Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is leadership a rare commodity?

"The context of leadership had changed, so that people with just as great capability as their predecessors find it much harder today to lead," writes James Rosebush, Harvard Business Review Blog Network, 30th Mar. “One of the foundations of leadership that used to be firmly in place seems shaken today: a common understanding of the age-tested principles, religious or moral, that should guide decisions.” Those lines which the writer came across two days after his Eastern European friends celebrated an acquisition indeed resonated.

And he thought about an earlier blog he had posted: “The writer’s Eastern European friend is going through his ‘15 minutes of fame’ – responding to why he must be the 2011 Europe’s entrepreneur of the year, among 10 finalists: The fall of communism gave them choices – to paddle their own canoe – and he made the choice to be in the business he pursued. But to succeed was not a matter of choice – it was the values he learned from his parents that gave him the inner strength to be a David in a sea of Goliaths.”

And when he speaks to values, he means simply doing the right things. “We must be a white business. This country like many that went through decades of Communist rule saw how abuse rewarded certain people. But that’s not the value my parents inculcated in us. We must earn our rewards; and in business that means I must be committed to growth. And likewise, I must not tolerate corruption. If we have to suffer the consequence of not using grease money, then we suffer. Because if the people know that I tolerate that, what will stop them from indulging in bad practices; then the organization and the business would suffer.”

Over cocktails the writer and his friends indulged in a bit of nostalgia given where they came from relatively recently as nine years ago. Even the acquisition came about because of the values upon which they make decisions. The business was one of four business units, but it was the only one that was not wholly owned. The partner was not prepared to invest more to sustain its growth momentum, opting to establish a smaller enterprise that he would control. And so the writer narrated a similar experience in China for the appreciation of the two partners. The bottom line: the acquisition was a no-brainer; the business has invested in state-of-the-art facilities, developed competitive products selling in over 20 countries and delivering healthy margins. If the partners had to go to the high-end of the valuation in order to settle, then they must. [Transparency must be a pillar-principle in the pursuit of global competitiveness where the ‘credibility bar’ is set higher given the range of constituencies that must be served. In the Philippines, to minimize self-inflicted wounds, we would want to guard against employing ‘abilidad’ when in fact it means undermining transparency – e.g., power generation, mining, etc.] And the following day the ex-partner sent a lovely note expressing continued friendship and reiterating partnership though in other ways; they would be pursuing a similar but different business and the two groups would simply continue to cross paths.

And so it came to pass and the celebration. A young trainee approached the writer. “I am new but I was there at the ‘best- and worst-cases session.’” She graduated from the state university and the writer remembered that Brown University had an exchange program with them; which of course she knew. The HR manager chimed in: “We have a partnership with the university; they shortlist the best graduates for us putting us in the same league as Western MNCs that also recruit from the university.” As early as 8 years ago, they already saw the need to develop the company’s HR bible and worked with the writer accordingly. Adds the HR manager: “We have developed our compensation practices consistent with the company bible and we are able to attract new graduates from the three top institutions – including the American University – as well as experienced managers from MNCs.”

The writer should not be surprised given what they’ve done in a relatively short period of time. The mindset of the organization is simply geared for global competitiveness; and the principles guiding decision-making have become part of its culture. Yet they do recognize that they’re only part of the way into their vision of being a truly outstanding global enterprise; and so day-in, day-out they keep raising the bar, challenging the human spirit.

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