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Over the past four decades I have observed, experienced and read about leadership.
In the end I have distilled my beliefs on leadership down to this:
Leaders acknowledge, face and communicate reality.
People follow people and not titles since titles are bestowed while leadership is earned.
The five characteristics of great leaders are capability, integrity, empathy, vulnerability and inspiration.
A key to leadership is to solve challenges and address problems. This requires confronting issues versus looking away or hoping some form of magical thinking will make them go away.
You cannot hope to get people to follow you if they suspect you are not addressing real issues and challenges however difficult they may be.
Without the hearts and minds of your team you are not a leader but a ruler.
Rulers leverage fear, project power and exploit insecurity.
Employees genuflect, fall in line, salute and pander to the hollow and bloated boss, while they silently seethe, plot insurrection or practice defection.
a) Capability: To be a leader you have to be capable in your field of work or craft. You have to know your shit. You have to keep improving your skill. Doctors will not listen doctors who are not great at medicine. A creative will not respect someone whose body of work they do not admire.
b) Integrity: Can you be trusted? Are you transparent about the ingredients of your decision making. Do you look for and use real facts ?
c) Empathy: Leaders can see from other points of view and they understand that employees are people and work is but a sliver of their being. They understand and they listen. They care. They do this both for employees and for customers.
d) Vulnerability: Great leaders acknowledge mistakes. They know they do not have all the answers. This means they are open to criticism and correction and they surround themselves with skill sets that offset and balance their areas of weakness.
e) Inspiration: How do leaders face and acknowledge reality and hard truth but still get people to unite, align and take the challenges head on? They do so by recognizing that people choose with their hearts and not their minds. They inspire through a combination of personal example and storytelling.
It has been said that “culture eats strategy” and often when companies decay (Wells Fargo) or resurrect ( Microsoft) or have distinctly different outcomes in the same industry ( Southwest versus United Airlines) a key determinant is the culture. What it is like, how it is improving or how it is getting worse.
Once I read that the culture of an organization is revealed in how people behave when no one is looking or monitoring their behavior.
I do believe that that this is right in the fact that culture is about people. Yes it requires leaders to set, correct and support the culture but it is how they treat people and how people feel about themselves, their company and their colleagues that is the fabric of culture.
Companies with great cultures tend to have employees who feel most of the following about their jobs and companies:
Fair/ Good Compensation: If people are not paid adequately or fairly it really hard to have a good culture.
Recognition: Great cultures recognize contributors and leaders do not step into their teams video stealing credit.
Autonomy: People are trusted to deliver with limited monitoring and can access resources to do so.
Purpose: They believe in the purpose and values of the company and see the role of their company beyond that of just profit but doing good for society or community.
Growth: The company is growing, has a plan for growth or even if static, the individual is growing and teams are growing by being given opportunities to learn and build new skills.
Connectedness: People feel connected to each other and to their leadership. They feel free to speak up and share and even joke.
Today most of us are working from home for six months and it is likely that we will be doing so for at least another six months until a vaccine is available broadly.
Have been spending a lot of my time advising C level executives, one of the big challenges they are grappling with is how to ensure the mental and emotional well being of their talent who often feel disconnected, stressed for both work and life reasons as they grapple with children at home and other worries and challenges about their future.
Solving for and focusing on these six drivers of culture is one way smart leaders are working to ensure that in a distributed world the fabric of culture is not torn. They and their talent/HR leaders are planning different ways they get there but recognize it is key to ensure that each of these six seeds of culture are watered.
I love reading. And I read everything in every form. From newspapers to twitter feeds to blogs to cereal boxes to out door signs. It is an addiction. One I believe that enlarges oneself.
But it is books in their analog form that is my favorite format for reading. While I have gone electronic in every other form ( and my own book is available as an e-book, on Kindle, on Audible and even in CD-Rom form) I only read books on paper. Am so old fashioned that if I had lived in a different age I may still be reading scrolls or if even earlier I would be heaving tablets!
Each great book is like a religion it opens up new worlds, inspires, lets you empathize and imagine. And when you have a pile of them organized you have the beginnings of a library. Libraries are my temple and the world’s best and grandest are just like places of worship like The National Library of Prague in Prague, Czech Republic:
In many ways we become what we experience and what we read. While our experiences may be limited, our reading does not have to be. I always suggest that people read far and read wide. But if you can only read one writer you should read Shakespeare who I believe better understood humanity and life and could express it in ways that no one before or after has done. If you have not read him you use his phrases all the time as you will discover here.
For a great read that combines magical writing, a mystery ( who set the main LA Library on fire?) and to understand how libraries work behind the scenes and how they are evolving in the Age of the Internet I strongly recommend “The Library Book” by Susan Orleans.
When you have had enough of Netflix and Zoom and the polarized streams of Social Media, have a shower, put on a bath robe, get a glass of your favorite libation and withdraw to the sanctity of your library ( even if it is small pile of books) and pay it attention and maybe add a few more building blocks to it and buy some books.
It is culture at its best. And the best leaders tend to have read a lot.
Rishad Tobaccowala ( @rishad ) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in. Rishad is a sought after speaker and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/