Interview Transcript

Can you provide some context about your time in the army and what you learned about leadership?

All armies focus heavily on leadership because war requires leadership and lots of it. The first thing I would say — and I still think back to this monthly and have done for my whole career, even though I left the army twenty years ago — is the motto of Sandhurst. Sandhurst is the equivalent of West Point; it’s the officer training academy in the UK. The motto is, “Serve to lead,” which I think is a really important concept for all leaders. Leadership is not about the leader; it’s about the team. If you can make the team successful, you will be successful.

Too many leaders think, “It’s all about me. I have to tell people what to do. I have to know the answer to everything. I have to look good no matter what.” They will fail at some stage. It might take a year or two, but they will fail. Whereas if you say, “I am a serving leader, my job is to do what it takes to make my team successful,” it will lead to a lot of right behaviours. “My job is to help you do your job better,” and if you do that with a team of six, eight, ten people, whatever’s in your team, then collectively, you get more done. “My job is to make sure you have the motivation, skills, and tools and that you understand the split of responsibilities within the team because if I help you succeed, we all succeed.” It also leads to a happier team, better retention of employees, etc. as well, so there’s a whole load of other benefits than just getting jobs done successfully.

What does it mean to serve, to you?

Good question. To serve probably means you’re serving a goal, collectively, so yes, you have a position of leadership, you are the boss, the buck does stop with you, but it’s not about you. It’s about the mission, the goal, the task. When I was in Bosnia in the army, the goal was to end the civil war. That’s a much bigger task than me or the general who was my boss. “We’ve got to end the war collectively. How do we do that? We have a plan, but if anyone has a better plan, let me know. I don’t know everything.” At Google, the mission was to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Pretty cool mission. Collectively, we need to organise that information. There’s other stuff we had to do as well like making money from ads to pay for that organisation of information, but ultimately, it kept coming back to organising information.

Having a mission or a vision or a goal that everyone is motivated by and says, “Wow, that’s big, that’s cool, we’re all in this together,” is probably the best way to make people realise it’s not about the leader, it’s about the goal, the mission, the vision. That also means you don’t only need to define it but also communicate it and make sure people understand what the vision is, what it means in reality, and what they can do to contribute to achieving that.

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