What is leadership?
I always see it has the self-made CEO who went from rags-to-riches and is now leading a Fortune 500 company of over thousands of employees. He’s successfully at the helm, making tons of money for his company. His employees all respect him. He’s humble, charismatic, and a true serviceman for his company. Well respected by competitors and allies alike.
That is what a leader is. I guess it’s not really rocket science neither. Being a leader isn’t a one-stop-fits-all policy. Everyone has their own style. Their own preferences. Operating in their own unique environments. So it’s hard to say what is the true definition of a leader. Because we each have our own relative definition.
For me personally, I’ve been thinking about this often. Because my dad is not getting any younger, and I’ve been working in the family business for around 7 to 8 years now. It’s about time that I begin thinking about how to take over.
My dad needs time to relax and enjoy himself. Besides, he never forced me to work for him. It was my decision to finish business school, work overseas for a year, and then come back and work in the family.
There are so many perks that I can get with a small family business. I can work whenever and wherever I want. Business-wise, there is no bureaucracy that requires me to go through 10 different chains of approval before working on a new initiative.
And I have to admit, I enjoy working at my own pace, trying to bring in as much money for the company. After all, one of my MBA friends often said what’s the point of running a business if you don’t make money. And to some extent that is true.
But after 7 years of working in the family business, I’m starting to feel that there is more to business than just making money. There has to be more to it than that. Some of the best businesses are successful in terms of both tangibles and intangibles.
And I just finished reading a new book by leadership expert Simon Sinek, called the Infinite Game.
In the book, he defines many things that we do and take for granted in life - like marriage, education, politics, and economics, as infinite games. These games don’t have a set rule - like basketball, baseball, or soccer. There is no defined winner nor loser. The point is not to beat the opponent, but to continue to play the game for the long-term. And ideally, on an infinite timeline.
And he highlights that business, in itself, is an infinite game. Is there such a thing as winning business? Very rarely. How do you win business anyways? Many leaders today talk about being #1! About beating the competition. But in this game of business (and in life in general) all these metrics to define success are pretty arbitrary. What you see as winning may not be what someone else sees as winning?
So, this book really got me thinking. And I suggest everyone to give this book a shot as well. I’m not going to focus on all the information that this book has at its disposal. But, I’ll focus on one point Simon makes, which is called having a Just Cause.
Basically, long-story short, it’s a mission or a purpose that the company has which is greater than oneself. Something more than hitting that quarterly profit margin. Getting a year-end bonus. More than beating the competition at an arbitrary metric.
A just cause is something that helps inspire your co-workers to work for you - regardless of monetary compensation. A just cause helps you and your teammates get up every morning ready to give it your all for this company.
You can even use Toastmasters as an example. Its mission is to help its members improve their public speaking, communication, and leadership skills - within a positive and supportive atmosphere. This is a just cause I can get behind.
And honestly, finding a just cause has been kind of a struggle for my family business. We are an importer. A distributor of goods. And the latest fad these days has been to cut out the middle man in order to improve profits across the supply chain.
And my mentality for the first couple of years working in the family business has been to just make as much money as possible. So, as you can see, my intentions and my customer’s intentions are at polar opposites many times.
But slowly, I began to evolve my mentality from simply making money, to providing service to my customer. To ensure that there is business to be done across the entire supply chain - from top to bottom. From our manufacturing suppliers, to the broker handling our import operations, to us, to our end customer, and to our end customer’s end customer. And eventually, to the consumer that buys the product from our end customer’s end customer. You get the picture.
Something larger than oneself. Something larger than my business and my well-being.
And slowly, I have to admit, that our business has been expanding at a steady pace. Nowhere near the level of a Fortune 500 company yet, but it’s been steady and serviceable these past few years. So, the next step again, is to find this Just Cause. This ideal vision that I will not reach in my lifetime, but something that can keep our business going for the long-run. So that when I retire, I can eventually pass on this mantle of leadership to someone who is capable of running with that Just Cause.
One just cause I’ve been fiddling around with is to help connect business on a global scale. After all, we are a distributor. And we are in the field of international trade. So, what better way to serve our business then to help connect our supplier to our customer. Of course, the risk involved includes the possibility of being jumped, or cut off like a middle man. And admittedly, sometimes that will happen.
But the end result, if successful, should be a thriving long-term supply chain. And that could be well worth it. To help business become more sustainable. More connected. More understood across international cultures. And to help the game of business thrive on an infinite level (instead of just worrying about quarterly profits).
So I realize that all this isn’t rocket science. And finding a just cause can apply for just about everything - not just in business. But it’s been something I’m trying to tinker with, so that when my dad retires, I can truly lead the right way. Not just for my sake, for my company’s sake, but for the sake of my customers, my market, my industry, and for business as a whole.
Finding that Just Cause in business (or simply in our lives), can make us feel that much more healthy, and that much more fulfilled as a leader, and as an overall human being.