Leadership Is Not About You

Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people — motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.” Colin Powell

For the people who follow me, you know where my heart lies within the organization. That being said, the smile started at the corners and covered my entire face.

Misguided leadership

If you’re a leader who thinks leadership is about you, you are sadly mistaken. It has absolutely nothing to do with you. You are following a model that is about as outdated as bell-bottoms. You style may have worked in the past but those days are long gone. Those strategic objectives that you may have created, all those lofty goals that give you sleepless night, in the end it is the people that will carry it all forward. Without the right people, your plans are just a pipe dream

The winning formula today for great leadership is not power, title, authority or technical skills. It is the ability to earn trust and inspire loyalty from those you lead. Your ability to engage, influence, and care for the people is the secret sauce. To build a highly engaged organization this has to be the driving focus. Performance reviews, engagement surveys, etc, are crap if you do not have the right behaviors for managers.There is no other way around it.

Good boss, bad boss

Take a minute and think about the good bosses you have had. And the bad bosses. The good bosses knew it was about you. The bad bosses clung to themselves and their needs only. This nightmare of bad bosses has ruined organizations.

I worked with a team last week in Dubai and we had the good boss/bad boss session around leadership. As they shared, you could recognize the smiles and knew that even after a lot of years the thought of the good ones brought a warmth of memories.

When we switched the exercise and they describe their bad bosses, the reaction was frightening. The facial expression told it all. The level of intensity and the tightness of their voice was on full display.

I have often kind of mused that a lot of these bad bosses may not have wanted to be bosses in the first place. They were thrust into position after position because of their technical skills. They loved that side of it. Possibly they didn’t even like the people side of the job, but hey, that went with the package.

Why do you lead?

Why not ask them? In our quest for the next level of leaders, one of the first discussions should be around whether they want to lead or be a leader.

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My career goal could be to develop into a subject matter expert, allowing me to be an individual contributor. If you put me in a management role, I will go through the motions but your ROI will not be maximized.

If my goal is to be a leader, then I must develop the skills needed for this new responsibility. The technical side is covered; it is the “soft skills” upcoming managers need to develop.

Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you care about those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives, then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur on your leadership journey.

A people-centred approach is the key to organizational success.

I will end with another favourite quote of mine.

“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”Doug Conant, former CEO, Campbell Soup.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.