Discussion post and response


Part 1(a) This discussion post will need to be at least 400 words. With in text citations. Should use at least 2 references that are based in the United States.
Based on your reading of the article “Leading Change” by John Kotter (1995), discuss three ideas, suggestions, or sections of the article that you found interesting.
For example, in Error 1, Kotter argues that it is extremely difficult to get people to change because it means they must move out of their comfortable routines and into the unknown. Leaders often fail to create a great enough sense of urgency around the change to make people want to do things differently. If your organization has gone through a change recently, then you might want to discuss whether or not a “sense of urgency” was established. What was the response?
Part 2 (a) Should be at least 250 words with in text citations. Should also be at least 2 references that are based in the United States and websites. This is a discussion post response. It should extend on to what was said. 
Error 1
I never considered that companies would create a sense of urgency to motivate employees to make change and be more likely to engage willfully. In the article, Kotter gives the example of the CEO who created the largest accounting loss in the company’s history. “To make the state quo seem more dangerous than launching into the unknown” (Kotter, 1995). I have been through a re-organization at IKEA North America. In the US, IKEA decided to try a new way of meeting the customer. IKEA was behind when it came to online shopping and even order online and pick up at the store. The re-organization was necessary to play catch-up and be more customer centric. IKEA was always behind when it came to technology, not willing to pay for cutting edge logistics software or cash registers. They strategically lagged behind to save money and invest in proven technology after it was on the market for a while. However, out of the blue, IKEA decided that they were falling behind and needed to be more customer centric. I could believe it, it was true, but it was also, always true!
Error 2
               This error, Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition, really amazed me. I agree with Kotter in that executives need to go offsite and what all this change is about and really believe in it (Kotter, 1995). If you can’t get that buy-in from them, then anyone under them will also have doubt. I lived that while the IKEA re-org took 2 years from rumors to final implementation. There was a lot of doubt from upper management. The strange thing is, IKEA didn’t invite managers to the off-site meetings, they invited new coworkers with little IKEA experience and were not influencers as well. Everyone wondered why they were chosen to help plan out the new processes for meeting the customer. The re-organization had a hard sell to the stores from the beginning. It was also a difficult implementation and many people suffered through it. In hindsight, IKEA said they made mistakes and were sorry. I was surprised they admitted that.
Error 8
               Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s culture. Wow! It is not changed until it becomes part of the culture! Yukl (2019) say, “One of the earliest process theories was Lewin’s (1951) force-field model. He proposed that the change process can be divided into three phases: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.” I found this theory to fit in with error #8. Employees need to “unfreeze” the old ways of doing  business or processes. The crisis used alerts employees to the fact that the old ways are not working.  The second phase, “changing” is when new ways are doing things are tried and work better hopefully. The last phase is “refreezing” where the new way is implemented and it becomes “the way we do things around here.”  
Kotter, J. P. (1995, March 27). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, (March – April), 59-67.
Yukl, G. A., III, W.L. G., & III, W.L. G. (2019). Leadership in Organizations (9th ed.). Pearson Education (US). https://reader2.yuzu.com/books/9780134895314
Part 2 (b) Should be at least 250 words with in text citations. Should also be at least 2 references that are based in the United States and websites. This is a discussion post response. It should extend on to what was said. 
This article was fascinating for me to read since the company I currently work for has undergone massive changes within the last few years. While I have only been in my position with the company for 7 months – the aftershock of these changes is something I encounter daily. My company was recently acquired by a large international company, and we are now adopting the international processes, guidelines, systems, and procedures to conduct business.
One of the most interesting parts of the article was regarding the sense of urgency Kotter (1995) explains. Kotter (1995) explains that in order to initiate change of any scale a sense of urgency must be established to push people out of their comfort zone and recognize that change is so necessary. In my current position, it is common for my coworkers to ask the question: “Why are we doing this? Our old system worked perfectly well before.” This sense of urgency that Kotter (1995) described was clearly not established before I was hired and certainly has not been established since. Without having clearly communicated to the entire company how necessary it is for the acquisition of our company and how necessary it is for the company to adopt the standing processes and systems of the new company to their employees – it has left employees discouraged and worried.
Another section I found interesting is Kotter’s (1995) recommendation of communication. Kotter (1995) discusses the importance of communication and how often he sees companies underutilizing their methods of communication especially in the discussions of company vision. Kotter (1995) mentions the importance of improving communication methods and how communications from superiors should incorporate how the items of today affect the visions of tomorrow. For instance, in a routine townhall format, each answer provided by the executives should be tied to future goals and during performance evaluations, it should be discussed how the employee’s performance benefits or hinders the companies goals (Kotter, 1995).
Kotter (1995) also describes the importance of “walk the talk” which emphasizes the importance of executives living up to the goals they have set. Executives are encouraged to share how they personally have begun to implement the changes necessary to reach the company’s goals (Lancefield, 2022). Making the communication implemented personal helps to instill confidence in what the organization is saying.
Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review.
Lancefield, D. (2022). How to Communicate Your Company’s Strategy Effectively. Harvard Business Review, 2022.HBR
Change initiatives are
notoriously messy,
and their reliance on
soft skills makes most
managers uneasy.
Leading Change:
Why Transformation
Efforts Fail
by John P. Kotter
But there is a framework
that can help you avoid
the most common mistakes
that befall change efforts.
New sections to
guide you through
the article:
• The Idea in Brief
• The Idea at Work
• Exploring Further. . .
hy do so many transformation efforts
produce only middling results? One overarching
reason is that leaders typically fail to acknowledge that large-scale change can take years.
Moreover, a successful change process goes
through a series of eight distinct stages. These
stages should be worked through in sequence.
Skipping steps to try to accelerate the process
invariably causes problems. And since the success of a given stage depends on the work done
in prior stages, a critical mistake in any of the
stages can have a devastating impact.
Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail
The eight stages are:
1. Establishing a sense of urgency
2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
3. Creating a vision
4. Communicating the vision
5. Empowering others to act on the vision
6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
7. Consolidating improvements and
producing still more change
8. Institutionalizing new approaches
or each of the stages in a change process,
there is a corresponding pitfall.
1. Not establishing a great enough sense of
urgency. Half of all change efforts fail at
the start. When is the urgency rate high
enough? When 75% of management is
genuinely convinced that the status quo
is, in the words of the CEO of a European
company, “more dangerous than launching
into the unknown.”
2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding
coalition. In successful transformation
efforts, the chairman or president or general
manager of the division, plus another five to
50 others—including many, but not all, of
the most influential people in the unit—
develop a shared commitment to renewal.
3. Lacking a vision. Without a coherent and
sensible vision, a change effort dissolves
into a list of confusing and incompatible
projects. If you can’t communicate the
vision in five minutes or less and get a reaction that indicates both understanding and
interest, your work in this stage isn’t done.
4. Undercommunicating the vision by a
factor of ten. Use every existing communication vehicle to get the vision out. Incorporate the vision into routine discussions
about business problems.
5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision.
Renewal requires the removal of obstacles—
systemic or human—to the vision. One
company’s transformation ground to a halt
because the executive in charge of the
largest division didn’t change his own
behavior, didn’t reward the unconventional
ideas called for in the vision, and left the
human resource systems intact even though
they were incompatible with the new ideals.
6. Not systematically planning for and creating short-term wins. Clearly recognizable
victories within the first year or two of a
change effort help convince doubters that
the change effort is going to be worth all
the trouble.
7. Declaring victory too soon. At this stage,
it’s fine to celebrate a short-term win, but
it’s catastrophic to declare the war over.
8. Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s
culture. If they are to stick, new behaviors
must be rooted in the social norms and
shared values of a corporation. To accomplish this, make a conscious attempt to
show people that the new behaviors and
approaches have improved performance.
Also, make sure that the next generation
of top management embodies the new
HBR OnPoint © 2000 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
M A R C H – A P R I L
1 9 9 5
Leading Change:
Why Transformation Efforts Fail
by John P. Kotter
Over the past decade, I have watched more than
100 companies try to remake themselves into significantly better competitors. They have included
large organizations (Ford) and small ones (Landmark Communications), companies based in the
United States (General Motors) and elsewhere
(British Airways), corporations that were on their
knees (Eastern Airlines), and companies that were
earning good money (Bristol-Myers Squibb). These
efforts have gone under many banners: total quality
management, reengineering, right sizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnaround. But, in almost every case, the basic goal has been the same:
to make fundamental changes in how business is
conducted in order to help cope with a new, more
challenging market environment.
A few of these corporate change efforts have been
very successful. A few have been utter failures.
Most fall somewhere in between, with a distinct
tilt toward the lower end of the scale. The lessons
that can be drawn are interesting and will probably
be relevant to even more organizations in the increasingly competitive business environment of
the coming decade.
The most general lesson to be learned from the
more successful cases is that the change process
goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping
steps creates only the illusion of speed and never
produces a satisfying result. A second very general
John P. Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of
Leadership at the Harvard Business School in Boston,
Massachusetts. He is the author of The New Rules: How
to Succeed in Today’s Post-Corporate World (New York:
Free Press, 1995), Corporate Culture and Performance,
coauthored with James L. Heskett (New York: Free Press,
1992), and A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs
from Management (New York: Free Press, 1990).
Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases
can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum
and negating hard-won gains. Perhaps because we
have relatively little experience in renewing organizations, even very capable people often make at
least one big error.
Error #1: Not Establishing a Great
Enough Sense of Urgency
Most successful change efforts begin when some
individuals or some groups start to look hard at a
company’s competitive situation, market position,
technological trends, and financial performance.
They focus on the potential revenue drop when an
important patent expires, the five-year trend in declining margins in a core business, or an emerging
market that everyone seems to be ignoring. They
then find ways to communicate this information
broadly and dramatically, especially with respect to
crises, potential crises, or great opportunities that
are very timely. This first step is essential because
just getting a transformation program started requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help and the
effort goes nowhere.
