Leadership U

The world has seen so much change – from long overdue calls for social equality to a global pandemic causing economic downturns, layoffs, furloughs, and pay reductions. Emotions are running high. Uncertainty has led to fear. People are struggling to perform at their best.

So what’s the way forward?

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Leadership during times of change to help people
perform at their best.

Let's talk about Leadership U

In the next two years we will see more change than we have in the last ten. How we work. How we connect. What is important to us. How we define meaning in our lives. It will be a rollercoaster through every emotion imaginable. Scary and disruptive. But also, transformative.

Being a leader in these disruptive times demands empathy, compassion and understanding. It requires you to meet others where they are now with humility and authenticity. Promoting conscious inclusion by bringing everyone to the table so that you can listen, learn and then lead to a place not entirely visible today. A better place.

This is the drive behind my latest book and leadership program, Leadership U. Leadership U is a framework designed around six principles of leadership for today’s challenging world. Leadership development to unite teams through times of change, with trust, communication, and empathy to help you build stronger, stable, inclusive teams for the future. It’s not about you. But it starts with you. Because what matters now is not only what you become, but how you empower your people to become it.

Challenging? Yes. Emotional? Very.

Worth it? Absolutely. Your attitude is your team’s altitude.

signed Gary Burnison

Gary Burnison
Korn Ferry CEO and author of Leadership U:
Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve

Leadership U journey

The Leadership U framework and book are designed to unite teams through times of change by moving them past fear toward optimism in three steps.


Why emotion matters

Understanding emotion is the first step in aligning where you are with where your team is. Great change leads to emotional response. The reactions and behaviors that follow are part of the Emotion Curve.

As an inclusive leader, you need to be an emotion listener. Because people don’t always say what they feel, and no one will be in the same emotional place. Observing avoidance and shock? That’s anger. Is your team avoiding big-priority conversations? That’s withdrawal. Are they asking questions about what the next quarter might look like? They’re on their way up the curve.

Explore the Emotion Curve

Navigating your team through the emotions on the curve is not a journey measured in months and miles, but rather in milestones. Small changes, big wins.

Move the ball through the curve to understand the different emotional responses to change.


Are you sensing avoidance, confusion and fear in your team?

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Are you seeing signs of frustration, irritation or anxiety in your team?

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Do members of your team seem overwhelmed, aimless, isolated?

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Is your team making sense of things, looking ahead, seeking new direction?

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Are you seeing signs of commitment, engagement and ownership in your team?

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Do you get a sense of integration, reconnection and balance from your team?

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Emotional responses showing DISBELIEF

Avoidance, confusion, fear


What is going to happen to me?

I don’t want things to change.

Leaders should:

ACKNOWLEDGE the situation even if you don’t have all the answers. By addressing it you are showing understanding and empathy of the other persons feelings which helps reduce the fear.



Emotional responses showing ANGER

Frustration, irritation, anxiety


Why is this happening?

I can't accept it.

Leaders should:

Bring CLARITY. Ambiguity leads to anxiety. Throw as much light on the situation as possible. You cannot over-communicate at this stage.



Emotional responses showing WITHDRAWAL

Overwhelm, aimlessness, isolation


Why do I feel so alone in this?

This is too much to take on.

Leaders should:

Build CONNECTION. Bring the team together regularly and talk honestly. Try to lighten the mood, appropriate humor is a great unifier.



Emotional responses showing ACCEPTANCE

Sense-making, looking ahead, direction-seeking


What will the long-term impact be?

I can see positives ahead.

Leaders should:

Unite the team with a shared, authentic PURPOSE. Be open about doing things differently and looking at new ideas.



Emotional responses showing OPTIMISM

Commitment, engagement, ownership


How can I help through this?

I am committed.

Leaders should:

Show CONFIDENCE in your team's positive mindset. Empower them to explore new ideas and capitalize on the newfound optimism. Say yes.



Emotional responses showing MEANING

Integration, reconnection, intention


How can I connect this with my personal values?

This is meaningful.

Leaders should:

Show PURPOSEFULNESS. Be truly understanding what is important to your team you can help them make sense of the situation. Increasing self-awareness and self-fulfillment.

image of people conversing

How is your team, today?

