Dov Seidman, Founder and Chairman of The HOW Institute for Society, joined Harvard as a Hauser Leader in the Fall of 2022.The HOW Institute is a global nonprofit organization. Its mission is to nurture a culture of moral leadership, principled decision-making, and the values-based behaviors required to navigate an increasingly interdependent world being dramatically reshaped by powerful social, economic, and technological forces. Dov is also the Founder and Chairman of LRN, a global ethics and compliance education and technology company. Throughout his time on campus, Dov drew students into deep, provoking conversations about frameworks and models of leadership and explored with students their own leadership journeys and how they can be guided by their deepest beliefs. Dov spoke with us about his experience engaging with students at CPL.

CPL students are at the center of our community. Tell us about your experience with these emerging leaders.

My time at the Center for Public Leadership was wonderful and meaningful, especially the opportunity to interact with so many inspiring Harvard Kennedy School students. Many already have considerable professional and rich life experiences, but I was most struck by how deeply they are all thinking about the values that animate them. Once they complete their studies at HKS, they look forward to getting back out in the world with a sharper focus on creating enduring societal change, from advocating for American veterans to running for office in Mongolia. The HKS students I met are not on a quest for success as we might conventionally think about it; but rather, they are on a journey of significance that focuses on making a valuable difference in the world and where success is the byproduct of doing that with excellence.

What questions did students ask you, and what leadership advice did you give?

In my office hours, we talked about how it is often inconvenient and unpopular for leaders to put principles first. Many HKS students are focused on how to deal with tensions and impediments they may face in their future endeavors. They want to be principled decision-makers, but they worry that they might find themselves in environments where existing top-down structures of authority, bureaucracy, or status quo habits of leadership create obstacles. In our conversations we tended to focus on the fact that moral leadership is hard and requires courage, conviction, coalition building, and wrestling with nuance to strengthen the capacities to lead effectively.

How does your work outside Harvard address the challenge of principled leadership? 

Figuring out how to help individuals and organizations forge strong relationships and partnerships based not just on shared interests but on shared values and principles has been a key thread of my entire professional life. LRN, the ethics and compliance education company I founded back in 1994, continues to do this, specifically through ethics and compliance education which help organizations and their people go on the offense in shaping winning, “do it right” cultures rather than the defense of motivating or coercing people through fear of consequences into compliance with rules and procedures. 

Several years ago, I founded The HOW Institute for Society, as I realized a nonprofit model could help me add a meaningful new engine to this mission and foster an even broader community of common cause. Our work at The HOW Institute is grounded on a few foundational beliefs. For example, we believe that institutions must be guided by values and shaped by moral leaders, and that moral authority and formal authority must be united to create meaningful and enduring impact. We also believe that individuals must be guided by moral principles and frameworks and that trust and shared truths are essential to bringing people together as communities, organizations, and collaborators. Lastly, we believe that healthy values-inspired communities are the building blocks of a better society. We must learn what makes them work, create models to scale their success, and help leaders frame the path ahead as a journey, embracing the inevitable ups and downs, but remaining resilient and committed.

We make progress on these imperatives through several modes of activity. We work to educate and inspire established and emerging leaders through curated learning experiences. We build moral frameworks and tools. We develop new metrics and conduct original research. We bring together leaders from all sectors for conversations on the most critical issues of our times. For example, our latest research from December of 2022, The State of Moral Leadership in Business, confirmed that while 88% of US based employees agree on the urgent need for moral leadership, it unfortunately remains in short supply, with only 16% reporting that their manager consistently demonstrates moral leadership behaviors. We believe this is further evidence that business and society must shift more of their focus away from measuring “how much” and more towards measuring how we behave and how we can work together to build something greater than ourselves.

How did you develop the HOW philosophy?

Many of my insights, which eventually became the HOW philosophy, were born out of my training in law and moral philosophy, but also my experiences advising leaders in boardrooms and shop floors around the world. However, I didn’t write the book that would become HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything, until my 14th year with LRN. To invoke a phrase I learned from one of my greatest teachers, Elie Wiesel, I wrote HOW to understand as much as to be understood. It helped me complete my thinking, clarify my perspectives, make interconnections explicit, and discipline my language. I knew too well, as Wittgenstein taught us, that words shape worlds, and I needed to get my words right. 

What makes a framework a framework is that each element of a framework is interconnected with every other element. What makes HOW a unique and particularly exciting framework for me is that it’s forever growing and evolving as the contours and environment of current realities shape and refine the application of its core principles.

Sometimes people talk about “leadership” on an individual level, but you also emphasize leadership at the organizational level. How do you apply the HOW philosophy to developing individual leaders versus developing organizations?

Enterprise, whether for-profit, civil, or nonprofit, is at its core about human endeavor: a group of people trying to accomplish something that they couldn’t accomplish apart. While a corporation may sometimes be considered a legal entity by the law, on a behavioral level, organizations don’t really exist outside of the habits, practices, and rituals of the people who make them run and those they regularly interact with to have impact. Therefore, the foundation of developing organizations is developing individuals capable of developing others. Leaders within organizations, regardless of formal authority, can strengthen their own moral authority as well as their organization by investing in their own development, nurturing the development of others, and scaling practices, habits, and rituals that reinforce moral behaviors and mindsets.

A key to personal development is self-interrogation. For example, at the end of a meeting, do you ask a question framed around power, like “whose call is it?” or do you ask a questioned framed around principle, like “what do we think is the right call?” Or, for example, when was the last time you considered what percent of your influence was fueled by coercion, like fireable offenses, by motivation, like carrots and sticks, or by inspiration, like a shared mission that is intrinsically energizing?

Nurturing leadership in others involves coaching and sponsoring formal learning experiences, but it also means ensuring your frameworks of management are sound. For example, are you seeking to empower your colleagues, which can create a culture of rights, or are you also helping others build the muscles to know what is right?

Scaling leadership requires a critical bridge from individual character to group culture and addresses the emergent behaviors unique to teams. Individuals and groups have practices related to planning, collaboration, and communication, but they are catalyzed, maintained, and propagated through how a community celebrates or denounces them. What we measure is a window into what we believe matters. Metrics are therefore moral choices that leaders and organizations need to get right if they want to scale in the right ways.