Great Leaders Aren’t Born, They’re Cloned

“Last night on an elevator in New York, headed to dinner with my colleagues, a woman on the elevator asked if I was China Gorman. When I said yes, she hugged me tightly and told me who she was. Twenty years ago, in Boston, I hired her to be my assistant with the easy promise that I’d support her HR career aspirations. After I left that company we lost track of each other, but I did track her success via LinkedIn. She’s now a VP of HR at a leading cable/media company in NYC. So grateful to see her! With a husband, two kids, an IRL Master’s Degree and smart, hard work, she’s making the impact she hoped for 20 years ago.

“Bumping in to her made me remember all the people who helped me and believed in my potential as I was starting out my career. Hope they know how much I appreciated their support.”

That was a quote from my good friend China Gorman speaking to the importance of mentoring and believing in people

I too received a note from a college intern who eventually became my employee. She and I worked together for a few years before she got married and moved away:

I was doing research today on onboarding and in reading the article I see that you are the one that is being quoted and profiled; I am still learning from you after all these years. Thank you.

I am sure many of you get LinkedIn requests from people who are just starting out and may have read, heard you give a speech, or are asking for mentorship. Hopefully you are agreeing to help. Somewhere along the line there were folks in all of our lives. We did not just rise up one day and become the Big Kahuna in HR.

The relationship questions I ask

There was a line of questions that I would always ask when I would interview someone for a manager’s role. I would take the last 2 or 3 jobs and I would want to know how many people from those jobs they still connect with. My concern was around their direct reports, and how many they connected with. That was is important to me. My reasoning is that a person who connects with people is a stronger manager and relationship builder.

SMRH Relationship Management competency chartOne of SHRM’s top HR competencies is Interpersonal Competencies: Relationship Management. However, that is a skill not limited to just HR. The entire business spectrum revolves around the ability to connect with people.

Google’s Project Oxygen basically mirrored the same. The best managers in their research were relationship builders and good communicators

Become a clone

This is so important because as managers we become role models whether we like it or not. Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance said, “I think that the best training a top manager can be engaged in is management by example.”

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Early in my career, I met and worked with a CEO who inspired me to want to follow her style, if I ever managed people. I wanted to clone her leadership style and I did. She was the most down to earth senior leader I had ever come in contact with.

She was just as much at ease in the mail room or talking to the average employee as she was in the board room. Everyone knew her by her first name and felt comfortable just walking up to her and having a conversation. You got in the elevator and if she walked in, there was no panic attack as the CEO had just entered your space. Matter of fact they would hold the door for her, wanting her to come in.

However, I had another manager who was so bad I knew I would never imitate her style because it was just not a trusting style. She exemplified behaviors that caused turmoil in departments and the workspace.

Oscar for best leader

We should all take inventory from time to time to make sure we are being a real leader in setting the example. Know that the people who work for you are watching, emulating and studying your approach. Some things they will duplicate, and some they will shed.

So it is important we paint the right picture of how a leader should act. If there was an Oscar for Best Leader in an Organization, you want to make sure you are one of the finalists.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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