Answer a few simple questions to discover where your team is on the curve. Then find out how to respond and to move them forward.


It starts with you, but it's not about you

Being an inclusive leader demands empathy and awareness of what your people are going through, and how to help them. Only then can you start to promote calm, build trust, and take action to move teams from ambiguity to optimism.

To help today’s leaders we have built a framework for inclusive leadership focusing on the Six Degrees of Leadership: Anticipate, navigate, communicate, listen, learn, and lead.

you are here

How do you lead?

How do you lead, today? Everyone has dominant behaviors that influence their leadership style. By understanding what these are and identifying areas for improvement you can continue your journey toward more inclusive leadership.

Take the leadership quiz to identify which of the 6 principles you rely on now and how to achieve the perfect balance of them all.

The 6 Principles of Leadership U

Leadership U, a leadership development program and book, is framed around the six key skills needed to be an inclusive leader. Even if different situations require you to lean into one, being an inspiring and inspired leader means applying all six.

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Leadership U book

Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve

Based around the Leadership U development program by Korn Ferry, designed to help leaders navigate their teams through times of change, you can now access the key points in the book by the same name.

webinar: leading through uncertainty

Leading through uncertainty

Listen to Nike CEO John Donahoe, UPS CEO Carol Tomé and Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison as they share their stories on leading through uncertain times.


The Leadership U curriculum

Today, more than ever, leaders are faced with decisions and situations that are testing all of the tried and true thinking around what “good” leadership looks like. A new, virtual way of working, social unrest, uncertainty in the market… all of this is driving leaders all over the globe to reassess the critical skills necessary to succeed and lead authentically. No one understands leaders and the challenges they face better than Korn Ferry. We’ve created Leadership U as the key to your leadership evolution. Based on the Six Degrees of Leadership, these virtual experiences will provide new insight into critical aspects of leadership that are non-negotiables in today’s business climate.

Whether you want a quick insight, or a deeper dive for your organization, we can help you hone your leadership skills.

Leadership U: Six Degrees

The Six Degrees of Leadership is the core curriculum of Leadership U. These six one-hour, live, interactive virtual classroom experience (VCE) sessions accommodate up to 25 people and are suitable for mid-level managers.

To thrive, all companies will need to reimagine their future.  This requires the skill of anticipation. To anticipate, leaders must predict tomorrow, based on accurately perceiving the reality of today. Leaders must move from seeing only “this is what is happening now” to the lens of “what this means for the future.” In other words, based on what you know now, what are the consequences—both positive and negative? As leaders visualize all potential outcomes, they can make better decisions.  This one-hour, virtual session will focus on helping leaders assess and extract meaning from the current reality, clearly, to project what might happen in the future. The more clearly leaders see the here and now, the better they’ll project what is around the next bend.

Navigate focuses on how to be proactive, purposeful, and agily (or with agility) to course-correct in real time.  It requires never losing sight of the ultimate goal. By making proactive, purposeful decisions that determine both direction and velocity for what happens next, leaders can provide the roadmap where their people can ask questions, engage in discussion, and then execute.  This one-hour, virtual session provides leaders with the skills to help identify purpose to help navigate more effectively.

As a leader, do your messages command attention and move people to action? Leaders can’t just transmit information; they must connect emotionally with others to inspire. In challenging times, people want to know the truth, however, how leaders communicate to inspire people to believe, then enable that belief to become reality is where leadership lives and breathes. This one-hour, virtual session will engage leaders in honing their message and point of view in a concise, compelling way. The goal: capture your audience’s attention, connect emotionally and move them to action.

Leaders need to listen and especially listen to what they may not want to hear. To listen to others, leaders must listen with genuine empathy. By modeling authenticity, leaders can make it safe for others to share the truth—not what they think you want to hear. This one-hour, virtual session will explore empathy and compassion and the role these play in opening the door to authentic conversations. A leader’s ability to ‘hear’ more than the facts not only creates stronger connections but it creates an environment where people feel valued because they truly feel understood.

