What Does Real, Genuine Leadership Look Like?

This may sound crazy, but it’s hard for us when someone turns down a raise,”

That was a recent comment from the Board President at the University of Cincinnati. Not only that, but it’s the third year in a row the university chief, President Santa Ono, has donated his bonus.

Since 2013, he has turned down his six-figure bonus and declined a raise. His reasoning is that he donates it to various funds and to help the college students.

What does leadership look like?

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 billion on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training.” If you Google leadership development, you will get approximately 105,000 queries.

There are off-sites for leadership development. Business schools and their professors have gotten in on the game. My mailbox is hit at least a few times a week on some new technique for being a leader.

The flawed leadership model that was idolized years ago is flawed, in my opinion. Dr. Santa Ono exhibited leadership in such a compelling way that it says more about a real leader than any course could ever teach.

I have always felt that leadership is about caring for the people around you. Anything you can do to further their hopes and dreams enables the organization to move forward.  As my friend Peter Makowski, CEO of American Hospital here in Dubai says so eloquently, “My job is to care for the people who care for the people.

Making the connection

“Having a child is a life-changing experience and this policy means our employees have the opportunity to enjoy time with their families and have a great career,” said Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group.

The policy he referred to was one year of maternity leave with full pay that Virgin announced to their employees.

“If you take care of your employees they will take care of your business. That is a philosophy that has served us well for more than four decades, and is the foundation of everything we do at Virgin,” Branson said.

I am a sucker for these types of initiatives because they show exactly what real leadership is about.

You can’t program genuine leadership

This real type leadership can’t be programmed. I wrote an article a while back about a CEO who extolled the values of leadership and how he runs his organization. Only later did I find out that this is the same guy who walks in every morning and walks past numerous desk on the way to his office without the most common morning courtesy of “Good Morning.”  But, he calls himself a real leader.

Leadership is about the small things that you do.  Big pronouncements and chest thumping does not means leadership.

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Another former CEO who I had the honor of knowing would gladly stop by the mail room on the way to her office. She would hold her own in spirited discussions on last night’s games.

What this showed was a real person connecting to the lowest level on our organizational chart.  To them she was just Sharon, not the founding CEO of this company.

The real power in your organization

This is what real authentic leadership is about. It is about connecting to the people throughout the organization

In order to get your employees excited about working for your organization, leadership has to connect. If you want problems solved, expressing new ideas, and taking care of customers, you can’t do it without this connection.

The strength in your organization is not your leadership team, but, where the majority of your workers sit. Leadership is only a small percentage of your workforce

Companies need this not just from top performers and leaders but from every employee every day. The only distinction  between organizations today, and this is true more than ever, is their people and the effort they exert each and every day.

A connection can be an unlimited sources of energy. When that level of trust is built between all connecting parties, bright days will follow.

So forget the next new thing in leadership development. If your leader can’t connect on a personal level, there is no course or development opportunity that will make them the leader that you need.

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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2 Comments on “What Does Real, Genuine Leadership Look Like?

  1. I guess I’m wondering why a university leader gets a six figure bonus? What financial impact is this person having? It’s not a business, and raises in tuition come about mostly in relation to raised in student loans from the government. A real leader would change the compensation structure.

  2. I guess I’m wondering why a university leader gets a six figure bonus? What financial impact is this person having? It’s not a business, and raises in tuition come about mostly in relation to raised in student loans from the government. A real leader would change the compensation structure.

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