Top 3 Leadership Strategies – January Newsletter (5 minute read)

“New challenges lead to new skills”

That might be the understatement of the year! Like everyone else, for me this year was a time of deepening relationships, finding new ways to contribute and letting go of so many assumptions!

I am saddened by the incredible losses so many faced this year, and in awe of the strength so many have shown, day in and day out, in response to these losses. This message is a reflection on 2020 and a look into 2021, including client and partner acknowledgements, key milestones, recommendations from my network, and useful ideas for fellow life-long students of leadership and resilience. 

Tip of The Hat to….

Clorox – I am honored to partner with leaders at this amazing company as they rise to meet an unprecedented challenge.  Clorox has always had strong values and talented people. This year they outdid themselves. What would you need to do if the demand for your products increased 500%? The Clorox product development and global supply teams, already state-of-the-art, came through with the innovative breakthroughs they needed. Our leadership and project management program provided critical tools needed to break through barriers have productive conflict and balance collaboration and decisiveness, especially under pressure.

John Muir Health – Little did anyone know what would happen later in the year as we started a leadership development cohort with clinical and administrative leaders at the JMH Leadership Academy in January. I learned so much from the leaders I worked with – about their grace under the most challenging conditions, their deep caring for their patients and for each other. 

The skills we developed for the “usual” level of change in health care were directly applicable to the new challenges of the COVID pandemic – building high quality relationships, providing patient-centered care, doing more with less (LEAN, Leader Standard Work) and collaborating across departments (AKA “getting teams to team”).  I am so humbled by the leadership of all the nurses, doctors, pharmacists, techs and the non-clinical professionals I got to know through that engagement.

Top Leadership Strategies This Year

Here are three leadership concepts that especially resonated with leaders and teams I worked with this year:

1) “I am not against anyone, but I am for myself” – When under pressure, it is hard to balance collaboration with decisiveness – and many leaders find themselves in an unwanted battles with their colleagues, taking a win/lose approach, which sub optimizes the outcome, usually “leaving money on the table.”  This is avoided when leaders take the stance that, while I must stand for what I am accountable for, I also know and respect that my colleagues are doing the same, and that the best solutions will be based on mutual gains and shared sacrifices.

2) “From Approach/Avoidance to Approach/Resolve” – Every organization has certain issues which persist against most attempts to change them.  The pattern goes like this: we first approach the issue as something we are motivated to change, but then “run away” or avoid addressing (or even saying) the root causes when things get too intense.  By providing the right level of structure for listening, communication and decision-making, and by focusing on underlying interests vs. positions, leaders can build a team culture able to “take the heat” vs. breaking down. This makes the team stronger, as they learn from experience that they can deal with the hardest issues and keep their relationships intact.

3) “Influence is the Currency of Change” – Never before have I seen so many people and organizations needing to change so dramatically and quickly at the same time.  Whether it was an initial change to WFH and SIP, to new roles and relationships, change was everywhere and the stakes were high. The essential leadership capability of understanding a current state, determining the desired future, and then taking action to implement the change, was taxed at a level most of us have never experienced. The foundational strategy of building agreement and buy-in for a change, vs. imposing the change was even more necessary this year, when employee’s very health was at stake. This strategy – of coaching others through the human change process – was used by leaders to be effective in a quickly changing situation, and at the same time build long-term resilience in both individuals and teams. 

Happy Birthday Grandpa Lewin

This September 9th would have been the 110th birthday of my grandfather Kurt Lewin, my mother – Dr. Miriam Lewin’s – father. Kurt Lewin was a social psychologist and a founding father of what we call Organizational or Leadership Development today.  Some of his better-known ideas include the Three Stage Change Model, Action Learning, Feedback, Field Theory and Force-Field Analysis. His radical (at that time) work on understanding culture, leadership and group behavior is as relevant today as it was in the 1930s and 1940s.  I was happy to attend a number of Kurt Lewin celebrations, including a wonderful global event at The Lewin Center, shown below.

The Lewin Center

This year I posted rare family photos and artifacts of Lewin on-line.  In 2021 I will be launching a partnership with The OD Exchange to release new digital versions of his and my mother’s work for research and study. There is no better way to honor those who came before us but to continue their work for a better world. I would like to think my mother would approve. Here is my favorite picture of Kurt Lewin as a young man (from my mother’s collection):

Kurt Lewin

Finally…Recommendations, Tips and Tools

  • Problem-Solvers – There is an organization that has for a decade been working to move beyond red or blue in the US political system. It’s hard to reach out to the “other” side, but we will need to do it someday, so why not now? I have attended a number of their events and they are the real deal. This group was directly responsible for the bipartisan bills which passed at the end of 2020. For an alternative to the usual, check out No Labels:
  • Change Begins with an Ending – If you look at one “year in review” in photos, I would recommend this one from the NY Times (my old home town paper).
  • I Recommend – Here are some people I have appreciated this year:
    • Virtual Meetings:  Dr. Kris Lea offers a great class called “Fearless Virtual Facilitation” full of ways to lead high-value meetings online.
    • Remote Leadership – Sacha Connor, formerly of Clorox, provides great workshops on remote teamwork and leadership –
    • Teamwork App: for better brainstorming and team collaboration, many of my Product Development clients are using the whiteboard app Miro to take brainstorming to a new level – 

This is a screen shot of a meeting using Miro:


Author Bio:

Michael Papanek – A Leadership Coach, Executive Advisor, OD Consultant, Author, and Team Facilitator

Michael Papanek, a professional
leadership coach and expert content writer from the past 10 years, has an interesting backstory. Brought up in a family of leadership experts, he has in-built leadership skills realm pretty well. He has the oddly satisfying approach to describing design principles by utilizing his creative flair and extensive knowledge.

Contact E-mail:

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