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.


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.


The most important asset for a company

I have been working in a corporate environment for more than 25 years. One of the most challenging aspect in my career is to find the right person to do a job. I made a few wrong hiring decisions along the way and they were miserable. What is the quality of the right person?

The answer is the best person for the job is the person who possesses the right balance of her skill sets, attitude, work ethic and how she puts work in her life. It’s easy to say but very difficult to find. If you can find the persons with these traits, believe me, please do everything you could to keep them with you. They are your greatest assets. They can make a big difference.

I hope that before I retire, I would have an opportunity to work in a company that treats staff well. If you already work in such company, you are very lucky. Do your best, give it all, and make a difference. Those companies are very, very rare to find. Most of them are hopeless.


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.


Intensity vs Consistency

These 2 key words will be used in a background of my strategy this year. They will be used in different context. And, they are both important.

Branding: consistency is more important. We need to be consistent in our positioning, our messages, and our content creation.

Strategic priorities: there are so many things to do. Instead of setting a priority and allocate resources the old way, we will do them all but apply intensity levels to each priority.

Staff training: I will need both intensity and consistency. Intensity alone won’t make knowledge sticks. Consistency alone won’t change their behavior.

Leadership: consistency is a key here. I have to communicate more often with the messages towards our agreed strategy.


Intensity vs Consistency

Which one do you think is more important between intensity and consistency? You might answer it depends on context. You are right. But, what if the context is about leadership, branding, and marketing? Which one is more important?

It’s not new but after listening to Simon Sinek’s videos, he made me think about them very seriously. In leadership, intensity looks like this – many companies think having a leadership workshop once a year would be sufficient to generate good leaders or changing culture. I attended those workshops in the past 10 years and haven’t seen much difference. Consistency is the opposite. You nurture your team about how to be a good leader every day, even a few minutes a day.

It’s like going to a gym. You cannot go to the gym twice a year and spend 10 hours each time then expect something to change. It doesn’t work like that. You have to go the the gym consistently, at least 3-4 times/week for 20-30 minutes at each time.

Being consistent is far more important than being intense, at least in the leadership, marketing, and branding areas. You have to be consistent in your messages, your designs, and your tones so customers can recognise your pieces.


Political systems

I am not an expert in politics. I do have opinions and I do know what causes I support. I am an immigrant from Asia. There seems to be an intense pressure from the West that Asian countries must support democracy. Is democracy the best system? Or, is a (country) leader more important than a system?

To be clear, I believe in freedom as long as we respect others. Therefore, I don’t lean towards any particular systems as long as I can do what I want to do, again with respect to others. The reason I raise the above questions is that I read a news piece about the Canadian Prime Minister and was surprised that some Canadians were disappointed about his performance. It makes me think – maybe “compromise” is the major flaw of the democratic system. If the government doesn’t get the majority of the seats, it has to compromise. On the contrary, if the government gains the majority, depending on the quality of the leader, it could be a dictator too.

I could be very shallow about this topic. However, I think the quality of a leader is more important than a system. If a leader cares greatly about his or her people (or team in a business context), any system would do the job.

What do you think?


The Coaching Habit

Do you think you are a good leader? What a good leader look like to you? I may have share this quote with you in the past – “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”. That is a very good quote. I like it very much. How can we do that?

I attended a leadership conference a few weeks ago. One of the speakers is a writer of The Coaching Habit book. His name is Michael Bungay Stanier. I haven’t read his book yet, but he offered 2 simple questions that stick to my mind until today. The concept is very simple. If you want to help your team develop and want to coach them, ask these 2 questions:

  1. Can you stay curious a little longer?
  2. Can you offer solutions and advice a little slower?

The objective is twofold – 1) asking these questions could help you truly understand the underlining issues, and 2) in doing this, it could help you offer the right advice or it could help your team coming up with a solution themselves.