This HR adage has been around sometime and while certainly valid, it does not address the entire picture when applied to an executive on the rise. Certainly the individual must have smarts, a combination of old-fashioned “book-learnin’” and business acumen. Additionally, the executive must possess the ability to maintain an emotional equilibrium with self and with others.
Truly successful executives must possess more. According to my colleague, Kevin Butler, former chief human resource officer at Delphi, these executives combine two elements in their leadership. They are socially aware; they understand people’s needs, wants and differences. They socially manage; they know how to leverage differences as well as likenesses in order to bring people together for common cause.
Awareness plus management is crucial. It’s one thing to be able to understand people, but, as Kevin points out, you also need to be able to get aligned toward common goals. This requires true leadership.
Understanding people goes beyond knowing their work or even their personal history. It requires the ability to observe dispassionately so that you know how they work best and why. From a management perspective, you put such people into positions where they can excel. Such talents, coupled with skills, makes them a good fit for some jobs but not others. Too often, talented people are put into positions for which they are not suited, and they flounder.
There is one advantage that quiet people have over those of us who like to hear the sounds of our own voices. They are good observers.
This is a point that actor Liev Schreiber made about the title character he plays on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” During an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Schreiber said that Donovan’s character, who in Dave Davies’ words “doesn’t say much,” instead spends time taking things in. That is, he listens to what people tell him.
A quiet leader is one who values his own strengths but also has the ability to see the world as others do for one simple reason. Such leaders listen. Knowing how another thinks is essential to persuasion.
Speaking less and listening more is a good exercise for any leaders. It’s an advantage that introverts may have but it is a learned behavior that extroverts can make it work for them.
A good man died the other day. His name was Tibor Rubin.
A Jew born in Hungary, Tibor was sent by his father in 1944 to live in Switzerland to escape Nazi occupation. He did not make it to the border and was arrested. Tibor was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. He was fourteen. His father was sent to Buchenwald; his mother and younger sister to Auschwitz. None survived. In the spring of 1945 Tibor’s camp was liberated by American troops.
Three years later Tibor entered the U.S. and sought to join the Army; he was deferred until he improved his English. In 1950 he asked to be sent to Korean. His commander advised him against it since he was not yet a citizen. To which Tibor replied, “Well what about the others (soldiers)? I cannot leave my fellow brothers.”
According to his New York Times obituary, Rubin, now promoted to corporal, had more than enemy troops to worry about in Korea. His sergeant was a virulent anti-Semite and routinely sought to put Rubin in the heaviest of fighting. He was a brave solider, once “single-handedly held off a wave of North Korean soldiers for 24 hours” enabling his fellow soldiers to retreat. He was not so fortunate.
Badly wounded, Corporal Rubin was captured and interned in a Chinese Communist POW camp. The Chinese knew he was from Hungary, a fellow communist nation, and offered to repatriate him to his homeland. Rubin refused again choosing to stay with his mates.
As his obit notes, Rubin knew and understood how to cope with prison camp deprivation so he took it upon himself to care for the other men. He risked his life repeatedly to escape the camp confines to scrounge for food and supplies, always returning to share what he had stolen. He also served as nurse to the sick.
Everyone says self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. It is, but there is another aspect to awareness that may be equally compelling and sadly overlooked. It’s self-management.
It’s one thing to know yourself. We know what we do well. Yay! That’s why we are so good at what we do. We may even know what we are not so good at it so we ignore it. Boo! That can hurt us.
Enter self-management. Self-management is a form of self-control. We do not control events; we merely control how we respond to them. For instance, I know I have a tendency to become short with customer service agents who, let’s face it, have the thankless job of dealing with people like me who think we have better things to do with our time than waste it with people like them.
So after much trial and error, I have taught myself to be more polite. Not just polite but overly polite. I engage the agents in conversation. I act grateful. And I thank them for “making time for me.” Overkill? Perhaps! but it keeps me from flying off the handle.
The trigger itself is neutral; our reaction to it can be positive or negative. How we manage that reaction is critical to our ability to function as well as to excel.
Every good leader must make time for him or herself. Part of such time for self can be used to recharge and reinvigorate yourself.
Rejuvenation is essential, and in the video below are some ways to integrate it into your own life. There is something else that comes with rejuvenation — more energy. You feel better about yourself and often energized by the experience. Being energized is essential to the growth process but also to being able to try new things, even in your old job.
I am not a movie critic, but I can pretend to be one for the length of time it takes you to read this quasi-review.
There are three films I have seen in 2015 which are must-watches for anyone interested in leadership. Each of the three films illuminate the human condition in ways that leaders must know intuitively and for that reason anyone concerned with what it makes to stand on principle and lead should go see.
First is Bridge of Spies. Starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer drafted into defending a Soviet spy. Three years late he is asked by the CIA to go to East Berlin, just as the Wall is being constructed to liberate U2 pilot Gary Francis Powers. Not only must Donovan battle the Soviets and East Germans, he’s given scant support by the CIA who barely acknowledge him. Furthermore, his white shoe law firm turns its back on him for “helping the enemy.” Donovan was a righteous man and stood tall for what he believed and in the process served our nation well.
Passion may hurt you more than help you in your next argument.
That’s a conclusion of new research into persuasion by a pair of university academics and reported by Shankar Vedantam of NPR. Passion, often highly prized by leaders, may actually work against that leader if he or she is trying to reach out to someone who may not agree with them. Passion works when communicating people who share your point of view but it actually does the opposite to those with whom you disagree. Anyone who has argued politics – or the merits of Star Trekover Star Wars (or vice versa) — can attest. [More on Trek vs. the Force in a moment.]
Without a trace of irony, the CEO looks straight at the young Ph.D. analyst and says, “Speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that got me here, I assure you.”
That memorable line is from the movie Margin Call, the fictionalized story of the collapse of a Wall Street investment company. The CEO (played by Jeremy Irons) is not being facetious; his tone and manner (seen here on YouTube) reflects exactly what many senior executives want: simple explanations, not in the weeds details. Sadly too many rising executives fail to understand their bosses’ desire quick explanations. And so when they present to their higher ups they believe it is their duty or even their obligation to go on long, too long.
This disconnect arises for one or more of the following reasons: one, they believe they need to show what they know and prove it to everyone; two, they fail to realize that senior managers do not want to know how the sausage is made only that is available; and three, they believe in the law of plenty – if one fact is good; three are better.
You can sum up these failings with a simple statement: when presenting to a senior executive your job is to inform not educate. Executives want information so they can make up their own minds; they don’t need explanations that will be perceived as extraneous and irrelevant. And, very important, they do not want interpretation.