Rajeev Peshawaria is currently CEO of the ICLIF Leadership & Governance Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which provides executive education and advisory services to organizations in Asia, Middle East and Africa. Prior to joining ICLIF in April 2010, Rajeev worked at AMEX, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, and Morgan Stanley. He was Chief Learning Officer and Head of Talent Management at Morgan Stanley, where he founded Morgan Stanley University, a global earning and Chief Learning Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, where he created and headed Coca-Cola University.
We wanted to talk about his new book: Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Three Essential Principles You Need to Become an Extraordinary Leader.
My reading list today includes fewer and fewer books from leadership experts. But, I made an exception for Mr. Peshawaria based on his journey of discovery with some of the world's leading organizations. And how well and with such clarity he shares the steps of this journey in his book. And by doing so, he points his readers in that same direction of discovery that will lead them towards being an exceptional leader.
An exceptional leader is, he writes:
one who not only runs the company but creates a cadre of supporters who understand the company’s goals and missions and work to embody them every day.
Leadership, can neither be learned in a classroom, nor automatically acquired by accepting a big title or position of authority. Leadership needs to be discovered, and there is no shortcut to the discovery process.
The book outlines the discovery process itself, offering steps for creating a leader who can tap into unlimited emotional energy, align the energy of a powerful few and galvanize the energy of the masses to create sustainable success.
Rajeev. Thank you for being on our show!
Thank you for having me, Zane.
Your book was published this year. What's been the response so far?
Well, the response has been humbling. I was a bit worried initially. This is not your typical self-help book that prescribes 3-step formulas or a personality test or best-practice role plays to become a better leader.
If anything, I start by saying no one can teach leadership. And that leadership is a hard, lonely, unpopular pursuit with no guarantees of success.
I’m actually glad to find that people appreciated the truth. The most surprising thing has been the number of people who have told me:
“ I wanted my kids to read this. “
I had never imagined this book would be for teen-agers or 20-somethings as well.
That’s excellent! That must be so inspiring when somebody says I enjoyed your book and I’m going to follow some of its practices. But I want my children to read it.
When did you notice that response?
Almost immediately when the book came out. I started getting emails or people I met telling me. And initially I thought it was a one-off. But, it’s been consistent for about a month and a half now.
Writing a book like this is a labor of love. As you write in your book to sustain that energy you have to be very clear on your purpose. What was your purpose for writing this book?
I wanted to tell the truth about leadership. Leadership training, globally, is about a $60-90 billion industry. And, yet, as you said earlier you can hardly find a good leader anywhere.
And this is because most of the advice is prescriptive and formulaic. It is based on copying and practicing the behavior of famous leaders. Well, last I checked the dictionary copying somebody else’s behavior is an act of followership not leadership. My purpose was honoring that truth.
But honestly to discover one’s own leadership agenda. That is if somebody wants to do it anyway.
I love that quote:
Copying somebody else’s behavior is an act of followership not leadership.
I like that a lot.
How will you grade yourself on your progress? What metrics or milestones will mark your progress towards that purpose?
You know, that’s a great question, Zane.
What happens at the end of my programs or seminars I do all the time is 4 or 5 people will walk up to me in a very emotional state and tell me how moved they were and that they will commit to finding their own purpose and values. Or commit to implementing the system to energize others.
To me that is the ultimate reward.
I cannot actually track the progress of every leader. But if it makes them think and makes them want to become a better leader and live a more meaningful life that is the reward.
And I get this reward every day. I feel very fortunate.
Who is your intended reader? Describe this reader for us? Where's he work? What's he do? What's his day like?
Originally I thought the reader would be a typical manager in a large corporation. Or a division head o a CEO. But, now I’m learning that it appeals to CEOs and students alike.
While it is categorized as a business book, I believe it is a book about life. So, anyone who wants to make their life a little bit more meaningful can read it.
You know, as I always do, whenever I have a great guest giving great answers I tend to start scribbling. I love this point you made that it is a book about life. And I love that point that you make that we can be leaders in your own life.
