BCG Henderson Institute

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When I graduated from business school almost 30 years ago, I thought that the best and brightest people focused on strategy and operations and that those who didn’t have what it takes handled the soft stuff: the HR “people” topics.

Then, about a decade into my career, a senior colleague asked me to reflect on all the work I had done and which projects delivered beyond expectations. It was a turning point for me. Suddenly, I realized that many of my efforts didn’t have nearly as much impact as they could, or should, have had. When I asked myself why, I realized that people got in the way.

I recalled many disappointments: If only the leader of this company didn’t chicken out when his plans hit the first big bump in the road. If only the leaders of this organization worked as a team, rather than as leaders of competing teams. If only the frontline managers would have explained the reasons and purposes of the actions being taken, rather than just telling employees to “do it.” If only.

That’s when I started to focus more on the people side of change—leadership from the CEO to the frontline and from the frontline back to the CEO.

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