Hal at the MIT Leadership Center

As executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, I have the privilege to witness – and be a part of – this institution’s commitment to innovative research, education, and dialogue — across and beyond the MIT community. Our focus is on building problem-led leaders at every level of an organization.

In a recent Strategy+Business article, “How to Cultivate Leadership that is Honed to Solve Problems,” Gregersen and colleague, Deborah Ancona, synthesize the findings from numerous in-depth interviews, assessments of institutional artifacts and earlier data from companies that employ MIT alumni. They take a deep dive into the patterns that emerge and ultimately define the highly effective style as Problem-Led Leadership. This distinct approach to leadership has implications for individuals and organizations, is critical in highly innovative and creative environments, and can help people solve complex problems in our world.

  • They choose challenge over trappings. Intellect, innovation, and real outputs matter more than the appearance of success. They are passionately curious and obsessive problem-solvers. They embrace ambiguity, energized by the impossible and value the role iteration plays in finding solutions that work.
  • They let problems lead. This variety of leader doesn’t follow people, they follow problems—big, tricky, complex problems that have the potential to make a much-needed impact on the world. Finding viable solutions drives them at the core.
  • They choose collaboration. They recognize they can’t do it alone and enlist the most capable people they know to advance their mission. They bring together diverse perspectives and extraordinary skill sets. They appreciate the elevated creativity and output it yields in service of finding a solution.
  • They step up and step out. They believe that the best person to lead the charge is the one with the “super power”—knowledge and expertise—most relevant to that phase of work. They step up and lead until it is time to pass the baton and defer to another teammate. This manner of working demands a sense of humility and respect for others’ unique strengths and abilities.
  • They work the problem tirelessly. They embrace the scientific method, starting by identifying the right questions to make sure they’re solving the right problem. They roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and develop new skills as needed to create, fail fast, and iterate. They do whatever it takes to move the needle.
  • They do what the data say. Highly analytical by nature, they rely on data when it comes to making decisions. Using facts and findings as their compass enables them to flourish in the midst of an otherwise ambiguous and unstructured process.

We also created the MIT Leadership Center Video Series to uncover and share the stories of problem-led leaders who solve the world’s most challenging problems. I regularly sit down with established and emerging leaders to discuss their leadership challenges and philosophies. Join us by checking out some of the conversations here.

MIT Leadership Center Video Series

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MIT Leadership Video Series: Top Gun Leadership – MLC Interview with David Markert

October 6, 2016

MIT Leadership Video Series: How Failure Inspired One Entrepreneur to Ask Better Questions

October 6, 2016

MIT Leadership Video Series: Seeing the Big Picture – MLC Interview with Titania Veda

October 6, 2016

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