3 Steps to Boost Your Leadership Development in 2016

Originally posted at

As a leader addressing 500 people whose opinions mattered to me, I started to clam up. Many of you are familiar with that peculiarly palms-sweating, heart-thumping, throat-choking form of social anxiety: the fear of public speaking.

Somehow, I stumbled through to a respectable closing comment but the experience left me bruised. I determined to tackle my rather career-limiting fear head-on with acting and public speaking classes. But what super-charged my growth in this area over the last two years was a leadership development approach called Mindful Engagement, developed by Michigan Ross Professors Sue Ashford and Scott DeRue.

“What is mindful engagement?”

While effective for conquering a fear of public speaking, mindful engagement can be equally effective for any leadership development or personal development objective.

Different people can learn vastly different amounts in the same experience based on how they approach it, what they do within it, and how they process it after it is over. Ashford and DeRue’s mindful engagement perspective on personal development captures the set of practices that help individuals learn more from experience.

Perhaps you would like to lead more energizing meetings? Offer feedback and coaching more constructively? Develop a breakthrough new strategy for your company? Mindful engagement can be applied effectively as a leadership development tool in practically any situation.

“What are the benefits of mindful engagement for my leadership development?”

A pattern of learning from experience through mindful engagement should, over time, yield a person who knows themselves better, and their effect on other people. Ultimately, it should help them become a more successful professional.

The big paradigm shift in my case was moving from a performance mindset (“This talk needs to be a home run!”) to a learning mindset (“each talk is a practice swing for the next talk”). This reorientation allowed me to relax and experiment more often, and more skillfully.

“Mindful engagement enables more learning from experience—which is especially important for something as intangible as leadership. It’s not clear exactly how one should lead, the best way to lead, the best way to integrate one’s personality with leadership,” explains Sue Ashford. “Mindful engagement helps you to extract more learning from experience about these personal qualities as an integrated experience with your learning about the organization and the various tasks you are undertaking in your day-to-day job.”

“How can I apply mindful engagement to my leadership development plan today?”

  1. Adopt a learning mindset.Setting specific goals or areas of emphasis for personal development is a great start. Plan out various experiments to try in the situation to further your development. Of course, in some situations you will still need to have performance goals as well. However, you may well find that by adopting a learning mindset, you are able to relax and achieve more at the same time.For instance, when I started adopting a learning mindset, I found myself trying out new stories and frameworks in my keynotes and workshops, to see how they would resonate with the audience.
  2. Actively seek out feedback during the experiment.With a focus on your personal-development goals, try your experiments, and seek feedback from others so that you can better understand how well you are doing with respect to the goals.For example, after each keynote or workshop I deliver, I ask participants and collaborators for “keeps and adjusts: what would you keep the same because it worked well, and what would you adjust next time?” This feedback helps me try new experiments the next time.
  3. At the end of an experience, take time to reflect.Set aside dedicated time to reflect following the experience on what you have learned about yourself as an individual, your impact on those around you, and the role that your organization plays as either constraint or enabler of your development.This reflection time can lead to new insights. In my case, one such reflection period allowed me to realize that not only did I no longer fear public speaking, but I actually now enjoyed it in many ways. This led me to both relax even more, and actively seek out new opportunities for growth and development.

Mindful engagement with your experiences is a powerful leadership development tool. Tell me in the comments section to which leadership development goals you might apply it!

Chris White (@leadpositively, is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business. How are you building high-performing organizations that make a positive difference in the world, and enable people to thrive? Share your positive practices via the Positive Business Project!


The New Face of Corporate Activism

With Jerry Davis. As seen in Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Fall 2015 issue: full article here.

From the Arab Spring to the protests in Baltimore, social movements have become a pervasive feature of contemporary society. Moreover, activists are increasingly targeting companies and even nonprofits.

Although this environment creates new challenges for business, it also presents an opportunity for social intrapreneurs to change their companies for the better, from the inside out.


How to Unlock Positive Change Throughout Your Entire Organization

With Jerry Davis, originally at

When Kevin Thompson, Director, North America Marketing – IBM Commerce, Mobile and Social, proposed a corporate Peace Corps at the firm, he was nearly laughed out of the room. The idea of Big Blue giving free consulting services to nonprofits in low-income communities in distant countries seemed so countercultural. Yet now, the Corporate Service Corps (CSC) is beloved within IBM and broadly emulated elsewhere.