You mention in your book's introduction that US companies spend $134 billion per year in employee training and 25 - 30% or $35- $40 billion in leadership training. What's missing from all that leadership training?
Like I said earlier, most of that advice is formulaic and based on copycat role plays.
I don’t profess, as you yourself said earlier, to close that gap. All I suggest are three principles which if taken seriously will make a huge difference. Reading the book will not solve anything. It is what the reader does with the ideas after reading that determines the success.
So, firstly, I offer 6 questions to clarify one’s purpose and values which together become the leader’s long lasting source of emotional energy. And given the number of obstacles and resistance that every leader faces they are going to need that energy. You know money or threat only gives you temporary energy. You’re gong to need real solid energy and that only comes from clarity of purpose and values.
Next I discuss the notion that leaders must share leadership at the top and treat their direct reports as co-leaders. That’s a hard thing for people to do because you are used to being in control all the time. Now, in today’s complex world you have to enlist co-leaders. Share leadership.
And, finally, the book provides a framework for how do you energize the rest of your organization. You may have tens of thousands of people working in your organization together with your senior leadership team, together with your co-leaders. How do you energize, what do you focus on?
I lay out a little system there called Brains-Bones-Nerves which basically refers to the strategy, the organizational structure and the culture of an organization.
How should leaders shape that in order to energize everybody. That’s something that people have to think about really hard. What does it mean for them.
And then choose the parts they like and implement it. It’s very practical and will make people think.
Great answer! Thank you.
Let’s go over those 3 principles and six questions.
I liked that your first principle to become an extraordinary leader was Energize the Self. How does energizing the self lead to leader marked by passion and constant renewal?
Seems sorta obvious. But clearly we’re not doing it.
Well, when you feel deeply about the inadequacies of current reality AND decide to do something about, both those things have to be together, feeling deeply about the inadequacies of current reality AND deciding to do something about it...that’s when you found your purpose and values.
For me, passion comes from purpose. And it is normal to feel demoralized or deflated at times. This is the time you need renewal. And the best way to renew one’s self is to close your eyes and imagine that better future you want to create with your better purpose and values.
I'm a big sports fan. One of the common behaviors of great players is they emulate the earlier stars, they try to copy their moves.
Why does that, copying someone else's behavior, not work in becoming a better leader?
Well, because the work of leadership is to create a better future. You first have to imagine it and then you have to create a better future.
We call someone a leader when they create something that does not yet exist. Or when she significantly improves something that already exists. And this comes from original thinking, not copying.
By copying behavior you can become an expert at something. But you cannot become a leader.
You’ve got some great comments here!
You list 6 questions that help us gain clarity on our personal sources of energy. Unfortunately we don't have time to go over all 6. But what's the most important one?
If I had to choose just one I would choose:
“What values will guide your behavior?”
To find your purpose, you first need to know your values. Values determine emotions. And emotions decide what you feel, how you feel, about the current inadequacies of current reality. if you feel deeply moved by them you will decide to do something about them.
So, the first thing is what makes you feel the way you feel in the first place. And that is the values question.
So, I would call that the most important one.
Which of those 6 are most overlooked by bosses or aspiring leaders? What's the impact?
I think the purpose question is the most often overlooked. When I was researching this book I asked many big bosses to tell me what their purpose was fully expecting to get a well-crafted answer.
But, you know, the answer I got quite often was:
“Hmm. That’s a deep question. I haven’t thought about that. Nobody’s asked me that before.”
I don’t ask them the followup question. But I want to ask them:
“ You lead 20,000 and you’re waiting for somebody to ask you? ”
I think it’s the purpose question that is most overlooked.
The impact? Well, without clarity of purpose you simply cannot lead.
Now a common cliche' about leadership is that it's lonely at the top. Your 2nd principle seems to expose that cliche' as groundless for extraordinary leaders. What is that 2nd principle?
