The 10 best Quartz at Work stories on leaders and leadership

Follow the leadership.
Follow the leadership.
Image: Gosia Herba
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Whether they’re acting hands-off or hands-on, routinely inspiring others or endlessly frustrating them, leaders do more than just steer their companies; they shape popular thinking about management and about work itself.

Here at Quartz at Work, we’ve been covering leadership trends since our October 2017 launch, following influential executives and other thinkers on leadership issues. In celebration of our launch anniversary, we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite stories on leaders and leadership, grouped into sections about some of the people, lessons, and trends worth watching.

Profiles in leadership

A BIG deal. Bjarke Ingels is the name behind BIG, one of the best-known architecture firms in the world. But the person to whom the firm owes its success, he says, is its CEO, Sheela Maini Søgaard. Quartz at Work reporter Leah Fessler spoke with Søgaard for How We’ll Win, a Quartz project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. She found that what sets Søgaard apart, aside from being female in an industry where only 18% of licensed architects are women, is her unique approach to fostering creativity, and to making sure her architects get paid for it.

Can the cult of Berkshire Hathaway outlive Warren Buffett? The folksy, 88-year-old billionaire investor has a hold on people, so much so that 40,000 of them come from around the world each year for his company’s shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. Quartz at Work senior reporter Corinne Purtill made the pilgrimage with them to see first-hand the cult that has built up around one of the most famous and respected names in business—and to find out what will happen when its leader is gone.

The CEO of Aetna was considering suicide before he found meditation. A brutal skiing accident, a buffet of pain medications, and a thwarted suicide attempt: Quartz at Work reporter Lila MacLellan explains what led insurance executive Mark Bertolini to the craniosacral therapy session that changed his life on several levels. His therapist, whom he later married, introduced him to yoga and meditation and encouraged him to start thinking about the stresses in his employees’ lives, including stresses caused by their financial situations. “I had changed as a result of my practice,” Bertolini says. As a result, Aetna’s pay policies changed, too.

Should PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi have groomed a female successor? Nooyi’s announced retirement had Heather Landy, the editor of Quartz at Work, wondering whether the women running big companies have a special responsibility to ensure that a new generation of female talent is ready to step up when they retire. Her conclusion is a lot more egalitarian than most C-suites.

Deny, bargain, accept, evangelize. Lila MacLellan traces Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s steps on the path to ensuring equal pay for women, based on a 60 Minutes interview in which he said a salary audit found rampant pay disparities “through the whole company, every department, every division, every geography.” What happened next is interesting, as is what happened before, when he had to be convinced to do the audit in the first place.

Leadership trends

A new type of leader is emerging in Silicon Valley. Embodied by CEOs like Satya Nadella at Microsoft and Sundar Pichai at Google, this brand of leadership is a departure from the command-and-control models of yesterday and a more recent style we might sum up as that of the “toxic bro.” Lila MacLellan examines the reasons for the shift in direction and describes the specific qualities shared by the tech industry’s new guard.

The portrait of a founder as a young man is getting an update. Michael Coren, a Quartz reporter in Silicon Valley, talks to the female founders and investors who are finally getting traction in breaking up the ultimate boys’ club. (Related: Check out our founders index; Quartz worked with data from Pitchbook to develop a searchable list of more than 200 women leading venture-backed companies established in the past five years with startup valuations of $50 million or more and venture capital fundraising of $5 million or more.)

Lessons in leadership

Nice office, incredible view. Retired US astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 520 days in space on four different missions and was commander of the International Space Station during his final, year-long stay, has something to teach us about leadership here on Earth. We sort out the approaches that seemed to help Kelly keep his high-stakes workplace conflict-free. 

Stop being so optimistic. Unbridled optimism is common among leaders, but it has its drawbacks. “When you’re so hopeful that things will work out, you can unintentionally eliminate the possibility that things might not work out. And that can make employees afraid to take risks or make mistakes because they know their boss is so convinced success is possible,” Leah Fessler notes. She talks to leadership expert Liz Wiseman at the Wiseman Group about a better way for leaders to approach their work.

Even better than the real thing. A fake Warren Buffett account tweeting advice on life and leadership made waves for a few days, before it was shut down by Twitter. The advice was sometimes trite, but it really seemed to resonate with people (most of whom didn’t realize it came from an imposter) because it was simple, actionable, and fundamentally hopeful—in other words, the kind of message leaders should regularly aspire to.

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