Whether it’s before COVID-19, during COVID-19 or post-COVID-19, I think that it’s absolutely necessary for a leader to be decisive. And that decisiveness has to be based on facts.
As Leaders, be compassionate towards people.
Leaders have to be exemplary when it comes to communication. Your secret sauce as a leader is to listen. When you listen to others, you’re building compassion.
Below are excerpts from the eighth #IndiaPowerTalk by Nitin Potdar with guest speaker Phil Bohlendar, CEO of Seed & Lead. The full interview has been uploaded on the India Power Talk channel on Youtube (India Power Talk with Phil Bohlender, CEO of Seed and Lead, on Leadership of 2020 and Beyond). If you wish to use anything, please attribute to India Power Talk and Nitin Potdar.
John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” However, often we find that the term leadership is misunderstood and completely misshapen to suit each ambitious leader’s needs. We don’t need a reminder that power often corrupts. There are so many examples in the news today. The need of the hour is to really understand the meaning of true leadership and pass on this learning to the new generation.
- Leaders need to ask questions, observe, and most importantly listen, so that they can see how other cultures do business and how they relate to each other.
- A developed leadership style has components that include skills, competencies and traits. It’s about being clear and intentional about it.
- The secret sauce as a leader is to listen. When you listen to others, you’re building compassion and you’re able to make decisions based on the data that they share with you.
- Instead of People ‘or’ Profits, the reality is, it can be People ‘and’ Profits.
- Get into leadership for all the right reasons. Too many people get into leadership because of the seduction of the role, the power and the money. The right reasons are the balance between people and profits.
- Be intentional about leadership, especially when it comes to vision and impact on other people.
- It is absolutely essential to have a developed leadership style.
Expounding on his interpretation of leadership, Phil says, “I believe that leadership is really about creating vision. So as leaders we have a responsibility and accountability to be able to look into the future. I think Bill Gates even alluded to it as well. So for me throughout my entire career it was about looking forward, looking to the vision.”
Phil has worked extensively not only in the United States, but also in countries like India, Brazil, Russia and China. Sharing his experiences in India, he reveals, “One of the things that I will tell you is that the hospitality, the warmth, the acceptance, the embracing of me being in India, in the offices was really refreshing because, let’s face it, when you’re a change agent people aren’t necessarily opening the door for you and bringing you in. Because they have a resistance to change. Once I was in a training that was being done for call centre attendance and they were giving them sensitivity training for American culture. This was an opportunity for these call centre reps to be able to understand through the training what it was like to interact with Americans on the phone. Everything was spot on and the training was amazing. Midway, I asked my host if it was possible for me to share a little bit of a variance. I did, and they all said to me afterwards what a great opportunity it was to learn from me directly how the people that they talk to on the other end of the line might experience that thing.”
Today every organization is operating on a global scale and I guess therefore leadership necessarily will have to be constantly adapting and changing and meeting the requirements of the several countries. Were there any specific challenges that Phil saw for global leaders when it came to people from different countries and cultures, I ask.
“I was working with an individual from Mexico and he had responsibilities for working very closely with China,” answers Phil. “I got word that there was some conflict and that things were not going very well, so I asked him to come into my office. I said, ‘Help me understand how you’re interacting when you are on the phone or video.’ He went through it and what I realized was that there was a clash of cultures. So I asked him to go and find these books and research how to do business in other cultures. He did this, but when he came back to me, I said to him, ‘Hand me your business card.’ And he reached out with one hand and I said to him, ‘You’re not ready to do business in China.’ Then I showed him how to hand the card and he said he didn’t know that. So I took him to China and I was able to give him first-hand experience and after that first-hand experience when he came back he truly understood it now. That might be an extreme situation especially now with COVID-19 and what not, however what I believe is that when you ask, when you observe, when you listen, you can see how other cultures do business and how they relate to each other.”
