|Leadership Some Observations|
Shelly Lazarus, Chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
Good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction. I am delighted to be here with you today, and honored that you would ask me to share some of my thoughts on leadership.
Leadership is a tough subject. Leadership is a very broad and very ephemeral issue. It is not just about how well you can do the job; it's the way in which you do it.
I sit on the Board of Columbia Business School and we've had debates about whether the school should be offering courses in leadership. Can it be taught? Is it innate or can it be acquired? Is it the sum total of everything the school teaches or is it its own subject? The debate rages.
This is a subject of endless fascination today, and I suppose for good reason. There are deep questions of leadership in the world, and not just in business.
But just to keep things in perspective - leadership is not a new issue. We've been studying leadership since Sun-Tzu wrote "The Art of War." Since Machiavelli's "The Prince." Certainly, a good chunk of Shakespeare is about leadership. And one of my favorite titles for a book on leadership is, Elizabeth I, CEO.
You can learn a lot about real leadership by just reading history…John Adams or Dwight Eisenhower or Nelson Mandela.
The best book I've read on leadership in the last few years is "Team of Rivals" about Abraham Lincoln. It should be required reading for everyone in Washington and Albany.
The most compelling speech on leadership I ever heard was from a man who commanded a submarine for the British Navy…How do you lead 100 men who are kept below surface for weeks and months at a time…One thing I remember 15 years after the speech is that he served wine in his cabin for his officers every evening at 6p.m., and invited all of them just to talk, let off steam.
I'd like to contrast this with my daughter's experience doing "Teach for America." It's a very good thing that a private/public partnership has launched a "Leadership Academy" for principals. There are things about leadership that can be taught.
So I stand before you this morning freely admitting that the only real authority I bring to this subject is experience…and from what I have experienced, I know there is no magic formula, no sure-fire list of "to-dos".
So instead of tips, I want to spend my time talking about things I have observed from great leaders in my own path. (One of the great things about my job is that I get to observe leaders across a wide range of organizations…and it's fascinating.)
So…after more than 30 years of observing, the first thing I would tell you is that …THERE IS NO ONE WAY.
I want to start by giving you an example of a most unorthodox approach I observed by a CEO of a Fortune 50 company a little while ago.
Now…imagine you are the CEO of a company that needs to take a new path in the 21st Century. What would you do? How would you get your team engaged, and then onboard?
Maybe you are thinking the big presentation, impressive Powerpoint, compelling logic and dramatic graphics. Maybe even an entertainment-laden rally?
The CEO on the stage exhorting the troops to a new mission and greater glory.
Would you ever think of calling a meeting of your top 250 people, handing out 7 typed pages detailing your plan to each of them, giving them ten minutes to read it through. And then asking…"What do you think?" This CEO never took the stage. He paced the floor. He was almost professorial.
Here was the thing. He really wanted to know. He meant the question…and they believed him.
So they talked…for hours…and discussed, debated and dissected it until they came to consensus together. (I know. I was there…the only outsider.) They persuaded each other of the rightness of the approach. And now he has a strong plan, a vetted plan, realistic, with his team on board, engaged and committed to deliver.
I never saw it done that way before. But it worked.
Do I think this is how things should work at my company? Or anywhere else for the matter? That is not the point.
It worked because it was AUTHENTIC.
It actually reflected the values of the company and the temperament of this CEO. He is not a man who pounds a podium, inspires with words. But he is no less a leader.
The challenge of the leadership journey is not to emulate some one else's way, it is to find your own. To be authentic to your own style, to build credibility on that basis.
Do not try to be somebody else…it won't work. Because one thing I do know is that great leaders are authentic. And people can smell them.
And speaking of people, here is another observation: Great leaders are instinctively team builders. Despite our celebrity CEO culture…LEADERSHIP IS NOT A SOLO ACT.
It's astonishing to me that I still run across people who consider themselves on the "fast track," and think that their own smarts will be enough to move them up the ladder. Nobody gets to the top of the corporate world without the help of others on the rungs above and below.
I know this from 35 years at Ogilvy…I am powerless without the spectacular people with whom I work…my partners. I try to never forget this, to never take it for granted. The first thing I say when I visit any Ogilvy office around the world (and I do visit all the time) is "Thank you."
Mutual respect is vital because at the end of the day, business life is mostly a series of partnerships. The better you manage your partnerships…the better your chance of success. I would actually say that the most effective leaders I know are inherently generous.
Great leaders start by sharing the ownership of the problem.
They set a context for success. They define the goal. But they get their people - their partners - really involved in the solution. And in doing so, create the team mentality. They don't give orders. They don't just assign tasks. They are also generous intellectually. They invite their people in to share the thinking, early on.
I do not know a single great company that does not have a great leadership team. Bill Gates did not build Microsoft on his own, nor did Phil Knight make Nike great, alone. I sit on the Board of GE. I have never seen a company that is more of a team. All the people in that company work for GE… They just happen to be, for the moment, in Aircraft Engines or Medical or Appliances. It almost doesn't matter. They share a common mission.
