The Truth About Leadership & Management
I’ve always found advertising to be a very unique field. Let me tell you a very old joke that I’ve heard…because there was one point when I did consider advertising. Those of us in network marketing have looked at these various options…journalism, PR, media, and by that same goal, advertising. Someone once shared this with me.
An Irishman is on his deathbed, and he goes into a coma. And in the coma, an angel appears before him and says, “You’ve had a pretty good life, it’s been a pretty good mix, you’ve done as many good things as you’ve done wrong, and you’re pretty much on the line in terms of whether you’ll go to heaven or hell. You’re one of those unique people who get a shot at deciding where you want to go. So since you’re on the line, both the Lord and the Devil are going to make a pitch. You get to decide where you want to go. So the angel basically took him up to see heaven. He went up on the back of the angel and came to the Golden Gates where he found tranquillity, serenity, beauty….it was calm, there was a zen garden with a harp playing in the background and angels fluttering about…people in white robes..silence. The guy goes, “Nice.” So the angel says, “Let’s go and see hell.” So they go down to hell, and soon they hear rock music..heavy metal, and there’s a major party going on…the booze is going everywhere..people are up there in the middle, dancing and having fun, and a whole bunch of the Irishman’s friends are out there. People he had known, just waving to him and saying, “Kevin, join us…so he walked up to these people, joined them and had a roaring good time. And then he’s goes back into his body. And a day or two later, he departs. The same angel comes back and says, “Have you made up your mind? Where would you like to go?”
He says, “I think I’m more suited for hell. It’s more my kind of place. I need to jam. I can’t see myself in a zen garden, contemplating on a lotus pond for the rest of my life. And so, he is sent down to hell. And as he goes through hell this time, there is fire, there is smelting columns of black oil, and people are being tortured miserably, people are screaming…there is pain… whole hell syndrome. And there he is, right in the midst of it all. And as the angel is departing, he says, “Hang on. This is not what I signed up for, this is not what I saw. And the angel says, “What? What’s your problem?” “This is not what I saw the first time around”, he says. The angel replies, “Well, even they know advertising.”
In my mind, leadership is not about leading people, or fostering armies or about stamping your name across history. To me, leadership is first and foremost something that was exhibited by a man who walked this planet, who had no position at all. He was neither a general, or president or prime minister. He did not hold a position in any political party. He did not demand or exercise any authority. And yet he was The Man of the Century. He is the icon of the company, the group that we are part of. A man who walked around in the simplest of clothes..with sandals and a loin cloth. And yet 1 million people came to see him by bullock cart, by trains, by any which way they could imagine in 1914, because he had died. For 1 million to gather at that point in time, was an immense effect on the planet, and this person I’m referring to, is none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
Most people were not aware that when Gandhi died, he wasn’t even an Indian national. Technically, the last document he travelled on was South African. Gandhi’s life was his message. When we gathered 11 years ago to start this company, we had no Indian passport holder among us. We had 8 passports among 11 people. Pretty international you would say! And yet there was one single factor that we could venerate, that we could look up to, that we could identify with, and that was a leader who was truly global – Gandhi. And Gandhi, though he fought for and was known for being the Father of Modern India, fought for all, gained independence and subsequently became an icon for so many other people who walked the same path to gain independence for their nations in third world countries around the world. So usually people tend to forget that he was South African more than he was Indian.
He fought for the independence of South Africa as he did for India. He imagined himself to be casteless, classless, countryless, creedless. For him, the only thing that binds us together is the fact that we are one. He truly believes in the human race. In his way, followed Martin Luther King who had a picture of Gandhi right behind him above his desk where he worked. And then Nelson Mandela, and so many more. That’s leadership.
Leadership is not about leading countries. So what is leadership today? It’s not about being a Prime Minister. It’s about being able to influence, to touch the lives of everyone who in some form of other comes into connection with you. What makes the essence of leadership? Being able to influence, being able to touch the hearts of people, it’s not just about being charismatic or clever. It’s also about compassion and caring. It’s about identifying with the people that you lead, so that they can identify with you. So what would be the principles or points that lead towards leadership? What are things that define a leader? The first is determination, will. The will to succeed. Determination without it being detrimental. Determination, not just based on one’s own desire, but determination based on principle. Determination that basically has to be burning on an internal desire. It has to be a raging fire within, and for which you are willing at all costs to sacrifice.
