RLF Recap: David Ager on Leadership, Alignment, and Organizational Chance

David Ager, a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, spoke to the Fellows about "Leadership, Alignment, and Organizational Change". Prior reading to his lecture included two Harvard Business School case studies called ‘Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley’ and ‘The Firmwide 360° performance evaluation Process at Morgan Stanley’. The case studies used the example of Rob Parson, a market coverage professional at Morgan Stanley, who was implicitly guaranteed promotion by the leader of his team, Paul Nasr. When he first recruited Parson, Nasr had implied that he would promote Parson to the role of managing director on the completion of his first year with the firm.

Ager used the example of Rob Parson to highlight how the initial source of success for an individual can become a fatal flaw. For Parson, these initial sources of success included his stellar track record, brilliance, commitment, charm, and ambition.

However, when Nasr did not put him up for promotion at the completion of Parson’s first year, this represented a failure of how well Parson’s performance was managed over that year. The key elements of managing performance include evaluating performance, diagnosing performance, providing feedback on performance, linking performance with rewards and punishments, as well as coaching, counseling and developing.

With regards to promotion, it is important to note that both sides need to set expectations associated with receiving a promotion. When evaluating and diagnosing performance, leaders such as Paul Nasr should ask, “to what extent [am I] part of the problem?” Ager emphasized that leaders should pay special attention to measuring results and fit of their teams. Some important questions include, how can a leader collect evidence most effectively? How does a leader manage tradeoffs?

Ager advised the Fellows to reflect on their own tendencies when giving and receiving feedback. He went on to engage the Fellows in a short ‘feedback activity’. This activity allowed Fellows to identify which specific skills they would want to work on in the realm of giving and receiving feedback.