To Lead with Authenticity, Embrace Struggle

Struggle and leadership are unquestionably intertwined. Whether attempting to turnaround a fledgling organization, trying to discern the best way forward in today’s competitive marketplace, or rallying stakeholders around a new initiative, struggle is simply par for the leadership course. Yet cultural taboos have prevented executives from speaking openly about their struggles, fearing that such disclosure would indicate weakness, indecisiveness, or even incompetence.

Unfortunately, many executives have bought into this stigma; when faced with a challenging situation, they adopt a Donald Trump management style, hiding behind their authority and blaming others rather than conceding their own shortcomings. As a result, they implicitly reinforce an outdated model of leadership that holds CEOs to the letter of perfection while dismissing the reality of struggle.

However, there is a great sense of liberation for executives who recognize and accept that human perfection is an oxymoron. We are all flawed, and each struggle with our own set of challenges; the key is in acknowledging these flaws and shortcomings and using these struggles as opportunities to become better leaders. Randy Hogan, CEO of Pentair, exemplifies this new model of authentic leadership.

Hogan’s moment of challenge came several years into his tenure as CEO when he discovered that one of his top lieutenants, a person whom he had personally hired, may have engaged in unethical behavior. He quickly launched an investigation, and after determining that the allegations were valid, promptly fired the individual. He was shocked to discover that many of the people who worked for this person were aware of the inappropriate behavior but believed that Hogan himself had endorsed it. Hogan told me that the ordeal affected him deeply. “It made me doubt my effectiveness in terms of setting the standards inside the company.”

Instead of cowering, Hogan used this moment of crisis to boldly reassert his leadership, first by accepting responsibility for what had happened. “I had a number of all-employee meetings. I got up in front of folks, and I apologized.” Then he made what, in retrospect, turned out to be the breakthrough declaration: “I want you all to look me in the eye and know that I would rather lose right than win wrong. But, what we are all about is ‘winning right.’”

‘Winning right’ became Pentair’s mantra, propelling the company forward, not only ethically, but also with regard to its business and organizational strategy. It became a corporate measuring post, allowing Hogan to implement a number of needed changes and positioning the company for global growth over the ensuing decade.


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    Strategic Planning Workshop

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    We are in a period of rapid change. Customer needs, technologies, competitors and internal capabilities require companies to review and update their strategies for the new realities. In this workshop, strategy experts Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison will show you a systematic approach to strategic planning to help you refine or redefine your business strategy and approach including:

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    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

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    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

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    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

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