Compared with other steps in the change process, phase one can sound easy. It is not. Well
over 50% of the companies I have
watched fail in this first phase. What
are the reasons for that failure?
Sometimes executives underestimate how hard it can be to drive
people out of their comfort zones.
Sometimes they grossly overestimate how successful they have already been in increasing urgency.
Sometimes they lack patience:
“Enough with the preliminaries;
let’s get on with it.” In many cases, executives become paralyzed by the downside possibilities. They
worry that employees with seniority will become
defensive, that morale will drop, that events will
spin out of control, that short-term business results
will be jeopardized, that the stock will sink, and
that they will be blamed for creating a crisis.
A paralyzed senior management often comes
from having too many managers and not enough
leaders. Management’s mandate is to minimize risk
and to keep the current system operating. Change,
by definition, requires creating a new system,
which in turn always demands leadership. Phase
one in a renewal process typically goes nowhere until enough real leaders are promoted or hired into
senior-level jobs.
Transformations often begin, and begin well,
when an organization has a new head who is a good
leader and who sees the need for a major change. If
the renewal target is the entire company, the CEO
is key. If change is needed in a division, the division
general manager is key. When these individuals are
not new leaders, great leaders, or change champions, phase one can be a huge challenge.
Bad business results are both a blessing and a
curse in the first phase. On the positive side, losing
money does catch people’s attention. But it also
gives less maneuvering room. With good business
results, the opposite is true: convincing people of
the need for change is much harder, but you have
more resources to help make changes.
But whether the starting point is good performance or bad, in the more successful cases I have
witnessed, an individual or a group always facilitates a frank discussion of potentially unpleasant
facts: about new competition, shrinking margins,
decreasing market share, flat earnings, a lack of
revenue growth, or other relevant indices of a declining competitive position. Because there seems
to be an almost universal human tendency to shoot
the bearer of bad news, especially if the head of the
organization is not a change champion, executives
in these companies often rely on outsiders to bring
unwanted information. Wall Street analysts, custom-
One chief executive officer
deliberately engineered the
largest accounting loss in the
history of the company.
ers, and consultants can all be helpful in this regard. The purpose of all this activity, in the words of
one former CEO of a large European company, is
“to make the status quo seem more dangerous than
launching into the unknown.”
In a few of the most successful cases, a group has
manufactured a crisis. One CEO deliberately engineered the largest accounting loss in the company’s
history, creating huge pressures from Wall Street in
the process. One division president commissioned
first-ever customer-satisfaction surveys, knowing
full well that the results would be terrible. He then
made these findings public. On the surface, such
moves can look unduly risky. But there is also risk
in playing it too safe: when the urgency rate is not
pumped up enough, the transformation process
March-April 1995
Eight Steps to Transforming Your Organization
Establishing a Sense of Urgency
Examining market and competitive realities
Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities
Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
Assembling a group with enough power to lead the change effort
Encouraging the group to work together as a team
Creating a Vision
Creating a vision to help direct the change effort
Developing strategies for achieving that vision
Communicating the Vision
Using every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
Teaching new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition
Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
Getting rid of obstacles to change
Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
Encouraging risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions
Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
Planning for visible performance improvements
Creating those improvements
Recognizing and rewarding employees involved in the improvements
Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
Using increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision
Hiring, promoting, and developing employees who can implement the vision
Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes, and change agents
Institutionalizing New Approaches
Articulating the connections between the new behaviors and corporate success
Developing the means to ensure leadership development and succession
March-April 1995
cannot succeed and the long-term future of the organization is put in jeopardy.
When is the urgency rate high enough? From
what I have seen, the answer is when about 75% of
a company’s management is honestly convinced
that business-as-usual is totally unacceptable. Anything less can produce very serious problems later
on in the process.
Error #2: Not Creating a Powerful
Enough Guiding Coalition
Major renewal programs often start with just one
or two people. In cases of successful transformation
efforts, the leadership coalition grows and grows
over time. But whenever some minimum mass is
not achieved early in the effort, nothing much
worthwhile happens.
It is often said that major change is impossible
unless the head of the organization is an active supporter. What I am talking about goes far beyond
that. In successful transformations, the chairman
or president or division general manager, plus another 5 or 15 or 50 people, come together and develop a shared commitment to excellent performance
through renewal. In my experience, this group never includes all of the company’s most senior executives because some people just won’t buy in, at least
not at first. But in the most successful cases, the
coalition is always pretty powerful – in terms of
titles, information and expertise, reputations and
In both small and large organizations, a successful guiding team may consist of only three to five
people during the first year of a renewal effort. But
in big companies, the coalition needs to grow to the
20 to 50 range before much progress can be made in
phase three and beyond. Senior managers always
form the core of the group. But sometimes you find
board members, a representative from a key customer, or even a powerful union leader.
Because the guiding coalition includes members
who are not part of senior management, it tends to
operate outside of the normal hierarchy by definition. This can be awkward, but it is clearly necessary. If the existing hierarchy were working well,
there would be no need for a major transformation.
But since the current system is not working, reform
generally demands activity outside of formal boundaries, expectations, and protocol.
A high sense of urgency within the managerial
ranks helps enormously in putting a guiding coalition together. But more is usually required. Someone needs to get these people together, help them
develop a shared assessment of their company’s
problems and opportunities, and create a minimum
level of trust and communication. Off-site retreats,
for two or three days, are one popular vehicle for accomplishing this task. I have seen many groups of 5
to 35 executives attend a series of these retreats
over a period of months.
Companies that fail in phase two usually underestimate the difficulties of producing change and
thus the importance of a powerful guiding coalition. Sometimes they have no history of teamwork
at the top and therefore undervalue the importance
of this type of coalition. Sometimes they expect the
team to be led by a staff executive from human resources, quality, or strategic planning instead of a
key line manager. No matter how capable or dedicated the staff head, groups without strong line
leadership never achieve the power that is required.
In failed transformations, you often find plenty of plans and programs, but no vision.
March-April 1995
Efforts that don’t have a powerful enough guiding
coalition can make apparent progress for a while.
But, sooner or later, the opposition gathers itself together and stops the change.
Error #3: Lacking a Vision
In every successful transformation effort that I
have seen, the guiding coalition develops a picture
of the future that is relatively easy to communicate
and appeals to customers, stockholders, and employees. A vision always goes beyond the numbers
that are typically found in five-year plans. A vision
says something that helps clarify the direction in
which an organization needs to move. Sometimes
the first draft comes mostly from a single individual. It is usually a bit blurry, at least initially. But
after the coalition works at it for 3 or 5 or even 12
months, something much better emerges through
their tough analytical thinking and a little dreaming. Eventually, a strategy for achieving that vision
is also developed.
In one midsize European company, the first pass
at a vision contained two-thirds of the basic ideas
that were in the final product. The concept of
global reach was in the initial version
from the beginning. So was the idea
of becoming preeminent in certain
businesses. But one central idea in
the final version – getting out of low
value-added activities – came only
after a series of discussions over a
period of several months.
Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of
confusing and incompatible projects that can take
the organization in the wrong direction or nowhere
at all. Without a sound vision, the reengineering
project in the accounting department, the new 360degree performance appraisal from the human resources department, the plant’s quality program,
the cultural change project in the sales force will
not add up in a meaningful way.
In failed transformations, you often find plenty of
plans and directives and programs, but no vision. In
one case, a company gave out four-inch-thick notebooks describing its change effort. In mind-numbing detail, the books spelled out procedures, goals,
methods, and deadlines. But nowhere was there a
clear and compelling statement of where all this
was leading. Not surprisingly, most of the employees with whom I talked were either confused or
alienated. The big, thick books did not rally them
together or inspire change. In fact, they probably
had just the opposite effect.
In a few of the less successful cases that I have
seen, management had a sense of direction, but it
was too complicated or blurry to be useful. Recently, I asked an executive in a midsize company to describe his vision and received in return a barely
comprehensible 30-minute lecture. Buried in his
answer were the basic elements of a sound vision.
But they were buried – deeply.
A useful rule of thumb: if you can’t communicate
the vision to someone in five minutes or less and
get a reaction that signifies both understanding
and interest, you are not yet done with this phase
of the transformation process.
Error #4: Undercommunicating the
Vision by a Factor of Ten
I’ve seen three patterns with respect to communication, all very common. In the first, a group actually does develop a pretty good transformation
vision and then proceeds to communicate it by
holding a single meeting or sending out a single
communication. Having used about .0001% of the
yearly intracompany communication, the group is
startled that few people seem to understand the
A vision says something that
clarifies the direction in which
an organization needs to move.
March-April 1995
new approach. In the second pattern, the head of
the organization spends a considerable amount
of time making speeches to employee groups, but
most people still don’t get it (not surprising, since
vision captures only .0005% of the total yearly
communication). In the third pattern, much more
effort goes into newsletters and speeches, but some
very visible senior executives still behave in ways
that are antithetical to the vision. The net result is
that cynicism among the troops goes up, while belief in the communication goes down.
Transformation is impossible unless hundreds or
thousands of people are willing to help, often to the
point of making short-term sacrifices. Employees
will not make sacrifices, even if they are unhappy
with the status quo, unless they believe that useful
change is possible. Without credible communication, and a lot of it, the hearts and minds of the
troops are never captured.
This fourth phase is particularly challenging if
the short-term sacrifices include job losses. Gain63
ing understanding and support is tough when
downsizing is a part of the vision. For this reason,
successful visions usually include new growth possibilities and the commitment to treat fairly anyone who is laid off.
