You’re A Bad Leader If People Can’t Follow You


Sometimes, when I’m driving in the lead of a convoy, I get chided for being a bad leader.

It’s neither because I don’t know the route nor that I’m driving I’m driving dangerously.

it’s because I am not mindful about the people following behind me.

Sometimes, I cross traffic lights right on amber; leaving everybody else stuck at the red light behind me. Other times, I drive a little too fast that the last few cars struggle to keep up.

You get the picture.

It’s the same with leadership.

We’re bad leaders when we are not mindful of the people following us; when we don’t bring them along.

It’s not that we lack the vision (we know where we’re going).

It’s not that we lack the skill (we can drive ahead and possess the right experience to navigate the journey ahead).

It’s not even because people don’t want to follow us (after all, people have allowed us to be “in the front” and are willingly lined up to follow).

We are bad leaders when we go ahead without ensuring that people are able to follow us.

We leave them confused, lost, and frustrated.

Good leaders help ensure that people can follow where they are leading.


My Welcome Aboard Note

At the end of my first day at Microsoft, I received a wonderful “Welcome aboard” note from my manager Danny Ong (whom I am now privileged to call a friend, and whose influence in my life continues far beyond the time we spent working together). I’ve since adapted it for my own use. I hope it encourages my own new team members in the same way I was encouraged when I first started working with Danny.

Dear [name],

Welcome aboard and thank you for saying yes to this adventure!

As you are new to [company] and this team, plus you and I are working closely together in this context for the first time, I’d like to share some principles I will try to live by to support you, and set you up for success with the team:

  1. My #1 priority is your happiness and productivity at work. If there’s anything I can do to make you happier and more efficient – tell me right away. This isn’t mere idealism – it’s also good business, since happy people are more productive.
  2. I will not burden you with unnecessary rules and regulations. You’re are an adult – I trust you to use your best judgment at all times.
  3. You have my full permission to screw up, as long as you own up to it, apologize to those affected and learn from it.
  4. Please tell me immediately when I screw up, so I can own up to it, apologize and learn from it.
  5. If I get it right occasionally, I’d love to hear about it from you, too J
  6. Please make sure you proactively identify people who are doing great work and praise them to the heavens. I will do this as much as humanly possible, but I can’t do it alone.
  7. I will always have time for you. My calendar is open to you and you will see that it is often completely full. However, if you need to speak to me I will re-arrange it to accommodate you.
  8. I am interested in you as an employee AND as a human being. I care about your private life and about your – and your family’s – health and well-being.
  9. I expect you to take responsibility for your personal and professional development. I will support you fully with helping you to achieve your goals, but the commitment must come from you.
  10. Finally, I expect you to take responsibility for your own well-being at work. If you can do something today to make yourself, a co-worker or me a little happier at work – do it !

I’m looking forward to your success!



The first word in Merger is “ME”

I’ve had the privilege of having a front row seat in one of the most long drawn, contentiously fought mergers in Corporate Malaysia to date – the merger-acquisition of EON Capital by Hong Leong Bank.

During this time, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is:

The first word in “Merger” is “Me”. 

If you’re leading change management and internal communications like I was (I led the branding and communications function for the integration process), you’ll be best served by building your strategy around answering these two questions:

  1. What will happen to me?
  2. What’s in it for me?

Unless you address these two questions, you won’t get anywhere with your audiences.

Leadership, Management, Internal Culture and Stuffed Animals

I saw this story via my LinkedIn profile today and was totally amazed by what I read.

These were the parts that really got to me, emphases mine:

At the mention of Whoops, a handful of team members would stand up and one-by-one retell the story of a mistake, big or small. It might have been a mishandled customer case, a forgotten internal data analysis or causing a car accident on the way to work. Often, the team’s managers and directors contributed anecdotes. Once or twice, an employee’s Whoops mistake cost Google millions of dollars. After hearing all the yarns, the team voted on the worst mistake and Whoops would be thrown from one side of the room to the other, finding the “winner” of the competition who would put the monkey in his or her cubicle for the week.

