Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from No Fear of Failure: Real Stories of How Leaders Deal with Risk and Change, by Gary Burnison. Copyright (c) 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Motivating and managing a team requires that leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence. As a physician and an empathetic listener, Daniel Vasella learned to read the unspoken communication of body language and emotion that is part of any interaction. Later as CEO and now as chairman of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, he used his awareness to understand how people's emotions--especially fear and anger--have the power to influence perceptions, decisions, and behaviors. Vasella also demonstrated another important ability shared by leaders who are admired and accomplished: they know themselves. They understand that leadership begins with who they are as people--their honesty, humility, and integrity--and it ends with personal accountability for failure and team recognition of success. In between are long hours, passion, a relentless and insatiable competitive spirit, superior decision making, and a genuine caring for others. I recall one of the most powerful leadership lessons that I ever learned while I was the COO of Korn/Ferry and on track to become the CEO: that leadership is all about the other person. No matter the topic--whether someone is being fired or has just told you about a serious health issue--that person should leave your office feeling better than when he or she entered. As the leader it is not just what you say, but what you don't say. As the old adage goes, "Actions speak louder than words, " and nowhere is that truer than in the executive office. Everything that a leader says and does sends a message. Words can destroy even the most noble of actions. As I've learned personally over the years, being a leader sometimes means biting your tongue, for example, choosing not to respond to an angry e-mail right away, knowing it's often better to wait. For the CEO there is no off-the-cuff remark. Leadership demands introspection and an understanding of the clout that one's words and actions carry. As the team comes together, roles, responsibilities, and authority need to cascade down from leader to followers along with a clear picture of how each part relates to the broader vision. As I have seen in my organization, people want and need to know how they are contributing to the journey. When they understand, they will give their all for a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.