What required to be a leader

To be a leader, you only require 1 (one) thing and one thing only – followers. It’s not about your title. It’s not about your wealth. If you lead by title or use authority to lead, you don’t have followers, you have subordinates.

There is research by Professors Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield that indicates 3 communication skills that every leader needs in order to motivate followers to give their best. Those 3 skills are:

  1. Direction giving
  2. Meaning making
  3. Empathy

The keyword here is “to motivate followers to give their best”. To give their best is beyond what money and authority or title can motivate people to do.

Do you have followers?


It’s time to change

The plus side of the current virus crisis is that it allows companies to think if what they are doing is the best way to do business. Many are finding the way to reduce cost and find their ways to come back. Some companies didn’t do well before and now could hide their issues behind the virus pandemic.

Changing business model is a big deal and wouldn’t happen often. If you are a sales-driven organisation, it’s likely that you have been struggling for a while. You probably are in a discount game and in a cost cutting mode for a while. These 2 words are a clear signal that you have to change. And, there is no better time than using this crisis to change. This is because you are about to have another cost cutting exercise.

I am a firm believer that demand creation should be done with marketing. This is because the focus can be placed on solving customer’s problems and on building up brand for a longer term. Putting sales in front of the business model means the focus is ‘right now’. And, it doesn’t matter if a solution is right for customers or not.

It’s time for companies to put customers in front of their business model. And, the way to do it is to have an infinite mindset with marketing thoughts. As Steve Jobs once said – “Marketing is to create demand, sales to fulfil it”.


How David Cote went through recession

I keep on thinking what it would be like after the virus crisis ends. I (and you all) know the world won’t be the same. But, there are lots of uncertainties there.

I came across an interview of David Cote. He is a former Honeywell’s CEO. He took the company through the big recession during 2008-2009. I didn’t think to get much as I thought it would be a feel-good story from another ex-CEO. But, I was wrong. His view and his strategy are very, very interesting.

I am not going to get into the details of how he successfully took Honeywell through one of the major recessions of our generation. I want to only share one thing about his story. He had only one thought and one thought only – what would be the best plan when the recovery happen? His strategy then followed this only thought – how he looked after customers, employees, and suppliers. This was a positive thinking from a CEO that cascaded down to everyone in his company.

And, I love this statement:

The right approach is pledging to do all you can to minimize the impact on employees while we meet the goal that comes first, taking care of customers. Saying employees should come before customers ignores reality. If you want a future for employees and investors, take care of customers first. The next issue is, How do I allocate pain between investors and employees in a downturn?

David Cote


A good leader

I am not saying that I am a good leader. I just read an article about what a good leader should be. And, I have my own perception and definition. My kind of a good leader is perfectly described in Simon Sinek’s book – Leaders Eat Last.

You have to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for your team the same way you care for your children. Leadership is a lonely place. You cannot claim for credit, but you have to take all the blames. I have practiced this mentality for many years but I am still not 100%.

Most importantly, I believe that a good leader must provide at least a guidance to a solution. You don’t have (not possible anyway) to have all the answers. BUT, you must invest your time to do enough research to understand what is going on. When there is a problem and you have no clue about a solution, you have to spend time to learn about the problem. In my opinion, at the bare minimum, a good leader must be able to describe or explain a problem better than anyone else. You don’t have to come up with solutions all the time. Your team can help. But, you have to ensure that everyone understands the problem, and is on the same page.

It’s a lonely place to be a good leader. And, it’s not for everyone.


A decision to make

If you are working in the hospitality industry, you may have the same thoughts as we all do now. What should we do as a marketer under this virus situation. More and more countries have been shutting down. Consumers got panicked and pretty much stopped unnecessary consumption. Unfortunately, having a holiday fell into the unnecessary basket.

I noticed that the number of hotel and travel agent promotional emails dropped by more than half. I think everyone decided to hold off all marketing activities at least for the next few weeks.

I myself have been thinking what to do. It looks to me like we reach the point that none of promotions or marketing would work. Or would this be a great opportunity because the competition is close to non-exist?

Most of us never witness something like this in our life time. It sends a shock wave to both consumers and businesses. I believe no one has the right answer.

What would be the best strategy under this situation?