What can you do to make your company receptive to social innovations without chasing every new fad? We have found that successful intrapreneurs like Kevin Thompson follow a playbook with the following four parts:

1. When is the right time for change? Reading the organizational climate allows skilled intrapreneurs to know when to push their ideas and when to hold back. Thompson’s initiative connected closely with then-Chairman Sam Palmisano’s vision for IBM to become a globally integrated enterprise, and so was able to attract senior support.

“The best intrapreneurs identify not only the decision makers, but also the influence system around them.”

2. Why is this a compelling change? The case that intrapreneurs make must resonate with the accepted norms in the organizational culture and be adapted for the myriad interests at play in any complex corporation. The CSC advances global talent development and market development objectives while giving support to those who could not possibly dream of engaging a top consulting firm on their projects.

3. Who will make this innovation possible? The best intrapreneurs identify not only the decision makers, but also the influence system around them. As well as the immediate decision makers, Thompson was able to engage a broad base of supporters throughout the company who each gave small amounts of their time to advance the initiative.

4. How can you mobilize supporters to collaborate on the initiative? Intrapreneurs choose online and offline tools and platforms that enable momentum to be gathered and sustained. In a geographically diffuse company like IBM, technology can help mobilize. Thompson’s blog on the CSC became the most widely read article on the company website that year.

As a leader, how can you open up to these innovators? Here are three things you can do:

  • Be clear about your strategic priorities and open the door to involvement. It is not enough to have a good idea when influencing in large organizations. For an idea to catch hold in an organization, it also needs to be offered at the right time and in the right way. By making your strategic priorities clear, and your openness to new ideas and solutions, you catalyze new—and constructively directed—energy.
  • Be clear about who is influential in making decisions and the timeframe and criteria for making them. The best intrapreneurs do not seek only to influence the ultimate decision maker, but also the system around him or her. By being clear and public about the process you will use for decision-making, you enable intrapreneurs to bring their important ideas and perspectives to the process.
  • Give multiple vehicles for organizing. As anyone who has spent time in a complex system knows, grassroots organization often happens organically and chaotically. By offering platforms for employees to connect across functions, levels, business units and geographies, you increase the chances of intrapreneurs finding key collaborators.

Finally, as a leader you can seek to encourage and reward those who try break through the matrix, whether they are successful or not. By doing so, you will unlock energy and commitment throughout the organization. Underneath all that bureaucracy, you will find abundant ideas to change your company and change the world.

Chris White is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Gerald (Jerry) Davis is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. Together, they are authors of Changing Your Company From the Inside Out: A Guide For Social Intrapreneurs.


Revolutionize Your Workplace: How Your Company Can Change The World

In IESE Insight, with Jerry Davis

Over the past five years, social intrapreneurship — creating change with positive social impact that aligns with the core mission of the business — has gone from a niche interest with sporadic impact, to a sweeping tide that is transforming what corporations do and how they go about doing it. Through research and discussions with social intrapreneurs, the authors apply lessons from the big social movements of our times to the corporate space. This article suggests ways that large organizations can gain the long-term benefits of socially responsible behavior by empowering their internal activists.

Full IESE Insight article here.


The Traits of Socially Innovative Companies

With Jerry Davis. Originally posted at

In this article adapted from their new book, Jerry Davis and Chris White explore what makes some companies more fertile for social innovation — that is, the ongoing (rather than one-off) initiatives that have positive social impact while promoting the core mission of a business. While there are some factors that make social innovation more likely than not — such as intrapreneurs who will champion them — Davis and White find that competing for talent, strong brands, and leadership transitions all correlate with stronger social initiatives.

In the course of our research, we have found that some human capital-intensive industries are more inherently receptive to social innovation than others. Accounting and consulting firms are often highly responsive to the social demands of their employees. For example, interns at PricewaterhouseCoopers championed a social audit practice. We also found that the professionals we spoke with at Accenture, in offices on three continents, consistently lauded the firm for its willingness to support innovations, from Accenture Development Partnerships to professional programs for First Peoples in Canada and support for call centers in native communities. This fits with the idea that much innovation is driven by a war for talent. Businesses that require professionals with skills in high demand are virtually required to embrace the preferences of the next generation.