Executives who communicate well incorporate
messages into their hour-by-hour activities. In a
routine discussion about a business problem, they
talk about how proposed solutions fit (or don’t fit)
into the bigger picture. In a regular performance appraisal, they talk about how the employee’s behavior helps or undermines the vision. In a review of
a division’s quarterly performance, they talk not
only about the numbers but also about how the
division’s executives are contributing to the transformation. In a routine Q&A with employees at
a company facility, they tie their answers back to
renewal goals.
In more successful transformation efforts, executives use all existing communication channels to
broadcast the vision. They turn boring and unread
company newsletters into lively articles about the
vision. They take ritualistic and tedious quarterly
management meetings and turn them into exciting
discussions of the transformation. They throw out
much of the company’s generic management education and replace it with courses that focus on
business problems and the new vision. The guiding
principle is simple: use every possible channel, es-
kept reminding him of the desired behavior, and all
the feedback from his peers and subordinates,
which helped him see when he was not engaging in
that behavior.
Communication comes in both words and deeds,
and the latter are often the most powerful form.
Nothing undermines change more than behavior
by important individuals that is inconsistent with
their words.
Error #5: Not Removing Obstacles to
the New Vision
Successful transformations begin to involve large
numbers of people as the process progresses. Employees are emboldened to try new approaches, to
develop new ideas, and to provide leadership. The
only constraint is that the actions fit within the
broad parameters of the overall vision. The more
people involved, the better the outcome.
To some degree, a guiding coalition empowers
others to take action simply by successfully communicating the new direction. But communication
is never sufficient by itself. Renewal also requires
the removal of obstacles. Too often, an employee
understands the new vision and wants to help make
it happen. But an elephant appears to be blocking
the path. In some cases, the elephant is in the person’s head, and the challenge is to convince the individual that no external obstacle exists. But in most cases, the blockers
are very real.
Sometimes the obstacle is the organizational structure: narrow job
categories can seriously undermine
efforts to increase productivity or
make it very difficult even to think
about customers. Sometimes compensation or performance-appraisal
systems make people choose between the new vision and their own self-interest.
Perhaps worst of all are bosses who refuse to change
and who make demands that are inconsistent with
the overall effort.
One company began its transformation process
with much publicity and actually made good
progress through the fourth phase. Then the change
effort ground to a halt because the officer in charge
of the company’s largest division was allowed to
undermine most of the new initiatives. He paid lip
service to the process but did not change his behavior or encourage his managers to change. He did not
reward the unconventional ideas called for in the
vision. He allowed human resource systems to remain intact even when they were clearly inconsis-
Worst of all are bosses who
refuse to change and who make
demands that are inconsistent
with the overall effort.
pecially those that are being wasted on nonessential information.
Perhaps even more important, most of the executives I have known in successful cases of major
change learn to “walk the talk.” They consciously
attempt to become a living symbol of the new corporate culture. This is often not easy. A 60-year-old
plant manager who has spent precious little time
over 40 years thinking about customers will not
suddenly behave in a customer-oriented way. But
I have witnessed just such a person change, and
change a great deal. In that case, a high level of urgency helped. The fact that the man was a part of
the guiding coalition and the vision-creation team
also helped. So did all the communication, which
March-April 1995
Too often, an employee understands the new vision and wants to help make it happen.
But something appears to be blocking the path.
tent with the new ideals. I think the officer’s motives were complex. To some degree, he did not believe the company needed major change. To some
degree, he felt personally threatened by all the
change. To some degree, he was afraid that he could
not produce both change and the expected operating profit. But despite the fact that they backed
the renewal effort, the other officers did virtually
nothing to stop the one blocker. Again, the reasons
were complex. The company had no history of
confronting problems like this. Some people were
afraid of the officer. The CEO was concerned that
he might lose a talented executive. The net result
was disastrous. Lower level managers concluded
that senior management had lied to them about
their commitment to renewal, cynicism grew, and
the whole effort collapsed.
In the first half of a transformation, no organization has the momentum, power, or time to get rid of
all obstacles. But the big ones must be confronted
and removed. If the blocker is a person, it is important that he or she be treated fairly and in a way that
is consistent with the new vision. But action is essential, both to empower others and to maintain
the credibility of the change effort as a whole.
Error #6: Not Systematically Planning
For and Creating Short-Term Wins
Real transformation takes time, and a renewal effort risks losing momentum if there are no shortterm goals to meet and celebrate. Most people
won’t go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence within 12 to 24 months that the
journey is producing expected results. Without
short-term wins, too many people give up or activeHARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
March-April 1995
ly join the ranks of those people who have been resisting change.
One to two years into a successful transformation effort, you find quality beginning to go up on
certain indices or the decline in net income stopping. You find some successful new product introductions or an upward shift in market share. You
find an impressive productivity improvement or
a statistically higher customer-satisfaction rating.
But whatever the case, the win is unambiguous.
The result is not just a judgment call that can be
discounted by those opposing change.
Creating short-term wins is different from hoping for short-term wins. The latter is passive, the
former active. In a successful transformation, managers actively look for ways to obtain clear performance improvements, establish goals in the yearly
planning system, achieve the objectives, and reward the people involved with recognition, promotions, and even money. For example, the guiding
coalition at a U.S. manufacturing company produced a highly visible and successful new product
introduction about 20 months after the start of its
renewal effort. The new product was selected about
six months into the effort because it met multiple
criteria: it could be designed and launched in a relatively short period; it could be handled by a small
team of people who were devoted to the new vision;
it had upside potential; and the new product-development team could operate outside the established
departmental structure without practical problems.
Little was left to chance, and the win boosted the
credibility of the renewal process.
Managers often complain about being forced to
produce short-term wins, but I’ve found that pressure can be a useful element in a change effort.
When it becomes clear to people that major change
will take a long time, urgency levels can drop.
Commitments to produce short-term wins help
keep the urgency level up and force detailed analytical thinking that can clarify or revise visions.
Error #7: Declaring Victory Too Soon
While celebrating a win is fine, declaring the war won
can be catastrophic.
After a few years of hard work, managers may be
tempted to declare victory with the first clear performance improvement. While celebrating a win is
fine, declaring the war won can be catastrophic.
Until changes sink deeply into a company’s culture, a process that can take five to ten years, new
approaches are fragile and subject to regression.
In the recent past, I have watched a dozen change
efforts operate under the reengineering theme. In
all but two cases, victory was declared and the expensive consultants were paid and thanked when
the first major project was completed after two to
three years. Within two more years, the useful
changes that had been introduced slowly disappeared. In two of the ten cases, it’s hard to find any
trace of the reengineering work today.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen the same sort
of thing happen to huge quality projects, organizational development efforts, and more. Typically,
the problems start early in the process: the urgency
level is not intense enough, the guiding coalition is
not powerful enough, and the vision is not clear
enough. But it is the premature victory celebration that kills momentum. And then the powerful
forces associated with tradition take over.
Ironically, it is often a combination of change
initiators and change resistors that creates the premature victory celebration. In their enthusiasm over
a clear sign of progress, the initiators go overboard.
They are then joined by resistors, who are quick to
spot any opportunity to stop change. After the celebration is over, the resistors point to the victory as
a sign that the war has been won and the troops
should be sent home. Weary troops allow themselves to be convinced that they won. Once home,
the foot soldiers are reluctant to climb back on the
ships. Soon thereafter, change comes to a halt, and
tradition creeps back in.
Instead of declaring victory, leaders of successful
efforts use the credibility afforded by short-term
wins to tackle even bigger problems. They go after
systems and structures that are not consistent with
the transformation vision and have not been confronted before. They pay great attention to who is
promoted, who is hired, and how people are developed. They include new reengineering projects that
are even bigger in scope than the initial ones. They
March-April 1995
understand that renewal efforts take not months
but years. In fact, in one of the most successful
transformations that I have ever seen, we quantified the amount of change that occurred each year
over a seven-year period. On a scale of one (low) to
ten (high), year one received a two, year two a four,
year three a three, year four a seven, year five an
eight, year six a four, and year seven a two. The
peak came in year five, fully 36 months after the
first set of visible wins.
Error #8: Not Anchoring Changes
in the Corporation’s Culture
In the final analysis, change sticks when it becomes “the way we do things around here,” when it
seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body.
Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and
shared values, they are subject to degradation as
soon as the pressure for change is removed.
Two factors are particularly important in institutionalizing change in corporate culture. The first is
a conscious attempt to show people how the new
approaches, behaviors, and attitudes have helped
improve performance. When people are left on their
own to make the connections, they sometimes create very inaccurate links. For example, because results improved while charismatic Harry was boss,
the troops link his mostly idiosyncratic style with
those results instead of seeing how their own improved customer service and productivity were instrumental. Helping people see the right connections requires communication. Indeed, one company
was relentless, and it paid off enormously. Time
was spent at every major management meeting
to discuss why performance was increasing. The
company newspaper ran article after article showing how changes had boosted earnings.
The second factor is taking sufficient time to
make sure that the next generation of top management really does personify the new approach. If the
requirements for promotion don’t change, renewal
rarely lasts. One bad succession decision at the top
of an organization can undermine a decade of hard
work. Poor succession decisions are possible when
boards of directors are not an integral part of the renewal effort. In at least three instances I have seen,
the champion for change was the retiring executive, and although his successor was not a resistor,
he was not a change champion. Because the boards
did not understand the transformations in any detail, they could not see that their choices were not
good fits. The retiring executive in one case tried
unsuccessfully to talk his board into a less seasoned
candidate who better personified the transformation. In the other two cases, the CEOs did not resist
the boards’ choices, because they felt the transformation could not be undone by their successors.
They were wrong. Within two years, signs of renewal began to disappear at both companies.
There are still more mistakes that people make,
but these eight are the big ones. I realize that in a
short article everything is made to sound a bit too
simplistic. In reality, even successful change efforts
are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a
major change, so a vision of the change process can
reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the
difference between success and failure.
