The Key to Leadership: An Inclusive Touch

Question: What does 21st century leadership look like? 

Ranjay Gulati: So I think the leadership in the 21st century is being debated intensely these days. I think everyone by and large agrees that we are in an era that is away from the old command and control model of leadership to a much more, I would say, inclusive, empowered, engaged, interactive model of leadership where employees are encouraged to participate, be involved, decision-making information is more transparent and shared in the organization, all of that stuff. There’s definitely a move in that direction. I want to add just one more piece to that conversation, which is that we are also operating in a world which is much more collaborative; collaborative inside the organization, collaborative outside the organization. And to think collaboratively you have to do a couple of things. First, it’s a kind of an attitude, an outlook, which is non-zero sum; doesn’t look at the world in a zero sum way about a finite part to be shared. Tries to look beyond that to say, are there ways for me to work with somebody else where we both are able to grow our pie, if you will. And so the focus is obviously on the share of the pie and what share am I going get, much more about growing that pie. And it requires an ability to think about your own interests, but at the same time think about the other party’s interests. What is in it for him or her? What’s in it for me? Can I achieve my interests while also helping the other part achieve their interests? I think we look at our own interests and say, it’s a world of big boys and girls, each of us should think about our interests and then we figure it out. 

I think a collaborative mindset requires an ability to kind of empathize, walk in the shoes of the other side of the table and say, is there a way for use to achieve both of our goals? Not always natural behavior, but I think increasingly it’s going to be something that is absolutely critical inside the organization. How do we cultivate this ability to, what we call perspective taking? The ability to walk in the other person’s shoes and then make decisions jointly. 

Question: Who in your mind represents the image of a 21st century leader? 

Ranjay Gulati: I think there are several people that come to mind if you look at large organizations. You can see, until recently the CEO of Proctor and Gamble, A.G. Lafley, you can look at General Electric and look at Jeff Immelt, you can look at Cisco Systems and look at John Chambers. You can look at, if you’re looking for a more funky younger company example, you can look at Zappos and what Tony Hsieh tried to do. You can see – so you have a range of illustrations of leaders today who, some like to say “softer touch” I don’t want to say softer, it’s more of an inclusive touch. It’s a more ability to, how do I carry my people with me, we are on the journey together and are able to, not me as the knight in shining armor who has all the answers. And it requires, I think, it required a kind of a yin yang paradox, if you will, where you have to be able to be both humble and open to listening while at the same time decisive. So, how do I listen and have the humility to do that, while also then be able to shape and drive the direction of where we think we need to be going? It’s that ability to include, yet be directive. It’s the ability to be decisive, but also inclusive. And those combinations of things don’t materialize easily. It’s the ability to combine those opposites that really defines 21st century leadership.

Recorded on April 20, 2010

We are a moving toward an inclusive, empowered, engaged, interactive model of leadership where employees are encouraged to participate.

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