By Guest Contributor Paul Dupuis
As a passionate student of leadership, I’m very fortunate in that I meet leaders just about every day of the week. This has become even more prevalent during the Covid crisis. Through these conversations with leaders over the years, I’ve had a few important “a-ha!” moments which have had a significant impact on my own journey as a leader.
The leaders I meet represent various industries, geographies and types of organizations. Some are CEO’s of large publicly listed companies while others are first generation founders of small to mid-size companies. I also meet with leaders from community organizations thru my volunteer activities to promote and develop ice hockey in India.
And in my role as an executive board member of the India Staffing Federation, I have regular interactions with senior leaders from government and sector bodies. And of course, there are my colleagues at Randstad, across 39 countries, representing a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. And, perhaps most important, my leadership team in India who are working hard to bring the vision we co-created together to life. For someone who is committed to learning about leadership from other leaders, I guess you could say I’m in the best place!
Through these conversations with leaders over the years, I’ve had a few important “a-ha!” moments which have had a significant impact on my own journey as a leader.
Here are a few of my discoveries;
Exceptional leadership is borderless:
Over the past 25+ years I’ve lived, worked, and led across many borders and cultures. One thing becomes very apparent the more one leads in a variety of environments. That is, the core tenets of what makes an exceptional leader transcends beyond the arena where the leader operates. More simply put, the principles of effective leadership are universal. Not only are they borderless, they’re timeless. In my own journey I’ve found that key leadership traits such as transparency trust, humility and courage are universally admired. And regardless of whether it’s in the boardroom or on the ice hockey rink, these behaviours build followership wherever the leaders goes. So the more borders the leader crosses and the different arenas where the leader leads, the more it become clear that the similarities of effective leadership far outweigh the differences.
You could say that the elements of effective leadership are a reflection of human nature. That is, everyone wants to follow a leader who they can trust, someone who they believe in, and who believes in them. Everyone wants a leader who walks the talk, someone who is strict but fair, warm but firm, capable but humble. In that sense, when it comes to exceptional leadership, human nature overrules culture
- Exceptional leadership is both borderless and timeless
- Human nature overrules culture when it comes to leadership
Leadership is a muscle;
As anyone who has started a fitness program will admit, you don’t get in shape by simply walking into the gym. You have to do the work, and do it consistently. And it’s not only the work you do in the gym, it’s just as important to put in the effort outside of the gym. Hence the saying, “the 6-pack is built in the kitchen”!
The best leaders know that the same rules that apply in the gym, also apply in the leadership arena. It takes hard work, persistence, trial and error and constant learning to take steps towards becoming a leader with impact. While buying a book about leadership isn’t going to transform someone into becoming an effective leader, it’s a good first step. Combine that with hands-on experience, practise, reflection, and more practise…and the leader is well on his/her way to building the core muscles needed to become an exceptional leader.
- Leadership is the result of focus, commitment and hard work
- Exceptional leaders build the muscles needed for the job
Exceptional leaders say “I don’t know”;
It may sound counter-intuitive but the exceptional leaders who I’ve met over the years were usually the first ones to say “I don’t know” when they didn’t know. And in the same breath, they went on a search for the answers. These leaders show a remarkable level of curiosity and humility. Gone are the days where the leader should “know”. Instead, we have moved quickly into an age of instant access to information. It’s less about who has the knowledge, but more about how one applies that knowledge — the data points, the trends, and the opinions – taking it all and then making tough decisions. So, the path towards becoming an exceptional leader starts by saying “I don’t know” and then shifting into the seeking mode of, “I want to know”.
This is especially true now in times of ambiguity and uncertainty. We are experiencing unprecedented challenges. None of us have a playbook on how to handle this particular crisis, but what we do have are muscles built up over years of practise which come in handy at times like this. The ‘curiosity muscle’ — the spirit of wanting to know, of seeking out the answers — is more powerful than any crisis.
- Effective leaders accept the fact that it’s ok not to know all of the answers
- Exceptional leaders are constantly seeking out the answers to the important questions
- The Enabler helps others to find the answers
It’s all about the “why”
Finally, perhaps the most powerful discovery which I’ve made about borderless and timeless leadership is that in every case where I’ve observed, encountered or studied a leader who made an exceptional impact, that leader was inevitably focused on the why. The greater purpose is at the core of who the leader is, I call it the ‘north star’. And it’s not about the measurable outcome (i.e. achieving a profit target or winning the game). Of course these are important and, ultimately, the leader’s success will be measured on these outcomes, but it’s not the only thing that gets them up in the morning.
Winning the game, or smashing the target, is an outcome of something more important. It’s the proof in the pudding; having the right people in the right place, with the right vision and strategy, with the right tools, and the freedom to try and grow. For the exceptional leaders I’ve come to know and observe, winning the prize is simply an outcome, it’s not the greater purpose.
It may seem counterintuitive but when the leader spends less time talking about the what and the how, and dives into the why, focusing his/her energy on enabling the team to shine, exceptional results inevitably follow. If you’re not sure try this; for the next month, start your team meetings talking about the vision, focus on the greater purpose, the why. Then move on to the people, ensure that the team is well-equipped with the tools and support they need to bring the mission to life, dig in and identify any barriers that might be in their way and make a commitment to the team to removing those barriers. Then, wrap up the meeting by reviewing the output, the results, the spreadsheet.
My bet is that you’ll be surprised at what follows…
What is the most critical element of being an exceptional leader?
I’m often asked this question by young, ambitious leaders, “what is the most critical element of being an exceptional leader?”. If I’m forced to choose one thing, the answer is simple – an crystal clear sense of “purpose” and an unrelenting commitment to honour it.
- Exceptional leaders focus on the greater purpose, the outcomes then follow
- Exceptional leaders talk less about the What and How, and more about the Why
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Dupuis is CEO and Managing Director of Randstad India and the former Chairman of HOPE International (JP). Paul is bilingual, speaking both English and Japanese, and has lived and worked across Asia for more than 25 years.
Learn more about The E5 Movement
From a young backpacker, sleeping on a park bench in Japan, to leading one of the biggest corporate giants in the Asia-Pacific region, Paul Dupuis has built a career through game changing leadership – crafted through his own real-life experiences as an athlete, volunteer and CEO. The E5 is a unique leadership model; a call to action to all leaders, globally, to inspire and lead for change. The five Es are: envision; express; excite; enable; execute.
These five rules of game-changing leadership will revolutionize the way leaders approach each new challenge. The real-life anecdotes combined with the conversational tone of the book make this an accessible and impactful read. Thought provoking and practical, this book will inspire leaders to think about their leadership, adopting the five Es on their mission to lead their teams to excellence – a true game-changer. Pick your five and join the movement!
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