How to Prepare for a Crisis: Lessons from United's 9/11 Chief of Operations

Sitting in the board room with an eye on his corner office, Andy Studdert, CEO of NES Rentals, is relaxed and in control. His company is growing again after a series of difficult leadership transitions and recession-related challenges, and the prospects seem bright. But what makes Studdert so calm isn't the increasingly positive external market factors. What makes Studdert calm is knowing he has a plan.

As the former chief operating officer of United Airlines, Studdert is a strong believer in readiness. Major airline accidents are infrequent, but when they occur lives are at stake, and the public's eye is immediately on the airline. Studdert knew the only way to be prepared was to have a plan - and to test the staff on their ability to follow it.

During the summer of 2001, Studdert became concerned that United's staff wasn't as prepared for a significant crisis as they should be. "I was worried we'd become cocky," said Studdert. "We thought it couldn't happen to us."

Hey Leaders! Are You Listening MORE Than You are Talking?

Communication is 80% listening & inquiring and 20% speaking. The former must guide the latter.  ~Gary Burnison

In my experience, when the topic of leadership and communication comes up, it’s very frequently assumed that by communicating we mean speaking. Actually, speaking is speaking, not necessarily communicating, and according to Gary Burnison, author of The 12 Absolutes of Leadership. Speaking comprises only 20% of actual communication.

I recently viewed a speech given by Charles Handy (British management guru) in honor of Peter Drucker; He said that he wanted to give the speech so he could learn what he really thought about some of Peter’s theories. Handy said that we learn the most by talking and listening to ourselves. He said that the audience will remember very little of what he said; but he would not only remember what he said, he would learn what he really thinks. So again, why do we think that as leaders, people will learn so much more from us if we talk a lot?

Digital Natives: Readying an Older Workforce for Digitally Fluent Younger Colleagues

Instagram provides users with filters to change
the appearance of their photos, giving an immediate
"wow" factor to casual shots.
Photo credit Invantory via Flickr. 
Last week Facebook bought Instagram, the photo editing software application, for a figure reported to be near $1 billion in cash and shares. I heard the news on NPR while driving, and I just about needed to pull over: that application is worth $1 billion?

Pause with me for a second to consider that Instagram was founded two years ago. Two. Years. Ago. The founders are 25 and 27 (for more on the short history of Instagram, see Inc. magazine's coverage here); the application caught on so quickly that 30% of their job in the first weeks of Instagram's release was just keeping the servers working. And the CEO of the purchasing company, Facebook: he's 28.

I'm only 10 years older than the founders of Instagram and Facebook, but we're from an entirely different generation. I got my first email account in college: Zuckerberg is making every effort to render email useless.

So how does an older workforce (i.e. anyone over the age of 30) compete with the technopoly of the future? Make friends with Digital Natives.

Not sure where to start? You might want to check out this video from technology and business forecaster Bob Johansen of the Institute of the Future:

Understanding Digital Natives


Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about other topics on her personal blog

Embedding Sustainability in Business School Curriculum

Are we cheating tomorrow's business leaders by
neglecting to teach sustainability as part of
B-school curriculum? 

The business and financial crises of the last decade have left academia asking, Are we teaching the right things in business school? Traditional M.B.A.s may have a single ethics course, which can often be countered by internships and even classroom experience that demonstrates the value proposition in less than ethical behavior. A stronger emphasis in ethics is needed in B-school. But to get ethics right, you’ve got to look beyond governance principles and standards of behavior, and begin to look at the daily choices that make a business ethical. At the forefront of these ethical choices is how the company cares for the future. This is where ethics and sustainability meet, and our business students need a wider education in both.

In the past, companies may have seen sustainability as a “nice-to-have,” but not essential to doing business. In fact, many saw sustainability initiatives as an added cost, thus cutting into profits.

However, sustainability has gained much attention over the past few years.

A Case Study in Innovation, Profit, and Sustainability

Advocates for corporate sustainability herald a day when green-thinking isn't just good for the earth, it's good for the company's profit margins as well. And certainly this has been the case in some notable examples, such as Interface. When it works best, thinking sustainably drives innovation.

Stu Hart, the sustainability pioneer, argues that for companies to survive, they'll have to switch to this sort of mindset. Hart addresses the urgency of moving toward sustainable innovation. Companies that embrace it may be the only survivors, he says (click link to see video).

