The leadership attributes of the likes of Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Sir Richard Branson and numerous other famous business people have been sliced and diced, dissected and analysed innumerable times. While we all aspire to be like some of the greats, what can we learn from the everyday leader – these unknowns that don’t attract the attention of celebrity – who are making a significant difference in the lives of people who work for them?
Let me share a personal story.
Summer 2017. Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, India. A normal Saturday afternoon. My wife and I walk into a well-known retail clothing chain store. She is looking for an unusual t-shirt. One of the shop assistants sees us and approaches us as most shop assistants are programmed to do. He holds up a sign which is hanging on a lanyard around his neck, which indicates his name is Piyush and that he is deaf. He signals with his fingers that he can lip read. “This is most unusual” I think to myself as I have not experienced this in countless retail experiences. My wife says she is looking for a t-shirt, Piyush lip reads her message correctly and he walks her over to a rack of t-shirts and she selects a few to try on. She asks him where the change room is, and he shows her where. She proceeds to try on the t-shirts.
As I wait for her to come out I observe something unusual. The manager of the store, who has just finished speaking to someone on the phone, starts conversing with Piyush. He is conversing in sign language and this goes on for a few minutes. They are obviously sharing something humorous as they are both laughing. The store manager is totally engrossed in the interaction. I am struck by the authenticity and goodwill that is present in this moment.
The banter is broken by my wife who comes out of the change room wearing the first t-shirt. Piyush gives her the “thumbs-up” sign and asks my opinion, “looks great” I say and she goes back to try on another.
Leadership Through Communication
I observe the store manager who is now behind the cash register looking through some dockets. I walk up to him and we have the following exchange:
Me: “I noticed that you were using sign language with your colleague.”
Store Manager: “Yes sir. I was trying to sign. I am still learning.”
Me: “How are you learning?”
Store Manager: “I found a course through Google and I do some study and practice every evening after work.”
Me: “Wow! That seems like quite an investment on your part.”
Store Manager: “Well I’m learning something new.”
Me: “So why do this? If Piyush can lip read, would you be able to get by without signing?”
Store Manager: “Yes. We can get by and we have. But sir I want us to be able to have a two-way communication with him, not just one-way, from me to him. He is a smart guy and I want to hear his ideas and his opinions on how we can make things better in this store. I’m his manager so I also want to understand how he is doing and how I am doing as his manager.”
I ask his name and he tells me it is Manick. I walk away as my wife has come out with another t-shirt, I give the second t-shirt a thumbs up and she goes back in to try on a third.
As I wait, I reflect on the interaction I have just had with Manick. I continue to observe him as he goes about his work. He offers a job to an applicant who has come into the store and embraces her emotionally, not physically, as he welcomes her to the company and agrees a starting date. She is thrilled beyond words and genuinely excited. I observe him taking in everything that is going on in the store, jumping in to support his team when they are busy. I am most impressed with this guy as there is definitely an X-factor about him. In my experience with retail chains, shop assistants are generally not treated with the respect they deserve. Store managers generally don’t care about the opinions of shop assistants, nor care about how they may be doing as their manager. It is very obvious to me that Piyush enjoys working for Manick. From everything I can observe in the 15 minutes in the store, he is fully engaged as an employee and completely connected with his manager. Manick is different and I can see, hear, and feel that this X factor is his leadership and personal presence.
The Pres Model
In our work in Ariel Group, we have been working with leaders and professionals for over twenty five years to help them build their leadership and personal presence. We know from our experience with hundreds of thousands of leaders and professionals that presence is something that can be developed. Our purpose is to help leaders and professionals amplify their presence and show up as their very best selves. We deconstruct presence into four critical leadership skills which we call the PRES Model:
The ability to be completely in the moment, undistracted by anything past or future, sharp as a razor, and flexible enough to handle the unexpected.
The ability to build relationships with others through empathy, listening and authentic connection.
The ability to express feelings and emotions appropriately by using all available means – words/voice/face/body – to deliver one congruent message.
The ability to accept yourself, to be authentic, and to reflect your values in your decisions and actions.
Applying Presence To Leadership
So in that moment of reflection about Manick and his presence as a leader, he ticks every one of these boxes. As an everyday leader I observe him:
- being Present – not pretentious
- Reaching Out – not looking down
- being Expressive – not trying to be impressive
- being Self-Knowing – not self-absorbed
I have no doubt that with the right guidance, this young leader is destined to become someone significant affecting the lives of many. He can go far in his business and personal life if he chooses to do so.
My wife comes out of the change rooms and she buys a couple of the t-shirts. I thank Manick and Piyush and ask them if I can take their picture. They are curious. I explain that I want to write a blog and I ask their permission. Manick signs something to Piyush. They both seem chuffed at the idea. They smile and agree. So here is the blog and in the photograph below, Piyush is on the left and Manick on the right.
And if you are interested, the retail chain is called Being Human.