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While serving as executive director of the MIT Leadership Center from 2014-2019, we focused on building challenge-driven leaders at every level of an organization. In “How to Cultivate Leadership that is Honed to Solve Problems” (Strategy+Business, 2017) and “The Power of Leaders Who Focus on Solving Problems” Deborah Ancona and I synthesized findings from in-depth interviews, assessments of institutional artifacts and data from companies that employ MIT alumni. We took a deep dive into the patterns that emerged and defined the highly effective style as Challenge-Driven or Problem-Led Leadership. This approach can help people solve big, complex problems in a changing world and is critical in highly innovative and creative environments.

  • They choose challenge over trappings.
  • They let problems lead.
  • They choose collaboration.
  • They step up and step out.
  • They work the problem tirelessly.
  • They do what the data say.


We created the MIT Leadership Center Video Series to uncover and share the stories of challenge-driven leaders who solved some of the world’s most challenging problems. As executive director, I regularly sat down with established and emerging leaders to discuss their leadership challenges and philosophies. Here are a few of my favorite conversations.

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Founder and CEO McChrystal Group and author “Leaders: Myth and Reality” and “Team of Teams”

The Introverted Leader

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deval patrick

Managing Director, Bain Capital and former governor of Massachusetts

Asking the Right Questions Across Politics and Business

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Cofounder and CEO Cybereason

How Failure Inspired One Entrepreneur to Ask Better Questions

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Cofounder & Former Chief Executive of Infosys

The Danger of a “Good News Cocoon”

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Titania Veda

Social Impact Storyteller and Experience Designer

Seeing the Big Picture

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Kailash Swarna

Global Head of R&D Digitalization Strategy, Novo Nordsk

Building Empathy Into Your Business


On April 9, 2015, I took the first step on Day One of a trek to Everest Base Camp and then ascended the Khumbu Ice Fall. With support from MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Leadership Center, David Breashears and I set out to study “What does it take to lead on the edge of uncertainty?” by interviewing the ecosystem of high-altitude teams on Everest. The most important lesson learned was that it’s one thing to talk about leading teams at high altitude at sea level in Cambridge. It’s quite another thing to be on a team in the Khumbu Icefall three days before the tragic Nepal earthquake on April 25, 2015. I left Everest Base Camp with a profound respect for every leader who tackles real challenges in real time.