This line of thinking relies on sustainability as a starting point. Out of sustainability grows an interest in (or a necessity for) innovation, and a virtuous cycle of Sustainability > Innovation > Profit is created. 

But there are other starting points as well, as the leaders of Elkay have discovered. Elkay is a leading manufacturer in faucets, sinks, water coolers, and kitchen cabinetry. Though the company has a growing interest in sustainability (as part of their corporate value to "Be in Business Forever"), their research team wasn't searching for a sustainable product line when it stumbled upon the company's latest innovation in water coolers, the ezH20 water bottle filling station. Instead, the R&D team was just trying to solve a consumer problem: how to refill a water bottle at a traditional water fountain.

In this short video, Elkay CEO Tim Jahnke shares more about the evolution of the ezH20 system, and the difference it's making on college campuses, and in airports and hospitals across the country. His story is a case study in finding the business advantage in sustainable innovation.

Innovation: The Business Side of Sustainability

(Jahnke's video is part of our Champions of Responsible Business video series. Visit our YouTube channel to see more videos from Elkay and other leading companies.)

Do you have an example of how sustainability has driven innovation? Or innovation has contributed to sustainability? Share your stories in the comments section below. 

Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership's corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about other topics on her personal blog

You Deserve a Break: Why Planning for Your Summer Vacation May be the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Business Today

Want to make sure you get a summer vacation?
Book it now. 
Over the weekend my husband and I got out our calendars (or, more accurately, our iPhones) and began flipping through the summer months trying to get dates on the calendar for our family's summer vacation.

June was quickly crossed off the list; our son's school goes until the middle of the month, and I have a work trip at the end. We were aiming for July, but more work travel and community commitments made it impossible to get away. That left August - and to our surprise, out of the whole summer, we could only find one free week.

As a child, I thought summers seemed blissfully endless. Even early in my career, I felt as if work slowed during the warm summer months. But somehow, in the last decade, the calendar has grown relentless. It takes advance planning and firm resolve to keep a single week free for a family getaway.

So here's your friendly reminder: book your summer vacation NOW, or run the risk of missing out entirely. It may just be the best possible thing you can do today: not just for your personal life, but also for your career and the health of your business. And while you're at it, encourage your coworkers and employees to schedule their summer breaks as well. Here's two reasons why:

Wicked and Dark – Advocating for Complexity in Sustainability Pedagogy

I was staring at a group of my classmates who were across the aisle. We had self-selected into two groups representing differing views on sustainability, and although everyone was working to keep their expressions neutral, the tension in the air was palpable. Body language gave the game away – crossed arms, pens held too tightly, not a lot of smiling going on.

After months of studying sustainability and corporate social responsibility topics, the polarization which characterizes this debate across political, corporate, and social sectors was trickling down into our cohort.

Why the tension? Where did this closing off and devolving into hard line positions come from?

The Argument

I posit that such tensions derive from the very nature of the subject matter itself such that:

Leadership Lessons from Unexpected Places (Including Game of Thrones and 7th Grade)

Photo credit: cdrummbks via Flickr. 
Last Sunday I watched an episode of HBO's epic series Game of Thrones with my husband. And while I wasn't hooked on the show - infanticide and dragons aren't my thing - I was surprised at what a good treatise on leadership the show offered. Several times throughout the episode, one young upstart was reminded that to be a good leader, you have to first be a good follower.

That's brilliant stuff: we all know this instinctively, but often forget the importance.

Lessons in leadership tend to pop up when least expected, and sometimes when you are very young. I have a clear memory from my brother's days as a junior high basketball player. His coach told him - when I was within earshot - that a man (sic; read "leader") brings his lunch to work, because he's going to stay until he gets the job done. What a clear image of leadership: a beat up old metal lunch box serves as the reminder of your personal responsibility, and the value of hard work.

Tom Walter, the CEO and Chief Culture Officer of award-winning Tasty Catering, found an unusual source for his own leadership lessons: his favorite childhood book. It just so happens that his favorite book was one of my own "most often read" books, Cheaper by the Dozen. The book is about the Gilbreths, a family of 12 children with parents who are professional efficiency experts. Growing up in a large family, Walter found these stories relevant, and the lessons memorable.

Walter shares the four leadership lessons he drew from the Gilbreths in this short video, part of our Champions of Responsible Business video series: