When you encounter excellence in an area that’s of real interest to you, you feel that your life is enriched. Along with music, technology, and many other areas, I’m really interested in the business of doing business. What I do today is what I’d do if I didn’t have a job tomorrow. But, alongside that, I’m really passionate about what Bill Gates called Creative Capitalism, and I would describe as using your business acumen to the betterment of others as you carry on with your capitalist endeavors.
And so it was with sadness that I heard of the untimely death of C.K. Prahalad last week. For me, he brought a sense of values to leadership strategy and other business teachings that was uncommon. It was in no way anti-commerce, but recognized that integrity and respect are intangible assets that grow the tangible assets that are more commonly found on a balance sheet.
I won’t eulogize him for fear of falling short. Instead I will list here the 11 points from a lecture he gave to MBA students each year for 33 years – without changing a word. The relevance, longevity and prescience of these words paints a better picture than any words I could write.
His remarks were intended to serve as a spur for people to reexamine their values before they plunge into their daily work routines.
- Understand the importance of nonconformity. Leadership is about change, hope, and the future. Leaders have to venture into uncharted territory, so they must be able to handle intellectual solitude and ambiguity.
- Display a commitment to learning and developing yourself. Leaders must invest in themselves. If you aren’t educated, you can’t help the uneducated; if you are sick, you can’t minister to the sick; if you are poor, you can’t help the poor.
- Develop the ability to put personal performance in perspective. Over a long career, you will experience both success and failure. Humility in success and courage in failure are hallmarks of a good leader.
- Be ready to invest in developing other people. Be unstinting in helping your colleagues realize their full potential.
- Learn to relate to those who are less fortunate. Good leaders are inclusive, even though that isn’t easy. Most societies have dealt with differences by avoiding or eliminating them; few assimilate those who aren’t like them.
- Be concerned about due process. People seek fairness—not favors. They want to be heard. They often don’t even mind if decisions don’t go their way as long as the process is fair and transparent.
- Realize the importance of loyalty to organization, profession, community, society, and, above all, family. Most of our achievements would be impossible without our families’ support.
- Assume responsibility for outcomes as well as for the processes and people you work with. How you achieve results will shape the kind of person you become.
- Remember that you are part of a very privileged few. That’s your strength, but it’s also a cross you carry. Balance achievement with compassion and learning with understanding.
- Expect to be judged by what you do and how well you do it—not by what you say you want to do. However, the bias toward action must be balanced by empathy and caring for other people.
- Be conscious of the part you play. Be concerned about the problems of the poor and the disabled, accept human weaknesses, laugh at yourself—and avoid the temptation to play God. Leadership is about self-awareness, recognizing your failings, and developing modesty, humility, and humanity.