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Finkelstein on leadership: panel to consider "Leadership and Social Change"

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 09/21/09 • Media Contact: Public Affairs (603) 646-3661

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Jim Yong Kim
Sydney Finkelstein (photo by Mark Washburn)

Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business, is widely known as one of the top authorities on strategy and leadership. On Monday, September 21, he will sit down and talk with five extraordinary leaders from business, education and healthcare for a panel discussion titled “Reflections on Leadership for Social Change.”

The event, held in the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium from 4 to 5:30 p.m., kicks off the Inauguration of Jim Yong Kim as the 17th president of Dartmouth. The panel features Paul Farmer, co-founder, Partners in Health and the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Ed Haldeman ’70, chair of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees and chief executive officer, Freddie Mac; Jeffrey Immelt ’78, Dartmouth trustee and chairman of the board and chief executive officer of GE; Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor, Harvard Business School; and Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University.

“This is a terrific panel of leaders that has made a huge difference to individuals and communities around the world,” says Finkelstein. “Bringing them together to talk about leadership and social change will be inspiring.”

Finkelstein is used to spending time with leaders. He spent six years studying 51 companies and conducting 200 interviews of business leaders for his #1 best-selling book, Why Smart Executives Fail (2003). The book identifies the fundamental reasons why major mistakes happen, points out the early warning signals that are critical for investors and managers alike, and offers ideas on how organizations can develop a capability of learning from corporate mistakes.

“There are many things that can go wrong, but they tend to cluster into two or three key areas,” explains Finkelstein. “A company's strategy may go wrong because of inappropriate assumptions. The leadership of the company may be unable to adjust that inappropriate strategy because of a stagnating culture that does not value innovation and change. And individual leaders who value personal success over team development, and gloss over mistakes rather than learn from them, are promoted to positions of power. It is almost always some combination—or perhaps all—of these factors that leads to failure in organizations.”

In his most recent book, Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You (2009), Finkelstein and co-authors Joe Whitehead and Andrew Campbell turned their attention to such major strategic decisions as the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous business cases to explain why decision makers sometimes think they’re right when they are really wrong.

The book takes up recent research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and management to not only document why things go wrong, but also to offer a series of solutions that reduce our vulnerability to falling into the traps that lead to bad decisions.

Finkelstein’s current research interests revolve around how leadership skills are created within an organizational setting.

“Many organizations spend a lot of time and energy on identifying high-potential talent, the future leadership of a company. I am interested in how such talent is ‘created’ in a business or nonprofit and the leaders who go out of their way to make other people better. Such leaders are game-changers, with outsized impact on their industries, organizations, and the individuals they interact with,” says Finkelstein.

“In some ways this mirrors what Dartmouth is all about, and will be even more central to the College's mission under President Jim Kim,” notes Finkelstein. “Helping talented individuals fulfill, and even surpass, their potential is a special calling, and I want to understand how this happens in organizations around the world.”

President Kim will introduce the panelists at the discussion. Carol Folt, the Dartmouth Professor of Biological Sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will deliver a welcome.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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Last Updated: 1/6/10