Leading Matters: John L. Hennessy on the Leadership Journey
AS A PROFESSOR, an entrepreneur, the president of Stanford University, and now the Chairman of the Board of Alphabet (Google’s Parent company) and Director of Knight-Hennessy Scholars, John Hennessy had had a lot of leadership experience. In Leading Matters, he shares the stories of what worked and what didn’t work.
Leading Matters is about the journey. The stories he tells here are revolve around the ten elements that shaped his journey and how he relied on these traits in pivotal moments. The elements are relevant to any leader at any level. As he observes, the higher up you go the crises just get bigger and come faster.
He begins by discussing the foundational elements: humility, authenticity, service, and empathy. He then links them together with courage. Finally, he shows how collaboration, innovation, intellectual curiosity, storytelling, and creating change that lasts, helped him reach his goals.
Here are some of his thoughts on each element extracted from his stories:
A true sense of one’s own skills and character—arises not from ego, but from humility. Arrogance sees only strengths, ignores our weaknesses, and overlooks the strengths of others, therefore leaving us vulnerable to catastrophic mistakes.
Leading with humility means letting others announce your accomplishments because you don’t need to, it means realizing and openly admitting that your understanding might not be right, it means taking the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and it means stepping up to the moments that challenge and grow you.
Authenticity and Trust
Authenticity is essential to building trust. Consider the wisdom popularly attributed to Socrates: “The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” It’s a start down the path to a deeper practice of authenticity—you must identify those good and true characteristics you admire, and then you must work to embody them.
So this is part of the practice: identify the virtue you admire, strive to embody them, and be humble about the journey—you probably aren’t there yet. In fact, just when you think you’ve arrived, life has a way of returning you back to the beginning.
Leadership as Service
The larger one’s leadership role becomes, the bigger the role of service in that leadership.
If you take a leadership role as a step toward a personal goal of gathering ever-greater titles, awards, and salaries, you will never see true success in that role.
Recognize the service of others. As a leader it is easy to get wrapped up in big projects and ambitious initiatives, and, in the process, to forget the smaller, but no less important, individual acts of service taking place all around you. Much of that service supports and enables the widely celebrated success of others.
Empathy should always be a factor in making decisions and setting goals. Empathy represents a crucial check on action—placing a deep understanding of and concern for the human condition next to data can lead to decisions that support the wellbeing of all.
Empathy usually implies compassion and perhaps charity, but we are looking for more than that: we are looking for the kind of empathy that changes people as a result of their interactions with each other, the kind of empathy that arises when one sees the world anew through someone else’s eyes.
Humility, authenticity, empathy, service-mindedness—these characteristics shape a leader’s vision and chart a course toward right action. Courage, on the other hand, compels a leader to take that right action. While many people can discern what is right and true, acting on that discernment is more difficult.
Even if risk-taking is against your nature, for the good of your organization, you must find the courage to practice it.
Since 1980, Michael McKinney has been the president of LeadershipNow to encourage you to develop the leader in you — to become an active participant in shaping your future and the future of others. In 1980 he also founded M2 Communications as a way to manufacture and develop tools to improve your performance and enjoyment of life through the use of educational web sites, articles and multimedia presentations. He is also the publisher of Foundations Magazine—a personal development e-zine—and is the president of the CenturyOne Foundation—a non-profit organization that promotes biblical archaeology, historical and biblical research, lectures and publications on subjects pertaining to the time of the first century C.E./A.D.
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