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The Fabric of a True Leader – My Takeaways from the Last 5+ Years

February 29th, 2012 | Leadership,Small Business Tips | 15 Comments »

As many of the readers of this blog know, my day job has been at a large web services company over the last few years.  Today is my final day of juggling the absolutely exhausting schedule of a demanding full-time day job and simultaneous full nights and weekend entrepreneur with KikScore.  I am very excited for that, however, the only major downside really is I now have to find another excuse for why I am 10 pounds overweight, have no time to work out, am balding and have those dark circles under my eyes!

The substance of this post and the story that provides that substance has been years in the making. In short, this post is about the lessons I learned from an undeniable true leader, my former boss (who also left the company this past November).  Therefore this is a very personal and important post for me for two reasons: 1) to provide a way of saying thanks to him and 2) to share with the broader community some of the incredible traits that I hope we all strive for in leadership positions that we are in or may be in one day.  My tribute to him will only really be complete if I can embody and carry many of these same traits to KikScore and beyond in my career and not end up like the guy from the CareerBuilder ad (great song by the way from one of my all time favorite commercials)!

Instead of a long story, the best way to convey to readers what I experienced and learned first hand is by sharing the traits that he repeatedly demonstrated in his daily work and interactions with our team, management, board of directors, third parties, employees throughout the organization and even adversaries trying to sue the company.   The traits broadly broke down into four main areas:

1) Personality;

2) Management;

3) Strategy; and

4) Interaction with Others.

Just for some important context, I saw these traits and actions of this leader over the backdrop of more than 5 years, 4 different management teams (including 4 different CEOs) and 3 different owners that included two separate private equity firms.  His approach to leadership and managing his team instilled a tremendous amount of loyalty not just with me, but throughout the entire organization and especially with his ability to successfully manage through external crisis scenarios and heavy media scrutiny.  A testament to that is over the last few years there was not one person that had the overall and nearly universal respect of the multiple management teams, middle level management and employee base as well as scores of people outside of the company (even competitors too!) and in the community that consistently and repeatedly recognized and often commented on how phenomenal of a leader and person my former boss is.  The funny thing is I honestly think there are probably more than 20 people today across many of these organizations around the world that would write this very same post I am writing about him because our experiences with him have been so similar.

So based on my last 5+ years, the fabric of a true leader can best be described the following way:

A Leader’s Personality Matters

1) Be the person that sets the example and the standard for others

2) Remain calm during a crisis and when others are in various states of panic because that calmness helps everyone make better decisions

3) Keep everything in perspective, even when going through ups and downs as a company and team

4) Stick up for those people who do not have a voice, they will repay you with loyalty and even harder work

5) Be courageous and have the conviction to present a different opinion (just make sure to back it up with data and facts)

6) Steer clear of the politics for a decision and focus instead on what is the right decision for the business

7) Take the time to laugh and enjoy the moment – laughter can often diffuse the inevitable tense meetings and events that we all experience

A Leader Helps Create and Implement a Strategy

8 Work to create an overall mission/strategy that defines the role for yourself and the people you manage

9) Remain flexible and open minded in the tasks and roadmap needed to execute on the strategy

10) Always game plan so you think two and three steps ahead of decisions/actions taken so a team can adequately anticipate possible outcomes

11) Relentlessly focus on customers and employees for the overall strategy and the decisions that are made in executing on that strategy

A Leader Manages with Common Sense

12) Know the role that you have as the leader of a team and focus on consistently delivering in that role

13) As you manage and lead your team, work to ensure that the team clearly understands the strategy and mission that is to be accomplished and their individual roles in achieving the mission

14) Ask lots of questions, but do not second guess subject matter experts by replacing their recommendations with your own gut feelings

15) Learn to deflect praise to the team and team members

16) Actively promote the careers of deserving team members even if they end up having to leave your team

17) Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more with your team

A Leader Makes a World of Difference to Others Through Their Interactions

18) Set your own high standard for interacting with others and make sure you do not get drawn into reacting to other people’s behavior and negativity

19) Avoid unnecessary escalations where you need to “go over someone’s head” and instead give people the benefit of the doubt

20) Take the extra time to remove the attitude from communication and email – the attitude almost always is counterproductive to everyone involved

21) When in doubt, have a face to face conversation instead of trying resolve items over email, that hardly works

22) Be respectful of others’ workloads even when you are much busier than they are

23) Focus on the person that is talking to you, do not multitask and look at your email when they are asking you questions or talking to you

24) Encourage learning from failure and mistakes instead of pointing fingers

I could probably go on and on, especially with more than 5 years of material but then I would lose probably even more readers than I already have with this long post.  Ultimately, a person is perceived and recognized as a leader for a number of reasons often due to their own merit or in some instances just due to association with certain people in an organization.  This post is about laying out the path to do it on your own merit because that is what I saw first hand for the last few years with my former boss. I am forever better off for being part of a team that had a one of a kind leader that taught me (and many others on our team and beyond): that leaders succeed by standing up for a core set of values, working exceptionally hard, taking care of their people, and caring deeply about customers and fellow teammates.


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15 Responses

  1. AttyJones says:

    I like him too, Raj. My only regret is that he doesn’t work for me. I’d hire him in a heartbeat. Best in your future adventures.

    @AttyJones

  2. Statton says:

    Raj,

    I wish I had written this post. Positively brilliant.

    Every word of it resonates with me and so truly characterizes how our Boss managed his team and some tough situations at Network Solutions. I know I’ll never work again for someone like Bobby but the fact that I got the chance to, is enough to sustain me.

  3. Raj, let’s stay in touch. I have many projects and if you have the time to consult it would be fun.

  4. Jenna says:

    Having worked with Raj, Raj’s former boss and various team members (a few of whom have commented on this thread), I’ll add that, in my experience, these tenets of leadership carried over from their fearless leader through the entire team. As a service provider, we have an opportunity to work with and for a wide range of client cultures and styles. In my short 15 years, very few of those rise to the level of integrity, expertise and andor of the group and leader referenced in Raj’s post. Catch you on the flipside, guys!

  5. Eric says:

    Raj, very well stated. I agree with all you say about this leader. In this life, you know a human being is special when your personal world turns upside down on you. The worst thing to happen to any of us is the loss of a loved one. My hair stands on end, in addition to the chills I get down my spine, on recalling our family seeing the said leader standing in the hallway as we went into the church for the memorial service of our late loved one. Yet this was hundreds of miles away from Northern Virginia, in the Midwest. I couldn’t believe it, and will never stop being thankful for such a gesture of kindness, care and support. This in addition to the everyday professional support he rendered to our team, which had to butt heads with various levels of management being the messenger and constant bearers of bad news as the organization sought to change direction. Truly priceless, and sincerely appreciated!

  6. Danny says:

    Raj,

    Well written sir. Bobby is an outstanding leader and truly an exceptional person. The legal team at Netsol was a reflection of that as well as the excellence that all the team members brought to the table. It was a pleasure working with him, Nick, Statton, Woody, and of course you over the years at Netsol. A stand out team with a stand out leader. I look forward to when our paths may cross again.

    Danny

  7. Paul D says:

    Pitch perfect, Raj. I had the pleasure of working with BT for over a decade, and in all of that time I can’t remember hearing a single negative comment about him. Disagreements over decisions, sure, but never a complaint about him or how he conducted himself. That’s really saying something in today’s cynical world full of anti-lawyer sentiment. A true testament to the man, and a standard we all should aspire to…

  8. Raj, I don’t even know your former boss and I was inspired by this. What a terrific tribute. And congratulations to you… I know what a big step this next adventure is, but I have no doubt you will make it through with flying colors!

    • RajMalik says:

      Thanks Shonali for all of the support you have given KikScore!!! You have been so helpful in our success and growth.

  9. John D says:

    I had the privilege of being part of the Network Solutions’ Legal Department for a little over five years. I would never have had this opportunity if it weren’t for Bobby and Raj (whom both interviewed me) taking a chance on me. Because of that I was able to work with extraordinary people, grow personally and professionally. The one thing I look for in a leader is their ability to make everyone around them better, and that is what Bobby and Raj did. I was encouraged to learn as much as I could, develop greater skill sets, look for better opportunities, even if it meant leaving, or just continuing educational pursuits. I hope one day that I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I am able to do the same for someone else that you both have done for me. My time in the legal department was amazing, we went through some bad times and some good times, but the good times were made even better because we went though it together. All I can say is Thank You.

  10. [...] (for always thinking about connecting KikScore to every new person you met); Bobby Turnage (see this post on leadership on how he helped); and Miles Reidy and Dick LeFave (for each of them ironically on the same day in [...]

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