First lead yourself, then lead others
SUCCESS is greatly valued in the corporate world. For organisations, success would mean hitting the bottom line, meeting shareholders' expectations and achieving the organisation's vision.
Corporate leaders will often spare no effort to achieve these goals. On one hand, success brings with it personal satisfaction, financial rewards and meaningful purpose.
On the other hand, there can be downsides in the pursuit of achieving success. Leaders can end up working too hard and too late. This may lead to organisational culture and relationship breakdowns and may even resort to unethical business dealings.
All this is done in the name of achieving organisational success. So, does the end justify the means? Hopefully, the answer is no.
POWER OF SELF-LEADERSHIP
A leader's job is to lead his organisation. But good leadership that leads to meaningful success can be achieved only when the leader first learns to lead himself.
The logic is simple. If you can't lead yourself, you can't lead others. The leader's private world will often determine their public success. However, leading oneself begins with self-awareness.
I used to be an American Idol fan. My favourite part of the reality TV show was the beginning of the season. That was when the auditions were held.
You would see a guy trying to sing. He would then fail to move to the next round after the judges cast their votes.
The upset contestant would storm out of the audition room and accuse the judges of not appreciating his unique talent and being prejudiced against him.
But wait, we know this guy cannot sing. The judges, who are professionals, know this guy cannot sing, too.
However, the only person who doesn't know is the contestant himself. He has absolutely no self-awareness with regard to his ability to sing.
I'm afraid many corporate leaders are in the same boat. In their drive to achieve success, they have very little self-awareness as to how they are actually leading themselves and others. They are often blindsided and lose sight of what really matters.
However, a leader can become self-aware only when there is self-reflection. There are many areas that a leader should reflect on but let me focus on three major points.
1. A leader's motivation
What motivates a leader's drive for success? I wish I could say that all leaders have pure motives to deliver sustainable corporate goals, help their employees develop and progress in their careers and ensure that their organisation makes a positive impact in society.
Unfortunately, far too often we see leaders who are self-serving and egocentric instead. They often mask their selfish motives behind strategic insights and claim they see the big picture.
In the process, positive organisational culture is eroded, unnecessary restructuring takes place, trust and loyalty are broken and good people leave the company.
In return, the leader's short-term goals are met. He gets his big fat bonus. He looks good in front of his bosses. He positions himself as the turnaround expert. His curriculum vitae is perfect for the next big job.
However, he leaves behind structural chaos, a distasteful culture and unsustainable business strategies.
Leaders motivated by money, power and ego often make decisions for self-gain. On the other hand, truly great leaders have pure motives and build with a clear conscience.
2. A leader's family
I like the way John Maxwell defines success. He says: "Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most." I agree.
For most of us, those closest to us would be our spouses, children, parents and siblings. It is going to be disappointing for many leaders to have worked so hard to climb the ladder of success to find out that at the end of the climb, the ladder was leaning on the wrong wall.
I once spoke to a group of leaders from a multinational company about the importance of work-life balance. In that session, I touched on issues relating to the family.
At the end of the session, the most senior person in the room approached me privately to thank me for the talk. With teary eyes, he told me he wished that he had heard me talk about the importance of family relationships 30 years ago.
He then told me how he had worked so hard on building corporate success over the years that he neglected his relationship with his two daughters. Today, both his daughters have their own families and are living abroad. He, along with his wife, meets them once every year or two.
What saddens him most is not the geographical distance between him and his daughters but the emotional distance he experiences with them. Good leaders always focus on what really matters - their families.
3. A leader's health
Leaders can push themselves but, if they are not careful, they might do it at the expense of their physical well-being. The simple truth is if we lose our health, we can lose the strength and energy to fulfil our dreams.
It is also not uncommon to hear about corporate leaders dropping dead due to stress at work.
Consider Ranjan Das, the chief executive of SAP India, who died of a heart attack in 2009 at the young age of 42.
Those who knew him said he was an unlikely candidate for a heart attack. He was an avid marathon runner, was known to exercise regularly and was very careful with his eating habits.
In fact, Mr Ranjan died shortly after a workout session. Being in the pink of health, no one expected him to die the way he did.
It was later revealed that Mr Ranjan slept an average of only four to five hours a day. He consistently had extremely packed schedules and lived a constantly stressed lifestyle.
The truth is, no amount of exercise and healthy eating can be a remedy for a constantly stressed lifestyle. Leaders can never be stress-free but they can certainly manage their stress levels by intentionally controlling what they allow to be occupying them.
Good leaders lead their organisations well. Better leaders lead themselves well first. Once they get their heart and motivations right, they will see their public success flourish.
So, to every leader out there, take time to reflect. Self-reflection will lead to self-awareness, self-correction and, ultimately, self-transformation.
The logic is simple. If you can't lead yourself, you can't lead others. The leader's private world will often determine their public success.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is a faculty trainer with social enterprise Leaderonomics.