I recently heard about an incident from a friend. He works in a mid-sized services company and on a Thursday evening, the fire alarm went off suddenly. The whole floor was scampering to get out of the office. As employees were making their way out of all possible exits, he noticed the CEO running into the office. He was surprised to see him go in while everyone was concerned about getting out. Out of curiosity, he peeked through the main door to see what he was up to. The CEO was going from cubicle to cubicle, to every conference room to ensure everyone had left the office safely. As he was narrating this incident to me, I had goosebumps.
To take complete responsibility for your employees in the good and the bad is one of the many traits of a great leader. In this blog, I will be sharing a few inspiring leadership lessons by great leaders.
Aligning to outcomes – Jeff Bezos
“A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last.” ~ Jeff Bezos
In the last decade or so Amazon.com has evolved from an online merchant of books to one of the most powerful companies in the world with success in business ranging from cloud services to media and space travel. Jeff Bezos ability to envision and deliver success in practically any line of business almost gives him the tag of “Man with a golden touch”. His obsession with delivering value to the customer is well known and well translated into his vision for Amazon. Customer-centric innovation is the heart of Amazon and its dominance in every sphere of business. As a leader, he has successfully articulated and embedded his obsession for customer-centric outcomes into the day to day running of the company.
Building a circle of positivity – Oprah Winfrey
“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
The name Oprah Winfrey instantly brings to mind of the most acclaimed and popular daytime shows in the history of television (67 award wins and 104 nominations). As a woman with a modest background and in an industry which is dominated by males, Oprah broke all stereotypes and created a television phenomenon that changed not just television but also the lives of many viewers. Through her show and other ventures, she has tirelessly celebrated the success of people and helped create awareness for many important issues. She has always maintained that being around people who constantly challenge her to remain positive and aim higher has helped her achieve success. And what an example she has set.
Your personal brand can take your company places – Richard Branson
“Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful”. – Sir Richard Branson
In 1996, the Virgin Group opened Virgin Brides, a wedding, and bridal wear store. To commemorate the launch, Branson shaved his beard and wore a wedding dress and makeup. This is just one of the many publicity stunts that Sir Richard Branson has pulled off for promoting his businesses. He is one of the active leaders on social media and one who lives and breathes branding. From airlines to record labels to space travel, Virgin has ventured into every possible sphere of business and Sir Richard Branson has been right at the forefront drumming up publicity for his brand. As a leader, a strong personal brand ensures that you are present in people’s hearts and minds even when you are not in front of them and that equity is invaluable.
Unwavering Focus – Steve Jobs
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”(Source – HBR)
Steve Jobs made this an annual practice where he would take his Top 100 team members on a retreat to come up with a list of “10 things to do next”. After much debate when the team would come up with 10 things, he would strike off the bottom seven and announce that only 3 would be done. He believed that focusing on the most important things and taking them to perfection was the way to achieve success and I am sure there are not debates on how successful Apple continues to be, even after his demise.
Move on from the past – Sheryl Sandberg
In her book, Sandberg touches upon feelings of insecurity in her career, stemming from her divorce. She admits it was a low phase and writes that once she got past those feelings, there was no looking back for her.
As a leader you are accountable for a lot and sometimes when things go wrong, accountability can push you to rock bottom, mentally. It is therefore very important to have the ability to analyze the mistakes, learn from them and then move past them to live another day.
Build a powerful, even seemingly ridiculous vision – Elon Musk
In the last decade, Elon Musk has proclaimed that his companies will send humans to Mars, reduce travel time between cities to less than half, power cities with batteries and dig underground tunnels to reduce traffic woes. That’s probably the half we know about. I am sure he has at least a dozen more such ideas he hasn’t even announced yet.
The best part about Elon Musk’s leadership bravado is that the ideas he has talked about are not just on paper, they are actually being worked upon and in spite of roadblocks, the work doesn’t stop. His determination and obsession with bringing change is brilliant and is backed by his ability to make those ambitious claims real.
These are lessons from just a few of the many great leaders in the industry. I use these as a guiding light, for my journey as a leader. I hope you find it useful and inspiring. Do share your thoughts in comments below.
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