UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Quick & nimble: Leadership lessons from Adam Bryant


UNC Kenan-FlaglerWhen Adam Bryant of The New York Times had the idea for his “Corner Office” column, he wasn’t interested in hearing about CEOs’ market strategies or financial plans for their companies.

He wanted to learn about what drove them to success.

And now, after more than 250 interviews asking CEOs about leadership, Bryant has answers.

He shares them twice a week in his popular column, has published them in two books, and discussed them when he gave the keynote address at the annual Leadership Day for MBA students at UNC Kenan-Flagler on Jan. 17.

Five qualities that are key to making it to “the corner office,” which Bryant details in “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” are:

  • Passionate curiosity, represented by a deep sense of engagement with the world
  • Battle-hardened confidence, which falls at the sweet spot of confidence and humility
  • Team smarts, the organizational equivalent of street smarts, involving the ability to read group dynamics
  • A simple mindset or the ability to synthesize information and simplify the complex
  • Fearlessness  or a “bias towards action”

Bryant explains how a company can foster a culture with the qualities of a start-up in his new book, “Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation.”

“Culture is a lot like cholesterol,” Bryant said. “There’s good cholesterol and there’s bad cholesterol. There’s good culture and there’s bad culture.”

To build the foundation of a good culture, Bryant said, leaders need to:

  • Have a simple plan so employees can remember it, internalize and act on it.
  • Be clear about the rules and values of the company.
  • Show respect for co-workers and employees.
  • Recognize your role on the team and play your position.
  • Have adult conversations – don’t avoid them – when you need to address problems. Provide direct, honest feedback.
  • Beware the hazards of email: Send fewer emails and walk down the hall to talk to coworkers instead. Emails do nothing to build relationships between people in the workplace, and never send them when anything is at stake.