Product no. 4231
F U R T H E R . . .
Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail
“Building Your Company’s Vision”
by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras
(Harvard Business Review, September–
October 1996, Product no. 410X)
Collins and Porras describe the glue that
holds a change effort together. Great companies have a clear sense of why they exist—
their core ideology—and where they want to
go—their envisioned future. The mechanism
for getting there is a BHAG (Big, Hairy,
Audacious Goal), which typically takes 10 to
30 years to accomplish. The company’s business, strategies, and even its culture may
change, but its core ideology remains
unchanged. At every step in this long process,
the leader’s key task is to create alignment
with the vision of the company’s future, so
that regardless of the twists and turns in the
journey, the organizational commitment to
the goal remains strong.
“Successful Change Programs Begin with
Results” by Robert H. Schaffer and Harvey A.
Thomson (Harvard Business Review,
January–February 1992, Product no. 92108)
Although a change initiative is a process, that
doesn’t mean process issues should be the
primary concern. Most corporate change programs have a negligible impact on operational
and financial performance because management focuses on the activities, not the results.
By contrast, results-driven improvement programs seek to achieve specific, measurable
improvements within a few months.
“Managing Change: The Art of Balancing”
by Jeanie Daniel Duck (Harvard Business
Review, November–December 1993,
Product no. 5416)
The positive management of emotions associated with the workplace can facilitate buy-in
and ownership of a change initiative, thereby
increasing its chances for success. Managing
change is like balancing a mobile. You have to
keep two conversations in balance: the one
between the people leading the change effort
and the one between those who are expected
to implement the new strategies. You also
have to manage emotional connections—
even though they have traditionally been
banned from the workplace, they are essential
for a successful transformation.
Leading Change by John P. Kotter (Harvard
Business School Press, 1996, Product no.
This book expands upon the article about
why transformation efforts fail. Kotter
addresses each of eight major stages of a
change initiative in sequence, highlighting
the key activities in each, and providing
object lessons about where companies often
go astray.
Visit us on the Web at:
U.S. and Canada: 800-988-0886
617-783-7500 • Fax: 617-783-7555
early a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a
landmarK 3D-year research project that ignited a global
conversation on the topic of strengths. More than 3
million people have since taken Gallup’s StrengthsFinder
assessment, which forms the core of several books on this topic,
including the #1 international bestseller StrengthsFinder 2.0.
In recent years, while continuing to learn more about
strengths, Gallup scientists have also been examining decades
of data on the topic of leadership. They studied more than 1
million work teams, conducted more than 20,000 in-depth
interviews with leaders, and even interviewed more than 10,000
followers around the wor1d to ask exactly why they followed the
most important leader in their life.
In Strengths Based Leadership, #1 New York Times
bestselling author Tom Rath and renowned leadership consultant
Barry Conchie reveal the results of this research. Based on their
discoveries, the book identifies three keys to being a more
effective leader: knowing your strengths and investing in others’
strengths, getting people with the right strengths on your team,
and understanding and meeting the four basic needs of those
who loOk to you for leadership.
As you read Strengths Based Leadership, you’lI hear
firsthand accounts from some of the most successful
organizational leaders in recent history, from the founder of
Teach For America to the president of The Ritz-Cartton , as they
discuss how their unique strengths have driven their success.
Filled with novel research and actionable ideas, Strengths
Based Leadership will give you a new road map for leading
people toward a better future.
A unique access code (enclosed In the back of this book)
allows you to take a new leadership version of Gallup’s
StrengthsFlnder program. The new version of this program
provides you wtth speclflc strategies for leading wtth your
top five strengths and enables you to plot the strengths of
your team based on the four domains of leadership strength
revealed In the book.
Gallup Global Practice Leader
Tom Rath has written two # 1
international bestsellers. His
first book, How Full Is Your
Bucket?, was a # 1 New York
Times bestseller, and his most
recent book, StrengthsFinder
2.0, is a
l ong~running
Wall Street Journal and #1 BusinessWeek oestseller. In total,
Rath’s books have sold more than a million copies and have
made more than 100 appearances on the Wall Street Journal
bestseller list.
Rath has been with Gallup for 14 years and currently
leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consu lt ing
worldwide. He also serves on the board of VHL.org, an
organization dedicated to cancer research and patien t support.
Ra th earned degrees from the University of Michigan and
the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Ashley, live in
Washington. D.C.
Conchie is sought after by
CEOs around the world to
assist in aligning business
and talent strategies that drive
performance. As an expert in
executive assessment. team
diagnosti cs . and succession planning. he brings objective
measurement and insight to these important leadership areas.
Conchie was a public sector leader in the UK before joining
Gallup in London. In 2002. he brought his extensive global
experience to Gallup’s Washington. D.C. headquarters. where
Conchie now leads Ga llup’s executive leadership consulting.
He and his wife. Nicola, and children. Amy and Thomas. live
in Maryland.
To the pioneering researcher, Don Clifton
(1924-2003), who spent four decades studying the strengths
ofgreat leaders
1251 Avenue of the Americas
23’d Floor
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008937114
ISBN: 978-1-59562-025-5
First Printing: 2008
1098765432 1
Copyright © 2008 Gallup, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part
in any form.
Gallup’, Clifton StrengthsFindero , The Gallup Poll’, Gallup Press·, Q12°,
StrengthsFinder”, and the 34 Clifton Strengths Finder theme names are
trademarks of Gallup, Inc. All other trademarks are property of their
respective owners.
The Q12 items are protected by copyright of Gallup, Inc., 1993-1998. All
rights reserved.
Introduction ….
Part One: Investing in Your Strengths …..
.. ………. 5
Part Two: Maximizing Your Team. . . . . . . . .
. .. 19
Part Three: Understanding Why People Follow. .
. .77
Conclusion: Leadership That Lasts Beyond a Lifetime. . . . .. .93
Additional Resources ..
Taking StrengthsFinder
… 99
Leading With Your Strengths: A Guide to the 34 Themes…
The Research ……… “‘” ………………………………. 237
A: Your Strengths: The Research Behind Strengths Finder .
B: Your Team: Gallup’s Research on Work Team Engagement … 247
C: Why People Follow …………. .. .. ………………….. 251
References ……………………………………….. ” ……. 259
Gallup has been studying human behavior for more than 70
years and consulting with organizational leaders for more
than four decades. Over the years, hundreds of top scientists
and leadership consultants have contributed to this collective
knowledge base. Even as we write this book, Gallup consultants
around the globe are spending their days working with leaders
to improve their organizations’ effectiveness. It is the work of
the following team of experts, many of whom have devoted their
lives to studying great leaders, that fills the pages of this book.
Vandana Allman
Curt Liesveld
Jim Asplund
Mary Pat Loos
Dana Baugh
Rachel Maglinger
Cheryl Beamer
Jacque Merritt
Brian Brim
Jan Miller
Jim Clifton
Jane Miller
Tonya Fredstrom
Laura Mussman
Andrew Green
Peter Ong
Christy Hammer
Connie Rath
Anne Harbison
Tony Rutigliano
Jim Harter
Rosemary Travis
Tim Hodges
Paula Walker
Stosh Walsh
Lalit Khanna
Damian Welch
In addition to this team of leadership experts, there were many
who shaped the content of this book and its accompanying
website. Our publishing team, led by business book gurus Larry
Emond and Piotrek Juszkiewicz, pushed us at every turn to tell
a better story. Then our world-class editors, Geoff Brewer and
Kelly Henry, refined this manuscript countless times and taught
us how to be more effective writers along the way. The following
members of our core team spent countless hours working on
the research, content, and technology that went into Strengths
Based Leadership: Samantha Allemang, Sangeeta Badal, Jason
Carr, Swati Jain, Trista Kunce, Emily Meyer, and Joy Murphy.
Beyond this core team, we would also like to thank all the
people who reviewed drafts of this book, the team who created
the website, our research group, and in particular, the many
critical friends in our client partnerships who kept us true to
our mission and science and provided many of the subjects of
our studies. Without these great partners, this book would not
have been possible. And to all of the leaders who gave us their
time, we extend our most sincere thanks and gratitude.
The best leaders get to live on.
Think for a moment about the leaders you respect whether they lead countries, organizations, communities, or
families – who continue to live on because of the way they
have shaped your thoughts and beliefs. Even though you may
not notice it in the moment, the most effective leaders forever
alter the course of your life.
Chances are, you will have many opportunities to
lead during your own lifetime. If you’re able to seize these
opportunities, your influence will continue to grow for
generations to come. Maybe it’s the desire to make a lasting
impact on the world that drives so many of us to want to lead.
In a recent Gallup Poll, we asked people to rate their own
leadership ability. Out of 1,001 people randomly surveyed, 97%
rated their ability to lead as being at or above average. And
more than two-thirds said they have led a group or team. The
fact is, whether you are taking charge in a boardroom, on a
construction site, or even in your home, it is likely that you will
find yourself leading at some point in your life.
So what are the keys to being a more effective leader? To
answer this question, we assembled a team of experts to review
decades of Gallup data on this topic, which included more than
20,000 in-depth interviews with senior leaders, studies of more
than one million work teams, and 50 years of Gallup Polls about
the world’s most admired leaders. Our team then initiated a
study of more than 10,000 followers around the world. In this
study, we asked followers to tell us – in their own words why they follow the most influential leader in their life.
Three key findings emerged from this research:
The most effective leaders are always investing in
In the workplace, when an organization’s leadership
fails to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of an
employee being engaged are a dismal 1 in 11 (9%).
But when an organizations leadership focuses on the
strengths of its employees, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4
(73%). So that means when leaders focus on and invest
in their employees’ strengths, the odds of each person
being engaged goes up eightfold. As we will review in
Part One, this increase in engagement translates into
substantial gains for the organizations bottom line and
each employee’s well-being.
