HBR: Making Kindness a Core Tenet of Your Company

Scan the newspaper headlines, or switch on cable news for a few minutes, and it’s easy to conclude that we are living through harsh, mean, divisive times. But a recent column in the Washington Post reminded me of a truth that is even easier to overlook: Just as bad behavior tends to spread, so too does good behavior. Kindness, it turns out, is contagious. The column highlighted the work of Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, who documents what he calls “positive conformity.” In his research, “participants who believed others were more generous became more generous themselves.” This suggests that “kindness is contagious, and that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.”

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HBR: If Humility Is So Important, Why Are Leaders So Arrogant?

A recent management column in the Wall Street Journal appeared under the appealing headline, “The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses.” The article reported that humble leaders “inspire close teamwork, rapid learning and high performance in their teams.” It even reported that one HR consulting firm is planning to introduce an assessment to identify personality traits that include “sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness, and unpretentiousness,” inspired in part by what two psychology professors call the H Factor (“a combination of honesty and humility.”)

This celebration of humility sounds great, and it is, but it flies in the face of daily headlines in the Journal and the realities of our business and political cultures.

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HBR: Lifestyle Brands Are Building Hotels Now. Here’s Why That Actually Makes Sense.

These days, it seems, every brand wants to be a “lifestyle brand.”

Three examples appeared in a recent article in the New York Times, which both chronicled and raised a skeptical eyebrow about the commitment of so many brands, in some pretty prosaic industries, to becoming lifestyle brands. What the Times (and, I fear, many of the brands themselves) could not quite identity were how to turn these aims into action. Chipotle is running ads on water-cooler shows and sponsoring Fortnite players, the article noted. Blue Apron has experimented with “cooking classes, movie screenings, and chef panels” in cool cities. Godiva “would like people to stop in one of its shops for coffee in the morning and a snack in the afternoon.”

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HBR: To See the Future of Competition, Look at Netflix

I’ve been following Netflix since 2005, when I first visited its headquarters in Silicon Valley and interviewed Reed Hastings, its founder and CEO. I don’t think I’ve learned more about strategy, technology, and culture from any other company I’ve studied. It’s a stretch to claim that everything I know about business I learned from watching Netflix, but there’s no doubt that many leaders can see glimpses of the future of competition and innovation by looking at how the company does business.

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HBR: What If Amazon’s Next Big Innovation Was to Improve the Jobs of Its Blue-Collar Workers?

Earlier this spring, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos released his annual letter to shareholders. Like every shareholders letter Bezos has written since his company went public in 1997, this year’s version was brilliant, entertaining, and filled with big strategic insights and gritty management takeaways. To my eyes, though, it was also missing something — an omission that became even more glaring a week or so later.

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HBR: The Best Leaders See Things That Others Don’t. Art Can Help.

I don’t often start essays about leadership with insights from French novelists, but in this case it seems appropriate. “The real act of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Today the most successful companies don’t just outcompete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of copycat thinking. Which means, almost by definition, that the best leaders see things that other leaders don’t see.

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HBR: What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking

The sad news of the passing of Roger Bannister, the first human being to run a four-minute mile, got me thinking about his legacy—not just as one of the great athletes of the past century, but as an innovator, a change agent, and an icon of success. As it turns out, when he broke through a previously impenetrable track-and-field barrier, he taught all of us what it takes to break new ground.

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HBR: The Right and Wrong Way to Attract Young Workers to a “Boring” Company

I spend much of my time with senior executives from organizations in, shall we say, not the most glamorous fields: community banks, electrical distributors, heartland manufacturers, and, perhaps least glamorous of all, insurance companies. These executives are rightly proud of what their organizations do, and they can get people like me excited about their plans for growth and change. But they have one huge problem that literally keeps them up at night: Young people find their companies dull and don’t have much enthusiasm for a career in their field. I hear it time and again — How can we compete with Facebook or Google for young engineers? How can we attract digitally savvy marketers against Starbucks or Amazon?

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HBR: Companies That Do Right by Their Workers Start by Elevating Their Definition of Success

A sound economy, a booming stock market, and huge business tax cuts, the story goes, have convinced CEOs of companies flush with cash to distribute some of it to frontline employees.

That story is fine as far as it goes — but does it go nearly far enough? With unemployment at record lows, yet inequality at record highs, this feels like a time for CEOs to think bigger — not just to raise wages, but to elevate their definition of success about how their companies can win big in the marketplace and afford employees a greater sense of security and participation in the workplace, how they can generate wealth and share that wealth with everyone who has a hand in its creation.

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