Learn from the visionaries

The Straits Times
Published: 14th May 2014
By Ronald Lee, Managing Director, PrimeStaff Management Services

 
10 powerful philosophies from the most admired business leaders of our age.

What makes a great leader?

It’s not the title bestowed upon you, or the millions in your bank account. And leadership is certainly not defined by one’s popularity either.

Followers define leadership.

As a business leader, your job is to galvanise your followers into performing at their peak for the greater good of the company. That is why most of the leadership lessons outlined below have one common theme: people.

Read on to discover the essential qualities inherent in the greatest leaders of our time – those who have made an indelible mark in history and whose legacies live on, long after they may have left the company or this world.
 
Embrace change

If there were a hall of fame depicting the world’s best business leaders, Jack Welch would be the first name at the top.

The former CEO of General Electric (GE) who held the post for 20 years not only embraced ‘change’; but he also loved it.

Although the vision may remain the same, he always believed in changing the tools and methods to achieve the company’s goals.

The business environment is changing at a lightning pace today. New competitors and products are hitting the market at an unprecedented speed and companies that do not evolve to keep up with the changing times are left in the dust.
Just think of how Nokia was the market leader in mobile phones just a few years ago, but today, almost every person in a first-world country brandishes a smartphone by Apple or Samsung.
Mr Jeff Bezos, chairman and CEO of Amazon.com, is another champion of change. “What’s dangerous is not to evolve,” he said.
 
Pay for performance

Whether in sports, business or even war, great leaders have the ability to get others to perform at high levels.

Mr Welch was also known to be a strong advocate for rewarding top performers handsomely.

While at GE, he set measurable targets for his employees, invested substantially to train them, and gave them honest appraisals.

The top 20 per cent of high performers then received pay increases of up to 300 per cent more than the “good” performers.

To be the best in your industry, you have to give your employees a strong incentive to get them to perform at their highest levels – consistently.

At other end of the spectrum, Mr Welch believed that those that do not carry their weight should be culled from the workforce.

“Remove the bottom 10 per cent of your performers, annually,” was his controversial advice and practice.

This may not necessarily be as harsh or heartless as it appears.

Think about it: You are not doing low performers any favours by keeping them in your employ because the likely reason they are not performing is due to a wrong fit.

So it may be best to release these individuals and encourage them to pursue other paths in which they may be better suited to succeed.
 
Listen

“Lead by listening – to be a good leader you have to be a great listener,” tweeted Sir Richard Branson, founder and Chairman of the Virgin Group.

A personification of the participative leadership style, he believes in listening to his employees’ views and encouraging some degree of debate to draw out the best ideas from his team.

So talk to your people, take the time to get to know them and help each one realise their potential.

You would certainly do well to take Branson’s advice – it has helped him amass a billion-dollar fortune from an empire comprising more than 400 companies.
 
Love what you do

As the head honcho of any for profit organisation, you definitely need to keep a sharp eye on the bottom line. But the best brains in business will tell you that the best leaders are ruled by passion.

Sir Richard is famous for advocating that the key to success is to love what you do. To him, business has to be fun so that work and play are not mutually exclusive concepts.

He once said: “If a businessperson sets out to make a real difference to other people’s lives, and achieves that, he or she will be able to pay the bills and have a successful business to boot.”

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