Taking a Wrong Turn

As I was driving last week, I took a right turn without indicating my intention to do so. Fortunately, my actions did not cause an accident but I was definitely at fault

As I was driving last week, I took a right turn without indicating my intention to do so. Fortunately, my actions did not cause an accident but I was definitely at fault.

When it happened, the driver of the car behind me pressed hard on his horn – understandably so – to express his annoyance but he did not leave it at that. With his head and half of his body outside the car window, he screamed his lungs out, deafening me with language that I hadn’t heard since my early days as an army conscript!

While he was undoubtedly correct to feel upset by my careless driving, he was totally wrong to exhibit the attitude he did – not because he had no right to swear at me but because he had a young child in the back of his car. He was carrying a ‘young leader of tomorrow’ and, at that particular moment, he was acting as a role model as a driver and a teacher to the young passenger who, I presume, was his son.  He was setting a very bad example of an attitude that is likely be copied and repeated in 15-20 years’ time.

Leading by Example

To draw a parallel, if the angry driver is today’s corporate leader, the young child on the back seat is the corporate leader of tomorrow. 

I was fortunate to have been raised and mentored by someone who consciously led by example. My late father was a successful leader who religiously adhered to these two axioms:

“The best example of leading is leading by example” and “When you lose your head, you lose your case”.

Many corporate leaders fail to lead by example and often ‘lose their heads’ and, subsequently, ‘lose their case’ even when they are in the right. As I have also learned, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” This applies equally in the Boardroom and on the road.

Over the last 17 years, I have been lucky to work with leaders at home and abroad who have driven change by positively impacting the lives of their followers. They have all made a conscious effort to implement the following:

  1. Be Interested: In his all-time classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the great Dale Carnegie wrote, “Be interested, not interesting”. Leaders drive change by being interested in other people more than they care about appearing interesting and thus leading the conversation down a one-way street by talking only about themselves and their achievements. As my father used to say, “You learn nothing new by talking”.
  2. Give Credit Where It’s Due: During basketball games, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, would often ask his assistants, “What are you seeing that I am missing?” In Game Four of the 2015 NBA finals, with his team 2-1 down, Kerr took the bold decision to change the starting lineup. The Warriors won the game and went on to win the championship and Kerr’s move was pivotal to their victory. But it wasn't actually Kerr's idea. His leadership style was such that his 28-year-old assistant, Nick U'Ren, felt comfortable about bringing the idea forward.  Kerr not only listened but implemented the idea and, afterwards, gave U'Ren all the credit – actions all consistent with his highly inclusive approach to leadership.
  3. Never Lie: I was present when one of my customers told his Personal Assistant to tell one of his customers that he was not in his office. Some people might describe his action as a harmless ‘white lie’ but in my book, it was a triple lie. He had lied to his customer but by doing so he would henceforth be aware that both his PA and I knew that he was capable of lying at any time. As Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, once said, “Lying is the greatest of all sins”.

It is up to the leaders of today to shape the leaders of tomorrow. You have doubtless seen this famous exchange:

CEO: “We should train our people”

CFO: “What if we train them and they leave?”

CEO: “What if we don’t and they stay?”

It is this mentality that is needed in order to bring change to an organization. And training does not have to take place in the company’s conference room. It can begin on a busy road when a careless driver pulls out in front of you and your young passenger. Make sure that you don’t take a wrong turn when it comes to leading by example!