Determination requires you to find a way to get from Point A to Point B, determination teaches you to find and explore every path. So when you cannot build a bridge, you build a tunnel. If you cannot get across, it lets you fly. Determination in essence is the first premier publishing stone for a leader. Alongside determination is dedication. Why dedication? Because you must be prepared to give it your all. Dedication is over and above. Determination is an internal thing. It’s an internalised will, your burning desire. But dedication is about what you choose to do, and how you choose to do it. Dedicate your time, dedicate your skill sets. Being dedicated means you don’t take your eyes off the target. Then you come from determination to dedication, to devotion. The difference between dedication and devotion is the essence of the mind. You clearly define what you need to do, how you need to get there and you dedicate all your resources to it. It’s a strategy that’s defined by thinking and the mind.
And to be dedicated you also have to rationalise your goals. But when it comes down to devotion, it is essentially based on faith. At some point, you have to take what is called a leap of faith, where you say, “This just has got to be.” The whole world can be against you, but this has just got to be. So, that’s where rationale thoughts end, and where a leader needs to have faith.
Dedication involves decisions that are rationale in thought. And yet, when you go to the next level, devotion, it is in essence emotional, in essence maybe even irrational, but absolutely necessary for that last plunge of faith..to go right beyond. We need all this – determination, dedication, devotion. You have to have yet another element of leadership, that is, daring without being dangerous. There is a difference. Where you are prepared to throw odds to the wind, is not about leadership. That’s about gambling. But there must be a certain amount of daring. Within the perimeter of what you’ve decided, you have to be able to push further.
And finally, it’s decisiveness. You have to be decisive. Wobbling in the dock doesn’t help. Being decisive is a very critical stage. People imagine that being decisive means someone who makes a decision just like that. (fast) “Yes, we’ll do it. No, we won’t.” Actually making a decision is the simplest part of the process, and no one else makes it for you. But you’ll always have someone whispering in the background. In anything and everything you do, there will be a contrary position. So there’ll always be someone whispering in the background and saying “Do we really need to do this? Do we really need this, etc.” At that moment in time, there’ll be someone else on the other side saying, “Do it.” Reminds you of the cartoon where there’s a devil painted on one shoulder, and an angel on the other. Believe me, it’s real. Except they change costumes all the time. You don’t know which is which. The point is, being decisive is not about being able to make decisions. Being decisive means that when you’ve analysed it, when you have gone through the process, when you feel there is no other option, or that there is another option to take and that you’re willing to face the consequences, that you take the step. And when you take the step, you don’t take a step back.
The problem with a lot of people who are in positions of leadership, is that they tend to make a decision first, then reverse the mirror. Because at the time it seemed like the decision to make. That’s the worst thing you can do to yourself and to the people you’re leading because the art of leadership is closely intertwined with something else – it’s called the art of perception management. Managing the perception that others have of you. The two things that are essential to leadership – what you project, and what others perceive of you. The truth is never what it seems. The truth more often than not means different things to different people. You’ll find that out. So, what is the truth? Is there such thing as the universal truth? Usually, yes, but the devil lies in the details. It’s when it goes down to the details that everything becomes a different issue altogether. It’s the implementation of truth that is the real challenge of leadership. Knowing the truth is the easier thing. The application, the implementation, that’s the challenge.