This is not to say that leadership is management by committee. Far from it. David Ogilvy once said, "Search the parks in all your cities; You'll find no statues of committees." Very, very true.
One of the most important aspects of leadership…is that at the end of the day, after all the discussion, all the debates, all the different points of view, the leader must decide the course and insure that everyone sticks to it.
You pick a strategy and you follow it. Which strategy you pick is far less important than following it with complete conviction and consistency.
I learned this from Lou Gerstner…One night after a long day spent launching a cause-related marketing effort in Miami for American Express. I was actually stunned. I was still searching for truth, looking for the right answer. Lou said, "You can always make the case for 2 or 3 strategic directions. There are some that are just wrong; but there are usually 2 or 3 that are valid. The important thing is to pick one, with some dispatch, and then follow it vigorously."
So while no amount of conviction from the leader will work without a team… without strategic leadership there will be no forward movement.
You must take responsibility for deciding direction, and then insist that everyone stick to it. (Please notice that I used the word insist. This is not a polite suggestion from the leader. This is a "We will in fact, all of us, adhere to the strategy.") Conviction. Strength. Don't blink.
I would now turn to two other prerequisites to great leadership: First, is the ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE and secondly, is the need to DEFINE THE CONTEXT FOR SUCCESS…
Let's start with communication. One of the U.S.'s most controversial but interesting political leaders, Newt Gingrich, had this rule: He said famously "If you can't explain it, you can't do it."
How you do it is up to you…but communicating your goals, your mission, your hopes and dreams is vital.
For you to lead, there must be those who will follow - those who believe in you, trust you, and are inspired by you.
To inspire; you must communicate.
Communication is not a subset of leadership; it is at the heart of leadership.
With the exception of George W. Bush…but that would be the subject of a whole other talk…I do not know many leaders who are inarticulate. I do know that the manner in which leaders communicate varies dramatically. I know leaders who love Blackberry missives, instant and constant contact. I also know leaders who feel formal communications give them needed gravitas.
Gordon Bethune used weekly phone calls as he was turning around Continental Airlines. He wanted to make sure everyone in the company was aware of the weekly progress the company was making. So he gave away an SUV every week; but you had to be on the line to win. He was an inherently good marketer. He knew the value of a good offer. He got 100% attendance every week. And he kept every employee fully in the loop.
Phone calls work. But it doesn't matter how you do it, you must just do it.
It is not by chance that some of the world's greatest leaders were known as great communicators: Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King come to mind. But I know every country, every culture has examples of what I mean.
You cannot overestimate the power of communication, which means you have to grab the opportunity at every chance … Every presentation, every speech, every casual discussion or even e-mail … is a chance to clarify the mission, to build credibility and trust; to inspire and build commitment to a common goal. You cannot pay too much attention.
The best CFOs I know are not the ones who are just great with numbers. They are the ones who can explain what the numbers mean. So don't think you can escape by going into finance or accounting.
But eloquence and frequency does not trump strategy…the communication must have a purpose.
In my experience, great leaders COMMUNICATE A CONTEXT…They define the game, set the mission, lay out the goals, and importantly, they delineate success. They let people know where they are now and where they need to be…and then they let their people execute.
Dwight Eisenhower, who was both a World War II General and then President said, "Leadership is getting someone else to do what you want to get done because he wants to do it."
Call it communication with a purpose. Great leaders do that.
Here is another attribute I have found amongst great leaders…they are inherently OPTIMISTIC. They believe that there will be a solution, and the goal will be reached.
Of course, I am not talking about empty, Pollyanna cheerleading. Great leaders must look hard at the facts, be honest about the challenges to be faced and the difficulty of the mission, but with a total belief in the outcome.
If you, as the leader, don't believe, why would anyone else? If you communicate, directly or indirectly, that you are doubtful that the mission will ever be successful, people will start to leave in droves. (I've seen it.) Leaders believe…even in the worst of times. They don't lose focus. They don't lose purpose. You look in their eyes, and you believe you all can get there.
Sportswriters will often talk about the team of destiny. The team who, through some ephemeral mixture of talent, luck and will, carries the day. The leaders of the team make them believe in their own destiny.
Now, I don't want to scare you, but I do need to remind you…as a leader you will be watched at all times…by your people, I mean.
To be a leader is a bit like being the most popular exhibit in the zoo. You are being watched. People will take their cues from you…and not just from what you say.
We all know this…what do we all do when we fly in an airplane and there is turbulence? We all look at the crew, right? Do they look nervous or strained? When they don't, when they are carrying on as ever, we all relax.
You are always "on" as a leader. When trouble hits, everyone is looking at you to see how you react, how you behave. If you look nervous, they'll be very nervous. If you look confident, they'll all feel confident. Confidence is good. Confidence is infectious.
