The four foundations of great leadership
US economist and Harvard Business School professor, Michael C. Jensen, on grooming future leaders
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To groom future leaders, it isn’t enough to transfer knowledge on leadership issues in a classroom. The very being of the person being so trained needs to be transformed, says US economist Michael C. Jensen, who has devised a unique way to achieve this. In an interview, the Jesse Isidor Straus professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School and chairman of the Social Science Research Network describes his ontological (the philosophical study of the nature of being) approach to leadership and says that if the platform he has devised is strictly followed, one can become a leader in just six days. Edited excerpts:
We are probably the first people to make practical use of what is a fairly long philosophical tradition. There is an interesting relationship with eastern thought that can help create leaders in six days with participants of the programme exercising leadership effectively as their natural self-expression. The course is designed to affect people’s being, not their knowing. In universities, almost always we operate under the proposition that transferring knowledge to our students or people we are consulting with will shift their being; it will cause the students to become leaders. That is absolutely false. So, we do almost none of that.
We argue that there are four foundations of great leadership.
Integrity: For a human being to be whole and complete, he needs to be whole and complete in the word that they give to anyone in this world. If one can achieve this, amazing things can happen. It generates trust. You have to honour your word. Even if you are not in a position to honour it, you have to let everyone depending on it know that you cannot do it and do your best to clean up the mess this causes in the lives of others. In organizations, there can easily be a 300-500% increase in productivity and happiness if this is practised. The little that I understand from my time in India is that a dose of integrity as expressed in this model can change the country overnight. Corruption would come close to disappearing, people would be happier and companies would work better. Nobody is in full integrity ever. It is a mountain with no top, so one has to enjoy learning to climb.
Being authentic: This involves being true to what you say you are or what others believe you to be. One cannot pretend to be authentic. The only way to be truly authentic is to find your real self. This again builds trust almost instantly. You no longer need to cover up since you have nothing to hide.
Being the cause in the matter: One has to take the position that whatever is happening around them, he is the cause of it. That is not to say that they are to blame if something goes wrong, but it is the belief that they have the power to change it. This prevents people from feeling like victims in the event of things going wrong and ultimately leads to peace within.
Being committed to something bigger than yourself: You have to be committed to something beyond your family, wealth, power or fame. The absence of such commitment is what leads to the so-called mid-life crisis. We all wake up one day and ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” And no matter how famous or wealthy one gets, inevitably everyone goes through this crisis. This comes about as we are living and at some point start measuring time by the number of years we are left to live rather than the time we have already lived and what we have already achieved. What gets you out of this crisis is if you are committed to a greater cause. For instance, the health and welfare of India as a nation.