The most effective leaders surround themselves with
the right people and then maximize their team.
While the best leaders are not well-rounded, the best
teams are. Our research found that top-performing
teams have strengths in four specific domains. In Part
I 3
Two, you will hear from four well-known leaders as they
describe how their strengths play out in these domains.
You will also see how one CEO maximized his existing
team and learn about the elements that differentiated
the top-performing teams we studied from the rest of
the pack.
The most effective leaders understand their followers’
People follow leaders for very specific reasons. When we
asked thousands of followers, they were able to describe
exactly what they need from a leader with remarkable
clarity. In Part Three, we will review the results from
this study and tell you more about followers’ four basic
To help you learn about your own strengths as a leader,
you will have the opportunity to take a new leadership
version of Gallup’s Strengths Finder program. (See “Taking
Strengths Finder” in the Additional Resources section of this
book.) FollOWing an online assessment, you will receive a guide
that shows you how your top five strengths fit into the four
domains ofleadership strength (from Part Two). The gUide will
also give you specific suggestions for meeting the basic needs
of those who look to you for leadership (from Part Three).
But as you will learn from some of the most effective leaders
we’ve studied, the path to great leadership starts with a deep
understanding of the strengths you bring to the table.
If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you
will never be great at anything. While our society encourages
us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds
mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of
the well-rounded leader.
Organizations are quick to look for leaders who are great
communicators, visionary thinkers, and who can also get things
done and follow through. All of these attributes are desirable
and necessary for an organization to succeed. But of all the
leaders we have studied, we have yet to find one who has worldclass strength in all of these areas. Sure, many leaders can get
by or are above average in several domains. But paradoxically,
those who strive to be competent in all areas become the least
effective leaders overall.
Sarah has a knot in her stomach as she drives to work on
Monday morning. While she rarely looks forward to the start
of a workweek, today the mere thought of going to the office
is making her ill. While driving through traffic, Sarah begins
to wonder why this particular Monday is so much worse. She’s
perplexed because last Friday was one of the best days in the
office she could remember.
As Sarah pulls into the parking lot, she figures out why the
end of last week was so enjoyable: Her boss, Bob, was out of
town. That was the good news. The bad news is that he was
attending yet another course that would equip him to be a better
leader. As Sarah walks across the parking lot, her stomach
tightens even more when she remembers what happened the
last time Bob went to one of those leadership retreats.
Earlier in the year, Bob had attended a conference that
explored Lincoln’s leadership style during the Civil War. When
he returned, Bob predictably spent the next month trying to
teach everyone on his team to be “exceptional communicators:’
Sarah chuckled at the memory, recalling how awkward this
was for the computer programmers in her office, who usually
prefer typing to talking. Fortunately, like all Bob’s phases, this
one came to an abrupt halt once he read a book suggesting that
the best leaders had humble personalities, and he subsequently
quit pressuring Sarah’s more introverted colleagues to be the
next Lincoln or Kennedy.
When Sarah enters the building, she has no choice but
to pass Bob’s office, and the knot in her stomach tightens. As
if on cue, Bob waves her in. Reluctantly, Sarah leans against
the frame of the open door. In her mind, Sarah is cynically
wondering what flavor will be served up this month. But to be
cordial, Sarah asks Bob about the retreat.
After telling Sarah how peaceful and serene it was in the
small mountain town where the event was held, Bob cuts to the
chase. He declares, “My big takeaway from last week was that
we all need to be more adaptive to change in order to grow our
business:’ Then Bob leans forward, looking at Sarah earnestly,
and continues, “We went through this activity where each of
us had to map out how quickly we adapt to new market trends.
Well, like everyone else, it turns out that we spend nowhere near
enough time readying ourselves for big change. If we’re going to
lead our industry, we need to not only anticipate, but better yet,
create change:’ Bob rambles on for 10 more minutes, but Sarah
had gotten the message right away: The leadership buzzword
for the next few weeks or months is going to be “change:’
As Sarah walks away from Bob’s office, she is already
anticipating the moans and groans of her peers when they hear
about the latest fad. Then she suddenly realizes something about
Bob that almost has her feeling sorry for him. While he has
spent much of his career in a leadership role, the vast majority
of her boss’ efforts have been focused on trying to mimic traits
of leaders he has known or read about.
The bookshelf in his office is lined with weighty tomes about
famous political and business leaders, dead and alive. When Bob
speaks to groups, he frequently quotes the company’s CEO and
other leaders who have appeared in the media. On occasion,
usually when talking to groups of managers and leaders in the
organization, Bob even puts together a “greatest hits” list of all
the things that he has learned from studying historical leaders
and modern-day corporate chiefs. He describes how all leaders
must be empathetic, creative, diSciplined, strategic, humble,
decisive, and of course, great communicators.
Sarah can see that Bob has spent most of his career striving
to be just like the leaders he admires. Yet he fails to realize that
the people he looks up to are all very different. There is no
single person who embodies even half of the characteristics on
Bob’s exhaustive list of what makes a well-rounded leader. And
perhaps most strikingly, the one leader that Bob knows the least
about is himself.
“I’ve never met an effective leader who wasn’t aware of his talents
and working to sharpen them.”
– Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark,
in The New York Times Magazine
Without an awareness of your strengths, it’s almost impossible
for you to lead effectively. We all lead in very different ways,
based on our talents and our limitations. Serious problems
occur when we think we need to be exactly like the leaders
we admire. Doing so takes us out of our natural element and
practically eliminates our chances of success.
If you look at great historical leaders such as Winston
Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi, you might notice more
differences than similarities – and it is the differences that
defined them and led to their success. Churchill’s bold and
commanding leadership succeeded in mobilizing a war-ravaged
nation. It is unlikely he would have had as much success if he
had tried to emulate Gandhi’s calm and quiet approach. Yet
I 11
Gandhi’s leadership, during India’s struggle for independence,
was much more effective because he did not try to emulate the
domineering leaders of the past. Both men knew their strengths
and used them wisely.
All too often, leaders are blind to the obvious when it
comes to something of critical importance to them –
own personality. Many political and business leaders have selfconcepts that are miles away from reality. They simply don’t
know their own strengths and weaknesses.
This is the stuff of parody for late-night talk shows, sitcoms,
movies, and stand-up comics. And this problem goes far beyond
the boss who thinks he’s funny, even though people only laugh
at his jokes out of obligation. Most people have encountered
a leader who is completely unaware of a glaring weakness.
We have spoken with several leaders who claim to be great at
developing their people, but when we interview the people they
lead, we hear a very different story. In some cases, the leaders in
question may be better at demoralizing than developing people.
At its worst, this lack of self-awareness can lead to masses of
disengaged employees, unhappy customers, and undue stress
beyond the workplace.
Although less noticeable, another serious problem occurs
when people try to lead while having no clue about their natural
strengths. Unfortunately, few people have discovered the place
in life where they have the most potential for growth. Based
on an analysis of Gallup’s 2007 global client database, the vast
majority of people do not have “the opportunity to do what they
do best every day” in their current job. (See chart below.) This
problem runs rampant in workplaces throughout the world.

• • • 13%
Percentage reporting they have “the opportunity to do what they do
best every day· at work. Based on Gallup’s 2007 glob.1 cUent det”bue,
It was this problem that led the late leadership researcher
and Father of Strengths Psychology, Dr. Donald O. Clifton, to
begin studying the unique strengths of leaders. Beginning in
the 1960s, Clifton, along with his colleagues from Gallup and
the academic world, conducted more than 20,000 interviews
with people in leadership roles across almost all industries and
occupations, including former heads of state and other global
Each of these 90-minute interviews was carefully structured;
for most of the interviews, the various leaders were asked the
exact same questions. This allowed for side-by-side comparisons
of leaders’ responses. For many business leaders in this study,
data on the leader’s actual performance were available. This
allowed Clifton and his team to compare the best leaders to
those who were less successful, based on objective measures.
After all of this research, you might think that a team of
scientists would find at least one strength that all of the best
leaders shared. But when Clifton was asked, just a few months
before his death in 2003, what his greatest discovery was from
three decades of leadership research, this was his response:
A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his
tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal.
What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows
his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at
the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of
characteristics that describes all leaders.
To help aspiring leaders identify their strengths,
Clifton and his team created a web-based program dubbed
“StrengthsFinder:’ As a part of this book, you will have
an opportunity to take a new leadership version of the
StrengthsFinder program. In addition to helping you discover
your own strengths to lead, this new version will provide
you with several strategies for leading others based on their
unique strengths. As you can see in the chart below, if you
are able to help the people you lead focus on their strengths,
it will dramatically boost engagement levels throughout your
As one top executive summarized, “If you focus on people’s
weaknesses, they lose confidence:’ At a very basic level, it
is hard for us to build self-confidence when we are focused
on our we~esses instead of our strengths. Over the past
decade, Gallup scientists have explored in much more detail
the mechanism through which a strengths-based approach
influences our lives. These studies revealed that people
experience significant gains in self-confidence after taking
Strengths Finder and learning more about their strengths. This
increase in confidence at an individual level may help explain
how strengths-based programs boost an organization’s overall
engagement and productivity.
The awareness of one’s strengths and the subsequent
increase in self-confidence it produces might have longer term
implications as well, according to a landmark 2008 study led by
the University of Florida’s Tim Judge. Judge and his colleague
Charlice Hurst studied the self-evaluations of 7,660 men and
women who were between ages of 14 and 22 when they were
first studied in 1979. These 7,660 participants were followed for
the next 25 years, and the measures (which included questions
about career success, job status, education, and health) were
repeated in 2004.