There’s nothing like a crisis or a complex problem to accelerate learning and force a leader to pivot. This is learning agility to the “Nth” degree. Officially, learning agility is defined as the ability and willingness to apply past experiences to new challenges. Or it’s knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. At the core of learning agility is the ability to turn off ‘autopilot;’ keeping things comfortable, defaulting to the same patterns, day after day. Instead, leaders need to find new and different ways to problem solve and see issues. This one-hour, virtual session will explore the tools needed to be curious, engaged—and genuinely committed to move from autopilot to bring about even better decisions for an organization and their people.

Leadership means meeting people where they are—especially in times of chaos, change or uncertainty. When “perform” becomes “survive” organizations must continue to move forward—but where should you push and where should you pause? Are leaders courageous enough to deal with the immediate problems but also courageous enough to do the things that will connect the organization to the future? In this one-hour, virtual session leaders will explore the role that displaying courage helps teams move the business forward while keeping employees afloat—with appropriate hope for the future.

Let’s Talk: Why we react differently to the headlines

The world we live in today, leaders are struggling to find the right words, the appropriate intention and meaningful actions to take in regard to recent events about race and racism. Say nothing or say the wrong thing...the risk feels high in either case and the 'right' answers are scarce. This one-hour, virtual session will focus on how bias and socialization can drive individual reactions to current events and impact the way we interact. This session will help leaders start to have real conversations about race and bias.

Register your interest in the Leadership U: Six Degrees Development program.

Leadership U: Leadership Accelerators Portfolio

These sessions are for leaders needing a deeper dive into critical topics facing leaders today. Leadership U: Leadership Accelerators Portfolio is a more in-depth learning experience that can be offered both in-person or through a VCE for up to 25 people. Some of the offerings:

Enabling leaders to understand their own biases and their impact on those around them.

Helping leaders to understand their own biases and their impact on those around them.

Awareness of biases is important, but we also need to equip people with ways to both interrupt bias and to create an environment where differences are appreciated, and people are included. Every day we hear about incidents where unconscious and conscious biases are having an impact in our society. These situations take a toll on people and are getting in the way of productive and satisfying experiences for both employees and customers.

Businesses that seek to meet ever changing market needs must attract and retain a diverse workforce. Data reveals that greater innovation and stronger financial performance results come from organizations that are both diverse and inclusive. This means that organizations must equip their employees to create and foster an environment in which difference is welcome and diverse perspectives are sought out with intention. Only then will businesses realize the full promise of the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Program summary
Conscious Inclusion is a program designed to enable all employees to become mindful of unconscious bias, how it shows up at work, and equips them with practical actions to create a more inclusive environment.

Participants will learn through a variety of experiential exercises that will help participants understand their own aspects of diversity, how assumptions show up at work, and the profound impact our reactions to differences can have on the experiences, opportunities, and types of support that individuals receive.

Participants will explore conscious and unconscious bias and their impact; learn the science behind bias and how it translates into reactions; become more aware of their own reactions to differences and understand how they affect behaviors; recognize when their behaviors are less than inclusive and how to intentionally INCLUDE instead, and; develop a plan for implementing inclusive behaviors on the job every day.

All teams have a few go-to performers. What comes to mind when we think of these individuals? They are contributing their best effort and producing their best work. They are showing up eager to contribute and feel comfortable offering that next great idea and even pushing back so that even better outcomes are achieved. Unfortunately, we have found that in most teams, only two out of 10 people operate at this “go-to” level of performance. Imagine what you, your team, and the organization would be able to accomplish with more people operating at or near go-to levels of performance.

Program Summary
Managing Inclusion is a leadership development program that will help leaders understand the value of being more inclusive and teach them new skills to do it.

Participants will: understand the benefits of a more diverse team and inclusive culture; examine the dynamics of their own team; understand their role in creating an inclusive environment; explore the barriers that are getting in the way of a truly inclusive environment, and; plan practical actions to break down barriers and foster an inclusive culture in which all employees can thrive and bring their best.

Improving performance through agile behaviors.

