In a five-point plan, authors Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman have tried to answer the question—what makes a great leader? Their book, The Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By, draws up a comprehensive study of current thinking on leadership, constantly keeping it real by backing it up with research and real-life leadership stories. Sweetman summarizes the five rules of leadership for us in an email interview. Edited excerpts:
Can you draw up the five-point rule list that can come handy for a person in a leadership role?
The research that we conducted for our book showed that all excellent leaders—the sorts who can build organizations that grow and prosper—share, in degrees of significance, five elements of a leadership “code” or approach to leadership. Four of these are domains of action: being able to develop strategies, being able to execute, being able to identify and connect with people, and being able to build the leaders that the organization needs for the future. The fifth element is less a set of actions and more a sense of self: an ability to know where he or she is going, and how to get there. We express these five leadership domains in the following way:
The Leadership Code: By Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman, Harvard Business Press, 190 pages, Rs 995.
Domain 1: Shape the future. Strategists answer the question “where are we going?” and make sure that others understand the direction as well. They test strategic ideas pragmatically against current resources (money, people, organizational capabilities), and work with others to figure out how to get there.
Domain 2: Make things happen. Executors translate strategy into action by making change happen with clear accountability, intelligent decision making, and teamwork. Executors put systems in place.
Domain 3: Engage today’s talent. Talent managers know how to engage others to get immediate results by identifying the required skills, and drawing the right talent close: communicating well, and connecting the individual to the mission.
Domain 4: Build the next generation. Human capital developers install the longer-term competencies for future strategic success. Just as good parents invest in helping their children succeed, human capital developers help future leaders to be successful.
Domain 5: Invest in yourself. At the heart of the leadership code—literally and figuratively—is personal proficiency. Effective leaders cannot be reduced to what they know and do. Who they are as human beings has everything to do with how much they can accomplish with and through other people. They bring out the best in others because of their own integrity and trustworthiness.
Is a leader born or made? Does it come naturally to some or is it something that can be cultivated with some effort?
This is a great question, and one I hear a lot. Leadership as a topic carries such mystique. We sometimes treat leadership as if it is a gift granted by the gods to a lucky few. Leadership is not there by birth but it does come from inside an individual, inspired by his or her own desire to make change happen, a set of experiences that forge him or her, and the guidance of others who can help him or her make the right decisions.
This becomes clearer when you consider what an effective leader does. He or she squarely meets today’s challenges with solutions that align with larger strategic goals. Makes smart judgement calls that balance the requirements of the business with the needs of the people. Above all, he or she is willing and able to take responsibility to do what needs to be done, and has the insight, skill and persuasive ability to mobilize other people towards that end.
Tell us about any research or study that you found interesting and useful while writing this book.
The Top Companies for Leaders study that we conducted with Fortune magazine and Hewitt Consulting was a terrific global study that made a clear business case for leadership development (companies that focus on developing leaders make more money) and the mechanisms for developing leaders (real developmental experiences, engaged senior leadership and strategic interventions).
Why is “feedback” so important for a leader’s success?
Imagine an Olympic skier in the giant slalom. See how he or she communicates with the mountain, and navigates the turns. Now imagine that same skier with Novocaine in the legs. Skiing, let alone winning, is impossible. Why? Because of no feedback. The sensing of the environment that is so important to course correct, learn, be able to anticipate is gone. Feedback for people who would be Olympic-level players in leadership is no different. We all need help in course correcting, and in understanding what the terrain is telling us about what to do in this moment and the next.
Could you pick three real leaders—CEOs, politicians, etc.—or anyone you think is an ideal example of a leader, and use the examples to illustrate leadership qualities?
Howard Schultz of Starbucks: Working from the heart, he created a business with a winning strategy; he clearly demonstrated an ability to execute; his business treats even part-time employees fairly in ways that help to provide for their future at the same time that it builds a business.
Nelson Mandela: He displayed such extreme self-possession and courage in the face of enormous personal sacrifice and deprivation. Despite all that he suffered, he maintained a focus on positive outcomes for all concerned. He could lead and follow.
Iqbal Quadir, founder of Grameen Phone: Almost 20 years ago, Iqbal founded the first cellphone company in Bangladesh. This was long before anyone else thought that poor people might have any use for cellphones. He conceived of an unheard-of strategy for building a for-profit company aimed at providing connectivity to very poor people. He succeeded, and along the way created careers, not just jobs, for Bangladeshis with benefits like insurance. And he didn’t stop there. He turned part of his considerable winnings into the Legatum Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at MIT, an educational institution that actively develops smart young business leaders for emerging economies like India.