You’re right. The best leaders reject the notion of it being lonely at the top. They enlist co-leaders and willingly share both authority and responsibility. It’s based on the fact that they realize they need those co-leaders to create the better future that they have in mind.
In today’s complex world they cannot do it alone. And they’re not alone. They treat their direct reports as their co-leaders.
What is the RED that all of us care about?
Ok. RED is a simple neumonic.
Basically, everyone goes to work with a set of expectations that must be met in order for them to be fully energized. Those three expectations are:
- What is my Role?
- What is my work environment like?
- What are the prospects of my future development?
So, RED is Role, Environment, Development.
My expectations in each bucket may be different from yours, all of us have expectations of some kind in all of these three buckets in order for us tobe fully energized.
So, the trick for managers is to find out what they are for their subordinates. And do their best job possible to align those individual preferences with the work at hand. So, RED gives you a very quick way to have a conversation if you are trying to understand what motivates someone.
Given the low percentage of employees who could be categorized as actively engaged in their work....which one of those three do companies fail to deliver?
Zane, it’s hard for me to generalize which one.
However, here’s the billion-dollar mistake that I see all the time. Most companies teach their managers to do what it takes to motivate their staff. So, the onus is on the manager.
“What should I do to motivate my people?”
Well, the fact is no matter how much you try you cannot motivate another person. Each person already comes pre-motivated. So, instead of asking “What can I do to motivate my staff?” I think one should ask:
" What is my staff already motivated by and how best can I utilize that pre-existing motivation?”
And that’s what RED enables you to do.
Your answer reminded me of a situation where I came up with what I thought was a series of motivations for everybody in my company. I thought it was brilliant. And when I presented it to them it generated a resounding ‘yawn’., not in actuality. But I could tell they were unimpressed.
Fortunately we had a culture where everybody could speak up. And they came back with a counter offer. I was glad they did and also embarrassed that I was so presumptuous. From that point I always asked first.
That’s absolutely the right approach. We put too much on ourselves as managers in saying “What can I do?”
And then we do a one-size fits all approach. Friday pizzas or Friday casuals. That kind of stuff which is good but not great.
You talk about BBN in your book. And googling that term I find a subsidiary of Raytheon, a baltic business news network and a religious radio network. What do you mean by BBN and why should our listeners care?
You know, in its simplest terms BBN is a prioritization framework. If your life is like any overworked executive it is something like this. you wake up at 6 in the morning wanting to go to the gym but you’re too tired. You say:
“Oh well, I’ll go in the evening.”
Your first meeting starts at breakfast and you get there at 7:30 for that breakfast meeting. Then you’re in meetings all day long. And then you have a dinner meeting. And by the time you get into your car or your train to go home and switch on your blackberry you have 200 emails waiting for you.
This what everybody complains about today.
BBN, which stands for Brains Bones and Nerves, is what every executive should be worrying about. The Brain in the BBN stands for the strategy and vision of your organization. Have you clarified it in such a way that everyone in your organization can understand and accept it. The Bone is the organizational architecture. Do you have the right people, the right processes, the right organizational structure. The Nerves is the organizational culture. The culture being what your people do when no one is looking.
I generally try to tell people who work in large organizations:
“Spend most of your time trying to shape these pillars of sustainable growth and delegate or de-prioritize everything else and you’ll be fine. “
It’s clarity of these three things that harness the energy of thousands towards a shared purpose.
Your friend and mentor, Steve Kerr, described a classic management phenomenon. You wrote about it in your book. What's that phenomenon?
Steve describes what he calls the oldest equation in management science. It’s called QxA = E. Q stands for Quality; A stands for Acceptance; E stands for Effectiveness.
He says for anything to be highly effective both quality and acceptance must be very important.
The fact is anything multiplied by 0 = 0. I know this is very complex math. It must be because most bosses don’t do enough about the A. They focus mostly on improving the quality of the argument or the quality of the project and not worrying about whether people are accepting it or not. They forget the complex math and that anything multiplied by zero is zero. And thereby end up with very low or no effectiveness.
