Frances Frei is a professor at Harvard Business School. She recently served as Uber’s first Senior Vice President of Leadership and Strategy, and her TED Talk on the topic of building trust has logged over four million views. Anne Morriss is a highly sought-after leadership coach and the executive founder of the Leadership Consortium, a first-of-its-kind leadership accelerator that works to help diverse leaders thrive.
Below, Frances and Anne share 5 key insights from their new book, Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You. Download the Next Big Idea App to enjoy more audio “Book Bites,” plus Ideas of the Day, ad-free podcast episodes, and more.
1. It’s not about you.
Traditional leadership narratives are based on the idea that the leader is the most important person in the room. But the most effective leaders we’ve studied were actually not focused on themselves; instead, they were intensely focused on the people around them. Real leadership isn’t about you—it’s about how effective you are at empowering other people and unleashing their full potential. You want to create the conditions for others to succeed, whether you’re physically present or not.
2. Trust is the foundation of leadership.
If leadership is all about empowering others, then trust is the emotional framework that makes that exchange possible. Here’s the basic formula for building trust: People tend to trust you when they think they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic), and when they believe that you understand and care about them (empathy). Authenticity, logic, and empathy are the three pillars of the Trust Triangle, and if any of these pillars gets wobbly, small changes in behavior can go a long way.
“Real leadership isn’t about you—it’s about how effective you are at empowering other people and unleashing their full potential.”
3. Leadership works best when you set high standards and reveal deep devotion at the same time.
When a leader’s expectations are high and clear, we tend to stretch to reach them, and we’re far more likely to meet those expectations when a leader truly has our back. It’s tough love that places equal emphasis on the toughness and the love. To begin embodying this, use positive reinforcement: Catch someone in the act of behaving exactly how you want them to, and using sincere and specific praise, describe the behavior in detail so that they know what to do again next time.
4. Leaders who champion difference can create an unbeatable advantage.
The “common information effect” is a phenomenon in which people tend to seek out and affirm their group members’ shared knowledge. In a diverse team under traditional management, this actually limits the information that’s available for collective decision-making, because there is less overlapping knowledge and experience among team members. But when managers deliberately focus on creating spaces where people can bring their full, unique selves to the table, diversity creates an unbeatable advantage by dramatically expanding the amount of information a team can access.
5. Inclusion has four progressive stages: safe, welcome, celebrated, and cherished.
You can’t get to the higher stages where everyone feels welcome, for example, without first making sure that they feel physically and emotionally safe. If I’m worried about being harassed or contracting a virus in the workplace, then you haven’t yet earned the right to think about how welcome I feel. But at those higher stages is where organizations start to realize the competitive advantages of diversity—and compared to other company-wide initiatives, it’s not that hard to create a truly inclusive workplace.
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