Great leaders are made, not born, so the adage goes. What makes a great leader, then? We have examined the characteristics of four global luminaries, and come up with a recipe for effective leadership.
Know your business’s singular purpose
The name “Steve Jobs” is forever wedded to honorifics such as “innovator” and “trailblazer”. Apple’s story is enviable, but belying its glossy success is sheer hard work. It had hitherto been a purveyor of personal computers when Jobs, the company’s then CEO, announced the revolutionary iPhone — a mp3 player, phone and internet communicator all rolled into one — at the Macworld Expo stage on 9 January 2007.
Penetrating into the mobile-device industry was risky for Apple, especially since stalwarts Nokia and BlackBerry had the biggest slices of the pie then. But it did not simply join the ranks of its competitors by repeating their formulas: It brought disruptive technology to the table. Therein lies its purpose, which is not to simply sell consumer products but to innovate. With Jobs and later Tim Cook at the helm, Apple has in the past decade continued to soar higher by launching cutting-edge technologies.
What is the purpose of your business? To run not just a successful but sustainable business, you need to think beyond short-term sales and see the big picture.
Integrity is a requisite
“My integrity is not for sale, and neither is yours,” Oprah Winfrey once said to 30,000 attendees at Howard University’s graduation ceremonies. One of the world’s most recognisable TV hosts, Oprah has built a name for herself by staying true to her beliefs. However, life was always not a bed of roses for her. Early on in her career at a TV station in Baltimore, United States (US ), she was told by the higher-ups that her hosting style was “too emotional”. Today, as we all know, her “too emotional” personality resonates with millions of viewers around the world.
When we were young, our elders inculcated integrity in us. It is about doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Personal integrity, however, sometimes get sacrificed when entrepreneurs pursue success. They begin to lose sight of who they are and the very reason why they started their businesses. Had Oprah not embraced her no-holds-barred interview style, she would not have built a loyal fan base who stuck with her through 25 seasons of her TV show.
Are you conforming just to keep your stakeholders happy? Are you being honest with yourself, and about what you want to achieve? Take a breather and realign yourself with your goals every now and then.
Humility will get you far
When we think of a global leader who is the epitome of humility, there perhaps is no greater example than Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba. His rags-to-riches story is truly inspiring. Ma used to fail his primary school and college entrance examinations. He was rejected by Harvard 10 times; and was the only applicant during his interview round to not land a job at KFC. There was, however, a silver lining: His life experiences have moulded his personality and steeled his resolve.
We tend to think of entrepreneurs as superheroes with an impenetrable armour and impeccable judgement. Yet, the journey to success is often arduous, and filled with missteps. Ma has acknowledged his decision to not make his 18 partners Alibaba’s executives as his biggest-ever mistake. But the most valuable lessons come from mistakes, and Ma learnt the importance of having a team who brings value, has a strong vision as well as believes in innovation.
Indeed, it takes a leader of great humility to own up to his mistakes. Do you take responsibility for your own actions? When problems arise, do you reflect on what went wrong?
Employees at the heart of your business
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Richard Branson’s sage advice on talent retention is one to follow. Assembling a world-class team of talents is easy; what is difficult is earning their loyalty. Gone are the days when employees work at optimal performances because they fear the whip of retrenchment or demotion.
So how does the founder of Virgin Group motivate his employees? He gives them lots of freedom to pursue their own ambitions. The company fervently supports their employees who are aspiring entrepreneurs, giving them opportunities to develop their compelling business ideas. Buoyed by such endeavours, Virgin has managed to foray into new markets. Branson is also a proponent of work-life balance, boldly instituting an unlimited-vacation policy in his US and United Kingdom offices circa 2014. Doing so, he believes, would boost his employees’ morale and productivity levels.
Besides monetary incentives, how can you show your appreciation to your staff? What are the steps you can take to further your employees’ career and personal developments?