Personal Branding Interview: Peter Bregman

Today, I (Dan Schawbel) spoke to Peter Bregman, who is the author of Point B, a consultant and blogger at Harvard Business School Publishing.  In this interview, Peter talks to us about leadership in corporations, how people change everyday, not using your gut to make decisions, how to climb the corporate ladder and why failure is a success principle.

How has the role of a leader inside a corporation changed in the past few years? How do you define true leadership?

Leadership in corporations used to be easier when people simply did what leaders told them to do. If that ever really happened, It certainly doesn’t anymore. Now, even though they are paid, employees are volunteers. They decide what work they want to do, where they want to work, and how they want to work. If they’re not happy, they’ll leave. Or at least the good ones will. Corporations used to have a commitment to their people that inspired loyalty. People stayed at one company forever. Just ask your father. Or his father. But now, after decades of layoffs, no one expects a company to be loyal and no one has loyalty to his or her company.

True leadership is when people want to follow you because they respect you.

They believe in what you’re trying to do in the world. They believe in how you’re trying to do it. And they want to support the vision you set before them. True leaders influence those around them because those around them share ownership for the leaders’ vision. True leaders know how to garner that ownership. People used to say that leadership was all about character. Now that’s really true.

Why do employees resist change? What can companies do about it?

I disagree with the premise of your question. Employees don’t resist change. People change effortlessly every day. They change jobs, they get married, they have babies, they move. People make the changes they want to make. The don’t resist change. They resist being changed. What can companies do about it? They can stop trying to make people change. Trying to get buy – which is just another word for a sell job – is a mistake. Don’t tell people what’s in it for them. Let them make that judgment themselves. Be honest, transparent, in your decisions. Let people know the challenges. And then give them choices. In my book, Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change, I discuss a number of strategies to let other people make choices while still moving them towards your goals. One of those strategies is “Get it Half Right.” Most leaders of change try to make their change perfect. They create beautiful binders, training programs, communication plans. But those things alienate people – making them feel like the change is being done to them. No one can’t write him or herself into a perfected change. There’s no room left; it’s already perfect. People own things they create themselves. So by getting the change half right and then letting employees finish it – letting them make changes to the change – you’ll garner their ownership. If you encourage people implement their own ideas, why would anyone resist?

One of your recent HBS blog posts is called “To get what you want, don’t go with your gut.” Can you explain this?

Our guts tells us to do all sorts of stupid things. Like yell back when someone yells at us. Or send a pissy email in response to one that seemed pissy to us. Or eat that huge ice cream sunday when we’re on a diet (that’s literally your gut talking). We are emotional animals and often act in the heat of the moment. That’s a mistake we often regret once we cool down. Sometimes, your gut is a valuable tool, sending you insights you wouldn’t otherwise notice. Other times it encourages you to react when you should respond more thoughtfully. It’s important and useful to know the difference.

How can an individual, who’s trying to go through the ranks in a company get from point A to point B?

Engage as many other people as possible in their work efforts. A mistake I often see people make is that they try to prove themselves. They try to get visibility, promote themselves and their work. But that behavior reads junior. Senior people? They try to get visibility for other people. They grow their employees and colleagues. Other people appreciate that. They notice it. When promotion time comes, who do you think other people want to promote – the self-promoter or the person who gives others the credit? Not only do credit-sharers improve other people’s work and the overall work product, they are also widely liked. No one can get to point B in a corporation alone. It helps more than you can imagine to be liked.

Do people need to fail at some point in order to succeed?

At many, many points. I don’t believe that people can succeed without failing.Often.  Failure means you’re operating at your edge. Sometimes you fall, other times you perform exceptionally. But you never know unless you push the boundaries. I would say that getting comfortable with failure, and learning from failure, is probably the best thing you can do if you want to succeed. High achieving people are most motivated when they are working on tasks in which they have a 50-70% chance of success. That means they fail 30-50% of the time. That’s a great rule of thumb. —— Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults about how to lead and how to live. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and advises CEOs and their leadership teams. You can sign up here to be notified when he writes a new article. He is the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change, writes a weekly column called How We Work at Harvard and is a regular contributor at He can be reached at or though his website at