Interview Transcript

In your experience, how would you define excellence in leadership?

The starting point is, “What is leadership?” I had the joy of being on a training course, and they said, “The first thing about being a leader is you need followers.” You can’t force people to follow you, so I think the first thing is people’s free will to follow you. A lot of people get that wrong — that leadership is given to them. It’s something you earn. I guess “greatness” is the fact you can keep it and continue to add to it, so people want to stay around. I’d say that’s the definition — you can inherit a team, but if they don’t want to stay with you, you’re not really a leader because they always want to go and do different things.

If they can learn from you, they feel supported by you — it’s the protection, support, continued development, and that people get behind the vision you’re building. They see what you’re trying to achieve and say, “This is the person I want to be behind and build this thing with.” You talk about books like Good to Great, which I probably misquote so often. You get into a level-five leader, and you start talking about the humility and all the ways it’s not about celebrating your own success but your team’s success — but recognising your own failures.

So, you start getting into the core of the person. “The cause before your own reward,” and all those great things I’ve seen in terms of real, good-quality leadership, most notably at Amazon.

Amazon often gets hurt in the press for its leadership style when there’s actually a lot of very humble people there and genuine, big leaders. You can’t build an organisation to that scale without having many leaders — not just one.

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