Saj-nicole Joni, Ph.D. is an internationally known business strategist, author, and the founder and CEO of Cambridge International Group. Her work appears in the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes.com (where she writes a regular column), and she has been a guest on NPR's Marketplace. Joni heads a CEO advisory firm working with top leaders in Fortune 100 companies around the globe. Joni is a sought-after speaker by top executives for her uncanny ability to help them find winning solutions to their toughest problems. As a speaker, Saj-nicole's goal is to help leaders at every level grow their minds against the best C-level practitioners. She uses powerful storytelling to show how executives lead through bumpy times. And to help audiences to think differently amid their real-world pressures, she showcases what makes all the difference between winning and losing.
"Working with Saj-nicole," says one CEO, "is like having an entire brain trust of deep thinkers to help you work out your toughest business issues." A provocative sparring partner, she helps draw out leaders' strategic thinking to view all sides of a problem, test multiple possibilities, and look far ahead to the consequences of potential paths of action. Joni never gives advice; instead, she challenges leaders to think more profoundly about the future - in order to be ready to meet it.
Her work and experience led her to write The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value (co-written with Damon Beyer; HarperBusiness), a sharp and controversial critique of conventional management wisdom. She argues that organizational harmony and strategic alignment aren't enough to drive success. In fact, too much alignment can lead to insular blindness and complacency, resulting in major failures and steep decline. Instead, leaders need to know how to create and manage carefully selected healthy tensions - conflicts that Joni terms "right fights" - to lead their organizations to peak performance.
Until now, management wisdom would have us believe that the single most important thing leaders have to get right is alignment. To accomplish anything, the argument goes, employees must agree about the mission, strategy, and goals of an organization. Aligned employees are happy employees, and happy employees are productive employees. Simple, right?
Well, in a word, no. Counter to conventional wisdom, the dirty little secret of leadership - what they don't tell you in business school - is that a leader's time is not always best spent trying to help his or her teams make nice and get along. Instead, the authors' groundbreaking research shows that the purpose of alignment is to create an environment where people can fight in a noble and high-minded way about what really matters - creating breakthrough performance along the way.
Joni's "Right Fight" talks will turn management thinking on its head and show why leaders - in the fast-moving, hyper-competitive marketplaces of the 21st century - need to both foster alignment and orchestrate thoughtful controversy in their organizations to get the best out of them. Drawing from examples as diverse as Unilever, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Dell, the Clinton Administration, Disney's The Lion King, and the Houston Independent School System, she shows audiences how to introduce tension at certain points and in certain ways, in order to create "right fights."
"The Right Fight" talks are not only for the business audience, as Joni draws on experiences from all walks of life - particularly history, politics, arts and education - to show that right fights can be worked successfully and productively between two individuals or across large and diverse organizations.
Joni currently serves as a Senior Advisor at Booz and Co., a strategy adjunct and advisor at Simmons School of Management (SOM), and as a Trustee of the New England Conservatory. Her expertise in leadership comes from her experience as an executive at CSC Index and Microsoft, where she distinguished herself in global strategy, finance, and organizational leadership. She earned her undergraduate degree and doctorate from the University of California, San Diego, and has served on the faculties of MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, and Wellesley College. She is the founder and CEO of Cambridge International Group Ltd. and has served as a Fellow at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership and as an Executive in Residence at Babson. She has also served on a number of boards including public and private companies. Her previous book, The Third Opinion (Portfolio: 2004), was met with critical and professional acclaim. An accomplished pianist and an avid gardener, she lives in Cambridge, MA.
Executive Praise for Saj-nicole Joni:
"Saj-nicole is uncompromising in having you come to grips with the realities of the situation you are facing. In a lovely way, she is unwilling to let you get around any issue you may have. She doesn't waste time - she comes up to speed on issues quickly, and fully understands the corporate environment you're in. She is an invaluable resource, and of all my advisors, I find the time to see her."
-- Global President, Fortune 20 Financial Services Company
"When I first met Saj-nicole, she was immediately helpful, bringing enormous business savvy, and an uncanny ability to zero in on the key areas I needed to focus on. She's much more attuned to the full suite of demands and pressures a CEO is likely to face than the classic senior management consulting partner, which makes her extremely helpful as an inner circle advisor. Saj-nicole has a caring way of being hard-nosed, blunt, but effective. I like and value that about her, even when the truth is difficult to hear."
-- Chairman, Global Investment Bank
"Saj-nicole quickly got to the root of the questions I had about my company's business model. She has a rare ability to think both strategically and tactically in a coherent way, which is what a CEO needs in a sounding board and sparring partner. I found her assistance immensely valuable and recommend her highly."
-- CEO, Information Services Company
"Saj-nicole's insightful dialogue with audiences is simply tremendous."
-- EVP, CSP Information Group
Praise for The Right Fight:
"Anybody in any organization who has any responsibility must read this book."
-- Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California and author of On Becoming a Leader
"Provocative and unique... The Right Fight illustrates how a healthy dose of tension energized some of the world's most respected companies. It worked at Campbell."
-- Douglas R. Conant, President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company
"Managing tension and conflicting ideas is but part of the equation. Using them to steer the organization toward success is the other part, which is often overlooked. In The Right Fight, Saj-Nicole Joni and Damon Beyer show us how to use conflict the right way!"
-- Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times best-selling author of Succession: Are You Ready? and What Got You Here Won't Get You There
"Tensions are the road to competitiveness, while consensus often leads to mediocrity. Saj-nicole, the nicest person on earth got it right - encouraging the right fight is the hallmark of true leadership. Great ideas are born from competition, and thrive when subjected to survival of the fittest."
-- Rolf Classon, Chairman, Hill-Rom, and former CEO, Bayer Healthcare
"If you care about how well organizations work, you need to buy this book, get out a highlighter, and mark up the pages. It will change the way you think about teams and how they're run. And it will raise your collective performance and sense of satisfaction."
-- Bridgette Heller, Global President, Johnson and Johnson Consumer Companies
"The authors have absolutely nailed one of the critical unspoken tools in the leadership tool kit. The book helped me reflect on the right and wrong fights of the past and begin planning my next one!"
-- Gaurdie E. Banister Jr., President and CEO, Aera Energy LLC
"If you're a leader at any level, The Right Fight will inspire you to embrace organizational tensions, and in so doing, release the energies needed to solve your most complex problems. This is one of the most practical business books I've read and I recommend it highly."
-- Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO, Acumen Fund
"The wisdom runs deep and the stories jump off the page. Joni and Beyer show us why alignment is not enough. Fighting the right fights right can be the difference between survival and extinction. This book should be at the top of any leaders reading list."
-- Doug Stone, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
"The Right Fight pokes a sharp stick at management complacency and empowers leaders to drive organizations to peak performance."
-- Carter McClelland, chairman, Union Square Advisors
"If you want to have impact you must read this book. Taking on the seemingly impossible becomes very real when you pick the right fights along the way - everything is within reach with this approach"
-- Maria Eitel, president of the Nike Foundation
"For managers facing the real-life challenge of getting teams to be effective day in and day out The Right Fight offers new insight and practical ways to make agreement productive."
-- Dan Ciampa, CEO Advisor, author of Taking Advice: How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use it Wisely