January 20, 2020
I was working with an executive client recently, and I asked him to map his leadership journey. He said, ‘Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever done that.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s try it. Look at the time when you first started your career, and over the last 20 years, what has your leadership journey looked like?’
I said, ‘You can do it visually, and it can be like a river. You’ll have high points and low points, and just like a river twists through land, do a visual representation of your leadership journey. Look back over your career, and think about, what was some of the highlights and low lights for you? At each one of those junctures, what did you actually learn?’
I shared with him, one aspect of my leadership journey. My first multinational client was Shell Oil. I was part of a faculty who were working with their top 1,000 leaders around the world, in diversity and inclusion, in 2000. I then went on to do some additional work here for Shell in Asia, and part of it was putting together a leadership programme, on working across cultures.
We did the pilot. The pilot went well. We had some good feedback. We tweaked a few things, to make it more relevant, and then we ran the first programme in Dubai. At the end of the two days, the feedback was actually terrible. It was a very difficult group to work with. There were some internal issues that were happening in the group, which I was not aware of.
Anyway, the long and the short of it was, it was quite a disaster. The feedback from the group was, ‘This programme is terrible, we should throw it out, we don’t want to bring it into the organisation.’ My client, at that time, was Steve Hughes, who was the vice president of human resources, for Asia, and he said, ‘No. We have an agreement with Tom. We agreed that Tom would do five sessions. He’s learning about us, an organisation. We are learning about him. We will fulfil our agreement with him.’
I learnt from him the value and power of integrity, because it would have been very easy for him to actually say, ‘Yes, my clients, or his clients, are his constituents, and if they didn’t like it, let’s throw it out.’ Yet he was resolute that he had made an agreement, and stuck with it. I learnt a lot from that. He had a tremendous impact on me as an individual and as a consultant, because the next session we ran for them went tremendously well, and what happened was, we rolled that out, to the next, the top 100, top 250, top 500, top 1,000 employees. Simply because he had courage, the moral fortitude and integrity to stick to his word.
That has been very phenomenal for me, as a very key part of my leadership journey. So, how does that relate to you as a global leader? You’ve become a global leader, because you’ve been on a journey. You’ve had ups and downs. It’s really important for you to be able to highlight, ‘Well, what was all the key learning points for me, which were really successful?’ At the same time, ‘where are the areas I didn’t do well? Where are the areas where I fell down, and then, had to pick myself up?’
Those are examples you can use with your teams. Those are examples you can use with people you’re working around, because that can create stories. As you know, one of the key aspects of being a good leader is the ability to create narratives, to create stories. People remember stories, and when you can talk about some of your learnings, or some of your failures, it actually puts you in a very human light.