What Judge and Hurst discovered from this 25-year
longitudinal study was quite profound. They found that people
with higher self-confidence in 1979 ended up with higher
income levels and career satisfaction in 2004. But what was even
more striking was the fact that people with high self-confidence
in 1979 saw their income increase at an entirely different rate
compared to those with lower levels of self-confidence.
The people who had more confidence in their abilities at a
young age (between 14 and 22) started off with slightly higher
income levels – making, on average (in 1979), $3,496 more per
year than the low-confidence group. As each year went by, this
gap continued to widen. When the researchers reviewed followup studies from 2004, the group with higher self-confidence
was making $12,821 more annually compared to the average
annual income for the lower self-confidence group. The people
with higher self-confidence in 1979 continued to capitalize on
their disproportionate gains as each year passed.
In addition to the income and career benefits, what Judge
and Hurst discovered about the link between early selfconfidence and physical health may be even more surprising.
When asked about the number of health problems they
have that interfere with their work, the group with low selfconfidence in 1979 reported almost three times as many health
problems 25 years later in 2004. Almost unbelievably, the
group with high self-evaluations in 1979 reported havingfewer
health problems in 2004 than they did 25 years before.
The results of this study suggest that people who are aware
of their strengths and build self-confidence at a young age
may reap a “cumulative advantage” that continues to grow
over a lifetime. A preliminary Gallup analysis (using the same
longitudinal panel from Judge and Hurst’s study) suggests that
people who report having a chance to use their strengths in the
workplace gain a similar advantage. Our research team found
that people who had the opportunity to use their strengths
early on (between the ages of 15-23) had significantly higher
job satisfaction and income levels 26 years later.
These outcomes highlight the value of leaders knowing
their own strengths and also reveal how important it is for
leaders to help others uncover their strengths as early as
possible. If an organization’s leaders are able to help each
person capitalize on this cumulative advantage, it is likely
to create more rapid individual and organizational growth.
These studies also reveal a mechanism through which a
truly strengths-based organization may be able to grow at an
entirely different rate for decades to come.
Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and
build on each person’s strengths. Yet in most cases, leadership
teams are a product of circumstance more than design.
Among the executive teams we have studied, team members
were selected or promoted based primarily on knowledge or
competence. So, the best salesperson becomes the chief sales
manager, even ifhe is not a great people manager. The smartest
person in IT winds up as the CIO. The top financial expert gets
promoted to CFO, and so on.
Rarely are people recruited to an executive team because
their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing
team members. When is the last time you heard a leader talking
about how your team needed to add a person who not only
had the technical competence but who could also help build
stronger relationships within the group? Or someone who
could help influence others on behalf of the entire team? The
vast majority of the time, we recruit by job function – and all
but ignore individuals’ strengths.
What’s worse, when leaders do recruit for strength, they all
too often pick people who act, think, or behave like themselves,
albeit unintentionally in most cases. It’s an age-old dilemma.
How is a company supposed to grow, adapt, and change if a
domineering CEO continues to pick people who agree with
him and who have a similar background and personality?
Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed his views on this
topic in an interview with Gallup:
What you have to think ofis the potential ofthe person, not his
appearance. And if you can discover hidden potentials, that
can make a great difference to your organization. You have
to distinguish between loyalty and brilliance. Most leaders
prefer loyalty over brilliance; they’re afraid that they’re going
to be undercut. My view is different.
Peres went on to describe the importance of getting talented
people on his leadership teams and helping them discover more
about their unique strengths.
Over the years, Gallup has studied thousands of executive teams.
In most cases, our leadership consultants conduct an in-depth
interview with a team’s formal leader (usually the CEO) and
also conduct interviews with each member of the leadership
team. This enables us to compare the strengths of each person
sitting around the table so that we can start thinking about each
one’s individual development and succession planning – and
perhaps most importantly, how the team looks as a whole.
As we worked with these leadership teams, we began to see
that while each member had his or her own unique strengths,
the most cohesive and successful teams possessed broader
groupings of strengths. So we went back and initiated our most
thorough review of this research to date. From this dataset, four
I 23
distinct domains of leadership strength emerged: Executing,
Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking.
While these categories appear to be general, especially
when compared to the specific themes within StrengthsFinder
(which you can learn more about in the Additional Resources
section), it struck us that these broader categories of strengths
could be useful for thinking about how leaders can contribute to
a team. A more detailed language may work best for individual
development, but these broad domains offer a more practical
lens for looking at the composition of a team.
1he Four Domains of Leadership Strength
We found that it serves a team well to have a representation
of strengths in each of these four domains. Instead of one
dominant leader who tries to do everything or individuals who
all have similar strengths, contributions from all four domains
lead to a strong and cohesive team. Although individuals need
not be well-rounded, teams should be.
This doesn’t mean that each person on a team must have
strengths exclusively in a Single category. In most cases, each
team member will possess some strength in multiple domains.
A tool like Strengths Finder can be useful in determining how
all team members can maximize their contribution to the
group’s collective goals. According to our latest research, the
34 Strengths Finder themes naturally cluster into these four
domains of leadership strength based on a statistical factor
analysis and a clinical evaluation by Gallup’s top scientists.
(See the table below for how the 34 themes sort into the four
domains of leadership strength.) As you think about how you
can contribute to a team and who you need to surround yourself
with, this may be a good starting point.
I fl
n uencmg
B uild’111g
Th’111ki ng
Leaders with dominant strength in the Executing domain
know how to make things happen. When you need someone
to implement a solution, these are the people who will work
tirelessly to get it done. Leaders with a strength to execute have
the ability to “catch” an idea and make it a reality.
For example, one leader may excel at establishing a quality
process using themes such as Deliberative or Discipline, while
the next leader will use her Achiever theme to work tirelessly
toward a goal. Or a leader with strong Arranger may determine
the optimal configuration of people needed to complete a task.
Those who lead by Influencing help their team reach a
much broader audience. People with strength in this domain
are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the
organization. When you need someone to take charge, speak
up, and make sure your group is heard, look to someone with
the strength to influence.
For example, a leader with a lot of Command or SelfAssurance may use few words, but her confidence will continue
to project authority and win followers. In contrast, a leader
using Communication or Woo might get people involved by
helping individuals feel comfortable and connected to the issue
at hand.
Those who lead through Relationship Building are
the essential glue that holds a team together. Without these
strengths on a team, in many cases, the group is simply a
composite of individuals. In contrast, leaders with exceptional
Relationship Building strength have the unique ability to create
groups and organizations that are much greater than the sum
of their parts.
Within this domain, a leader with Positivity and Harmony
may work hard to minimize distractions and to keep the
team’s collective energy high. On the other hand, a leader with
Individualization might use a more targeted approach to getting
people involved. Or a leader with strong Relator or Developer
may be a great mentor and guide as he pushes others toward
bigger and better achievements.
Leaders with great Strategic Thinking strengths are
the ones who keep us all focused on what could be. They are
constantly absorbing and analyzing information and helping
the team make better decisions. People with strength in this
domain continually stretch our thinking for the future.
Within this domain, a leader using Context or Strategic
might explain how past events influenced present circumstances
or navigate the best route for future possibilities. Someone with
strong Ideation or Input may see countless opportunities for
growth based on all of the information she reviews. Or a leader
drawing from his Analytical theme might help the team drill
into the details of cause and effect.
In recent years, we have studied leaders who built great schools,
created major nonprofit organizations, led big businesses, and
transformed entire nations. But we have yet to find two leaders
who have the exact same sequence of strengths. While two
leaders may have identical expectations, the way they reach
their goals is always dependent on the unique arrangement of
their strengths.
To help you see how different effective leadership strengths
can be, we asked a few of the top organizational leaders we
interviewed if they would be willing to share their strengths
and their stories. We selected four leaders – one to illustrate
each of the four domains ofleadership strength. You will notice
that these leaders have multiple strengths in the domain they
Throughout the next four sections, you will see how
these leaders have leveraged their dominant strengths to
drive organizational growth. You will hear from the founder
and CEO of one of the most legendary nonprofits of the past
century, the president of one of the most respected brands ever,
the chairman of one of the world’s largest banks, and the chief
executive of the largest consumer electronics retailer in the
world. As you read each of these stories, you will realize just
how different four leaders can be, even at the highest levels of
an organization.
Executing Themes
Top Five Strengths
During her senior year at Princeton, Wendy Kopp was simply
trying to figure out what to do after she graduated. The last
thing on Kopp’s mind was starting her own business, let alone
launching a national movement. Then in late 1988, while
seeking a subject for her senior thesis, Kopp found a topic that
piqued her interest: educational inequity.
Throughout her time at Princeton, Kopp had noticed two
distinct and divergent camps of students, even within that
elite institution. One group, composed of students who had
attended top-flight East Coast prep schools, often referred
to their experience at Princeton as a “cakewalk:’ The other
group, made up of students who had grown up in urban public
schools, struggled to meet the academic expectations at the Ivy
League university. If it was this bad at Princeton, Kopp thought,
then this inequity must be much worse in other parts of the
She decided to gather a group of fellow students to discuss
the broader problem of why it was so hard for most children
to get the education they deserved. When the group convened,
she heard student after student express interest in teaching, but
she also heard them describe how there was no mechanism for
attracting top students to the profession, especially in urban
areas that had the most dire need.
It was during this meeting that Kopp’s Responsibility
theme kicked in. She felt a need to take action, and she started
thinking about how she could fix this massive problem.
Inspired in large part by the Peace Corps, which was launched
by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Kopp was determined
to create a national teacher corps. So, like many idealistic
young people, Wendy Kopp wrote a letter to then-President
George H.W Bush, suggesting that he create this new corps.
She recommended that recent college graduates commit to
two years of teaching in underprivileged areas. Kopp didn’t
hear back from the White House about her idea.
