Notes started as a short-form newsletter on another platform. This post is a selection of some of favourite ideas from that archive.

Leading with optimism bounded by realism

Optimism that springs from authentic values and trust in people’s capabilities can be the source of energy for everyone in the organization to move forward. By contrast, optimism without meaning or grounding may lead to disappointment and defeat… Meaning helps everyone remember that difficult times and long hours of work serve a purpose… Leaders with bounded optimism leverage meaning and personal stories to build connections. (Jacqueline Brassey and Michiel Kruyt, McKinsey & Company)

Balancing external and internal innovation

Developing capabilities quickly through external sources is critical, but so is tapping knowledge about your customers, your processes, and your culture in a way that only an internal innovation team can do. Smart companies, we find, treat external sources of innovation not as a replacement for internal sources but as a way of broadening the portfolio. They are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. In our survey, the companies that used the most external sources also used the most internal ones. Even companies with several innovation partners reported that their internal sources were the most critical. (Neil C. Thompson, Didier Bonnet and Yun Ye, MIT Sloan Management Review)

Executive vulnerability helps develop top talent

The incumbent CEO can help rising stars get to the next level by transparently sharing stories of leading amid uncertainty —both successes and failures. After sharing with the group, the CEO should ask all rising stars how they would have handled the same, tricky situations, and how they would have likely felt. These conversations should be transparent and direct. Listening with empathy, asking follow-up questions, encouraging a group discussion about techniques for self-control, and showing genuine interest in the answers helps the CEO create a psychologically safe space… CEOs willing to embrace vulnerability and transparency will create a uniquely fertile culture in which thinking deeply about one’s blind spots and development needs is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged and rewarded. (Jeffrey Cohn and U. Srinivasa Rangan, Harvard Business Review)

Becoming a digital business requires identifying your most important operational capability and simplifying non-value-adding complexity

For most established companies, it is more likely that operational deficiencies, rather than lack of strategic thinking, will stymie their ability to compete digitally. Those operational deficiencies will not be easily resolved. They result from layers of variability — years of new operational and commercial processes built next to (and on top of) legacy systems and ways of working. This kind of non-value-adding variability has made many companies too complex to deliver digital solutions. To compete digitally, business leaders must attack that complexity. (Jeanne Ross, MIT Sloan Management Review)

The leadership example of excellent CEOs

What legacy do I want to leave? What do I want others to say about me as a leader? What do I stand for? What won’t I tolerate? CEOs answer these questions according to their strengths and motivations, as well as the company’s needs, and create mechanisms to track how they are doing. Further, by expressing these intentions as part of the rationale for their decisions and actions, CEOs can minimize the risk of unintended interpretations being amplified in unhelpful ways. (Carolyn Dewar, Martin Hirt and Scott Keller, McKinsey & Company)

From HR transformation to “exponential HR”

In the coming decade, HR has the opportunity to embrace the future, expand its reach and focus, and assume the leading role at the vanguard of work, the workplace, and the workforce on behalf of the enterprise. In this expanded role, HR becomes a vital enabler of an organization’s ability to thrive in a world where the old rules of work no longer apply, and the new ones are evolving rapidly. Exponential HR, focused on humanizing the world of work, is a key source of strength for the future-focused organization seeking to make the most of human capital in today’s dynamic environment. (Erica Volini, Jeff Schwartz, Brad Denny, David Mallon, Yves Van Durme, Maren Hauptmann, Ramona Yan and Shannon Poynton, Deloitte)

How high-performers avoid burnout

Start by paying attention to discomfort. If you’re feeling restless, anxious, or guilty, sit with it and start to dig deep to understand what’s behind it. We have to give ourselves the time to shift from a more-is-better approach to internalizing the idea that recovery is as valuable as the work. No one can do that for us. Put recovery time in your calendar and stick to it. If you don’t, force yourself to write down why you didn’t. The real exercise in moving past work devotion and burnout is in understanding why we’re not giving ourselves that time. It isn’t due to a lack of knowledge… If you’re a high performer and recovery isn’t an intentional and strategic part of your time and workflow, you’re only damaging your output in the long run. (Rahaf Harfoush as quoted in Bloomberg)

Targeted reflection practices to help refocus and reframe challenges

…four kinds of reflection will yield totally different perspectives: long-term, short-term, right now, and the distant future. Each is important for getting a grip on what is going on. You will emerge with greater clarity about the past, improved visibility into your current status, and a surer alignment of what you expect of yourself and your organization. (Stephen Newman and Wanda T. Wallace, strategy+business)

Building relationships strategically as an obligation rather than self-promotion through “interpersonal warmth”

“Warmth is the differentiating factor,” says Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. He cites a Zenger Folkman study that looked at 50,000 managers and found that a leader’s overall effectiveness is predicted more by warmth than competence. “If you’re seen as low-warmth, you have something like a 1-in-2000 chance to make the top quartile of effectiveness as a leader.” (Drew Calvert, Kellogg School of Management)

Staying mindful with a “to be” list

Today, for example, I want to be generous and genuine. I hope I’m that way every day. But today I want to make sure it stays top of mind. I have a couple of important meetings later with some key people from my senior team. I want to make sure it’s not just a necessary, tactical interaction but also that I am generous in my appreciation for them and that they feel that, because that’s really my main purpose for those conversations. On a different day this week—and, look, you can see it here in my calendar—I knew that part of my job that day was to be collaborative and catalytic. So I pick out two qualities, two kinds of to be, every morning as part of my normal routine. (Michael Fisher as quoted in McKinsey & Company)

Notes — retrospective 1

Ideas from the archive.