And most importantly, confident leaders can get everyone to do something vital to any organizations' long term health…and that is to EMBRACE RISK.
I think a characteristic of all great leaders is that they are not afraid to take chances. In fact, they know that they must be willing to do so, because to fail to take risks in the world today will be to fail. Period.
Leaders must take risks because they must have innovation. You must always be re-creating yourself…especially in business. Change or die. But change is frightening. People resist it.
The challenge is to create an environment where risk is encouraged. We have to make it OK to fail. I know a pharmaceutical company where they have a party when a drug fails to make it to the next stage. They celebrate the people who were willing to try the next thing, knowing that failure was a strong possibility.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Always do what you're afraid to do." It's a terrific line, isn't it? But, as much as I love it, I've also found that people tend to talk about risk in binary terms: You either take it or you don't.
I think there's another way to look at it. Risk is always with us…Therefore, you always have to take it. But it doesn't always have to be a life-or-death, winner-take-all decision. (John Thain: "It would be better if we hadn't bet the entire company on a single investment decision.'")
The way I've found to prepare for risk, to make the best decisions, is to always keep experimenting.
Personally, I'm not happy unless I have a lot of pots on the stove…Things I'm trying out. Three quarters of them may be wrong (courage!), but a quarter of them may be right. And if you don't have four brewing at all times, you won't have your next program, your next chapter…your next success.
So I encourage those small, quiet experiments that you have percolating off in the corners. All of a sudden, you look over one day and realize, "Hey…that one sort of works!" And you're off!
So when it comes to risk, I like to keep a sense of perspective. Let's try not to bet the farm. Let's try not to throw caution to the wind when the outcome is irreversible, but let's do keep experimenting.
I have also admired those leaders that seek out DIVERSITY. Now, I'm not talking about diversity narrowly defined…about laws and quotas and being politically correct. I think great leaders approach diversity from a completely different point of view. A woman I know calls this "cognitive diversity."
If you don't have people with enough diversity in education, thinking, ideas, experiences, cultural sensitivities, generational perspectives, you will operate at a disadvantage. You will miss important stuff.
I hate walking into a room where everyone looks the same, talks the same, thinks the same. I think it's crazy to be afraid of people who don't look like you or think like you. Don't be afraid of them; hire them!
Great leaders embrace diversity because it brings more balance, vitality, excitement and creativity to the whole enterprise. The thinking is richer.
David Ogilvy, who founded Ogilvy & Mather back in 1948, and who was as much a student of management ideas as advertising, once said, "If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants."
I believe in meritocracy. I believe that talent, hard work and creativity will always and should always win out over gender, quotas and bias. When it comes to an idea, I don't care who has it or where it comes from, however, high or low. Whether it's male or female. It's irrelevant. Ideas are the great leveler so…Here's another leadership thought: IF YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE AN IDEA, MAKE IT A BIG ONE.
This is so true in my business, but the need for great ideas exists in every kind of job, in every kind of business. The key is to ask yourself with any idea, Can this idea be bigger? Can it be better? Can it be bolder? What more can we do? Does this idea yet capture the imagination…of anyone? Or everyone?
Find ways to answer those questions that begin with the words, "What if?" or "What would it take?" These are questions that stir the blood and the imagination. Ask them, and you'll be amazed at the freshness of the thinking! These are the questions that leaders ask.
And please don't forget the "P" word - PASSION.
I'm thoroughly convinced that you will find one consistent attribute in all great leaders. Passion. Passionate beliefs, passionate communication, passionate action, passionate commitment and follow through.
Look around you. Who are the people you really admire, the people who inspire you? Who is on your list of great leaders? I'm willing to bet they are people who are passionate about what they do.
Unfortunately, words like "exhilaration," "joy," "love," and "passion" are not words usually applied to business. But not only can words like these be part of the business world, I believe they are the key elements of success, and essential to true leadership.
Because, in the end, the most important thing I have to suggest to you today is to try to…DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
I know this is easier said than done. I know many people need to make a living and perhaps wish they had the perfect job. But I'm here to tell you that NO JOB is perfect. If you find things about your work that you love, it will make your work and your life so much better.
I think finding real fulfillment and joy in your job is the ultimate challenge, and it's the secret to leadership.
I consider myself one of the lucky people to have spent my career doing work I love. I love the art and science of marketing and advertising. I love the people. I love ideas. I love seeing results. I even still love the first moment I see advertising I worked on on TV or in a magazine. This excitement (still!) is what continues to get me up everyday and off to the office. I suppose if you put the question to me personally, it is the joy in my work that gives me the stamina, the vision and the inspiration I need as a leader.
So in closing, all I can do is to urge you to take the challenge on, the challenge of leadership. Go do whatever it takes to get yourself in a position where you love what you do, where you care about what you do, where you want to inspire others, build great things, do great deeds.
And I promise you that, on the way, you'll find balance, you'll have fun, you'll find fulfillment. Is there anything more someone could offer you?
Thank you very much for listening this morning!