Talking about the COVID-19 situation, what is an ideal global leadership style according to him? “I am a strong proponent of developing your unique leadership style,” confesses Phil. “I think that being intentional about leadership, especially when it comes to vision and impact on other people, it is absolutely essential that you have a developed leadership style. For me a developed leadership style has components that include skills, competencies and traits, so it’s really about being clear about it, being intentional about it and understanding something as simple as, ‘Am I the kind of leader that’s going to ask people to do things, or am I the kind of leader who’s going to tell people how to do things?’ And understanding that and making sure that that unique style that you create is working in the environment that you work in. It’s very interesting with COVID-19 because as a change agent there were a lot of times where making a change was very very challenging. I’m happy to say that my leadership style supported making those changes and it was a great experience. However, when COVID-19 hit, instead of me being the lone ranger as a change agent now I looked out into the business world and everyone was changing how they were doing business and it was really refreshing for me to see that. However, unfortunately through some of it there were some missing pieces to it. So for me whether it’s before COVID-19, during COVID-19 or post-COVID-19, I think that it’s absolutely necessary for a leader to be decisive. And that decisiveness has to be based on facts. The second thing is to be compassionate towards people. The third and final for me, because I like to talk in threes, is leaders really have to be exemplary when it comes to communication. Your secret sauce as a leader is to listen. When you listen to others, you’re building compassion and you’re able to make decisions based on the data that they share with you. These three things are really connected with each other.”
Talking about his bestselling books, Phil says that one trait cuts across all his books and that is ‘listening’. “I just recently did two learning programs where I had an audience of leaders who wanted to learn more about their leadership style,” says Phil. “And in both of those I talked about listening. What was most interesting for me was that when I shared with them the three phrases, ‘Help me understand’, ‘Tell me more’, ‘Is there more?’ – in terms of getting people to continue to talk, they thought I gave them the key to the kingdom. They were so amazed. Listening is the key to all of it. Unfortunately, in my experience I have seen people listen to respond – people don’t listen to understand.”
Does he think leadership can be taught and that we need to teach leadership right from a school level, I ask. “I’m really glad you asked me about this because I’m a firstborn male in my family and I did a lot of research throughout my leadership career around what it is to be a firstborn,” reveals Phil. “Because in the United States most of the Presidents that have been elected were firstborns. Most of the CEs are firstborns, and that’s male and female both. So there’s something inherent about being a firstborn. However that is only part of the path. The other path is doing all the development work. And I think that you can not be the firstborn in a family and still be a leader through coaching, mentoring and development activities.”
Considering that in India we have almost 6.5 million small and medium enterprises, and also an equally large number of start-ups, what according to him should be the priority of these enterprises? Profits or people? Pat comes the reply, “I will tell you every time the answer to that question is people. People first, profits follow. Instead of People ‘or’ Profits, the reality is, it can be People ‘and’ Profits.”
Talking about the new generation of leaders, Phil says, “The millennials have been the target of a lot of negative press – they don’t pay attention, they have a gig mentality, they move from one job to the other. People have negative perceptions towards them. But I’m working with millennials on several of the boards that I work with and I find that they’re focused, they’re attentive, they’re engaged, they’re willing, they’re really really clear about what it is they do and how they do it down to the niche.”
On a parting note Phil advises youngsters, “Get into leadership for all the right reasons. What I saw was too many people getting into leadership because of the seduction of the role, the power and the money. And those right reasons are the balance between people and profits. Build on the formal education that you have. Get engaged in talent development, capability development. Figure out what it is that you need to learn, want to learn to build out that unique leadership style right. So it’s going to be beyond some of the academics and it’s going to be more in the practical. So that’s one. The other is to take risks. Look for the opportunities in India and throughout the world and take advantage of those opportunities because those opportunities, I guarantee you, are what’s going to continue to propel your career. And then the other thing is I would suggest, I would invite India to build the bridges and step out there and be the leader. Be the model so that when people start thinking of different aspects of business and leadership that the first thing that comes to mind is India and the population of leaders in India.”
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