Friday, June 11, 2010

Xers and Honest Conversations

Here's another post from Harvard Business Review's series on Imagining the Future of Leadership that caught my attention.

It's about Ed Ludwig, the CEO of Becton Dickinson, and his "unconventional" use of honest conversations to overcome challenges and drive success. The blogger, Michael Beer, thinks Ludwig's strategy of openness and transparency is rare among senior executives, but will necessarily characterize the leaders of the future. Ed Ludwig...

...allows people to speak truth to power, which is difficult — lower levels are hesitant to tell the truth and upper management are threatened by it.

It's an interesting case study, and seems to typify the culture of truth Jamie Notter recently wrote about in Associations Now. But here's what I want to focus on. What gives Ludwig the ability to do what he does? What makes him apparently unique among corporate leaders? Beer says it's because Ludwig harbors two paradoxical qualities.

He is not shy about advocating a new direction — high purpose, strategy or values that he believes should guide the company. But as this story clearly indicates Ed is also equally willing to inquire into that direction, its plausibility and what stands in the way of executing it.

It is, in fact, Ludwig's practicality--his willingness to discuss with others in the organization what really stands in the way of them achiveing their goals and then working with people to find practical ways of addressing those barriers--that sets him apart in Beer's analysis. Beer refers to him as "the antithesis of the heroic leader"--working with people on the possible, not trying to lead them towards the impossible.

Sounds a lot like GenX to me, but Ludwig is a Boomer--58, according to his profile on So, it's another example of how what we often think of as generational dispositions are more predominantly philosophical in nature. Being an Xer is less about when you were born and more about how you think and how you approach problems and leadership.


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