So, the idea being that QxA = E if you have A is the smaller number then work on the A and not the Q and you’ll get higher effectiveness.
Why is that common oversight among managers to overlook the A?
Because most of us are A-Type personalities that try to convince the world with math and reasoning and logic behind our proposal.
Whether we’re engineers or doctors, we say:
“The math is very clear why is there any doubt about it?”
We habitually don’t focus on the A which calls for a higher amount of emotional intelligence.
I was just about ready to ask a stupid question because I think you have already answered it. It sounds like managers aren’t trained to elicit that higher emotional intelligence.
Um. Maybe so. Emotional intelligence in my view is more a matter of self-reflection. Simple things like putting your self in the other person’s shoe. Things like that.
Here’s the thing. Most human beings overestimate their communication skills. You mention Steve Kerr. He has another rule that he calls the 80/30 Rule. And he says:
80% of the people think they’re in the top 30% when it comes to communication skills. Simple math will tell you only 30% can be in the top 30%.”
Just because I understand my own proposal fully, I make the mistake of the assumption that you understand it too. And I never stop to pause and think what would be your reaction to that. If we could do that we would do very well on the A.
Most busy people don’t do that.
In your research for this book did you find a company that consistently over a long period of time address this phenomenon and formula with success?
I have seen quite a few. Starbucks is one that comes to mind. The Motley Fool is another company I wrote about. A lot of acceptance is placed on the Acceptance and how people are feeling. The Acumen Fund...out in NY is another one.
What were their key principles that helped the achieve this sustained success? What were some of the habits which they integrated into their operations to achieve a high degree of Acceptance.
You know, I don’t take a lot of credit for it because they have been doing it for a long time. They in their own way, shape and form all three followed the principles in my book.
The leader at the top is clear about his or her purpose.
They willingly share leadership with their co-leaders and don’t take it all upon themselves.
And, finally, together with their management they proactively shape the Brains-Bones-Nerves of their companies almost on a daily basis, rather than making that somebody else’s responsibility.
The world changes so fast on a daily basis, faster than ever before, and you have to focus on those three things.
I think it’s the personal involvement of the top leaders that creates that culture of high acceptance.
I want to encourage everyone listening to go out and buy your book. You do an outstanding job profiling those companies and how they practice these principles. I found your case studies fascinating and incredibly useful.
One of my favorite chapters was Chapter 7: Common Threads, Individual Paths. Tell us about that chapter? Which individual path was your favorite?
I love any leader who practices authentic leadership in the way I describe in the book.
However, if I were to pick one from chapter 7 I would pick Allen Mulally from Ford. It is a great example of what great authentic leadership can achieve. Leader after leader tried to fix the problems at Ford and here comes somebody who’s not even an insider in the automotive industry and puts in place what he believes are simple truths about good leadership. Look what he’s doing with that company.
Another of my favorite corporate leaders are Kiran Bedi who was the first woman in India to become a police officer in the 1970’s. What she achieved in a male-dominated and highly corrupt society, and continues to do, is highly remarkable. I’m not sure if you read the part where she managed to do what she did to an over-populated disease and violence infected prison in New Delhi and turned it into a place of healing and renewal. I’ve yet to see a more powerful story of leadership.
And in both cases, whether Allan Mulally or Kiran Bedi, they derived their energy from their own laser-like clarity from their own values and purpose.
You know, in reading your book I did read her example, and my favorite would be hers as well. It’s tough enough to go about it but then when you’re going about it in such a structured environment, in a prison environment, was incredibly inspiring.
You know, it is. And because of her work they changed a 100-year old act and brought about reform. And many countries around the world followed her vision of prison reform.
They won the Asian equivalent for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
It’s truly remarkable.
What is she doing now?
Well, she’s currently leading a movement in India called India Against Corruption. And you can read in the papers all that is going on and try to weed out corruption and come up with a new anti-corruption bill...she’s right at the forefront of that along with a few others, non-political leaders.
