Leadership, Empowerment, Culture & more | The book “Unleashed”

We all play leadership roles in various shapes & forms — at home, at work & beyond. There is so much to becoming a successful leader. It excites me to spotlight few interesting topics that Mike & Frances discuss in this episode of Author Series.


Author Series is an event hosted by Mike Todasco as part of the awesome Innovation Labs at PayPal.

The Book | Unleashed

Frances Frei & Anne Morriss co-authored the book “Unleashed”. Major part of the book dives into what it means to be a leader & building a company’s culture.

The Authors

  • Frances Frei is a Professor at Harvard Business School for over 20 years. Many of the top Global Companies have been consulting with her to up-level their culture & growth. Frances is currently helping Pinterest.
  • Anne Morriss is a highly sought-after leadership coach and the Executive Founder of The Leadership Consortium

Why the book?

Frances underscores context & trend as key reasons —

  • Modern era of company & culture needs leadership styles that are different from the past era.
  • Today’s world — Leadership is not about self. Rather, leadership is the practice of making others better — first as a result of our presence & from there on lasting in our absence. Our job as a leader is to make ourselves obsolete — time & again.
  • Although it may sound scary for leaders to make themselves obsolete, Frances highlights Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft & Vasant Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, as great examples of this style of Leadership. It has never about them, but it has been about setting up his teams for success.

Setting up for success

In laying out this philosophy, Frances delineates two important aspects. —

  • Building Blocks
  • Techniques

As a leader, to make ourselves obsolete & have our teams operate in our absence, it is highly critical for us to create the building blocks. Then, there are the techniques that will help make ourselves obsolete, while our teams continue to thrive in our absence.

In short, prepare the team to swim before tossing them into the stream.

Trust factor

As Frances talks about setting up the teams for success, she calls out the most crucial factor for a Leader — Trust.

Trust is super critical to effective leadership; chapter 2 is all about Trust.

Frances briefly talks about the 3 essential parts of the Trust Triangle —

  • Authenticity
  • Logic
  • Empathy

Frances then transforms this into a quadrangle with the 4th point being —

  • Inclusion

Golden rule — counter productive

Next topic in the conversation is the Golden rule & how it tends to become counter intuitive from the perspectives of diversity & inclusion.

The golden rule — “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” is a popular empathy philosophy. This tends to be a great advice to follow when, as a leader, you and the majority have similar opinions.

But the golden rule becomes counter productive when applied to people who are different from you in many ways. Diversity & difference in thoughts are natural. Applying golden rule is almost as good as saying to a diverse personality — “don’t be authentic”. The more difference there is, the more inclusive a leader has to be.

“Treating others as they want to be treated” is most inclusive, as it embraces diversity in various dimensions.

Hiring, Retaining & Promoting — Diverse Talents

Frances brings up yet another important area that a lot of companies are struggling with. Hiring, Retaining & Promoting diverse talent. For instance, Frances talks in detail about the the following areas —

  • Most companies, which are struggling to improve the number of women in their leader board, are probably not looking at the right pool of candidates. As an example, Frances suggests that recruiting practices need to be different while hiring women. Often, for women, context is an important part of the package. By context, Frances means : Pet, Parent & Partners.
  • When it comes to retaining & promoting the talents — understanding & removing the indignities these leaders face — could be the largest differentiator. As an example, France describes a research that revealed how indignities influenced Harvard faculty to delay their retirement. Another interesting area is performance reviews that have serious impact on growth & retention.

Tackling cons of 360 reviews

Mike & Frances delve into the process of doing 360 reviews. Frances describes from her experiences that 360 reviews are getting in the way of growth of women or people of color. To bolster the hypothesis, Frances highlights the case study of Heidi/Harold. The research clearly stimulates us to introspect the conscious & unconscious biases one may have developed.

Training people to write unbiased reviews is super critical to making 360s better. In addition, making the reviews not anonymous would make the process more transparent. Frances goes farther saying it may be a great idea to make people responsible for the reviews they write — by making this part of their appraisals. In summary — review the reviewers.

Getting on the speed dial list?

Mike wraps up the conversation with one last topic — How does Frances end up on the speed-dial list of top companies in the word?

  • Frances likes working with good people who like to win & become a beacon for the world.
  • Frances assesses the company before making the decision to work with them. Taking Uber as an example, Frances describes how an exploratory conversation with Travis Kalanick led to Uber’s transformation.
  • Lastly, Frances highlights that she works with organizations that have mindset to change.

Future of Higher Education

With Pinterest & Uber having thousands of people coming to the classes, Mike asks whether this is the new feature for education in general.

Frances supports the fact that it is possible to democratize education at scale as proven during the times of pandemic & with the likes of Ubers and Pinterests where thousands of people participated in online classes.

At the same time, Frances also acknowledges that it’s also up to the universities to experiment & raise the bar to their philosophies of education.


There were many interesting questions in the Q&A. Highlighting a couple.

Responsibility Vs Accountability

In answering one of the Q&As, Frances drew my attention by differentiating Accountability & Responsibility. Being responsible for doing the job, such as leading teams, writing unbiased reviews, etc,. are super critical for success of individual & organization. But since 2020, Frances states — the word accountability is beginning to gain a lot of negative connotation, especially with too many people wanting to hold too many others accountable.

Measuring Empowerment

Frances describes bringing into conversations — an inclusion dial, which is a couple of simple polls to identify distribution of differences. The result invariably shows up two categories — people who feel empowered & those who do not. She also highlights the technique of navigating conversations in a way we first diverge before we converge. This technique opens up the forum for people with diverse thoughts to contribute. This is extremely important — if the intention is to empower everyone in the team or conversation.

Powerful Closing

Frances & Mike close the conversation with a little “book-reading”. Frances reads the opening quote from her book.

Powerful quotes in the book drawn from Toni Morrison

If you are free — your need to free somebody else.

If you have some power — then your job is to empower somebody else.

Reading the book?

I hope this inspires you to read the book.

While I plan on listening, you may find other ways to get this book.

Until next time…



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