Many of us—retired, semiretired, or still active in our career—have been leaders at some point in our lives. Aside from our work, we may have been leaders in professional, civic, social, cultural, religious, or sports organizations, in the community, or in advocacy groups. We may also have served in government.
The point is that we, today’s seniors, have many valuable leadership lessons we can share with the young. Let us not pass up the opportunity.
In the early years of the ad agency I founded, we were fortunate to tie up with a large international communications group, which enabled our fledgling company to grow rapidly. Unfortunately, circumstances soon forced us to go our separate ways, and our company lost about 70 percent of its business overnight.
After reviewing our finances, my senior managers and I informed our remaining people that we were good for only six more months. If we did not land any substantial client within that period, we had no choice but to close shop.
I was forthright in giving our people the true picture, but at the same time encouraged them to hang on. Faced with the almost certain prospect of losing my dream of growing my company, I rallied the remaining staff to give it one more try. And they did.
Fortunately, on the fourth month, we were given the opportunity to bid for the launch of a new product of the largest multinational advertiser of that time. But we also learned that there were initially 14 agencies being considered, and we were the smallest.
Although the odds were long, I tried to exude as much confidence as I could muster, telling our remaining people (about a third of our original staff) that we had a good chance if we prepared our presentation thoroughly. Everyone pitched in, working late nights and leaving no stone unturned in our make-or-break, last-ditch effort to save the company.
We won the account despite the odds, and I attribute this to the almost superhuman efforts of our people, who in turn were inspired and motivated by their bosses to give their very best.
For the record, largely due to that client win, our company not only survived but subsequently grew to be one of the leaders in the advertising industry, to this day.
By the time I retired, its annual billings (the gross measure of size) were about P2 billion, a growth of about 2,000 times its first year of operations. All this was made possible only because its inspirational leaders and motivated people persevered during the company’s biggest crisis.
From my experience of running a company and various small and large organizations, what I can offer are some insights and suggestions which might help one lead effectively.
Different qualities come to the fore, depending on the length of a leader’s tenure and the nature of the organization, i.e. whether the members are volunteers or are paid (as in a company), whether it is collegial (as in a peer group) or hierarchical (as in the military, bureaucracy, etc.), and its particular situation.
The most basic trait necessary for effective leadership is integrity. From this foundation emanate other qualities such as transparency, forthrightness, objectivity and fairness, which produce credibility and trust, leading to the ability to inspire, motivate and be an exemplary role model. A leader with integrity is whole, undivided and unconflicted, and his actions naturally conform to his principles and beliefs.
Meanwhile, a would-be leader lacking in integrity soon loses his credibility and the trust of those he is supposed to lead. Without these, it becomes very difficult for him to make his constituents willingly follow him and do what he asks them to.
A glaring example of this lack of credibility is the problem we have with many of our leaders in government. Oftentimes, when they advocate, propose or implement an important undertaking, or make a major decision affecting citizens, the first question that comes to mind is, “Is there a hidden agenda behind this?” Quite often the hidden agenda is not so “hidden,” but quite obvious and self-serving. No integrity, no credibility.
From my own experience, I also want to emphasize that a leader should:
Ostensibly show greater commitment and dedication to the group’s core activities than his members. More than speeches or exhortations, the leader’s personal example is the best source of inspiration.
Go out of his or her way to foster unity. When I first took over the presidency of an international organization, I was exposed to the existing animosity of two factions, which erupted the very next day after I took office, during a convention in another country. I learned that this internal division had existed for many years before my time. By showing objectivity, patiently listening to both sides, being firm when either group was out of line, initiating a major project which required close cooperation, promoting balanced representation in the board of directors and, most of all, exercising endless patience in encouraging a sense of unity, to my great relief, the rift slowly disappeared over time.
Be exceptionally reliable. If a leader shows he is always there to promptly address issues and problems, and can be depended upon in times of crisis, his people will reciprocate and support him all the way.
Be goal-oriented. Depending on his tenure of leadership, a leader should set goals for his group, whether short-term, medium-term or long-term. He should communicate them clearly and get his members to commit to those goals. Better yet, they should ideally participate in the process of goal-setting and determining the steps to achieve them, thus cementing their commitment.
As former leaders know from experience, there are many other important qualities needed to be effective, such as good judgement, anticipation of possible problems, flexibility, good interaction with different kinds of people, openness to new ideas and many other traits which cannot be exhaustively taken up here.
The important thing to bear in mind is that we, as former leaders, have accumulated our own unique nuggets of leadership wisdom that we can share with young people in our respective professional or social circles, who will eventually be our country’s leaders.
“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” —Ralph Nader —CONTRIBUTED