Speaking of an individual path who is Jacqueline Novogoratz?
Typically if you address extreme poverty around the world you address it with charity and aid. But, charity and aid, according to Jacqueline make individuals dependent and governments corrupt.
So, instead of giving away money in the form of charity and aid what Acumen does is invest in Patient Capital or companies that work to solve the world’s problems of extreme poverty. Besides giving them funds for a long time at below market rates, hence Patient Capital, Acumen also helps by way of management consulting and skills training.
Hers is an absolutely amazing story as well.
She’s another example of a leader who lives all three examples of the book.
In your book you describe her story with so much passion and clarity. It made me consider how I could follow in her steps.
Yes. That’s right. She is like that.
You know when I walked into her room to interview her I had to go past about 50 people to get to her office in the corner and I could actually feel the energy of all those people. They were truly energized by the work they were doing. And it had nothing to do with what they were getting paid. I suspect that their salaries were not extraordinary. But the belief and the passion they had for the work was all over the office. It was very very powerful.
When you were visiting with her did you have the chance to meet with others with her in her organization?
Yes I did get to talk to other people! The passion they had to describe what they are doing was absolutely amazing.
If you talk to soldiers, if you talk to nurses, if you talk to rehabilitation workers you find their pay is pretty ordinary. Maybe the prestige is also ordinary. But the kind of dedication these people bring to their work! You wish the people that work with you had any kind of that dedication to their work.
And that’s the kind of dedication that I saw at the Acumen Fund with all the young people there at work.
You’ve had a chance with your career and preparing this book to work with and interview and study and research some outstanding leaders and organizations. What does Jacqueline do that is unique to her that continues to inspire and motivate in her work?
She, first of all she walks the talk. She’s very clear about her purpose and her values. She doesn’t lecture about those; she walks the talk. Her actions speak louder than her words.
Secondly, she regularly and proactively shapes those three pillars, the Brains-Bones-Nerves of the organization. In fact, she tells me that:
“I tend to call myself the Chief Culture Officer of Acumen. Because now that I have a good team in place they know how to raise money, to fund the projects. I have to maintain the energy and culture of the place. “
Those are the kinds of things she does.
We've reached the imagination moment in our show. Let's imagine that our President Obama is calling you after this call.
Rajeev, he says, could you come to the WH or at least join a secure conference call with myself and Vice-President Joe Biden. We seem to be drowning here in DC from too many bosses and too few leaders. What are three things our country can do to create a culture of extraordinary leaders?
What would you tell him?
Well, I think when he ran for President a couple of years ago he painted the picture of a better future. And that’s what won him the presidency.
Most of us related to his purpose and his values and voted for him. So, to continue to use the terminology from the book:
“We like the brain of his campaign and the promises he made.”
However, I think we’ve fallen just a little bit in the Bones and Nerve section. To take just one example, and this is just my view, many people liked his opposition to the Iraq War and that’s why he appealed to a lot of people. Now a lot of the same people are questioning his support for the struggle in Libya.
So, my humble advice would be to lead by example and stick to your values. It is impossible to say what are the three things the country can do to create a culture of leadership. In many ways America already has a culture of leadership. So, if Obama and Biden can re-articulate a vision and lead with values and keep the courage to do the right thing I think they will inspire a whole generation to do the same thing.
Let history judge their actions. For now, they should lead with values rather than their position of power.
Those would be my two cents.
Readers are leaders. That's a quote from Jim Rohn which I quote with every quest. You're a leader. What are you reading these days?
I just finished reading a great book called New York, The Novel by Edward Rutherford. I call it ‘unputdownable’. This work of narrative fiction takes the reader through a captivating journey of New York City. I simply loved it. Somebody, like me, who didn’t grow up in the United States this was very informative in a very very captivating way.
I recommend it for anyone who likes narrative fiction and is interested in New York history.
