An authentic leader, in my opinion, is someone who makes decisions for themselves with their head, but when it comes to their people, they make decisions with their heart. In my over three decades of experience, I’ve refined my leadership philosophy and had the chance to reflect on how I got to the position I’m in today. This came into focus when I was invited to give a talk to some university students, one of whom asked me a big, tough question: how did I prepare to become a CEO?
What seems like a simple question actually required that I shared my experiences with honesty and integrity. My first reaction was that I never thought I’d be a CEO. I had never planned for it. I believe that if you have goals of becoming a CEO within a certain timeline, you’ll always be in a hurry, and you might make decisions at the expense of others in your path. Not to mention, if you don’t achieve your goal by the time you expect, you’ll be disappointed and surely frustrated. So, the honest answer was that I didn’t plan to be a CEO. I was like a river, I flowed where the journey took me, and did my best at every stage.
I worked hard, but of course, so do a lot of people. What was the difference between me and others? This is where I’d say that I believe that I’ve been blessed. Over the course of my life, I’ve met so many people who have made a positive impact on me, I’ve gotten more than I think I deserve at times, and have been well positioned for opportunities. I have no qualms in acknowledging that.
Importantly, I like to believe it’s also because I work for my people over my bosses. Every year, we have a few management trainees joining the organization, and I address them at the beginning of their time with us. One of them asked me, “What do I do to make you happy?” This is a common way of thinking in the corporate world. We believe that we should work hard in order to get noticed by our bosses, and that is how we’ll progress in our careers. To this trainee, my response was “Think about what you need to do to be happy, not about me.”
My philosophy has always been that if you take care of your team and their results, you will never fail, because their results will reflect on yours. In all of my decades of work, I’ve genuinely not been too worried about what my bosses thought of me. Surely, I didn’t make enemies of my bosses, but I can tell you I was never a favorite either!
Instead of focusing my energy on impressing a few leaders, I focused on the thousands of people down the line whom I was leading – I’ve always had an organization of between 500 to 2000 employees, making sure they were happy, motivated, and engaged. Not only does this deliver results and growth for you as a leader, you’ll also derive a lot of personal satisfaction from this approach too.
Caring about people over your bosses isn’t always the easy choice, and in some cases, you may be viewed as a rebel. But when you genuinely focus on the motivations, ambitions and aspirations of the many, you will surely put yourself on the path to success as a leader.
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