Firms with a strong brand to protect are also often social innovators receptive to intrapreneurs. Nike faced consumer backlash in the 1990s when malign labor practicesby some of its suppliers became widely known. Perhaps most notable was a story in Life magazine that included a photo of a Pakistani child sewing Nike-branded soccer balls, titled “Six cents an hour.” Protests and calls for boycotts put Nike in the center of battles around globalization.

Nike subsequently became an innovator in supply chain accountability and promulgated a rigorous supplier code of conducts, accompanied by third-party factory inspections. In early 2013, when factory conditions in Bangladesh came to light, Nike cut ties to some suppliers whose factories were deemed unsafe—even at the expense of its margins and in the face of declining profitability relative to competitors. Internal advocates for safety and labor rights in the supply chain have become powerful contenders within Nike. Because of its light footprint in Bangladesh, Nike was not among the Western brands implicated in the tragic factory collapse in Dhaka in April of that year.

In consumer packaged goods, SC Johnson has sourced raw materials from farmers in Rwanda, partnered with local providers to improve hygiene and sanitation in low-income urban communities in Kenya, and chosen to eliminate harmful chemicals from its production processes in spite of the negative consequences for its market share.

In retail, Whole Foods has eliminated plastic bags, worked to develop local suppliers, and opened stores with affordable products in low-income communities with limited access to fresh produce.

Cascade Engineering evolved from an industrial supplier to the auto industry to Michigan’s first certified B corporation, spawning a broad array of innovations from employee management (the Welfare-to-Career program described in chapter 2) to products such as the Hydraid BioSand Water Filter, a high capacity, low-cost household water filter aimed at low-income countries. These innovations often emerged from employee-generated ideas and even through employee-led initiatives.

A change at the top can also be transformative for social innovation within companies. When William Clay Ford Jr. took over as chairman of Ford, it signaled that the nearly century-old firm was open to change, from its environmental initiatives to its award-winning programs to combat HIV/AIDS in South Africa to its global Human Rights Code.


New leaders do not have to have their family name on the door to encourage social innovation. In 2003, when Rámon de Mendiola took over as CEO of Florida Ice & Farm Company, Costa Rica’s leading beer and beverage producer, the firm was an old-fashioned and complacent incumbent facing imminent competition from world-class global competitors. Mendiola launched a campaign to increase efficiency and cut costs, followed by another campaign to introduce new products and increase revenues and profits, culminating in the acquisition of the PepsiCo business in Costa Rica. After building credibility inside and outside the organization, in 2008 Mendiola created a broad initiative to remake Florida as a triple-bottom-line business devoted to profit, planet, and people. He stated that most businesses are caterpillars that eat and eat; he wanted Florida to be a butterfly, which enchants and pollinates, combining business performance with social progress. The company committed to goals of being water neutral by 2012, carbon neutral by 2017, and ultimately zero waste. Its people initiatives included aggressive targets for employee volunteerism, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build housing in the wake of an earthquake in 2009 and building facilities to provide fresh water access for villages in rural areas of Costa Rica. This approach has had a number of tangible benefits, including increased employee loyalty and retention, and, intriguingly, goodwill from potential acquisition targets, whose owners can rest easy in handing their businesses over to a company with a strong commitment to the triple bottom line.

There are plenty of examples of businesses that adopt a triple bottom line and manage to be both economically and socially sustainable, and they should serve to encourage grassroots social innovation. Perhaps the coming generation of leaders will come to embrace this approach as Ramón de Mendiola did, with similar results.

This post is adapted from the Harvard Business Review Press book Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs.

Jerry Davis is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and the editor of Administrative Science Quarterly.He is the co-author of Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs.

Christopher J. White leads the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. He is the co-author of Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs.