Today's organizations face more change in the last year than they have in the last 10. The ability for them to change, adapt, and evolve is no longer a 'nice-to have', it is a necessity. As a result, they need employees who are nimble, resilient, can continuously acquire new skills, and learn from experience. When the people in an organization exhibit the qualities of agility, enterprise agility follows.

Program summary
Activating Personal Agility is designed to give participants the skills to operate with agility and drive organizational objectives in changing environments or circumstances.

Participants will: learn to nimbly shift in changing circumstances and be better able to win when confronting today’s volatile and complex business world; leave with the ability to define agility and the five types of agility; analyze their personal agility strengths and areas to develop; identify what gets in the way of agile behavior, and; determine strategies to activate agility.

Understanding how to create and sustain an environment and process for innovation.

Top organizations can no longer rely on central innovation hubs. Instead, they must look to all areas of their workforce for new and innovative ideas. However, there are significant challenges associated with bringing innovation to life. To be successful, companies must have leaders who can foster and execute innovation like a business process, create collaborative alliances, and measure the business impact of innovation. For many, this requires a new way of working and thinking. Korn Ferry’s research into the key competencies for innovation found that top innovators’ behaviors include five key areas: creativity, collaboration, courage, culture, and execution.

Program Summary
Korn Ferry’s Inspiring Innovation Suite draws on this research to help participants build a solid understanding of what makes a truly innovative leader—and how they can become one. The suite includes Inspiring Innovation, Inspiring Innovation for Intact Teams, and Inspiring Innovation – Executive Briefing.

Participants will: gain an understanding of what innovation is and why it matters to the business; experience innovation and learn a repeatable process; grow awareness of own capacity for innovation; understand the role of an innovative leader to create and sustain an innovative culture. learn tactics and methods to expand thinking beyond traditional business problem solving methodologies; expand network cross-functionally to access additional brain power and resources, and; define the action plan to unlock innovation within team structures.

Enabling leaders identify their beliefs, mindset, and readiness for change.

We live in a time of mass disruption on a scale none of us have experienced before. As a result, effective change leadership – both in being equipped to manage change but also lead and inspire change in others – is no longer a nice-to-have, but an essential skill. Korn Ferry research into many leadership models, shows that most change methods don’t go deep enough because they focus on the extrinsic. This program equips participants to become successful change leaders by focusing on the intrinsic – the unconscious preferences and motivators that drive behavior.

Program summary
Leaders will gain insight about their core inclinations and mindset around change and learn ways to shift their mindsets to become more skilled at adapting and managing it. In addition, participants will learn the techniques to inspire and engage others through change. The program uses a variety of learning techniques, including strategies for managing participants’ own change initiative to learn how to adapt their leadership approach in the context of their specific change challenge.

Participants will: examine the changing nature of adaptive leadership in today’s world; align their personal development to the change influencer’s role: Conviction, Collaboration, Context; develop leadership insight into intrinsic tendencies, motivation, and mindset for change; activate techniques to energize and inspire others to change, and; will develop a personal change journey map.

Enabling leaders to be more credible and convincing in every communication situation.

Leading through times of change required clear communication to create ‘followership’ during uncertainty. Leaders need to be credible and convincing in every communication situation. Large group, face-to face or voice-to-voice: learn how to effectively craft and organize motivational messages. This is an intense, comprehensive learning experience ideal for leaders; those who needs to be clear, concise, and persuasive when presenting ideas to teams, prospects, or clients.

Program Summary
Participants will: learn how to use voice, eye contact, gestures, posture, voice, pausing techniques and movement to maintain listener interest and demonstrate confidence. Additionally, they will identify and eliminate the distracting behaviors that can cause listeners to tune out.

Building capabilities in three critical areas of leadership: leading self; leading others; and leading the business.

It starts with you, but it’s not about you. Being a strong leader requires more than the right knowledge and experience. It takes self-awareness and confidence as well. Leaders are dependent on others for results, and as such require an expanded perspective along with the tools, frameworks, and skills to prioritize, delegate, engage, and motivate team members.