The topic of leadership is very close to my heart. When I come up here to talk, the first thing I establish within myself is that I am my first listener. I am the one who needs to learn from this, as much as anyone else. I need to hear this again and again and again. It’s not about knowing stuff. We already know the best stuff that we need to do. You’ve heard it forever, from your mum and dad, probably just heard it too much that it’s becoming this little monotone at the back of your head, it’s like a nagging sound. And so when you hear it again your first immediate reaction is, “Yeah..yeah..I know it already.” But just when you finish saying that, that’s exactly what you need to hear again. But you’re not applying it, not changing it, not making new mistakes. You’re making the same ones over and over again, which is why we tend to be stuck in a rut. The fact of the matter is, 1 percent of this planet leads us, the rest of us tend to be sheep. We wear clothes other people design, we listen to music someone else writes, we go for movies that someone else designed and put into place. You go and watch a movie, and for that 45 minutes you pay 15-16 Ringgit and you become Tom Cruise, or Angelina Jolie. You feel everything, you need that because in your own life things are pretty much a rut. You don’t dare to do those things differently. You only do it when the lights are out. Even when the lights are out, it still takes daring. The trick is to come out of the rut. The comfort zone is very warm, it’s velvety, you sink slowly into it. In the quicksand, can you actually enjoy getting drowned?
Change is what makes every single day of our life. Which is why 90 percent of the planet lives by what other people write, eats food that other people prepare, do everything that was first initiated by the movers and shakers – the 1 percent of the planet, people who dare to be different. Do you dare to be different, is the question you need to be asking yourself. If you dare to be different, then the first thing you need to do is not talk about being different physically. Because your mind is where it’s all at, that’s where your legacy to the world is. Everything else you leave behind, but that (the mind) is where you truly need to be free. Leadership is born there and fuelled there. You cannot begin to lead the world when you cannot begin to lead yourself. Why talk about leadership when you cannot lead? When you’re drowning in your own habits, you’re unable to break free, who are you going to teach..and what? When your word doesn’t mean anything to you, how can it mean anything to anyone else?
You can talk about the truth, but living by the truth is a different thing altogether. That’s what Gandhi did, that’s what Mandela did, that’s what Martin Luther King did. The truth for them was not the work, it was the people. It wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t a vision, it was simply a way of life. And you either choose to live it or you don’t.
Do you know the first rule of setting up a restaurant? The first three rules of setting up a restaurant is location, location, location. The first rule of advertising is very simple – “If you speak the truth, you don’t have to remember what you say.” Whatever you said today, is whatever you will say tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. That’s one of the cardinal rules of advertising. If you speak the truth, people respect that, they understand that, they get it. You want to strike a cord between you and the person you’re talking to because both of you agreed on the truth. Truth never dies. Leadership is about internal and external selling. And what do you want to do? Do you want to meet somebody for an hour or two and lie like there’s no tomorrow. Just like you lie to somebody who takes a flight with you? Three hours and it’s over. After that, she goes her way, you go yours. But if you’re going out with somebody and you want to spend the rest of your life with the person, you better hope and pray for something more substantial. You want to keep your customer longer than your next round, longer than the terms of the contract. Acting is not easy. Ask any actor..it’s serious hard work. If you’re going to do it, why not just be yourself? “Buy me. This is me, I’m the way I am, I’m going to give it my best, I’m going to give you better than the best. Buy me.” Does that make sense?
Have I lied? All the time. The question here is, has it paid off? Is it worth the price? Is it worth the win? No. Not if you value the relationship. Not if you value what you’re doing. In my experience, the truth in essence, is about the safest way to go. So, I prefer to say what I think. In fact, I’m going to tell you what I was considering doing today before they told me to speak about leadership. I was considering talking about something called ‘confront before you conflict”, which is one of the cornerstones of my thinking, of my management. I believe in consensus management. It can’t work if the people around you are going to tell you what they think you ought to be doing. Because you’re the boss. Consensus management only works when people can confront.
To me, I’ve got a cardinal rule which all of my people know about. Confront. Confront. Confront. Never the person, always the issue. Confront before you conflict. There’s a difference between confront and conflict. One is emotional, and the other, rational. When you’re in the stage of conflict, it is essentially emotional. It is the personalities that are in conflict. When you’re in conflict, that’s what they call war. Because when you’re at war, it’s not about being rational anymore. You’re out to win, at all costs.
But confronting is a different issue. Confronting by definition means when two people are confronting the issue, they are after the truth. We confront as a part of seeking. You confront to understand. You confront to get to know something better. And consensus management works only when you confront. The rules are, cut off from your emotions. Here, we are in search of the truth, of understanding, of what should be done. So confrontation is a critical component of leadership. And particularly, consensus management.