Interview with Net Impact

Originally at

Christopher White is no stranger to bringing about positive change. He co-developed and teaches a class on social intrapreneurship at the Ross School of Business, and he leads the Center for Positive Organizations, which helps leaders build high-performing organizations and bring out the best in people. He’s also been consulting with purpose-driven organizations for 15 years. Now you don’t have to be a business student or a client to benefit from his insights—he recently co-authored the book Changing Your Company From the Inside Out, which is a guide for creating positive social change wherever you work. We caught up with Christopher recently to find out what inspires him, how his own work is evolving, and what advice he’d give anyone who’s looking for a meaningful career.

Now that more people are becoming social intrapreneurs, what’s the most encouraging trend you’re seeing as the field grows?

The receptivity of senior leaders to the energy and skill of social intrapreneurs. One might think that CEOs would be afraid of intrapreneurs, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. They love the high engagement and commitment. I sometimes talk about the generational sandwich we have right now. A lot has been written about the millennials’ desire for purpose, and there are lots of CEOs who had some of their formative years in the idealistic activism of the 1960s. If we can unleash intrapreneurs in the middle of that sandwich, we have a really great window of opportunity for creating change in organizations and in the world.

You write in the book about making a case within an organization to create change. What’s the most important skill when it comes to framing an issue well?

I’d say developing a master frame that fits well with the norms and culture of the organization, and then an adapted frame to match to the different interests of your target stakeholders. While there needs to be coherence and some consistency in the story being told, it is rarely one-size-fits-all in making the case effectively in complex organizations.

Which of your recommendations do people seem to have the most trouble implementing?

Using technology tools and data to understand the organizations in which you are operating. Although using software isn’t essential by any means to create change, I think we all rely on our instincts a lot. Daniel Kahneman and others have done Nobel Prize winning research into this phenomenon—and its pitfalls. Tools don’t replace judgment, but they can give us a new, additional line of sight. In the book, we introduce a couple, and innovations in the coming few years will offer tech-savvy change agents and managers a whole new set of opportunities.

How is your own approach to work evolving now?

I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how we can best partner with others to really increase our collective impact on the world. I feel like I am in the right place at the right time, and some exciting things are coalescing. I’m a part of the Ross School of Business, with its commitment to Positive Business, and we have a stellar group of faculty, staff, students, and leaders with the Center for Positive Organizations. And we are embedded within the larger phenomenon that includes Net Impact, Conscious Capitalism, Social Business, the B Team, and many more.

What advice do you give to college students and recent grads to find a career that inspires them?

I’d advise people to not to overlook the relationships with colleagues as a source of meaning, purpose, contribution, joy, creativity, support, energy, and fun. So many students are looking for the name of the company, or the job function, or the industry. All these things are factors, sure. But I’d say that within almost any organization, you can find fellow travelers that you enjoy spending time with, and with whom you enjoy creating something exciting that makes a positive difference in the world. It’s not about the name of the company, it’s about the people with whom you interact every day. Develop the skill of finding those people and finding ways to work with them 90 percent of the time.

Who inspires you?

The change agents we write about in Changing Your Company From the Inside Out, and those who come through the class, are my heroes. People like Kevin Thompson and Dave Berdish—these are guys most people don’t know about; they aren’t CEOs, but they have done really meaningful things to make a positive difference in complex organizations.

I’d also like to give a shout out to my co-author, Jerry Davis. Jerry’s a world-class scholar, a truly brilliant mind, but willing to try new things—and he is 100 percent committed to making a difference. He’s also really fun to work with: In most of our working sessions, we just shoot the breeze and make each other laugh for 90 percent of the time, and then get things done at the end.

Want to hear more? Changing Your Company from the Inside Out provides the tools to empower you to jump-start initiatives that matter to you—and that should matter to your company. Drawing on lessons from social movements as well as on the work of successful intrapreneurs, Gerald Davis and Christopher White provide you with a guide for creating positive social change from within your own organization. Get the book >

7 Smart Strategies That Will Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking

By Minda Zetlin at Originally at

7 Smart Strategies That Will Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking
Got stage fright? Reframe what you expect from a speech, and your attitude about it will change as well
IMAGE: Getty Images

Does the prospect of speaking in front of a live audience make you nervous? If you’re human, the likely answer is yes. In surveys, people routinely report public speaking as their number-one fear–ahead of their fear of death.

