Executives can thrive at work and in life by adopting a leadership model that revolves around finding their strengths and connecting with others.
OCTOBER 2010 • Joanna Barsh, Josephine Mogelof and Caroline Webb
For the past six years, we have been on a journey to learn from leaders who are able to find the best in themselves and in turn inspire, engage, and mobilize others, even in the most demanding circumstances. And the business environment has become more demanding: the global financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn have ratcheted up the pressure on leaders already grappling with a world in transformation. More than half of the CEOs we and our colleagues have spoken with in the past year have said that their organization must fundamentally rethink its business model.
Our work can help. We have conducted interviews with more than 140 leaders; analysis of a wide range of academic research in fields as diverse as organizational development, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, positive psychology, and leadership; workshops with hundreds of clients to test our ideas; and global surveys. Through this research, we distilled a set of five capabilities that, in combination, generate high levels of professional performance and life satisfaction. We described this set of capabilities, which we call “centered leadership,” in the Quarterly in 2008 and subsequently in a book, How Remarkable Women Lead. Since then, through additional interviews and quantitative research, we’ve continued to validate the model’s applicability to leaders across different regions, cultures, and seniority levels. Better yet, we have confirmed that centered leadership appears equally useful to men. In other words, it is not just for women, but for all leaders in demanding circumstances.
Five capabilities are at the heart of centered leadership: finding meaning in work, converting emotions such as fear or stress into opportunity, leveraging connections and community, acting in the face of risk, and sustaining the energy that is the life force of change. A recent McKinsey global survey of executives shows that leaders who have mastered even one of these skills are twice as likely as those who have mastered none to feel that they can lead through change; masters of all five are more than four times as likely. Strikingly, leaders who have mastered all five capabilities are also more than 20 times as likely to say they are satisfied with their performance as leaders and their lives in general (for more on the research, see “The value of centered leadership: McKinsey Global Survey results”).