Passion Purpose and Collaboration are Key Traits for Good Leaders
According to a panel of leadership experts, collaboration and leading with passion and purpose are traits that will help the U.S. and the world in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.
James G. Ellis, Dean of the USC Marshall School of Business, moderated the panel titled "A Conversation on Leadership," which included Warren Bennis, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Founding Chairman of the USC Leadership Institute, author of the recently published The Essential Bennis and the forthcoming Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership; John Hope Bryant, author of Love Leadership and founder, Chairman and CEO, Operation HOPE Inc., a non-profit social investment banking organization self-help provider of economic empowerment tools and services for the underserved; and William G. George, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School; former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic and author of four books including True North and his most recent 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis.
"These are true experts in the thought process of leadership and what's happening with leadership in the world," said Ellis, before throwing out the first question to the panel, which took place December 2 on the University Park Campus. "Much of what's transpired has been attributed to supreme lack of leadership. What are the issues and what can we do?" he asked.
Bryant, whose work to empower low-wealth communities has earned him a role as the Vice Chair of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy and the Chairman of the Council's Under-Served Committee, stated that if in this crisis bankers and lenders treated clients as they would their grandmothers instead of as transactions, "we wouldn’t be in this mess." He pointed out that the economic pain created by the crisis is an indication of something deeper. “This isn’t a recession, it’s a reset. …It's a crisis of values," he said, noting that the crisis today is also a global crisis of confidence.
George added that the aftermath of the crisis will be harder to deal with as unemployment still soars and the current culture of society is still interested in short-term and instant gratification, "if everyone operates on short-term self interest we've lost what the real purpose of leadership is," he said, putting the leadership onus on the shoulders of the students in the audience. "It's up to the new generation to step up and offer new leadership and a new way of looking at leadership. We have to get back to the kind of people we would like to follow – [those who] lead authentically, genuinely and have a clear sense of purpose,” he said. "I'm calling to you in the audience to step up and be heard and lead with ideas with purpose and passion. You'll be rewarded."
Bennis added that while Western society embraces the myth of the great heroic individual who comes to the rescue, it’s through collaboration that leadership succeeds. "If you are trying to make a difference in anything – it has to be with collaboration," he said. Among his examples, Bennis spoke about filmmaker Robert Zemeckis who visits his classroom each year. "One student asked him what his favorite film was and his answer was Forrest Gump. She pressed him about why that film was his favorite and his answer was 'we were all making the same movie.' Everyone was making the same movie, not just the screenwriter and producer but everyone down to the gaffer and dolly grip was making the same movie. He listed 20 different groups of people who worked on that film who made it possible."
"What makes collaboration work is being able to respect the values of another and trust in them enough to argue about things," added Bennis, talking about the leadership course he teaches with USC President Steven Sample. "We both realized that neither of us by ourselves would be able to teach this course. We needed each other. The root of collaboration in the world is that realization that if we want to succeed we've got to do this together."
George pointed out that while collaboration is key, there's a tension between collaboration and the rugged individualism valued by American culture. "How do we integrate them together?… We're making different movies," he said.
Bryant added that the current crisis is a blessing because it will cause people to reassess and re-imagine, and hopefully push people to focus on purpose.
"That's what it's all about at the end of the day," continued George. "We should think about 'does my work matter?' It's important to discern what we're leading toward and collaboration can help a complex task overcome an intractable problem. Think about who you admire. They are all givers," he said. "You will be successful if you follow your path and your purpose. Shut out following what comes from the outside. You've got to dig in and you've got to do it. Also, pick a place where you’re with people you want to collaborate with."
Watch the video from this event,
"A Conversation On Leadership"
held 12/02/09 at the USC Marshall School of Business