But it was her next move that truly separated this big
idea from the millions of good thoughts that never make it
to fruition: the super-achieving, hands-on undergrad decided
that she would build this national teacher corps herself. In
addition to making educational inequity the focus of her
senior thesis, Kopp began researching what it would take
to create a national corps of teachers. As she was reviewing
recommendations that had been made to President Kennedy
about what it would take to establish the Peace Corps, she
found a paper from one of Kennedy’s advisors that suggested
that a minimum of 500 people were necessary (on day one)
to convey the sense of urgency and national importance. This
paper inspired Kopp’s incredibly ambitious goal: She would
find 500 new corps members in the first year to make her
dream of a national teacher corps a reality.
As Kopp began to run the numbers in terms of what it
would take to recruit all of these high-achieving students to
volunteer for two years, she realized it would require at least
$2.5 million, for the first year alone, to get her project off the
ground. She knew this was an ambitious goal, but she felt an
immediate responsibility to do it. When Kopp mentioned this
figure to her thesis advisor, he exclaimed, “Do you know how
hard it is to raise twenty-five hundred dollars?” Kopp actually
didn’t know just how hard it would be, but she was about to
find out.
Kopp started by building her core team – for recruiting,
training, and meeting her aggressive fundraising goal. She
enlisted a few of the brightest people she knew, although it took
a lot of convincing to get them to commit to this underfunded
start-up. Over the next 12 months, Kopp’s leadership team
went through a series of extraordinary challenges and found
themselves on the brink of quitting on several occasions. But
great Achievers rarely give up.
To make things even more difficult, while Kopp was
serious about starting with 500 teachers, she was not about to
accept just anyone who applied. She wanted this new program,
dubbed “Teach For America;’ to be very selective. This meant
that the organization had to recruit, interview, and screen more
than 2,500 applicants just to get 500 of the best and brightest
graduates. Kopp felt that the organization had a responsibility
to hire graduates who could have an immediate impact in the
schools they joined.
This series of daunting challenges was no match for Wendy
Kopp’s extraordinary determination and ability to execute. By
April of 1990, a year after Kopp graduated from Princeton, the
first 500 members of Teach For America gathered for their
orientation session at the University of Southern California.
Kopp had managed to raise the $2.5 million and build the
organization from scratch – over the span of a single year.
Then, as if events simply followed the script Kopp had
written in her senior thesis, the nation took notice of her bold
launch. Her efforts were featured on Good Morning America and
in TIME magazine. A New York Times headline read: “Princeton
Student’s Brainstorm: A Peace Corps to Train Teachers:’ Teach
For America’s first year was a remarkable success, but Kopp
knew she had a responsibility to keep the organization alive and
to prepare it for long-term success.
In 2008, we followed up with Wendy Kopp to see how
things were going at Teach For America almost two decades
after its inception. Upon entering the organization’s New York
headquarters, we noted that the offices still had the feel of a
small start-up aiming to change the world. The building was
abuzz with young people rushing around close quarters and
filled with small cubicles and plywood desks. The water heaters
in the makeshift restrooms doubled as toilet paper holders. Even
in 2008, Teach For America’s humble environment certainly
didn’t convey that of one of the most successful start-ups of the
past century.
And when we sat down with Kopp, it was clear that the
super achiever remained in overdrive. Kopp was just days
away from giving birth to her fourth child, yet she was in the
midst of a full day at Teach For America. Although in obvious
discomfort, Kopp was not about to slow down. You could tell
from the look in her eyes and the passion in her voice that she
is never quite content with where things are today.
Kopp described how hard it had been to build an
organization that now has a stable – and robust – flow of
funding and applicants. She described her most fundamental
challenge, quite succinctly, as “finding talent:’ To keep the
organization growing, Kopp had to surround herself with the
best teachers, fundraisers, and leaders for the future. In her
own words, talent was the key element because it “solves all the
other problems:’
It was clear from our discussion that Kopp had found the
right people – not only to expand Teach For America, but
also to make an impact on an entire nation. When we asked
about the outcomes of all this hard work, Kopp told us that
her organization’s fundraising goal for the current year was
a whopping $120 million. What’s more, in the previous year,
Teach For America had more than 25,000 applicants and is
now regarded as one of the most selective and prestigious jobs
in the United States, even for Ivy League graduates. In 2005,
one in eight Yale graduates applied for a Teach For America
position. Year after year, thousands of students are now passing
up six-figure salaries at high-prestige companies such as GE
and Goldman Sachs to spend two years teaching in an innercity school.
Yet what might be an even greater legacy are the future
community leaders who emerge among Teach For America’s
Many of to day’s brightest young
businesspeople, and school superintendents got their start in
the organization that Kopp built. We interviewed a former
member from Washington, D.C., who described how the head
of that city’s school system and half of her staff were Teach For
America alumni. Nevertheless, when we asked Kopp about
the leadership legacy she would leave, it was clear she had yet
to give the question much thought. Perhaps she was too busy
making things happen to wax philosophical.
One of the more revealing questions we asked Kopp was
about how she prioritizes her time. She quickly described how
she starts each year with a structured list of all the things she
needs to accomplish in the next 12 months; then she breaks that
list down by month and week. From the weekly list, she creates
a daily to-do list that she follows rigorously. As Kopp talked
about how she has all of this “systematized:’ it sounded like she
assumed that we all do this. For her, this level of organization is
natural. Kopp told us, “I couldn’t exist without that – or at least
1 couldn’t be doing this job without that system:’
As we listened to Kopp, it was easy to hear how her top five
strengths played a role in the remarkable success of Teach For
America. When she spoke about all the children who deserve a
better education, you could hear how her Responsibility theme
motivates her. As one Teach For America alumnus recounted,
“Wendy conveys more than her vision for educational equity
– the responsibility to do something about it. To simply be the
best new teacher isn’t enough. Winning for the sake of students
is the only option:’
And while Kopp’s Competition theme wasn’t quite evident
on the surface, it manifested in the context of “winning”
for students in the face of the status quo. For Kopp, her
Competition was more organizational and societal than it was
personal. She did everything in her power to ensure that the
teachers her organization placed in schools were even better
than the top teachers hired through the conventional system.
Yet of all the leaders we have studied, Wendy Kopp may be
the best example of how you can take one dominant strength,
Achiever, and spend a lifetime applying it. From her detailed
task lists to building a national movement from scratch in one
year, Kopp’s ability to make things happen is without parallel.
While her organization has already reached more than three
million students, it is unlikely that she will rest until children
around the world have access to the education they deserve.
Influencing Themes
Simon Cooper
The Ritz-Carlton
Top Five Strengths
When Simon Cooper assumed his role as president of The RitzCarlton Hotel Company in 2001, he faced a unique challenge.
Whereas Wendy Kopp essentially had to create an organization
from scratch, Cooper’s charge was to take one of the world’s
greatest brands to a new level of excellence. While it’s debatable
which assignment had a higher degree of difficulty, Cooper
clearly had the most to lose.
The Ritz-Carlton brand was already as synonymous with
luxury as Kleenex is with tissue. Their employees were satisfied.
Customers were engaged. Quality was ingrained in almost
every aspect of the business. Expectations were sky high.
And on a more personal level, Cooper was taking over for a
charismatic leader, Horst Schulze, who was the brand for nearly
two decades. According to Cooper, Schulze “walked on water”
in the eyes of Ritz-Carlton’s people. With this venerable brand
firing on all cylinders, Cooper faced a situation in which there
was almost nowhere to go but down. But nothing energizes a
Maximizer more than the challenge of taking a company from
great to world-class.
When you sit in a room with Cooper, you can almost feel
the power exuding from his weathered skin. Born just outside
of London, Cooper once sailed charter yachts for a living and
played competitive rugby until he was 45. It’s still easy to see
the former athlete in Cooper’s stature and build. Yet his voice
and accent are as sophisticated as the brand he leads. Until you
get to know Simon Cooper, this refinement seems to mask his
intensity and confidence.
From the moment Cooper took the helm at Ritz-Carlton in
2001, he was determined to leave his mark. Like many who lead
with the Significance theme, the last thing he wanted to do was
simply follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. As Cooper
reconstructed the situation, he explained how careful he was
to be clear from the outset that he was not planning to walk
in someone else’s shoes. In his mind, this was the one sure kiss
of death for anyone entering a new leadership role. Although
his predecessor was widely revered, Cooper knew that the last
thing people wanted was a pretender leading the organization.
He also realized that the brand had to grow far beyond the
personality of its leader.
Instead of trying to remake a brand that was already at
a pinnacle, Simon Cooper aimed to broadly expand RitzCarlton’s global influence. He started by studying exactly what
Ritz-Carlton’s customers already loved, and he then sought to
maximize this opportunity. For Cooper, the key was building
on the strengths of the brand. He quickly realized that none
of his customers truly needed to stay at a Ritz-Carlton. They
could easily frequent others properties for half the price, yet
they continually returned to the Ritz. So Cooper dedicated
even more of his time and attention to studying the unique
experience that Ritz-Carlton created for its customers.
As Cooper studied his customers’ attachment to the brand,
he estimated that 90% of its image was emotional – it was how
Ritz-Carlton’s employees “bring the brand to life” every time
they interact with a guest. Cooper described:
People create memories, not things. If we ask guests what
color the carpet was in their guest room, they probably won’t
know. The real value comes from the ladies and gentlemen
[employees] who bring that hotel to life. Ten percent is the
platform, but the rest is people.
Perhaps this is why Cooper finds himself in his element
when spending time with Ritz-Carlton’s frontline employees.
During his visits, one thing Cooper loves to do is ask his
associates what their guests like to buy. While he writes down
their responses, which usually consist of the room, food
service, or spa treatments, Cooper has another lesson in mind.