And, I just started reading V.S. Naipul’s A Bend in the River. It’s set in Africa. I don’t have an opinion on it as I just began reading it.
So, those would be some of the one’s I would highlight.
One of my biggest challenges I faced was finding each page of your book had enough for us to talk about for this hour. Thank you for that challenge and headache trying to condense your book into a one-hour conversation.
I’m an avid reader anyway. I read a lot of books for this show. I tend to not read very many leadership books; I find few as exemplary as yours.
Thank you for writing this book and hopefully inspiring many.
Thank you for those kind words. Having been Chief Learning Officer for a number of years and been a user of all the advice out there, my attempt was to tell the truth. I hope some people get some benefit out of it.
Let’s say we talk a year from now and I hope we do. What would you see as your biggest accomplishment from this book?
Well, again, as I said earlier for me I have very humble goals here. If just a handful of people decide to become better leaders, i.e., they decide to make it their life’s work to bring out the best in others then I will have achieved my life’s work. Doesn’t have to be many, just a handful, and for me that would be reward enough.
So far I am very pleased with how things are going.
For me, the company where I work Leadership and Governance Center in Malaysia, we provide our programs all over Asia, Middle-East and Africa. Our participants are liking what they see. So, hopefully, a few will be convinced.
And how long has your consulting firm been practicing?
This program is only a few months old because the book is just out. The firm has been around for 8 years.
And who is your typical client?
Our typical clients are large corporations all over the Asia, middle-east and Africa. They work for multinational corporations, a lot of them are American corporations, Asian corporations. A lot are from government and non-profit organizations. Anybody who manages people in an organization is typically a client.
Have you found their challenges are quantitatively different than the leadership challenges here in the US?
You know I just wrote a blog on that subject on Harvard Business Review. Leading Across Borders? Don’t Change a Thing.
And I argue in that, contrary to conventional belief, good leadership looks exactly the same no matter where you are in the world and no matter what the context and industry may be. I know that sounds strange because there are so many cultural differences between here and Asia.
But, you know, at the core what people really expect from their leaders or bosses or managers, or whatever you want to call them, is to be fully energized is exactly the same. What we want from our bosses is innately human:
- We want to be treated with respect.
- We want to be able to relate to our leader’s purpose and values.
- We want people to care for us in such a way that it brings out our best.
- And that doesn’t change whether you are in Tokyo, Japan or Washington, D.C.
Excellent. Where can we find you on the web and where can we find this blog post?
To read a sample chapter or two of my book, you can go to my website. It’s a bit of a difficult name to remember. But I’ll spell it out for you. It’s www.rajeevpeshawaria.com.
You can also get information on my company website which is easier to remember. www.ICLIF.org.
Are you Twitter?
I am on Twitter at RajeevPeshawaria.
I’m also on LinkedIn
That’s usually how people stay in touch with me.
Leave us with one parting thought on becoming an extraordinary leader.
I would say stop focusing on copycat role plays in the name of best practice. Stop looking for those one size fits all approaches in terms of becoming a great leader. because there is no such thing.
Start asking those tough questions about your purpose and your values. Once you get some answers for that you will get the energy you needed to move forward in a decisive way.
And you know what? Not everybody needs to be a leader. Being a great leader is not easy and there’s no guarantee of success. It’s like parenting. All those sleepless nights and those terrible twos and the hard work to make a child into a responsible citizen. All of that is worth it if indeed you want to be a parent. Then the reward is in the journey itself. If you became an accidental parent, it’s terrible both for the parent and the child. Same goes for the leader and leadership.
To be very clear: Do you even want to be a leader? A lot of people don’t want to be and they can achieve a lot of greatness through individual endeavor.
I would say start by asking those questions.
You’ve been a great guest. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Your clarity and conciseness in your answers have been a delight. I do appreciate you taking the time.
I hope we talk next year when you probably come out with another book.
I would just encourage our listeners to follow and connect with you on:
- Your website
- Get your book
- Your company’s website