Blog Post

The Year in Leadership: 7 Teachable Moments

Cornerstone Editors

From Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge trouble last winter to the bizarre saga of the recent Sony hacks, 2014 proved to be a roller-coaster ride for the HR and management spheres. In the spirit of reflection, we look back at a few standout moments in leadership — both good and bad — and the resolutions they might inspire in the new year.

1. Jill Abramson (New York Times): Keep it Positive

When Abramson was fired from her post as executive editor at the New York Times in May, a media storm followed. But Abramson rose above the drama with class. In a commencement speech at Wake Forest University, she spoke fondly of her former employer, saying it was the "honor of my life" to serve at the Times. She was also frank and forthright: "You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want? When that happens, show what you're made of." Which is exactly what she did.

2. Satya Nadella (Microsoft): Examine Your Own Biases

Just nine months into his tenure as Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella stumbled on a topic that has tripped up many a tech executive: the gender pay gap in Silicon Valley. "It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise," Nadella advised the audience at an event celebrating women in tech in October. Criticized for ignoring real inequalities in the workplace, he later backtracked. But there’s an important lesson for leaders and managers here: Never assume your personal experience is universal.

3. Arthur T. Demoulas (Market Basket): Put Your Team First, Even in Tough Times

Last summer, Tewksbury, Mass.-based Market Basket's employees staged a successful boycott to keep their beloved CEO, which pushed the company into the red. So it was a pleasant surprise when Demoulas recently announced that despite lean times, all employees would receive holiday bonuses. The takeaway: Always put your team first, even when business isn’t booming. It’s vital to give employees the validation that their work matters to the company’s overall success.

4. Tim Cook (Apple): Grand Gestures Matter

In October, Apple's CEO famously wrote for Bloomberg, "I’m proud to be gay," becoming the first openly gay CEO on the Fortune 500 list. Cook’s sexual orientation was widely speculated (he'd appeared in Out magazine's "Power 50" list twice previously), so the statement didn't stand to affect the trajectory of his own career. But it had important implications for present and future LGBT leaders, and is a powerful instance of leading by example.

5. Max Schireson (MongoDB): There's Strength in Leaning Out

In August, Schireson, the CEO of database vendor MongoDB, wrote a blog post entitled, "Why I am Leaving the Best Job I Ever Had." The father of three explained that he was stepping down voluntarily to focus on his family. "Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday?" he wrote, "Maybe. Life is about choices." Schireson's move sent a message that leadership doesn't always mean going full-throttle.

6. Emil Michael (Uber): Keep Your Critics Close

Every company struggles with PR problems, but the way ride-sharing app Uber has dealt with criticism is a clear PR "don't." After a prominent tech journalist penned a particularly unflattering story about the company, Michael, a senior VP, was overheard suggesting "digging up dirt" on the reporter as revenge — a move that, predictably, backfired. The lesson? When you’re constantly scrutinized by the media, keep your fans close and your critics even closer.

7. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook): Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has dominated headlines for months and will certainly be one of the biggest stories of the year. So when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $25 million in October to help fight the disease, people took notice. Two weeks later, Facebook added a donation button to news feeds, encouraging its 1.3 billion users to help stop the ravaging disease. Zuckerberg's move was a large-scale example of thinking beyond the bottom line and truly committing to company values.

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