Stop Reading the News

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison urges leaders to stop looking at what’s wrong in what’s right.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Take Control: The Career You Want, Where You Want.

As we turn the final page on the final month of the calendar year, it’s natural to look inward. The question is—what do we see?

Today, with so much negativity swirling around, it’s easy to get caught up in it. A glance at the headlines is usually all it takes.

Henrik Maartensson, a leader in our firm in Europe, opened his email the other day to find what sounded at first like a cheery note from a good friend: “Love this positive news on a Sunday morning while enjoying my coffee!”

It only took a short scroll to realize the sarcasm. Henrik was met with a barrage of downbeat headlines his friend had pulled together—political, financial, economic (including the dreaded “R” word). “My first thought…,” Henrik told me when we spoke this week, “… stop reading the news.”

We do have a choice. Instead of looking at what’s wrong in what’s right … we can look for what’s right in what’s wrong! And that’s when we go from reading and reacting to spreading and sharing our own news.

Otherwise, if we let it, negativity can convince us that the world is shrinking, and the walls are caving in. That’s an uncomfortable sensation we remember all too well from the early days of the pandemic when our worlds really were very, very small.

One thing we can’t lose sight of is the fact that great companies and bold leaders make their finest moves in transitory times like these. While some are paralyzed into a wait-and-see attitude, the best take action. As an advisor and friend told us recently, it’s not a response to what’s wrong—it’s a response to what it is time for.

Context is liberating, especially for leaders who actually make a bigger impact on others than they may even realize.

What we perceive is how we lead. Our firm’s research has found that up to 70% of an organization’s culture and climate can be determined simply by leadership style. So, we need to ask ourselves: What reality are we perceiving and, more importantly, what are we projecting?

We’re in the reality business. It starts with accurately perceiving today’s reality—and truly acknowledging what we cannot control. Make no mistake: Leadership is about inspiring others to believe and enabling that belief to become reality. But it’s never optimism at the expense of realism. It’s not a question of half full or half empty, but how many ounces are really in the glass!

A diet for our minds. As David Dotlich, a senior leader in Korn Ferry’s Consulting business, told me this week, neuroscience tells us that what we feed our minds can be just as important as the diet for our bodies. It’s all about what we choose—positive or negative, consciously or unconsciously. It contributes to our own health and influences how we nurture and feed our colleagues, teams, and organizations.

While we can’t always change our circumstances, we can absolutely change our thoughts—sometimes in the most profound ways.

It was nearly two years ago, almost to the day, when an executive shared a story that, from the first words, chilled me. “My father died in a car accident when I was 19. I was driving.”

She told of being a young driver, swerving and losing control, and the vehicle overturning. “It was so hard not to own culpability … Forgiving myself and learning to trust myself and the world around me, while learning to live without my father, have been the greatest challenges of my life.” Eventually, she found a way to not succumb to the cruelty of the experience, but instead “to live the life I think my father would have been proud of.”

Turning darkness into light—it’s a choice. Indeed, that’s the news worth spreading.