Hidden Lessons in Leadership #10

In saying, “I believe that it is not about me…it’s very much about the team”, Linda Heasley, President and CEO of The Limited, concisely expresses her philosophy of leadership.  Underlying this position on leadership is the fact that leadership involves We and not Me.

Learning is central to Linda’s approach as well.  Linda’s practice rests on having a healthy view of the role that mistakes can play.  Accordingly, Linda promotes the communication of bad news by acting on the “promise of no recriminations.” Linda challenges everyone to gain understanding of the cause and preventive steps “so it doesn’t happen again.”

I offer a cautionary note regarding the error of chasing down every mistake as if each is an unrelated single event.   Most often, mistakes and errors are faults of the system and not of an individuals’ or team’s action.  Systems thinking and statistical thinking are essential for discerning the difference and for maintaining trusting relationships—both essential to learning and effective leadership.

In light of Linda valuing learning, her process of hiring is quite consistent as well. If learning is essential then it is important to bring into the organization those most likely to be learners. Accordingly, Linda seeks people who exhibit curiosity, passion, the will to take a risk and a sense of humor.  With these qualities in all employees—managers and non-managers alike—the organization has the ‘raw material’ from which creative solutions can emerge.

Linda places great importance in selecting the right people for her organization and just as importantly she works at retaining them.  To this Linda says, “my job is to re-recruit them every day and give them a reason to choose to work for us and for me as opposed to anybody else.”  What underlies this approach to leading people is an employment relationship not framed as an economic exchange but rather on mutually beneficial relationship beyond material gain—we help each other develop.   Essentially Linda’s leadership is about developing productive partnerships with those who work in the organization.

In short leadership is about developing relationships and developing people.  It seems so simple and yet it is so rare.

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