As the year draws to a close, I thought it'd be great to take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly from some of the stories that resonated most with readers this year.

So, here they are: 7 leadership lessons taken from the top business stories of 2016:

1. Real leaders build up, rather than tear down.

After a Sunday-night NFL game set records in futility, the two opposing kickers became scapegoats due to their inability to hit potentially game-winning (and extremely makable) field goals.

But the real lesson came in the press conference. Instead of throwing his player under the bus (as the opposing coach did), Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll took advantage of the situation to prove he had his players' back.

In the process, Carroll showed how leaders are in a unique position to help individuals recover from mistakes.

2. Culture isn't a set of values you put up in the lobby. It's how you handle every decision.

German automotive giant Daimler AG (owner of Mercedes-Benz) removed an executive from his position in the Chinese branch of the company after a parking-lot dispute with a local resident turned ugly.

In this instance, Daimler demonstrated understanding of a basic truth: When an employee makes a publicly disastrous decision, we don't remember the person. We remember who they represent.

3. Following the crowd will lead you down a slippery slope.

The Wells Fargo fiasco took the nation by storm. It's difficult to imagine even a few employees engaging in the widely deceptive practices that led to major sanctions for this reputable bank, such as secretly issuing credit cards customers never asked for and actually transferring customers' money back and forth between accounts, without permission.

But how could over 5,000 employees get involved?

As usual, the answers start at the top, with leaders promoting a culture that put metrics and other goals ahead of the customer. But recent scientific research revealed some additional lessons, including the fact that people cheat more when they see others around them cheating, and how one small lie can lead to a slippery slope of deception.

4. Want to run a great meeting? It comes down to three, simple steps.

We groan when we think about bad meetings--boring, unproductive, and devouring precious time that we'll never see again. But meetings done right can be the birthplace of great ideas and a wonderful platform to receive vital, real-time feedback.

That's what makes Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella's advice so brilliant, summarized in three, concise steps:

  • Listen more.
  • Talk less.
  • Be decisive.

It's easier said than done. But commit to all three, and you'll instantly increase the value of your meetings.

5. We live in an age of transparency. Whether you like it or not.

Shannon Sullivan, an intern working for the Walt Disney Co. in Magic Kingdom restaurants, was suddenly dismissed. Her crime? She tweeted a photo of a sign instructing Disney World employees how to respond to inquiries about alligators in the area.

However, Disney reconsidered its actions. In a short time, a vice president personally met with Sullivan to offer her the job back.

We hear a lot nowadays about the value of companies remaining authentic, both with employees and customers. But Sullivan's experience emphasizes a major lesson: There are no more workplace secrets.

In a world where information can be shared with millions in a short period of time, it's inevitable that details like these will eventually be made public; it's only a question of when. This makes good training of management and leadership teams all the more important.

6. Reward honest feedback, and you'll make your company better.

Just minutes before leaving his job of 35 years, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employee Michael Stuban submitted an exit questionnaire to HR, in which he criticized the current culture of organization.

But this made the news because Stuban also hit "reply-all," sending that critical missive to all 2,000 of his coworkers.

Stuban's criticism certainly wasn't delivered in the best manner. But it illustrates a major problem in today's workplace: Employees have limited access to managers and team leads; and those who do are often hesitant to share critical opinions--for fear that in doing so they risk getting blackballed, demoted, or even dismissed.

This experience was a reminder for companies who truly want to avoid groupthink and continue moving forward: Encourage your people to share their thoughts as if today was their last day on the job.

7. Putting the team first isn't easy.

Professional basketball player Klay Thompson recently broke an NBA record by scoring 60 points in less than 30 minutes. The thing is, Thompson could have broken even more records.

Except that his boss, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, benched him for the entire fourth quarter. What was Kerr's reasoning?

Kerr preaches a team-first mentality for the Warriors, a philosophy that reduces emphasis on individual achievements in favor of the team. This ideology serves him well for a number of reasons, but none more than this: Kerr realizes that the team can achieve much more as a whole versus the sum of its parts.

Living that philosophy isn't always easy, especially with a team full of superstars. But off to one of the best coaching starts of all time, Kerr is proving its value.

8. Pride comes before a fall.

It's hard to believe that it was actually back in 2015 when medical technology startup Theranos began its steep decline, after a series of Wall Street Journal articles cast a dark shadow over the entire company.

But it wasn't until this summer that Walgreens terminated its relationship with Theranos, and the company announced regulator-imposed sanctions, including the banning of founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes from owning or operating a medical laboratory for at least two years.

Unfortunately, Holmes' most memorable quote has come to symbolize everything that was wrong with Theranos: "I think that the minute that you have a backup plan, you've admitted that you're not going to succeed."

Published on: Dec 26, 2016
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