The problem with tyrants is that they lose their team fast. Every tyrant starts off with a team at the top, and he loses every member of his team as he becomes more and more obnoxious, as his ego takes over and he thinks that he can only be right and everything that’s there for him to balance, adjust, adapt and accommodate is wrong. Every time he does this, he ends up losing everyone in his team. The balancing factor is very important. If you take a look at any of them, they started off with the right intentions. Hitler actually did lots of good for Germany. Something that’s often overlooked. Hitler introduced the automobile. He made the trains run on time. So did Mussolini. But when the war began, and the victory fired up, somewhere along the way, they stopped listening and lost their way.
Every leader needs a neutral point of reference. Even the way a human being is structured, is to continuously seek a neutral point of reference. If I blindfold you and get you to walk across the room after turning you around say two or three times, you’ll start colliding with everything, even though you think you’re walking in a straight line. If I took you to the middle of the desert right now, dropped you a couple of miles outside town and said, “This is Dubai. Keep walking in a straight line and you’ll reach the city.” And then I leave. There you are in the middle of the desert, with no direction at all. You think you’ll get there? The reality is, you won’t, not without a compass, or without learning how to read the stars, or having some kind of neutral point of reference. As you continue walking, you suddenly see another set of footprints heading in the same direction and you say, “Ahh…I’m getting closer to civilisation.” And you start following the footprints and as you go along, you realise that the footprints shows that the person is wearing the same shoe size as you, the same design also…!” Then you realise you’re lost..you’ve been following your own tracks. Whether you’re in a jungle or desert, you need a neutral point of reference.
Same thing in life, you need a neutral point of reference, or else you’ll be going round in circles. Very simplistic, but true. And that’s where consensus management kicks in. As managers and leaders, you know where you want to take the company, from Point A to Point B. You already know the path, it is about the finer details – how to get there – that you need to question, check and challenge all the time. And in consensus management, you might know, as a leader, 60-70 percent of what you need to know on how to lead a company. But even the remaining 20-30 percent is critically important. When you sit down and you’re stuck with your team all the time, it’s not about finding directions, it’s the whereabouts, it’s the ‘how’ that you need to focus on. You think you’re such a good leader, but it’s that 20-30 percent you don’t know that makes a difference between success and failure.
I told you decisiveness is a critical component. But decisiveness does not mean that you’re constantly making the right decisions. In fact, that’s virtually impossible. Most of the time, it’s not about making the right decision. It’s about making the decisions right. So, first you make your decision, and then you make it right. Consensus management will help you make it right. Correcting the decision, adapting to the new market forces, adjusting to different resources and different strengths, accommodating new information, new people..all of this – adapt, adjust, accommodate – leadership is fundamental to that and consensus management helps you find that neutral point of balance, to keep correcting you in whatever you do. The more input you have, the more you can analyse and the more viewpoints you get.
You need a contrarian who tells you that you’re wrong. He may be wrong 80 or 90 percent of the time. Instead it’s the 10 percent that he could be right that makes the decision, that makes a difference to you. You need that from him. In every team there is a contrarian. Ever so often, I have people coming up to me and saying, “Why? Why do you put up with this guy? He’s always arguing.” 80 percent of the time he is probably wasting my time. But it’s that 10 percent, when he made me run, which saves him and saves me, that keeps him in his job! You need a contrarian, someone who stands in your path.
There was a time when Edison and Marconi were both competing for the Nobel Prize. When Edison came up with something, Marconi would also come up with something else, somewhere across the world. Constantly, they were in the American and Italian press. It was a continuous battle for who was the most brilliant at the time. But when Edison walked across the stage to claim his prize, he picked up his award, walked to Marconi and said, “You of all people deserve this.” And Marconi was stunned. “Why are you giving this to me?” he asked. Edison replied, “Because I wouldn’t have gotten up so early in the morning, worked an additional hour every night, pushed myself just that little bit more to accomplish this, if it wasn’t for you. You deserve this as much as I do.” Make sure you have a contrarian, because that’s the X factor in leadership.