Hidden Lessons in Leadership #4

Kip Tindell, Container Store CEO, shares important fundamentals of leadership in a New York Times Corner Office interview.  At base Kip’s underlying belief about the business of business is not the usual it’s nothing personal it’s just business but rather to the contrary, business is very personal.  The foundational principles of the Container Store reflect a belief in the non-superficial nature of the business of business.  Accordingly Kip approaches his role in business as he does his role as a fellow human being in life stating: “…most people seem to think that there’s a separate code of conduct in business from your personal life, And I always believed they should be the same.”   What this reveals is that the quality of leadership flows from the depth of the underlying philosophy about life that one holds—our very depth as a person.  Thus providing genuine leadership is not separate from you yourself being genuine.  What else could integrity mean!

The belief in the depth of a person being essential is reflected in the approach to hiring.  In response to a question about how do you hire for a senior position from the outside Kip said, “I’m going to ask a lot of sort of business philosophy questions.  I’ve going to try to make sure that you’re capable of understanding that business is not a zero-sum game, even thought a lot of people think it is.”  It is clear that at the Container Store, the business of business is not business as usual.

Further, the hidden message in the Container Store’s principle that communication equals leadership is that leadership is all about developing (humanly) productive relationships—more specifically partnership.  Moreover, what is not explicitly mentioned but nonetheless operative in this is the fact that a business organization is social structure created by people for the collaborative pursuit of a desired end; that it is a purposeful collection of people in mutual relation.   Contrary to a very popular belief that the way to win is to create competition, at the Container Store crafting mutually beneficial relationships is the pathway to lasting success.

Also underlying the notion that communication equals leadership is the recognition that through communication—not mere information dissemination—is how one builds trust.  Communication is about both speaking and listening, information sharing is all about speaking.  Again the importance of developing collaborative relationships—relationships through which people can do business.

Kip brings to light that most people don’t realize the impact they have on others—what he called a person’s wake—and that it is important to understand just how large your wake is.  The lesson to think more deeply about is irrespective of whether you are genuine, or whether you have a non-superficial view of the business of business, or whether you care about the nature of your relationships you will impact the lives of others—either positively or negatively.  It’s very personal there is not just business!

What does your experience tell you about the essence of leadership?

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