I think you would enjoy the book. The forward that I wrote provided some insight on the challenges of leadership during challenging times. I thought it’d be helpful here as well. So here’s a portion of what I shared at the beginning of Bo’s book. As a professor at the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, I have the privilege of teaching one of the most unique and popular courses in our MBA curriculum, high-stakes leadership. Where students are able to explore the experiences of season to C-suite executives, and the lessons they have learned from guiding their organizations through a major crisis.
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This course has been a fixture at Michigan Ross for over 40 years, and we’ve welcomed hundreds of chief executives from many of the world’s most recognizable brands. A fundamental lesson that’s been shared by nearly every guest is the vital importance of understanding one’s personal values and then consistently behaving in ways that demonstrate them. When students ask why, our guest generally respond with something like this. Today’s business environment is remarkably complex. While we aspire to deliver exceptional value to all of our customers, we don’t always succeed. When we fall short, our ability to effectively lead is question.
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It could be hard for stakeholders to see and appreciate how our enterprise is trying to create value for them, especially when we’re failing to meet their expectations. It is however, easy for them to see the way we behave and the effort we put forth or don’t, to engage with them. To earn and maintain the trust and confidence of stakeholders, we must consistently and sincerely demonstrate our commitment to their interests. When our behaviors are aligned with our personal values, our actions are more consistent. They’re executed with greater energy, and they are much more likely to be accepted as genuine. Everyone knows when your actions are or are not, true to what you really believe.
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During each class, as students probe further into these claims, executives invariably described two reasons that values-based decisions are so important for today’s leaders. First, they consistently point to the level of effort required to run a successful enterprise. Exceptional execution in any environment takes an incredible amount of dedication and energy. Clear alignment between the mission of an organization and the personal values of those leading it, creates an indispensable resource for maintaining the requisite level of effort over an extended period of time. It is this sustained effort, our guests have contended, that ultimately enables an organization to remain highly competitive. Second, the visiting executives point to the challenges of what I simply refer to as the messiness of business.
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Often described by military leaders is the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, VUCA, environments in which today’s military units are typically required to operate. In these environments, resources are always constrained. Information is never complete or perfect, and decision-making quality is paramount. In complex scenarios like these, leadership efforts need to be focused on the implications of constantly changing conditions. This is not the time to be weighing the differences between what needs to be done and what the organization wants me to do. In high-performance organizations, the alignment of personal and organizational values is done well in advance of having to face the messiness of business. Today’s operating environments are indeed remarkably complex.
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To execute effectively, organizations must have leaders whose actions consistently earn the trust and confidence of their stakeholders. According to a rapidly growing body of research, the best way to ensure this consistency is the thoughtful and explicit alignment of organizational values and the personal values of the leaders who guide it. I hope that you find that helpful as you think about developing your own competencies as a high-stakes leader. I certainly have, and I refer to these lessons every day as I continue to build on my own capabilities in my pursuit of being the very best high-stakes leader that I can be.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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