His follow-up question is somewhat unorthodox: «Now tell me
what they can’t buy:’
This is what Cooper sees as his company’s core value
proposition: delivering the intangibles like smiles, relationships,
and caring service. In a world where many guests can purchase
just about anything they desire, it is the things they can’t buy
that create true engagement with the Ritz-Carlton brand.
Cooper described how he compensates his leaders based on
their ability to foster this kind of true engagement, instead of
basic loyalty, because they are «in the business of trying to win
the hearts and minds” of each guest. If they are able to do so,
Simon Cooper hopes to leave behind a legacy of what he calls
«guests for life:’
Once again making the most of his top theme, Maximizer,
Cooper was determined to take a legendary guest experience
to an entirely different level. Gallup’s initial measures of RitzCarlton’s employee engagement levels placed them in the top
quartile of Gallup’s worldwide database. But this was nowhere
near «good enough” for Ritz’s leadership team, who viewed this
as a minimum standard. When Gallup audited Ritz-Carlton’s
customer engagement, they set an even higher bar. While most
of their properties are above the 95 th percentile in our customer
engagement database – a level that most organizations would
consider world-class – Ritz-Carlton challenged its properties
to be in the 98 th to 99th percentile. If they had a property in the
94th or 95 th percentile, it was considered to be in the “red” zone.
A hotel in the 96 th or 97th percentile was classified as “yellow:’
and a property could only get to “green” when it reached the
98 th percentile. When it comes to a guest’s engagement with the
brand, Cooper and team were determined to set a new gold
The second major initiative Simon Cooper launched was
also aimed at creating lifelong guests, albeit in a bit more direct
manner. In the face of resistance, Cooper made the case for RitzCarlton to move into selling private residences and fractional
ownership. When Cooper introduced this concept in 2002, his
judgment was called into question by The Wall Street Journal
and others. They wondered if placing the iconic Ritz-Carlton
logo on residences and time shares would dilute the brand. But
Cooper would hear nothing of it.
Cooper had more than enough confidence to sell this
concept to the world. When questioned in a 2002 interview
about the 11 residences atop New York’s Battery Park Hotel,
Cooper quickly explained how units selling for a minimum of
$25 million – which were occupied by high -profile and celebrity
types – didn’t exactly “hurt the Ritz-Carlton image:’ By 2008,
Ritz-Carlton’s residences and clubs (fractional ownership) were
the fastest growing segment of the business, with more than
40 new locations planned around the globe. As evidenced by
the financial results, this went on to become one of the best
business moves in the company’s storied history.
A great financial success alone was probably not enough
to satisfy Cooper’s need to have a significant impression on the
world. When we interviewed him in 2008, it was clear that he
took even more pride in the global impact of his organization.
Cooper casually talked about visits with kings and heads of state
as if they were old friends. And he reveled in telling the story
of how he asked rock star/philanthropist Bono to join him in
a morning meeting with the housekeeping staff during one of
his recent stays. You could see how much pride Cooper took in
doing little things like this to win others over.
When Cooper steps back and looks at his influence leading
Ritz-Carlton, he regards it in a way that may be too big for most
chief executives to get their minds around. His influence is not
just about maximizing one of the world’s greatest brands. Nor
is it about doubling the total number of Ritz-Carlton properties
in a mere seven years. And it’s not just about the records he set
in profits, quality, or employee and customer engagement.
Rather, Simon Cooper’s talent for influencing serves the
greater purpose of running an organization upon which the
well-being of more than 40,000 families depends. As Cooper
described how the paycheck of one of his frontline employees
in Asia often subsidizes the food and shelter for an entire family,
you could hear his Significance theme resonate. Then when he
talked of the night-and-day difference that a job at Ritz-Carlton
could make for a housekeeper in the Persian Gulf, you get a
sense that this is one man who realizes that he can change the
world – even if that means influencing one person at a time.
Relationship Building Themes
I 49
Mervyn Davies
Standard Chartered Bank
Top Five Strengths
If you try to imagine what the chairman of one of the world’s
largest banks might look like, Mervyn Davies would fit the
bill. With his elegantly tailored suit, wire-rimmed glasses, and
athletic build, Davies resembles a polished executive right out
of central casting. Yet when you speak to Mervyn Davies and
study his track record, it becomes clear that he’s nothing like the
stereotypical chief executive.
From the day that Davies took over as CEO of Standard
Chartered, a bank with more than 70,000 employees spread
across 70 countries, he relentlessly went against the grain.
Instead of thinking solely about the near term, Davies’
Futuristic theme kept him focused on where world markets
would be several years down the road. While all of his
competitors were emphasizing the then-lucrative markets in
Europe and North America, Davies was more interested in
diversifying throughout Africa, India, and the Middle East.
When other banks were investing in ways to replace people
with technology, Davies wanted to invest even more time and
money in developing his people.
At almost every turn, Davies was leveraging his Relator
theme to build stronger connections throughout the
organization. In an era when banking CEOs were overly
cautious about what they said, Davies instead opted to
overcommunicate whenever possible. And while other
chief executives were focused almost exclusively on their
bottom lines, Davies was just as concerned with building an
organization that had “a heart and a soul.”
Before he could run Standard Chartered in such an
unconventional way, Davies had to begin his tenure by building
an extraordinarily diverse leadership team composed of people
with vastly different backgrounds and personalities. Given
that his company derived more than 90% of its revenue from
emerging international markets, Davies felt that he had no
choice but to ensure that the bank’s leadership group was as
diverse as the customers it served. Acutely aware of his own
strengths and limitations, Davies set out to surround himself
with people who could do specific things much better than he
ever could.
Throughout this process, Davies was very candid about
his own personality, even placing a coffee cup with his top
five themes –
Achiever, Futuristic, Positivity, Relator, and
Learner – on his desk. He then spent an extensive amount of
time analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of people around
him, mapping out how they might fit on different teams. This
led to some unorthodox leadership choices early on. Just one
month into the job, Davies replaced the existing CFO, who had
an extensive accounting background, with a young consultant
who had no formal accounting experience. What’s more, this
consultant was still in his thirties. The people around Davies
thought he had gone mad.
Fortunately, Davies made concerted efforts to be candid
and to overcommunicate about everything he was doing and
why he was doing it. This helped him quickly form relationships
with key shareholders, business partners, customers, and
employees. Then to communicate with his tens of thousands
of employees, Davies tried a bit of everything, from videos and
cartoons to countless handwritten notes of recognition. He also
created more structured communication programs; he would
send regular messages to his top 20, 50, and 150 leaders. Davies
then made sure to send monthly e-mail updates to all 75,000
employees around the globe. As a result, Standard Chartered’s
employees always knew what the boss was thinking.
On more than one occasion, Davies was criticized for being
too open with his communication. But this didn’t quiet him.
On the contrary, when Davies’ wife of 29 years had a bout with
breast cancer during his time as CEO, he sent a candid e-mail
to 400 of his top executives explaining exactly what was going
on, how he felt, and how it would change his schedule in the
upcoming months. And this was not just because it was about
his personal life – Davies was also widely known for helping
everyone at Standard Chartered put their family first. One longtime colleague described how amazed he was that Davies took
so much time from his busy schedule to be there for him during
a personal crisis.
Davies’ candor extended to what he described as
“courageous conversations;’ or more difficult topics. By his own
admission, Davies could be very direct at times and described
his style as having an “iron fist and velvet glove:’ Davies also
applied this frankness to describing his own personality and
shortcomings. He took ownership for his mistakes, and he
talked freely about what went wrong.
As a result of Davies’ extraordinary openness, Standard
Chartered’s employees could see how much he loved the bank,
and they knew that his heart was in the right place. This created
a culture in which employees took ownership over their work
instead of passing along blame. It also led to an unprecedented
level of trust in their CEO, as they continued to give Davies
latitude when he bucked the conventional wisdom. He built
trust through relationships.
In 2008, when we sat down to talk with Mervyn Davies in his
London offices, he had just moved on from the CEO position to
one of a non-executive chairman of Standard Chartered Bank.
By this time, Davies was a regular on The Times’ list of the most
influential businesspeople, and he was widely revered beyond
the business community. At the time of our interview, banks
around the world were in a state of crisis. Almost every major
financial institution was facing substantial losses. But as The
New York Times and The Economist described, Mervyn Davies
had set Standard Chartered up to be about the only bank in the
world that was able to grow through one of the more difficult
economic periods in recent history. It was one of the few shining
gems in the financial services sector.
When Davies began to describe the reasons why Standard
Chartered had thrived in this market, his jovial tone turned
serious. As he spoke of the “real soul” and “wonderful story” of
this ISO-year-old bank that originated in Calcutta, the passion
in his voice turned his fair skin a few shades of red. Davies went
on to describe how he had “bet his career” early on by focusing
on two key things – people and corporate social responsibility

even though many shareholders couldn’t have cared less
about either one at the time.
While we would have loved to spend even more time
talking to Davies about the latter topic –
specifically, his
contributions to battling HIV / AIDS and cancer globally – to
keep our study focused, we attempted to learn more about how
Davies had done such an exceptional job of engaging people.
So we asked him more about himself on a personal level.
As he began to describe his own personality, you could
tell that he was exceptionally comfortable in his own skin. In
Davies’ opinion, the most important aspect of leading is simply
knowing oneself. In a matter-of-fact tone, he described how,
as a leader, you must “know yourself, know the people around
you, and then get on with if’
As simple as this may sound, Davies reported that the way
he empowered people at times raised red flags. Early on, when
he delegated responsibility to employees who had the right
strengths and gave them free rein, others worried that he did
not have enough personal involvement in key activities. But
placing trust in others to deal with areas in which they had
competence freed Davies to spend the majority of his time
developing talent and coaching future leaders.
Davies described why he opted to use Strengths Finder and
a strengths-based approach throughout Standard Chartered as
part of his plans for developing people. “We try to be a company
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