Saturday, August 1, 2020

Best Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others (COVID Chronicles)

I met two senior leaders over the last week. And had two very contrasting experiences.

Both are strong leaders in their own right, and deserve to be on top where they are. Yet, I spotted some stark differences in their leadership styles, and general personalities. Differences which explain why they enjoy somewhat differing trajectories.

It's not my place to say that one is better than the other. After all, leadership is made of many components, and differs according circumstances (type of organization, industry, and workspace culture). But in terms of inspiring people to be better versions of themselves, there's one clear winner.

* * *

I met Sam (not his real name) first. It was a pre-booked meeting a week ago. I arrived before the meeting time at 2.30 pm, and made to wait in a room. Sam walked in shortly, looking rather distracted. One of the first things I said: "Just to let you know, this may take a while." He almost immediately cut in, "A while? I have to leave by 3pm." I hastily answered: "Oh, I only need 30 minutes."

The meeting didn't really go on as well as I had hoped. I won't bore you with the technical details. Suffice to say, Sam was rather non-committal to my queries, not very enthusiastic about what I had to say, and generally giving me the vibes that he rather be somewhere else and was merely here out of formality.

To be fair, I may have raised one or two questionable propositions. Sam may have had a long day and wasn't in the best of moods. We had plenty of meetings before, and he had been chirpier in past occasions. Still, overall, the meetings felt like all the previous meetings - a subordinate in need of a superior's approval.

Well, isn't that how all managers behave? From my lowly position, isn't being granted audience a privilege itself that I should be grateful? As a superior, why should he be obliged to make me feel comfortable?

Is your boss a leader or manager?

* * *

Contrast with my later meeting that week with Willy (also not his real name).

I don't even work for Willy. I haven't met Willy for years, actually. Just so happen something came up that brought us together.

I was invited into his new office - or should I say, a 'temp' office. And yet, he wasn't embarrassed at all with the less-than-ideal working space, and took great pains to make me feel comfortable. I met the rest of his team, and some other external colleagues from outside. He treated each of them with great respect, showering compliments, giving words of encouragement to sail through this uncertain difficult times stricken by COVID-19.

What impressed me most about Willy was his optimism and humility. In spite of facing hardship in uncharted waters, Willy remained enthusiastic about the present and future. His general vibes exuded hope and confidence. And above all, he made everyone feel like we're all in the same boat, rising and sinking together. I never felt for one moment that I was walking on egg-shells and fearing some godly wrath. I didn't have to think twice when asking for a small favour, nor bite my tongue when tempted to speak my mind. Willy always listened, and tried to think of win-win solutions.

* * *

Ultimately, the difference between Sam and Willy is this - one makes you shrink in his presence, the other makes you stand tall.

With Sam, I feel like pizza delivery boy praying for a good tip. With Willy, I feel like a guest being invited for a nice house dinner party.

My relationship with Sam and Willy is not the same, of course. But I don't think I'm unfairly judging them because I've observed closely how they treated others as well. The stories from last week are just recent examples. I've known both of them for quite awhile.

Again, it's not my place to say who is the better leader. Leaders should primarily be judged based on how well their results achieves their objectives. And I don't know enough of their objectives and results to make that judgment from where I'm at. What I'm focusing on is merely an aspect (but arguably an important one) of leadership - which type of leader inspire people the most?

Everyone has their own traits and habits. I see shades of both Sam and Willy in myself as well. But since I've made a pledge to be more positive during this difficult year (and hopefully, for good), there's one clear winner of a leader that I aspire myself to be.

Lead by empathy, lead by inspiration. Be a leader that motivates others to be better versions of themselves. Be like Willy.

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