Our Leadership Principles program is designed to develop strong leaders by building capability in three key areas. According to our research, these are areas that leaders tend to do least well in, despite them being critical to leadership success. They are:

  • Leading self: Increasing self-awareness and the ability to lead oneself.
  • Leading others: Driving engagement and developing others.
  • Leading the business: Translating and communicating day-to-day actions by cultivating innovation into organizational strategy.

Program Summary
Participants develop a leader’s mindset and the core leadership skills required for success.

Participants will: define leadership, what it takes to lead, what motivates them to lead, and their impact on those they lead; identify ways to engage, motivate, and develop others for extraordinary  results; determine techniques to plan and align team goals with organizational strategy and objectives, then effectively delegate the work to meet those goals, and; explain how to spark creativity and innovation with others and themselves to create new and better ways for the organization to be successful.

Enabling leaders to drive bottom-line results through others.

The most effective way to improve a team's work climate is to change the leader's behavior.

Research shows that 30% of variance in bottom line business metrics is attributable to the team’s work climate—and 70% of the variance in work climate is attributable to the leadership styles used by the team’s leader.

The most effective way to improve a team’s work climate is therefore to change the leader’s behaviors so they are a better fit for what the team needs.

Program Summary
The Leading for Impact program enable participants to improve business results by learning concepts related to, and receiving feedback on the leadership styles they are using and the impact they are having on their team’s work climate.

Participants will gain a deeper understanding of their business context and what this means for them and their team; increase self-awareness about the breadth of leadership styles they are currently using; understand the impact they have on their team’s work climate, and how it is helping or hindering their ability to perform, and; Identify actions they can take to better flex their leadership styles and improve their team’s bottom-line results.

Leading people through difficult times and doing it virtually.

Keeping teams motivated and positioned to succeed is already a demanding task. Challenging times make this even harder. And adding in the virtual component makes this even more complex. How can leaders maintain engagement virtually during these difficult times? How can leaders show compassion and keep employees connected when they may be distracted with pressing personal concerns? How can leaders communicate a clear way forward virtually when situations are unclear?

Program Summary
Leading Virtually in Disruptive Times equips leaders with the strategies pivotal to successfully leading teams virtually and maintaining clarity during uncertain times.

Participants will: discuss the urgency of effective virtual leadership in disruptive times; define the 3C’s model (Compassion, Connectedness, and Clarity) for virtual leadership; analyze virtual leadership in action via a case study; identify strategies and use tools for implementing the 3C’s model, and determine actions to build virtual leadership.

Understand the role a self-disruptive leader can play for an organization’s success.

Disruptive forces are driving the future of work. This simple statement challenges all leaders. Korn Ferry research shows how important the self-disruptive leader will be to future business success. To succeed in a rapidly changing business world now and in the years ahead, a new kind of leadership must take priority. Current models of leadership address some changes, but research by the Korn Ferry Institute reveals the ideal leader for tomorrow’s disruptive business environment is the Self-Disruptive Leader. We identified distinct areas where leaders need to place their time and effort today to lead organizations successfully in the future.

We further believe that leaders need to demonstrate a new mindset in an increasingly volatile and uncertain business landscape. Mindset is an individual’s internal operating system: the mindset we have impacts how we make sense of the world. When we encounter a situation, we interpret and react to it based on our subjective interpretation. If the problems and challenges become more complex than our internal operating system is ready to deal with, we’re outmatched.

Program Summary
The Self-Disruptive Leader introduces Korn Ferry’s intriguing research on the new requirements for leadership effectiveness in our hyper-changing world.

Participants will: define “self-disruptive leader” and the need for self-disruptive leadership; identify the qualities and behaviors of self-disruptive leaders; determine personal self-disruptive leadership strengths and areas of opportunity; analyze the role of “mindset” in self-disruptive leadership, and; develop an initial plan to build self-disruptive leadership behaviors.

Leadership U: Development

A customized Leadership U program for your leadership team, designed around the unique skills and traits needed in your organization. These are 1:1 or 1: team programs tailored to the unique needs of your organization. Additionally, coaching sessions can be added.

Special Editions with
Gary Burnison

Get inspired with a series of heartfelt opinions from Korn Ferry CEO, and author of Leadership U, Gary Burnison