Then Duke the dog was summoned. In contrast to Whoops’ self-reported monkeywrench mistakes, Duke stories are retold by someone else and the dog is a reward for service to the team that went above and beyond the call of duty. Several Googlers would stand and tell a story of a teammate’s dedication: how a colleague alerted them of a problem in a customer’s account, or stayed late that week to process unusually high customer spoort volumes, or released an internal tool that might have increased our productivity dramatically. Again, the team would vote on the stories and Duke would be bestowed on the winner. Then, the all hands meeting adjourned.

Despite their childlike simplicity, Duke and Whoops, were incredibly effective management tools. Whoops created a culture of honesty and transparency, where mistakes were shared in an environment of openness, trust and support. With Whoops, Kim created a culture that valued learning and camraderie over pride.

Duke celebrated our internal successes. Each week, we wanted to win Duke because we knew whatever effort we contributed at the very least would be celebrated before our teammates and Duke, prominently displayed on in our cubicle would remind our teammates and start conversations. That knowledge made us all work harder.

To the individual, it mattered who won Duke and Whoops. But sharing all of the stories, building a community based on shared experience and trust, was far more important and beneficial to the team. The dog and the monkey were tools to weave a fabric of shared experience and create a culture of strong values.

Can you imagine your company creating a culture that truly values honesty and transparency? Where mistakes are shared with openness, trust and support; where learning and camaraderie is valued over pride?

I am a firm believer that one of the most overlooked and undervalued things in an organization is its internal culture. Leaders and managers are too often focused on immediate gains and easy-to-report KPIs, leaving internal culture to the HR department, or worse, a part-time special interest group. Leaders must realize that their main job is leading people to achieve success and greatness – which then translates to results.

Maybe this is why Google continues its momentum as the world’s #2 brand, with its stock price hitting the $1,000 mark.


5 Dimensions to Meta-Leadership

(Disclaimer: I work for Microsoft. However, the parts of the HBR article I enjoyed and want to file for my own future reference is only the leadership lessons. I have not worked for Mr. Sinofsky before nor do I know him in any capacity other than his position as an executive in Microsoft)

I really enjoyed this article by Eric McNulty via the Harvard Business Review, especially on the insights to what makes great leadership.

The article kicks off with a great definition of leadership they use at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative. I love this, it’s the simplest and most true way to describe a leader: people follow you. It’s a great definition that “intentionally omits any reference to rank or role” and defines leadership as behavior-based. “Leader” is not a title you are handed just because you sit in a certain spot in a hierarchy; you have to earn it from those you aspire to have follow you.

McNulty then goes on to describe 5 dimensions of a framework he calls Meta-leadership.

  1. The first dimension of meta-leadership is the person of the leader. It comprises their competence and experience and, more important, their self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
  2. The second dimension is the situation, the context in which someone leads.
  3. The third dimension of meta-leadership is leading down to one’s organizational base.
  4. The fourth dimension is leading up to one’s boss. A leader must understand and deliver on his boss’ priorities while also helping the boss better understand opportunities and threats. In a complex, global corporation the CEO must have an effective senior team that knows when — and how — to surface conflict as well as how to come together to execute a strategy.
  5. The fifth dimension of meta-leadership is leading across to people over whom you have no authority but who are critical to your success. This is the ability to create unity of effort among one’s peers, suppliers, distributors, and others in the value chain. Success is rarely achieved alone. Leaders know that they need others. Sometimes you require their active support; other times it is simply their enthusiasm that benefits you.

And a great kicker of an ending too: “Executives come and go. Leaders make a lasting, positive impact on people. It is time to stop calling those who manage or who have climbed to the upper reaches of the corporate world “leaders” — until they have demonstrated actual leadership. By articulating clear standards and expectations for the many dimensions of leadership, we can begin to cultivate the true leaders we need and desire.”

Read the full article here.