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The Ingredients of Great Leadership

| January 24, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is Nancy Koehn’s Whiteboard Session, The Ingredients of Great Leadership (a 4 minute video).  Professor Koehn, a historian, is the James E. Robinson Chair of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.  She is a prolific writer currently writing about lessons from the leadership journeys of a group of leaders including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.  Previously she has written about the journey of Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica, Oprah Winfrey, how entrepreneurs earn consumers’ trust, and the power of commerce.
Professor Koehn takes David Foster Wallace’s definition of leadership – “Effective leaders are individuals who help us overcome the limitations of our own [individual laziness and]* selfishness and weakness and fears and get us to do harder, better, more important things than we can get ourselves to do on our own” – as her starting point.
She then notes that an individual, to be a leader, needs to recognize moments that demand his or her leadership, and choose to “embrace the cause and get into the game.  And, they have to decide to do that with everything they have.  They have to be all in.”
In doing this, leaders face challenges.  Koehn suggests two that are linked:  Holding onto our humanity in our environment which is increasingly dominated by a transactional mode of operating.
Do take a few minutes to watch the video and then ask yourself two questions:
1.  Do I pause and recognize those moments when I am called to step up?
2.  If you are not stepping up, perhaps you need to understand why?
And, as you think about these questions, think, also, about how you might make your interactions with others less transactional and more “human.”
I hope that you will do the work to make it a great week.  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
* Included in Wallace’s original definition.