Chris White, who leads the Center for Positive Organizations at The University of Michigan, struggled with similar feelings. “Many of us can relate to this stomach-clenching, heart-pounding, throat-choking anxiety,” he says. “This is a problem for someone teaching MBAs and executives as part of his day job!”

But White used his leadership smarts to overcome this problem by reformulating his goals for every speech. It’s a process that he says will work for nearly any challenge that makes you feel overly pressured or nervous. Here’s his approach:

1. Stop hoping that your speech will be a smash hit.

“I knew both from my past experience of clamming up in front of groups, and from research, that having a performance orientation–‘this next talk has to be a home run!’– is often counterproductive,” White says. “As my stress level increased, my presentation skills would decline.”

White fought this phenomenon by reframing his ambitions for each presentation. Instead of trying to make every one a home run, he thought of each as an opportunity to learn and improve for next time. “Each talk became a ‘practice swing’ in which some things would go well and others could be adjusted,” he says.

Perhaps counterintuitively, this mental exercise actually improved his presentation skills by loosening the grip of stagefright. “Don’t swing for the fences,” he advises now. “Take a lot of practice swings.”

2. Make learning one of your goals.

“Research shows that having both performance goals and learning goals is often a better way to get you to your destination,” White says. You can harness this effect for public speaking and for many other kinds of tasks as well. “When setting an intention, create multiple kinds of goals: performance goals, contribution goals, and learning goals,” he says. “Among the goals, keep the learning orientation front and center in your mind as you take action.”

3. Consider the ultimate purpose of your talk.

This may seem to conflict with White’s suggestion to put more emphasis on learning and less on performance outcome. The difference is that, rather than focusing on your own success or failure, you consider the broader purpose of your talk. Are you trying to build awareness for your brand or product? Address a social problem that deserves greater attention? Inspire investors to invest or students to learn?

“When fueled by a sense of purpose and a desire to help others, our intrinsic motivation grows–and, accordingly, so does our productivity,” White explains. Studies have compared the productivity of those who heard from a beneficiary of their work, and those who have not, he adds. “Unsurprisingly, those who felt a strong sense of contribution dramatically outperformed those who had not–even when following the exact same work process.”

4. Notice if you’re putting undue pressure on yourself–and stop it!

“Obsessing about the performance outcome is not always the best way to go,” White notes. No matter how important the speech you’re making actually is, taking that pressure off yourself will only help. “In my case, reassigning the speech’s meaning from ‘hit a home run!’ to ‘take a good practice swing’ really helped lower self-imposed anxiety,” White says. “It opened up new possibilities for learning and improvement every time.”

5. Good or bad, get feedback about each speech.

“To especially boost learning–as well as performance–create opportunities for self-reflection and feedback from others along the way,” White says. “As 70 percent of leadership development happens through experience rather than in the classroom or from books, using a process to catch every drop of insight from what we do could be more beneficial than taking another course. These days, however well or badly I feel a talk has been perceived, I try to do the same personal preparation and debrief.”

6. Find fellow travelers.

To find others who were working on similar stage fright issues, White began taking acting courses in his spare time. “This gave me supplemental practice outside of the workplace, and a structure to practice getting out of my comfort zone in front of people,” he says.

Even better, it gave White a new way to think about the question of good and bad performance. “The acting class format routinizes feedback on things that go well–and things that don’t!–such that when little things go wrong, they are looked at in the proper perspective,” he says. “Additionally, it created a gentle and fun, yet strong, accountability mechanism to keep me on track for at least the ten weeks of each course. I felt accountable to my scene partners… and had a big showcase on the calendar to focus my efforts if I felt tempted to slack off!”

There are many kinds of fellow travelers for various tasks, he adds. “It could be a training buddy, an acting group, a mentor or coach. It makes the journey more fun, and keeps you accountable along the way!”

7. Take the long view.

Seeing each speech as one point along a continuum of constant improvement will give you a much better attitude toward its success, or lack thereof. “No matter how big the talk, or how well it goes, there are always things that go well, and things that can be adjusted,” White says. “These days, my comfort with public speaking has increased, and so too my performance. And it will keep doing so–I have many practice swings ahead of me!”


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