THE FIVE PRACTICES AND TEN COMMITMENTS OF EXEMPLARY LEADERSHIP
G E LEADERSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP
The inescapable conclusion from analyzing thousands of personal- best leadership experiences is that everyone has a story to tell. And these stories are much more similar in terms of actions, behaviors, and processes than they are different. The data clearly challenge the myths that leadership is something that you find only at the highest levels of organizations and society or that it’s something reserved for only a handful of charismatic men and women. The notion that there are only a few great people who can lead others to greatness is just plain wrong. Likewise, it is plain wrong to believe that leaders come only from large or great or small or new organizations, or from established economies or from start-up companies. The truth is, leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to anyone. It is because there are so many leaders—not so few—that extraordinary things get done on a regular basis in organizations, especially in times of great uncertainty.
There was another crucial truth that wove itself throughout every situation and every action we’ve analyzed. Personal-best leader- ship experiences are never stories about solo performances. Leaders never get extraordinary things accomplished all by themselves. Leaders mobilize others to want to struggle for shared aspirations, and this means that, fundamentally, leadership is a relationship. Lead- ership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It’s the quality of this relationship that matters most when engaged in getting extraordinary things done. A leader- constituent relationship that’s characterized by fear and distrust will never produce anything of lasting value. A relationship characterized by mutual respect and confidence will overcome the greatest adversi- ties and leave a legacy of significance.12
That is precisely what Yamin Durrani told us about his relation- ship with Bobby Matinpour, marketing manager at National Semi- conductor, who came aboard just after the company had gone through a massive reorganization followed by a huge layoff. Accord- ing to Yamin, “Company-wide there was a general lack of motiva- tion, a sense of mistrust, insecurity, and everyone was looking after their own interest. Our group in particular was suffering from low motivation as we didn’t trust each other. I dreaded going to the office, and there was too much internal competition leading to breakdowns in communication.”
Bobby realized that he was going to have to get people to trust one another. His very first initiative was to sit with individual team members to understand their desires, needs, and future plans. For the first month, he spent most of the time learning and trying to understand what each person aspired to and enjoyed doing. He held weekly one-on-one meetings with individual team members, asking questions and listening attentively to what they had to say. “His friendly style and honest, straightforward approach,” said Yamin, “led team members to open up and feel secure. He never acted as if he knew everything, and was open to learning new things from the team. Bobby understood that he couldn’t gain the respect of the team without respecting them and allowing them the freedom to take ownership of their projects. Bobby opened up lines of communica- tion within the team, especially by encouraging greater face-to-face interactions.”
In management meetings when a question was asked, even though he could have provided the answer himself, Bobby typically referred it to one of his team members, stating, for example, “Yamin is an expert on this topic; I will let him answer this question.” During the annual sales conference, attended by hundreds of company employees, he let the most junior team member deliver the group
G E presentation, while the whole team stood behind the presenter to
answer questions. Yamin observed,
Being new to the group, Bobby could have easily fallen into the trap of trying to prove himself by individually contributing in projects, or acting as a gatekeeper for information flow; however, he opted to trust his team members on projects and took advice from them about the approach to take on a particular project. He never forced his ideas. In other words, “my way or the highway” was not his style. He encouraged team members to take initiative and acted as an adviser on projects, and let the ownership remain with the individual team member.
The results of Bobby’s leadership were significant. The unit’s revenue increased by 25 percent, and the product pipeline over- flowed with ideas. Team spirit soared, people felt engaged, and a general sense of collaboration and teamwork developed. Said Yamin, “I personally had not felt more empowered and trusted ever before. From this experience, I’ve realized that great leaders grow their fol- lowers into leaders themselves.”
In the way he focused on others and not on himself, Bobby demonstrated that success in leadership, success in work, and success in life are a function of how well people work and play together. Success in leading is wholly dependent on the capacity to build and sustain those relationships. Because leadership is a reciprocal process between leaders and their constituents, any discussion of leadership must attend to the dynamics of this relationship. Strategies, tactics, skills, and practices are empty without an understanding of the fundamental human aspirations that connect leaders and constitu- ents. What are the ingredients for building such relationships?