I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of leadership. What does it take to be an effective leader? How do we cultivate leadership? I’m not the only one who is fascinated. The search to identify the characteristics or qualities of leaders has been ongoing for centuries. These days, I come across many tweets that provide great insight on the topic. What’s remarkable is the evolution of leadership philosophies and how they’re applied today. The bottom line is we can all lead, but I’ll get to that later.
I was recently invited to a party at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is a great showcase of creative minds that bring stories to life. I was reminded of one of my favourite movies, called ‘Remember the Titans’. In one particular scene, the Captain and Assistant Captain of the football team, the Titans, are passionately discussing the contributions of the players to the success of the team. The Captain expresses frustration and disgruntlement for the team’s achievement which drives the Assistant Captain to say: “Attitude reflects leadership”.
There’s no better way to describe the foundation of leadership. Great leaders have to inspire others to be the best they can be, to do things they didn’t think were possible. They articulate a shared vision in a way that inspires others to act. And the greatest leaders in the world have done so by holding themselves personally to a standard higher than anybody else could hold them to. They set their own philosophy, define clear goals and don’t settle for mediocrity. I have observed many great leaders and one in particular who changed the course of my career. Years ago, I was a lawyer. That quickly changed when by chance, I ran into the man who started ING DIRECT in Canada while waiting at a car repair shop. He spoke so passionately about his plan to build a new bank in Canada that would help people save more and borrow less. It would have a culture where every employee matters, their opinions matter, their ideas get heard and many are implemented. His vision to change the way banking is done in this country was so bold and so clear. I was incredibly moved and inspired to be part of a team that would be a direct reflection of his attitude and his leadership. So 14 years ago, I left my law career and embarked on a journey that aligned entirely with my own standards.
Today, as the CEO of ING DIRECT Canada, I come across many discussions about the struggles that organizations experience with the attraction and retention of employees. There are varying opinions on whether money is a primary factor. Here’s what I learned. You can’t buy the motivations of employees. We have to recognize that there are no better motivators than allowing your employees to own the direction of your business.
We call it the Leadership Blueprint at ING DIRECT; a blueprint that we have formalized to shape performance behaviours and cultivate leadership skills. But this structure doesn’t just apply to people who have leadership titles; it actually applies to every single person in the organization because we inherently believe that anyone can lead given the opportunity. This structure defines four competencies: the leader of self, leader of others, leader of leaders and leader of groups and functions. And we apply a development strategy that includes coaching, mentorship, and even an “Orange U” curriculum to help strengthen culture, leadership and functional excellence in our employees.
One of our development programs called “I CAN LEAD!” provides the opportunity for high potential, ambitious individuals from across departments to work closely with me, to develop strategies, look at the business as a whole, and work on cross-functional teams. It is my belief that individuals who showcase a high level of motivation, passion and a desire to do more, will do a much better job in driving a shared vision than if I just tell them what to do. All they need is an environment that promotes that type of behaviour.
Entrepreneurial behaviour is crucial in the increasingly competitive environment companies face today. Bureaucracy destroys motivation. You want to empower your employees to own their organizations’ vision and execute through inspiration. We all have the ability to lead. We may have different leadership styles but ultimately our passion, self-awareness and a sense of purpose are the common threads that are reflected in the many faces of leadership.