July 28, 2022

Frances Frei, Professor of Technology and Operations Management at the Harvard Business School, delivered a faculty seminar this month to the 2022 ALP leaders in training. Impressed by the engagement from the young adults in the Zoom room, Frei expressed hopefulness for the impact that the next generation will inspire.

The focus of her and Anne Morriss’s book, Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You, centers around the key to building trust and inspiring others around you to excel. She shared this framework with the Aspire leaders during her seminar this July – and in a 2018 TED talk

“If you sense I am being authentic, you are more likely to trust me. If you sense I have real rigor in my logic, you are more likely to trust me. If you believe my empathy is directed toward you, you are more likely to trust me,” she explained.

Frei leaned on the Aspire leaders to provide tips from their experiences. For example, those who identified themselves as empathy anchors, meaning this is their greatest strength, gave thoughtful guidance to others during the seminar. 

“Leadership is not about you, it is about how you empower other people,” she said. “It takes trust, love, and belonging to create spaces where others, and all of us, can excel.” 

The Aspire leaders embodied this element of leadership and this truly gave Frei optimism for how the next generation will impact the future of the world.

She introduced the concepts of authenticity, logic, and empathy, helping each student build out their own toolkit for how to be the most impactful leader, in their own endeavors — and how to identify and mitigate those “wobbles” if they occur.

Frei originally studied math, industrial engineering, and operations management with an interest in solving problems and creating excellence.

“I love when things work to the best of their potential,” Frei shared. “A world in which you know, what’s solvable, and what’s not solvable — and if it’s solvable, we figure out how to do it.”

When she got to Harvard Business School, Frei learned to apply her interest in optimization with human case studies and, at first, she felt like humans got in the way. 

“The optimization was much harder, but I got super interested when I realized that great leaders could actually make a better outcome than non-human optimization,” she said.

This was a pivotal moment for Frances and ignited her interest in leadership as a form of optimizational planning. 

“I thought humans were suboptimal, but then I realized that humans are, essentially, super optimal. It was amazing,” she explained.

Since then, Frei has continued to look at leadership as a tool, investigating how leaders create the conditions for organizations and individuals to thrive.

“Trust is the foundation for everything we do,” she said. 

As these leaders in training proceed through the world and become the next generation in the workforce, Frei gives them some advice. 

“Embrace the full context of who you are,” she encouraged. “Lean into the uniqueness.”


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