“The Engaging Leader and the Hedge Fund shareholders”

Article

Didier Marlier

November 08, 2009

From Disruption to Engagement

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It is probably difficult to imagine a more challenging place to be for a CEO than run a Telecom company while having a hedge fun as shareholders (I guess we all heard the semi-fictional joke that during Board meetings, hedge funds representatives avoid shaking hands with the management team in order not to create personal ties which would get in the way of them taking the decision to fire the CEO and team for stock underperformance). One could therefore have expected, as I did, that the leader of such a context would probably be tough, hard nose, “old generation” and that the concept of engaging leadership would be somewhat remote…

I am pleased to report that I was totally wrong: Sergio Chaia (Brazilian CEO of Nextel), is a strong believer in “Engaging Leadership”:

  • When I asked him where he was spending most of his time and focus, his reply was: “I lead people. In my type of business we sure need efficient, disciplined and timely execution but not at the cost of initiative, creativity nor Passion. I am therefore 60% of my time “on the road” and make it a point to meet each of my 4’000+ employees twice a year to ensure that we are all aligned and intellectually as well as emotionally “own” our strategic intent. I always made it clear to my team, I will not ask for a permission to go and talk to our people down the line. I play football with my employees once a week. This is not just leisure, it is work. I constantly strive to get feedback on our strategy, gather the impact of its application on the battlefield in order to amend it where necessary and let my people feel that they can make a difference even at strategic level.
  • I strongly believe that we get the best of our people through encouragement and praise. I always make my expectations very clear, consequently people know when they underperformed and my job is to coach them up or coach them out. I need to help them create the environment where they can shine at best in getting the job done. In personal terms I decided to “outsource my weaknesses”. What I mean by that is that I know what I excel at and where I underperform. So rather than hiring “clones” I deliberately seek to hire people who are very different from me. I give them full autonomy on running what I wouldn’t be good at. I believe in honest and timely feedback: it is a condition for creating the trust and openness our organization needs to perform in an agile and entrepreneurial manner…
  • I want to see Passion in our people. I don’t believe in the artificial wall between private and business spheres: we bring family life at work and take the office back home at night. I want my people to live a balanced life on both and bring their domestically fuelled energy at work. I want them to think strategically over the week-end and during the Sunday BBQ with their friends. I want them to “be” a Nextel passionate salesman, thinker, “carer”. But I also want Nextel to send back home fulfilled, happy and proud mothers and fathers. In the business environment we are, I must count on passionate and dedicated people. When hiring people I need to hear the authentic sense of Passion in their voice!!!

My closing question was: “Sergio, I see an apparent paradox between your style of leadership and the Wall-Street driven shareholders you work for. Why did they hire you?”. “My shareholders want outstanding returns. They have no ideology about leadership styles. I am hired to get results. I do believe and know out of experience that this way of leading is the only one which can get results in the fast moving, unpredictable environment we operate in!” Sergio couldn’t be clearer.

Another enlightening week… Martin Seligman (the “father of” Positive Psychology) has found that collecting the “three blessings” one has encountered by the end of each day, makes wonders in focusing our minds on possibilities and opportunities. I have therefore started to follow that routine. Listening to Sergio Chaia explaining his notion of leadership was, as you will have guessed, one of my day’s three blessings.

I am not sure reading my blog will be one of your day’s three blessings but I wish you a great week. On my way to Nîmes and Lausanne…

2 Comments

  1. GUBELMANN-BONNEAU Isabelle

    You are right Didier, the reading of your blog today has been one my blessing, that would help me to start my week positively !
    Thanks a lot.
    Wram regards,
    Isabelle

    Reply
  2. Didier Marlier

    Thank you Isabelle, well just for that the blog was worth it 😉
    I am deeply moved, thank you Didier

    Reply

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