The leadership hormones

What is a good leader? My own definition, a good leader is someone who take care of people around him. He is someone who lift others up, someone who believes in his people even if they don’t believe in themselves. Leadership is not for everyone. It’s a lonely place to be. When things go right, he has to give all credit to his people. When things go wrong, he has to take all the blames and pressure. It’s a very bad deal. But, why should we aim to be a good leader? It’s because it’s the true and only path to happiness. You help others to be the best of themselves.

There are 2 hormones that can help you to become a good leader.

  • Oxytocin: this hormone increases loyalty, trust, empathy and generosity at your workplace. To increase oxytocin, take the time to help, encourage, mentor, or compliment your people.
  • Serotonin: it boosts will power, self esteem, inner satisfaction, confidence and a sense of purpose. To boost serotonin, go out to natural sunlight during your lunch break (haven’t done that for a while) or choose to walk outside when taking a call. Also, expressing your gratitude by saying thank you also boost serotonin. Most importantly, trying to find your “purpose” on how to make a difference to people’s lives and the world is the best way to boost this hormone.

Let I finish this post with the below quote:

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Harry Truman

Louis Gerstner’s management principles

I have a few “book” mentors. They are the leaders that I admire and they wrote books to share their wisdoms. One of them is Louis Gerstner. He was a former CEO of IBM who turned IBM around. When he took over the role, he shared his management principles with his executive team. I want to share some of them that I strictly follow until today.

  1. I manage by principle, not procedure.
  2. The marketplace dictates everything we do.
  3. I look for people who work to solve problems and help colleagues. I sake politicians.
  4. I am heavily involved in strategy. The rest is yours to implement.
  5. Move fast. If we make mistakes, let them be because we are too fast, rather than too slow.
  6. Hierarchy means little to me. Let put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of position. No committee decision making.

One of his quotes that I like is…

Watch the turtle. He only moves forward by sticking his neck out.

Louis Gerstner

I put my neck out there all the times. It would be chopped off one day.


No one to someone

I got a new team member who has been working with the company for 5 years. I wonder why he has been in the same role with minimal changes in salary. He has great potential and is very eager to learn. It’s the attitude that I like. Something doesn’t add up.

Upon investigation, it turns out he doesn’t have any academic degree, this is his first corporate job, and he is an honest person. Being honest in a corporate environment is not always good, especially if your boss doesn’t like blunt responses (even the facts is the facts).

So, I am going to change his focus and his job. He wouldn’t go back to study. Therefore, I will position him to fill our gap in the Google world. He will be a Google expert in our team – Analytics, SEO, SEM, Google big query, etc. He has to get all relevant Google certificates for his future references.

I am excited with the idea. If I could change someone’s life for the better, I feel fulfilled even though he might leave us one day. I am a university. My team graduate from me, hopefully for a better future.


Short-term and Long-term Dilemma

The biggest challenge in my career is how to balance between short-term and long-term to drive a sustainable performance.

The issue is to be sustainably profitable you need a group of true passionate customers who believe in your brand. To achieve this level, it requires a continuous, smart, strategic brand and ‘know your why’ investment. Many companies are always under a pressure to deliver a right-now performance. To deliver the right-now performance, we have to concentrate most if not all resources to short-term sales and marketing activities.

And, because you have to come up with new promotions all the time to sustain the short-term results, you wouldn’t have the time and the energy to invest in the longer-term future. Worse, the cost of doing business is getting more and more expensive because you have to target new customers all the time. It’s basically a death spiral. We would keep on doing it until it eventually ends.

If people at the top don’t understand this dilemma, it’s going to be hard to change.


The coaching habit

I attended a leadership conference last year. It was a good conference. It’s good to get out of the office and hear different perspectives from different industries. One of the sessions that I found very beneficial was the one from Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of the book “The Coaching Habit”.

He was full of energy and very funny. The most important points I took from his session on the best way to coach the team were:

  1. Can you stay curious a little longer? This question is to enforce yourself to listen intensely to a person who asks you for advice. Most of us have a habit of jumping into a conclusion in the middle of the conversation. Just stay curious, we could hear something that is different to our perception.
  2. Can you offer a solution or advice a little slower? I used to read an article that a company’s leader in China worked around his factory every morning. He talked to his staff. When someone asked him for advice, what he did was only asked questions to his staff. A series of questions helped the person who asked to think. In the end, his staff came up with a solution by himself.

I haven’t done them well, the 2 points above. I improved on point 1 but I still suffer from point 2. Leadership is an ongoing learning process. It requires great commitment and continuous practices.

I still have a lot to learn.